Originally published July 11, 2012, at sinibaldo.wordpress.com. Republished with the permission of the author.
I am not sure I really even understand it, but the Higgs boson is a particle that gives things their mass. Peter Higgs (which the Higgs boson is named after) and his team concluded in 1964 that to make what is called the “Standard Model” of physics work, this particle needed to exist. (People call it the “God particle” because it appears to create that mass from nothing. Whether scientists believe that mass comes from nothing or from something else yet to be discovered is unknown to me.)
The discovery of the particle’s existence last week confirms the math and the science and is vindication for the efforts put forth by Higgs and many others who have built upon his work. All I can say is “Congratulations!”
I have no intention of rekindling the fire that has burned between science and religion for centuries. To be honest, I find science and faith more compatible the older I get. They both tell stories to help us make sense of the world around us in which we live.
Both make assumptions. Both make judgments. Both have heroes and villains. Both, dare I say, evolve? Both unfortunately share a long history of antagonism between them.
Science is based on what we can see and replicate. Faith is based on what we cannot see but is revealed. Where science and faith meet is what makes the Higgs boson or the so-called “God particle” so interesting.
New discoveries make unforeseen possibilities part of our lives. Which is why the faith community should in my view at least, reclaim the God particle. Not to take it away from the science community, but to embrace discovery, learn to keep asking questions, and regain our sense of wonder.
Some would say that the more science learns the less need people have of God. If a Higgs boson gives mass, what does God do? Is God sidelined from the equation completely?
If not already, won’t God eventually be proven so far removed from our everyday understandings and conversations to even be relevant? Aren’t those old stories just legend and fairy tale anyway?
These are valid questions we should not run away from.
To engage those questions I would say that science and faith meet in those places where what could not be seen is brought into full view. Not to see the man behind the curtain as a fraud but to unveil the artist using strokes so grand and so tiny that to behold them at all is to stand in awe.
Years ago I knew a physicist named Hulger. He was as passionate as he was brilliant. By his own confession it was in his work that he saw God most clearly. God was not distant or irrelevant to him but so overwhelmingly present in each detail as Hulger came to understand the engineering, ingenuity, expanse, intricacy, interconnectedness, simplicity, complexity and beauty of the universe.
Hulger was overwhelmed by the science that showed him the wonder of God, and he was engaged by the Scriptures that revealed how much God loved him in Christ — especially as he dealt with the challenges of his own life.
He taught Sunday school and poured his heart into loving those kids hoping they could see how much God loved them too. He wanted to give them not only a biblical but also a scientifically informed lens to see Jesus the way he saw him, to see the God he knew so well. In that way he embodied the God particle — Hulger lived his sense of wonder, waiting to discover what he already knew to be there.
The company Hulger worked for was ready to move him and his family back home to Germany, and he was very concerned about the transition. He was concerned he would not find an active church where he and his children could be nurtured.
He was concerned for his wife who in his own words, “did not believe” even though she did participate in worship occasionally. He was concerned what it might mean to live in a culture that more or less had moved on from Christianity after all the atrocities of the previous century and what influence it might have on him.
Yet he did move home. For a few months we chatted back and forth via email. Then those interactions became less frequent. It has probably been close to five years since we have spoken.
Yet wonder remains.
Hulger was the first person I thought of when I heard the news that the Higgs boson had been discovered. I thought about how happy he must have been that his colleagues made this breakthrough.
I thought how awe-inspired he must have been to hear that news and read the data. I thought of him sharing the God particle with his co-workers. I thought about what a witness to God’s creative and imaginative beauty he was to me, and probably still is to his kids, and his friends, and a church he calls home.
I know how loved by God he continues to be wherever he is. I bet his wife knows that too. It is time to reclaim the God particle — the part of our faith that wonders, imagines and thinks of the impossible only to have it revealed to us that God has been there all along.
Discover — and dream.
Find a link to Geoff Sinibaldo’s entry at sinibaldo.wordpress.com at Lutheran Blogs.