The Higgs boson: What has God got to do with it?

GENEVA Wed Dec 14, 2011 11:05am EST

An event with four identified muons, shown in red, from a proton-proton collision in ATLAS. This event is consistent with coming from two Z particles decaying: both Z particles decay to two muons each. Such events are produced by Standard Model processes without Higgs particles. They are also a possible signature for Higgs particle production. Other tracks and deposits of energy in the calorimeters are shown in yellow. REUTERS/ATLAS Collaboration

An event with four identified muons, shown in red, from a proton-proton collision in ATLAS. This event is consistent with coming from two Z particles decaying: both Z particles decay to two muons each. Such events are produced by Standard Model processes without Higgs particles. They are also a possible signature for Higgs particle production. Other tracks and deposits of energy in the calorimeters are shown in yellow.

Credit: Reuters/ATLAS Collaboration

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GENEVA (Reuters) - "We don't call it the 'God particle', it's just the media that do that," a senior U.S. scientist politely told an interviewer on a major European radio station on Tuesday.

"Well, I am the from the media and I'm going to continue calling it that," said the journalist - and continued to do so.

The exchange, as physicists at the CERN research centre near Geneva were preparing to announce the latest news from their long and frustrating search for the Higgs boson, illustrated sharply how science and the popular media are not always a good mix.

"I hate that 'God particle' term," said Pauline Gagnon, a Canadian member of CERN's ATLAS team of so-called "Higgs hunters" - an epithet they do not reject.

"The Higgs is not endowed with any religious meaning. It is ridiculous to call it that," she told Reuters at a news conference after her colleagues revealed growing evidence, albeit not yet proof, of the particle's existence.

Oliver Buchmueller, from the rival research team CMS, was a little less trenchant.

"Calling it the 'God particle' is completely inappropriate," said the German physicist, who divides his time between CERN and teaching at London's Imperial College.

"It's not doing justice to the Higgs and what we think its role in the universe is. It has nothing to do with God."

The Higgs boson is being hunted so determinedly because it would be the manifestation of an invisible field - the Higgs field - thought to permeate the entire universe.

The field was posited in the 1960s by British scientist Peter Higgs as the way that matter obtained mass after the universe was created in the Big Bang.

As such, according to the theory, it was the agent that made the stars, planets - and life - possible by giving mass to most elementary particles, the building blocks of the universe; hence the nickname "God particle."

"Without it, or something like it, particles would just have remained whizzing around the universe at the speed of light," said Pippa Wells, another Atlas researcher.

But Wells also has no time for theological terminology in describing it.

"Hearing it called the 'God particle' makes me angry. It confuses people about what we are trying to do here at CERN."

According to people who have investigated the subject, the term originated with a 1993 history of particle physics by U.S. Nobel prize winner Leon M Lederman.

The book was titled: "The God Particle: If the Universe is the Answer, What is the Question?"

Physicists say Lederman, who over the years has been the target of much opprobrium from his scientific colleagues, tells friends he wanted to call the book "The Goddamned Particle" to reflect frustration at the failure to find it.

But, according to that account, his publisher rejected the epithet - possibly because of its potential to upset a strongly religious U.S. public - and convinced Lederman to accept the alternative he proposed.

"Lederman has a lot to answer for," said Higgs himself, now 82, on a visit to Geneva some six years ago.

But James Gillies, spokesman for CERN and himself a physicist, is slightly more equivocal.

"Of course it has nothing to do with God whatsoever," he says. "But I can understand why people go that way because the Higgs is so important to our understanding of nature."

(Reporting by Robert Evans; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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Comments (3)
thoughts_m_27 wrote:
Atheists are Anti-theists. They are not neutral on the position of if a god exists or not, as agnostics are, but instead have opted to make a faith based assertion totally unrelated to science in the same way that theists have. In doing so they have left the realm of science.

If ignorant people make some assertion about God particle means its God’s particle that assertion has as much validity with no verifying evidence as the counter claim that there is no God’s particle because there is no God which is also made with no verifying evidence.

When the mighty PHd and the simple uneducated put themselves on the same evidence category regarding this matter surely the PHd should take more responsibility for the inability to follow scientific protocol….

Dec 14, 2011 1:01pm EST  --  Report as abuse
gregbrew56 wrote:
From a symbolic logic standpoint, it is impossible to prove something does NOT exist. It is possible, however to prove that something DOES exist through empirical, repeatable evidence. That’s how theories are developed: through repeated experimentation that gives a reenforcing result.

The folks at CERN are trying to prove the existence of the Higg’s Boson with empirical, repeatable evidence. It’s beginning to look like they may be successful in showing that a long-standing hypothesis is proven, thus becoming a true theory.

Can the same be said about proving the existence of any “God”?

Remember: With Science, when evidence is counter to theory, the theory is revised. With religion, when evidence is counter to dogma, the evidence is revised.

Dec 14, 2011 3:43pm EST  --  Report as abuse
gregbrew56 wrote:
“The Higgs boson: What has God got to do with it?”

A great example of a non sequitur.

To answer the stated question “Nothing!”

Dec 16, 2011 12:54pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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