On the first day God created the Higgs boson

Prof. Peter Higgs, RIP

Peter Higgs, Nobel Prize physicist who died on 8 April, came up with some original theories of his own. He also vindicated an unoriginal one of mine, that minds shining bright in one area may be irredeemably dim in some others.

To the best of my understanding (which isn’t saying much), it has been known since Einstein that particles travelling at the speed of light have no mass. But how do they acquire it at lower speeds?

In 1964, using no computers to assist his fecund mind and no equipment other than paper and pencil, Higgs came up with a daring theory: the existence of the Higgs boson, a fundamental force-carrying particle associated with the Higgs field.

This is a quantum field that gives mass to particles existing throughout the universe. In the Higgs field, the Higgs boson acts as a wave that gives mass to other fundamental particles. According to him, when the universe came into existence, particles had no mass, but acquired it seconds later when they entered that magic field.

In 1993 another Nobel Prize physicist, Leon Lederman, referred to the Higgs boson as “the God particle”, suggesting it obviated the need for a deity as the cause of life. Yet both he and other scientists regarded the boson as merely a theoretical construct. Stephen Hawking even bet $100 that the Higgs boson would never be found.

Hawking became $100 poorer in 2012, when researchers working with the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s most powerful particle accelerator, discovered the boson particle. A year later Prof. Higgs got his Nobel Prize.

The physics involved take me way out of my depth, but even a scientific ignoramus like me can appreciate the sight of a brilliant mind at work. Unfortunately, Prof. Higgs denied similar appreciation to people holding what he saw as objectionable views in areas where he too was out of his depth.

For example, as a committed atheist, he resented the term ‘God particle’. Whenever the subject came up, Higgs refused to discuss it with believers whom he considered ipso facto stupid: “If they believe that story about creation in seven days, are they being intelligent?”

It would be tedious to deliver a roll call of great physicists who also happened to be practising Christians. Suffice it to say Werner Heisenberg, one of the principal founders of Higgs’s own field, quantum mechanics, was on that list.

What’s upsetting is that a man capable of startling revelations in one area can display rank vulgarity when dabbling in another. Heisenberg, one of those presumably dumb believers, could have explained to Higgs that Christian cosmology demands not less intelligence but a different kind. (Higgs was 47 when Heisenberg died, so that conversation could have taken place.)

My own lifelong observation suggests that even extremely intelligent atheists sound like blithering idiots whenever they try to justify their atheism by rational arguments.

One of their favourite tricks is to insist on taking Biblical allegories as literal facts and Biblical facts as figments of apostolic imagination. Thus they dismiss out of hand Christ’s miracles worked before hundreds if not thousands of eyewitnesses, while smirking at Genesis cosmology with its seven days.

They’d be on safer grounds if they simply said they don’t believe in God and left it at that. But the moment they start talking particulars, they enter another system of thought and, logically speaking, must operate with its terms and concepts. Otherwise they sound as crassly stupid as a scientific ignoramus would if telling Prof. Higgs that sub-atomic particles don’t exist because no one has ever seen one.

Now, in the system of thought so offhandedly dismissed by Prof. Higgs, God is ageless and timeless, meaning that any time units mentioned in reference to his activities can only have an allegorical significance. God’s day may be a year to us, or a century, or a millennium, or anything at all.

Using grammatical terminology, we live our lives in three basic tenses: Past, Present and Future. God, on the other hand, has only one tense, the Present Perfect. What may be ‘was’, ‘is’ or ‘will be’ to us, to God is ‘has been’. God isn’t contingent: he has no beginning, no end, and hence no time scale that we’d recognise as such.

An atheist doesn’t know how to walk through this intellectual edifice, and no one says he should. He is perfectly welcome to choose his own mental habitation. But if he chooses to enter this building, he should leave his cherished notions at the door.

If he smuggles them in and starts wielding them with conviction, he commits a vulgar solecism. And whenever he accuses the rightful owners of that property of stupidity, he brings to mind words like ‘teapot’ and ‘kettle’.

Not all atheists are Lefties, but this is the way to bet. Prof. Higgs certainly was: he championed the student riots of the 1960s, belonged to the CND and Greenpeace, supported ‘Palestinians’ against Israel.

As in the case of his atheism, I doubt he ever pondered the issues involved as deeply as they require. His mental plate was full with his physics, and there couldn’t have been much room left for other, unrelated sustenance.

Yet, unlike so many other Lefties, Prof. Higgs wasn’t a dogmatic zealot. Thus, when the CND started campaigning against nuclear power, not just nuclear weapons, he resigned. He also quit Greenpeace over its opposition to genetically modified crops.

There his extraneous political principles were helped along by his mind of a great scientist. Higgs must have seen that both the CND and Greenpeace had trespassed on scientific territory, where they revealed themselves as ignorant interlopers. Yet he had been comfortable in those ranks when they limited themselves to politics, an area in which Prog. Higgs himself was ignorant.

Such is the way of the world, and no mind shines an equally dazzling light on everything. Few of us manage to do so in even one area, and fewer still have ever shone as bright as Prof. Higgs did in quantum physics. For all his misconceptions in unrelated fields, his passing leaves the world diminished.     

4 thoughts on “On the first day God created the Higgs boson”

  1. Recently, Richard Dawkins was asked what he thought about the eruption of Mosques in the UK pari passu with the decline of church attendance there. He replied, rather bravely, that he thought it was a bad thing. But he also observed, curiously (and here your statement about intelligent atheists poking into religious particulars seems to be vindicated), that though he was “happy” whenever he heard that Church attendance was very low and the Christian faith always losing believers in the UK, he also lamented the decline of “Christian culture”, which defined his own culture and that of Britain’s; while favouring its continued preponderance in the West.

  2. How would an intelligent theist argue with an atheist who simply dismissed all religions out of hand? I think a weakness shared by all such creeds is their inability to explain why atheism exists. It would seem that the recently departed Prof. Higgs had absolutely zero capacity for religious belief, now why should this be? Are you saying God creates millions (billions?) of people, some massively intelligent, in such a way that they are totally incapable of perceiving Him? How odd.

  3. “researchers working with the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s most powerful particle accelerator, discovered the boson particle”

    Only the energy particle left behind by the particle and not the particle itself.

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