Why Higgs boson matters

U.S. Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, Vatican astronomer  (CNS photo)

U.S. Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, Vatican astronomer, said HIggs particle points to deeper reality. (CNS photo)

On Oct. 8 Francois Englert of Belgium and Peter Higgs of Britain won the 2013 Nobel Prize in physics for their theory on how matter acquires mass.

This work — which they began researching  in the 1960s — was confirmed last year by the discovery of the Higgs boson (a subatomic particle nicknamed  “the God particle”) at CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research in Geneva.

If this has anyone scratching their heads or wondering how it  fits in with their faith, then it’s time to check back with what a Catholic physicist and a Catholic astronomer had to say about this mysterious particle during the summer.

U.S. Jesuit Brother Guy Consolmagno, the Vatican astronomer,  told Catholic News Service that the particle finding “indicates that reality is deeper and more rich and strange than our everyday life.”

When people go about their everyday business working or relaxing, they don’t think about the tiniest building blocks of physical matter, but “without these underlying little things, we wouldn’t be here,” he added.

Brother Consolmagno said the Higgs boson had been nicknamed “the God particle” as “a joke” in an attempt to depict the particle as “almost like a gift from God to help explain how reality works in the sub-atomic world.”

Because the particle is believed to be what gives mass to matter, it was assigned the godlike status of being able to create something out of nothing, he added.

These conjectures are not only bad reasons to believe in God, they are also bad science, he told CNS.

“You’ll look foolish, in say 2050, when they discover the real reason” for a phenomenon that was explained away earlier by the hand of God, he said.

But he did point out that faith and hope can exist in the scientific community. For example, “no one would have built this enormous experiment,” tapping the time and talents of thousands of scientists around the world, “without faith they would find something,” he said.

“My belief in God gives me the courage to look at the physical universe and to expect to find order and beauty,” he said. “It’s my faith that inspires me to do science.”

Father Andrew Pinsent, a former particle physicist who worked on an experiment at the previously mentioned CERN, wrote a column about the Higgs boson finding this summer for the Catholic Herald in England. The priest, currently a research director at Oxford University, said the discovery has “no obvious implications for theology” but said it is still “worth reviewing its implications for the human quest to understand life, the universe and everything.”

The priest pointed out that the research that went into discovering this subatomic particle was done in part to “fulfill one of the most noble human aspirations: to know the causes of things.”

He said the Higgs boson finding “is a piece of the puzzle of how (not why) the universe works” but he also said it was “scarcely a final answer.”

Pope Francis gives first ‘red carpet’ interview

VATICAN CITY — So far, Pope Francis has done impromptu interviews with journalists on a plane, in written correspondence and at his Vatican residence.

Now he’s done his first “red carpet” interview — responding to a TV reporter who squeezed through the throng and shouted a question over the cheering crowds.

floral carpet assisi san rufino

Screen-grab from Vatican television (CTV) coverage of Pope Francis’ visit to the Cathedral of San Rufino in Assisi.

It happened in Assisi when the pope was greeting people gathered outside the Cathedral of San Rufino. However, instead of an actual red carpet, he walked along a colorful carpet made of flowers.

The clip, which aired last night on a political talk show, goes like this:

The Italian TV reporter asks:

“Your Holiness, is there hope for Italy?”

The pope approaches the reporter and replies:

“There is always hope because the Lord gives us hope, the Lord gives us the strength to go on.”

Riding his wave of good luck, the reporter continues:

“What do we have to do in order to have hope?”

The pope says:

“Well, look for it, and the Lord will inspire you!” [gives a thumbs up]

To see the clip, find it here.

 

 

Higher Education: How to choose the best Catholic college or university for you

By Caroline Hroncich 

Students chat in 2012 on campus of Marquette University in Wisconsin

College students chat on the campus of Jesuit-run Marquette University in 2012 in Milwaukee. (CNS photo/courtesy Marquette University)

VATICAN CITY — What are the best Catholic colleges and universities in the United States? Thousands of students applying to college ask themselves this question every day, and there is no simple answer.

Catholic colleges and universities provide students with diverse opportunities, both educational and spiritual, and there are a variety of methods for evaluating them. Many Catholic colleges appear frequently in secular ranking systems such as US News and World Report  and the Princeton Review. US News ranks colleges based on admissions selectivity, average SAT/ACT scores, availability of scholarships and other financial resources, alumni giving rate, GPA, and retention and graduation rates. The Princeton review ranks schools based on how current students respond to surveys. They question students about such factors as academics, extracurricular activities and general quality of campus life.

Chaplain chats with student outside chapel at Pennsylvania Catholic university


Father Philip Lowe, chaplain of Neumann University in Aston, Pa., chats with students outside the campus chapel in 2013. (CNS photo/courtesy Neumann University)

Another basis for evaluating Catholic colleges and universities is through indicators of what is often called Catholic identity: consistency of curriculum with church teaching; and faith-enhancing activities such as campus ministries, daily Masses and community service programs. Guides published by the National Catholic Register and Cardinal Newman Society look at Catholic higher education from this perspective.

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