Higgs boson: the particle of faith

There are parallels between the search for the ‘God particle’ and the search   for God Himself.

By Alister McGrath

In 1994, Nobel Laureate Leon Lederman came up with a nickname for the Higgs   boson – the mysterious particle proposed by physicist Peter Higgs back in   the 1960s to explain the origin of mass. Journalists loved the name – “the   God particle” – which probably explains the huge media interest   recently in the work of the Large Hadron Collider. Most scientists hated it,   considering it misleading and simplistic. Maybe so. But it certainly got   people talking about physics.

And maybe it’s not such a bad nickname after all. Lederman invented the name   the “God particle” because it was “so central to the state of physics   today, so crucial to our understanding of the structure of matter, yet so   elusive.” Nobody had seen it back in 1994. And they’re still not sure   whether they’ve really seen it today. Yet this isn’t seen as a massive   problem. The idea seemed to make so much sense of things that the existence   of the “God particle” has come to be taken for granted. It has become, I   would say, a “particle of faith”. The observations themselves didn’t prove   the existence of the Higgs boson. Rather, the idea of the Higgs boson   explained observations so well that those in the know came to believe it   really existed. One day, technology might be good enough to allow it to be   actually observed. But we don’t need to wait until then before we start   believing in it.

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