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.”