My oldest son, John, called recently from college, where he is studying physics. He excitedly asked if I had heard the latest news.
No, I said, thinking he was referring to some natural disaster or political event. He continued, “My professor just got back from Switzerland after working on a team at the Hadron particle accelerator. He said he had some exciting news but couldn't tell us until it came out in the international media.”
I paused, then said, “OK, what was it?”
John grew more excited: “He was on one of the teams that did calculations proving the existence of the Higgs boson particle. It's supposed to be something like the old concept of ether that scientists believed in 200 years ago. It's like an energy field present everywhere, so there really is no such thing as empty space. All the subatomic particles move through it like an object moves through water.”
I listened patiently as he added, “They also call it the god particle, but I don't really know why.”
Now, I enjoy physics once in a while and am happy that my son is working with a professor who helped confirm this historic discovery, but hard as I tried I couldn't quite get as excited as he did. Maybe I'm just not bright enough. Neither can I quite get to the place where I can see that this newest discovery has very much to do with the question of God's existence any more than it has to do with the question of how to best deep fry oysters. But again, maybe I'm not bright enough.
I can understand how some physics discoveries have something to say about God. Several decades ago the astrophysicist Hubble noticed a red shift in light waves emitted from distant stars. The red shift from the stars is like the changing sound of a train whistle as it rushes by. The change in light or sound comes from motion. So the red shift meant that the stars were moving, very fast, and moving away from us. He surmised that a giant explosion billions of years ago had flung out the stars and everything from a tiny point in the very beginning.
The implications were clear: The cosmos was not eternal. Time and space started long ago — and before that? Who could say? Well, the book of Genesis actually had said in its first few words, “In the beginning God created the heaven and earth.” Curious — and embarrassing — for the scientists who had hoped that proof for an eternally existent physical universe would easily show the foolishness of these old Jewish “myths.” But Hubble toppled the eternal universe theory. Later a Catholic priest-astrophysicist would suggest the title “Big Bang” for this ancient beginning.
The Higgs boson particle may throw light (no pun intended) on the first few split seconds of the Big Bang, but it probably won't overturn the theory of a finite universe. So there's really no empty space? Big deal. Living in a small urban apartment with five sons in a city of 15 million convinced me years ago there's really no such thing as empty space. And one time years ago I climbed a forest deep in the Rocky Mountains only to find in an impossibly remote and impassible location a giant motorized RV parked next to the bubbling spring. Where was John Denver when I needed him?
For that matter, the Bible has taught all along that God is everywhere, or omnipresent. King David the poet expressed it best: “Where could I go to escape from you? Where could I get away from your presence? If I went up to heaven, you would be there; if I lay down in the world of the dead, you would be there. If I flew away beyond the east or lived in the farthest place in the west, you would be there to lead me, you would be there to help me. I could ask the darkness to hide me or the light around me to turn into night, but even darkness is not dark for you, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are the same to you.” (Psalm 139:5-12).
At any given time or place, if we see nothing, it isn't because nothing is there, it's because what is there is so elusive it takes an $18 billion particle accelerator and a team of the world's brightest physicists to see it. The god particle isn't God, but it has this similarity. Where can we escape from them? But the deeper question is, why would we want to?