Much is being made of the Higgs boson, the so-called “God particle” that could end the world (or at least religion) as we know it, which is the bull's-eye in the scattershot experiment at CERN's LHC. Hm, perhaps some background is in order before we proceed. If you don't feel like reading my summary, watch this informational rap video.

CERN is the fancy-pants French acronym for “Organisation Européenne pour la Recherche Nucléaire”. Located in Geneva, deep below gumdrop trees, chocolate-coated mountains, and scenic lakes filled with happy Swedish fish, is the Large Hadron Collider.
Hadron is the fancy word for protons and neutrons, which themselves are fancy names for what stuff seems to be made of. The LHC at CERN, therefore, is a big loop that smashes stuff together at almost the speed of light in a giant metal tube under Switzerland. If that isn't a recipe for the end of the world, I don't know what is. But I digress.

The problem that modern particle physicists have is that they can't really explain why stuff is stuff, and not just energy. Anybody who paid attention in physical chemistry class in high school may well have repressed memories of the frightening revelation that all matter is energy, and therefore nothing should be anything (or at least it should all be the same). Clearly, though, we have reasonable evidence that there is, in fact, something. Therefore, we want to know how stuff is stuff and not not stuff. This is getting complicated...Matter has mass, we don't know why, the LHC might tell us.

The LHC experiments that began this week involved accelerating particles to near the speed of light around a giant loop. So far, all that has been tested is whether the beams travel all the way around in each direction. Once the scientists are satisfied that the beams work acceptably, they will proceed directly to the logical next step, which is smashing the beams into each other just to see what happens. The goal being to identify a lowly subatomic particle called the Higgs boson, which is believed to allow Hadrons (stuff) to have mass, and therefore stick to other stuff, produce gravity, and all kinds of other wonderful things that let life happen. Pretty fancy, but not all that profound outside of theoretical physics.

The initial tests will be at relatively low energies, and will likely not reveal a lot. Consider them trial runs. Sometime in the next three months, however, the LHC will get up to full power, and the particles will be blasted together at full speed. Alarmists have suggested this will destroy the universe. Other alarmists have suggested this will either reveal the face of God, or disprove his existence altogether.

The universe destruction theory is pure science fiction. I will not dignify it with further mention.

However, there is a lot of concern among the religious that this experiment will tell us too much about the creation of the universe, ruining their fun (much to the celebration of rabid atheists everywhere). They think this will happen, of course, because the lowly Higgs boson has been nicknamed the 'God particle' even though Higgs himself is an avowed atheist who hates the term
. Indeed, all the particle does is hold stuff together, remember? Therefore it is only 'godlike' in that it (if it exists) is what allows creation to happen. In and of itself it has no creative force whatsoever.

What is more interesting, I think, is that this will give insight to the origins of the universe, and could clarify and even solidify the theory of the
Big Bang. Atheists now celebrate the possibility that this scientific breakthrough could, somehow, bring into question religious beliefs that are predicated on a formal system of creation that is literally interpreted. Many even believe the discovery of the particle and even partial confirmation of the Big Bang theory would completely remove the human need for a creative force in the universe. Of course, this is silly, just like atheism.

This machine proves nothing about God, nor will any experiments performed with it. Read
Pascal's wager, then read Godel's ontology. Smarter men than myself (and smarter than most atheists) have recognized that it is rational and fair to believe in a God, regardless of scientific progress. However, I will admit those who criticize the wrongdoing and scientific backwardness of some religious individuals/groups have every right to do so. Let us be reasonable, though.
Nothing written about above discredits the value of belief or the potentiality of God’s existence. The more important question from an epistemological standpoint is, “Do we have a better idea now about what is not true in any given religion, and what is true in science?” Not, “Have we proven there is no God?” The former question leads to moral and scientific growth, the latter is asinine.


Tony Cannizzaro said...

[Darn typo, lets try this again]

To take a pragmatic view of this little experiement (17 miles little...), what are the practical consequences? Are we anticipating some sort of anit-matter reactor or what not to come out of this "investment" and solve the energy crisis? While I respect and admire those in the pursuit of knowledge (though I must agree with you that those who seek it in as a misguided quest to disprove God need to find something better to do with their time), why spend billions of dollars on a project which advances a small niche of our understanding? That capital could be allocated to solving energy problems, curing diseases or created lasting plentiful food and water supplies. Perhaps these goals are not as grand as uncovering the secrets of the beginning of the universe, but when did employing human ingenuity to better our world take a back seat to grandeur?

Ben Wheat said...