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Thursday, July 5, 2012

"The God Particle" and the Vanishing Role of God

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Large Hadron Collider
Physicists all over the world are celebrating this week's confirmation of the existence of the Higgs boson, nicknamed the “God particle,” which is the smallest subatomic particle of them all.  It gives mass to other particles, and without it the universe could not exist.  The particle was discovered at the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva, Switzerland, and its presence was deduced by the collision of other particles in the 27 mile spin of the collider.  The existence of the Higgs boson was theorized in 1964 by University of Edinburgh physicist Peter Higgs, and—incredibly—he was present in Geneva yesterday at the announcement.  He's now 83, and was moved to tears as the crowd of scientists applauded him at the culminating moment of a long career.  The particle is of course named after Professor Higgs.

Professor Higgs Yesterday

Scientists had struggled for decades to find the Higgs boson, and, interestingly, it got its nickname from a book by physicist Leon Lederman that was originally entitled "The Goddamned Particle," reflecting his frustration at being unable to prove its existence.  Lederman's publisher objected that the title was too offensive, and cut out the "damned.'

The Higgs boson ("boson" is pronounced "boze-on") completes the Standard Model of particle physics, which lists all the particles and forces of nature.  With this addition we now have a complete map of the physical properties of the universe, an incredible accomplishment.  It is but one more step in our understanding of how things work, replacing a superstitious guess ("God did it") with science.

Consider that the history of humankind starts with a god explanation for how the world works, and as that history moves through the millennia, the role for these gods gets smaller and smaller.


In days of the cave people and after them the hunter/gatherers, when storms came, when neighboring tribes waged horrible battles, when diseases decimated the community, what could our ancestors do but speculate as to the meaning of these things?  After human beings came to consciousness and realized their situation in a way that other animals could not ("I will die someday—what happens then?" or "Why did the storm kill my beloved child?"), they came up with the idea of a super force that oversaw everything, and that punished them for transgressions (behaving badly to one another or not worshiping this particular god in the right way) and rewarded them for good behavior (plentiful crops because they did things to please their god, such as human sacrifices). 

Eventually they developed stories about their gods: how they created the world, what conduct pleased or angered them.  If there was a flood, for example, they created flood stories in which their god punished them  for their misdeeds with the drowning of whole communities.  Such stories were passed along orally for long periods, changing in the telling, and eventually were written down in holy books.  All over the earth hundreds of thousands of religions battled for supremacy, each pointing to their holy book or oral traditions as the only source of wisdom, and today the victorious religions are still battling it out, holy books waived high.


But the explanations in the holy books were mere guesses as to how the world works, and as humans discovered more and more, scientific revelations supplanted them.  These books inevitably placed humans at the center of the universe.  But, alas, science has since shown us that we're in fact in a backwater part of that universe and not its raison d'ĂȘtre. We know beyond doubt how storms are formed, why rain falls, how plants, animals, and humans evolved from primordial origin, etc.  Science is never done, constantly exploring, correcting itself as earlier explanations prove wrong.  Global warming, for example, is still being scientifically debated for resolution—and, like the finding of Higgs boson, that resolution will be forthcoming. 

Every millennium, every century, every year, every month there is less and less for a god to do. 

We are on the verge of finding alternate universes, ones that we only suspect exist because the math points that way.  If these multiverses can be confirmed it will be yet one more step in our relentless quest to understand everything.  It's now believed by many scientists that collisions or interactions between the multiverses led to the "big bang" that started our own universe some 13.75 billion years ago.
One Possible Model of a Multiverse

You might insist that there must have been a creator at the beginning to start it all up, even if that creator no longer has an obvious function.  Oh?  Why must there have been a creator?  If your god "is and always was", why can't the same simply be true of the multiverses? 
Or perhaps the multiverses were created by the same entity that created your god.  Say!  Let's give that entity a name!  How about the "Higgs boson" or, simply, "The God Particle"?
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Related Posts:
“Catholicism and Me (Part One),” March 13, 2010
“Superstitions,”March 21, 2010
“Catholicism and Me (Part Two),” April 18, 2010
“How To Become an Atheist,” May 16, 2010
“Imaginary Friend,” June 22, 2010
“I Don’t Do Science,” July 2, 2010
“Explosion at Ohio Stadium,” October 9, 2010 (Chapter 1 of my novel)
“When Atheists Die,” October 17, 2010
"Escape From Ohio Stadium," November 2, 2010 (Chapter 2)
"Open Mouth, Insert Foot," November 21, 2010 (Chapter 3)
"Rock Around the Sun," December 31, 2010
"Muslim Atheist," March 16, 2011
"An Atheist Interviews God," May 20, 2011
"A Mormon Loses His Faith," June 13, 2011
"Is Evolution True?" July 13, 2011
"Atheists, Christmas, and Public Prayers," December 9, 2011
"An Atheist's Christmas Card," December 23, 2011
" Urban Meyer and the Christian Buckeye Football Team," February 19, 2012
"Intelligent Design, Unintelligent Designer?", May 12, 2012
"My Atheist Thriller: Another Book Reading," May 17, 2012
“Update: Urban Meyer and the NON-Christian Buckeye Football Team,” August 24, 2012
“Atheists Visit the Creation Museum,” October 4, 2012
“Mitt Romney: A Mormon President?” October 17, 2012
“The End of the World: Mayans, Jesus, and Others,” December 17, 2012
If Humans Are Descended From Apes, Why Are There Still Apes?” January27, 2014
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013





1 comment:

  1. Dissent: Darkness. Singularity. In the beginning, there was darkness. Then, there was light. Genesis; Big Bang Theory. Consciousness cannot be emergent. Your anesthesiologist. What you lost, you did regain. You, not your brain. Matter: nothing more than curvature in space. Einstein. "The light of the body is the eye. If therefor thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light." Matthew; Plato; Fibonacci; Hameroff; Penrose.

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