The particle, whose scientific name is the Higgs boson, derives its popular name from the title of the 1993 book, "God Particle," by atheist physicist Leon Lederman. However, "a closer consideration of the function and properties of the Higgs boson is very enlightening from a theistic perspective," Bruce Gordon, associate professor of the history and philosophy of science at Houston Baptist University, told Baptist Press in an email interview.
"In direct opposition to Nobel Laureate Steven Weinberg's remark that 'the more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it seems pointless,' we can only recommend the more obvious and rational view that the greater our comprehension of the universe, the more we should be given to doxology: The heavens declare the glory of God and the sky above proclaims His handiwork (Psalm 19:1)," said Gordon, who also is a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, a Seattle-based think tank that plays a leading role in the Intelligent Design movement, which argues that the universe is the product of intelligence rather than blind chance.
Theoretical physicists Peter Higgs, 84, and Francois Englert, 80, were announced as this year's Nobel Prize winners in physics Oct. 8 for proposing the existence of the Higgs boson nearly 50 years ago. When the particle was finally discovered last year at the world's most powerful particle accelerator in Switzerland, it vindicated their theory. The two scientists will split a prize of $1.2 million to be awarded in Stockholm Dec. 10.
(A boson is one of the two classes of known particles. Bosons are distinguished from fermions based on the type of spin they have. Generally fermions make up matter while bosons transmit forces that hold matter together.)
Higgs, of the University of Edinburgh in Scotland, and Englert, of the Université Libre de Bruxelles in Belgium, were among a handful of physicists in the early 1960s seeking to explain the origin of mass by positing a force field that fills all space and produces resistance to objects moving through it. The field, they said, acts like a cosmic molasses, sticking to particles as they move and giving them mass. The Higgs boson is the interacting mechanism of the Higgs field. The more interactions a moving particle has with Higgs bosons, the more massive it is.
The Higgs boson was the last missing ingredient in a set of equations known as the Standard Model that explains how particles interact. It took half a century to discover the Higgs boson because it exists as matter for less than a billionth of a billionth of a second and disappears in ways that make it look like other types of particles.
If the Higgs field did not exist, particles would be massless and move at the speed of light. Atoms would not exist either, and the universe would be lifeless.
"Along with a handful of other fundamental forces and laws" like gravity and electromagnetism, "the Higgs mechanism is necessary for the existence of life," Gordon said. "Without it, we wouldn't be here."
The Higgs boson is significant for the Intelligent Design movement because its mass and interaction strength are fine-tuned to accommodate the existence of life, which points to the particle's being the product of a rational creator rather than an undirected natural process. If the subatomic Higgs boson had even five times its measured mass, it would render life impossible, Gordon said.
"The amount of fine-tuning present in the forms taken by the laws of nature, the conditions governing the beginning of the universe and the values associated with various universal constants (force-field strengths, particle masses, etc.) is beyond the reach of any undirected process," Gordon said. "The specified nature of these forms, conditions and values, combined with their staggering and (mostly) multiplicative improbabilities, leads inexorably to the conclusion that the universe has these properties as the result of an intelligent cause, not an undirected process."
William Nettles, professor of physics at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., agreed that discovery of the Higgs boson suggests the universe is orderly and designed, but he urged Christians not to blow the new scientific insight out of proportion.
The discovery "does not detract from the faith-held fact that God created the universe, and all things hold together in the Son," Nettles told BP. "We just have a better picture of God's details ... Our mission is still to bring glory to God through telling His Gospel to all. Just as gunpowder, the electric light bulb or the automobile didn't change the Gospel message of forgiveness of sin, neither does the Higgs boson."
Believers should take comfort in the fact that God allows humans to understand how the physical world is structured, Nettles said. If not for scientists who understood quantum mechanics -- the field of study in which the Higgs boson was discovered -- "there would be no lasers, no transistors, no cell phones, no personal computers and no large jet airplanes," he said.
"We never know when knowledge or even the process of increasing knowledge can grow into something practical," Nettles said. Christians "can appreciate the insight and effort of the human mind in searching for and developing a model for our physical structures, because we know that God has enabled us to do that."
Don Walton, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church in Zephyrhills, Fla., said in an Internet commentary that the popular name "God particle" is misleading. Though the Higgs boson helps explain how particles massed together to form the universe, it does not replace God as the ultimate explanation for all that exists, he said.
Despite its "fantastic" discovery of "an elementary particle that serves as a cosmic molasses, modern-day science is completely void of answers to the following questions," Walton wrote. "(1) What power caused the Big Bang at the universe's inception? (2) How did flying particles blown through space at the speed of light mass together to form orderly matter with its intricately designed details? (3) How do lifeless particles mass together to form living organisms? (4) And, if the universe is totally dependent upon and completely explainable by the laws of nature, then, where did the laws of nature come from?"
Walton continued, "Far from disproving the existence of God, the discoveries of modern-day science, as the above questions clearly show, inevitably lead us back to the Creator as the only viable explanation for creation."
Discovery of the Higgs boson, Gordon noted, should spur scientists to pursue additional insights that demonstrate the universe's intricate design.
"Where the fine-tuning of the universe for the existence of life is concerned, these observations about the Higgs boson are just the tip of the iceberg," he wrote.