To an Unknown God: Where Faith and Science Meet
By Daniel Weiss
Where do you go when you’ve been handed the keys to the universe?
“The more science discovers and the more comprehension it gives us of the mechanisms of existence, the more clearly does the mystery of existence itself stand out.” –Aldous Huxley
Some of the most coveted gifts of the Christmas season are being handed out in Stockholm and Oslo this week: the Nobel Prizes. Among the new Nobel Laureates are physicists Francois Englert and Peter W. Higgs, who were honored for their theory of how particles acquire mass, a key component in the quest to understand the workings of the universe.
For most non-physicists, this perplexing discovery inspires little more than a desire for a long winter’s nap. If we look more closely, though, this news can rekindle our wonder at the God of all things large and small and incredibly complex.
What is actually being celebrated at the Nobel ceremony is the recent discovery of the so-called Higgs boson, an incredibly small cosmic particle that scientists were finally able to create and capture in an unbelievably complex atomic collider. As far back as 1964, three separate scientific teams comprised of Higgs, Englert, and several others theorized that if such a particle could be found, it would confirm the existence of the Higgs field, a mysterious force field pervading all of space and enabling all existence. Midichlorians, anyone?
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The Nobel folks try to simplify it this way:
The Higgs field is not like other fields in physics. All other fields vary in strength and become zero at their lowest energy level. Not the Higgs field. Even if space were to be emptied completely, it would still be filled by a ghost-like field that refuses to shut down: the Higgs field. We do not notice it; the Higgs field is like air to us, like water to fish. But without it we would not exist, because particles acquire mass only in contact with the Higgs field. Particles that do not pay attention to the Higgs field do not acquire mass, those that interact weakly become light, and those that interact intensely become heavy. For example, electrons, which acquire mass from the field, play a crucial role in the creation and holding together of atoms and molecules. If the Higgs field suddenly disappeared, all matter would collapse as the suddenly massless electrons dispersed at the speed of light.
So we’re clear: There is a theoretical realm all around us which we essentially cannot detect but which undergirds all existence. Is it me, or does this have a decidedly spiritual ring to it?