It was news that had been anticipated and hoped for in the scientific community. On July 4, 2012, it was made official: with 99.99% statistical certainty, the presence of the Higgs boson was identified. The Higgs is a particle whose presence enables other particles to have mass. Mass is an intrinsic property (or characteristic) of matter. Mass is often confused with weight. The weight of an object changes based on gravity. An object on Earth weighs more than the same object weighs on the moon. But the object’s mass doesn’t change. Objects (or matter) don’t exist without mass.
Because the Higgs enables other particles to come together to become something (i.e., have mass), it’s popularly been called “the God particle.” This has led to many media commentators to ask what implications the Higgs may have for belief in God and for religion.
I asked my Facebook friends to post their thoughts about what the Higgs boson means for belief and religion. There were a variety of comments:
Any sensible belief in God will not be damaged by any discoveries in the real world.
In a real sense, the question remains a simple: “Who created the boson?!”
My God is big enough to encompass something as small as the Higgs boson.
But the response I found most interesting and that resonates most with me was this one:
Depends probably on what one means by “God.”
I believe it was Voltaire who said, “God created humanity in God’s own image, and humanity has been returning the favor ever since.” It is a human tendency to conceive of a deity in terms that we can understand: a creator, a father, a redeemer, a sanctifier, a deliverer, and so forth. In Hinduism and Islam, I’ve encountered lists of names for the deity. It is believed that by reciting these varied names, one becomes closer to the deity. In the end, the “names” are generally attributes or characteristics that reflect human qualities and comprehension.
Fundamentally, God is beyond human comprehension. We may call upon a deity through various names, but how can a deity really be divine if a human being can grasp or understand the reality of a divine being? Yet, it’s comforting to think of the Divine as a being we can understand and who has attributes that we consider laudatory, like love or compassion. Voltaire was right: we create God in our image.
In my youth, I took theological and Biblical studies very seriously. I learned various definitions and abstractions about the nature of the Divine. Over time, I’ve come to realize that all the ponderous things I learned were really just elaborate metaphors for something we can’t explain. In addition, by learning about the great religions of the world, I’ve found other metaphors that help me to better understand my belief in a transcendent reality or deity.
At this point in my life, my conception of the Divine is similar to Taoism: that there is a way, a path, an energy that permeates all of life. This energy or path brings all things together while also guiding the dynamic unfolding of all that is. From this perspective, I understand the Divine as being in us, around us, and throughout all the cosmos. The Divine is a source and a conclusion of all that is, much the way the Biblical writer used the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet to say that the Christ is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end of all things.
What this means for me is that I take great delight in learning about the emergent research in physics, biology, or any other field of science. That’s because the revelations of science are further revelations of the essence of the Divine. In that, I affirm the position of the Pilgrims who established the New England colonies and the first universities in North America. These ancestors in religion in the United States established a deeply held conviction that the more one knew about science and the natural world, the more one knew about God. In my own denomination, the United Church of Christ, we affirm this ongoing revelation of the Divine in the world around us each time we say, “God is still speaking.”
The Higgs boson doesn’t challenge my faith. Instead, as I’ve read about its discovery and learned about its properties, I’ve been inspired by the mystery of the Divine that permeates all that is. It’s nothing less than awe-inspiring: a tiny particle that appears and disappears so quickly that it can’t be directly seen brings all the matter of the cosmos together. Truly this is the energetic path, the Tao, the Divine, bringing all t
© 2012, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.