They found the “God-Particle.”
That was the headline in many of America’s news media. It turns out that the name actually derives from substituting “God-particle” for “goddamn particle,” the original name some scientists had given the elusive particle. But the media adopted the former nomenclature.
Because otherwise, the bulk of humanity would not pay attention. Physicists went nuts. And no one can blame them. For decades, they have searched for the particle that may explain why there is any mass in the universe. And ten billion dollars were spent on the machine that probably proved its existence.
It is therefore not meant in any disrespectful way to the enormous intellectual achievement of these scientists when I say that I identify with the mass of humanity that doesn’t really care about the existence of the Higgs boson.
Those scientists and science writers who have likened this discovery to the discovery of DNA are wrong. If significance means relevance to the human condition, the discovery of DNA merited a ten out of ten and the Higgs boson might merit a two.
This does not mean that the search was either a waste of time or money. Both the time and money invested were necessary because satiating human curiosity about the natural world is one of the noblest ambitions of the human race.
But scientific discovery and meaning are not necessarily related. As one of the leading physicists of our time, Steven Weinberg, has written, “The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.”
And pointlessness is the point. The discovery of the Higgs boson brings us no closer to understanding why there is a universe, not to mention whether life has meaning. In fact, no scientific discovery that will ever be made will explain why there is existence, render good and evil anything more than subjective opinion, or explain why human beings have consciousness or anything else that truly matters.
The only thing that can explain existence and answer these other questions is God or some other similar metaphysical belief. This angers those scientists and others who are emotionally as well as intellectually committed to atheism. But many honest atheists recognize that a godless world means a meaningless one, and admit that science can only explain what, not why.
In a recent interview in the Wall Street Journal, Woody Allen, an honest atheist, made this point in his inimitable way. Allen told the interviewer that, being a big sports fan, and especially a New York Knicks fan, he is often asked whether it’s important if the Knicks beat the Celtics. His answer is, “Well, it’s just as important as human existence.” If there is no God, Allen is right.
One must have a great deal of respect for the atheist who recognizes the consequences of atheism: no meaning, no purpose, no good and evil beyond subjective opinion, and recognition of the limits of what science can explain.
But the atheist — scientist, philosophy professor, or your brother-in-law who sells insurance — who denies the consequences of atheism is as worthy of the same intellectual respect atheists have for those who believe in a six thousand-year-old universe.
Not only is science incapable of discovering why there is existence but scientists also confront the equally frustrating fact that the more they discover about the universe, the more they realize they do not know.
I happen to think that this was God’s built-in way of limiting man’s hubris and compelling humans to acknowledge His existence. Admittedly, however, this doesn’t always have these two effects on scientists and especially on those who believe that science will explain everything.
So, sincere congratulations to the physicists and other scientists who discovered the Higgs boson. We now think we have uncovered the force or the matter that gives us the four percent of the universe that we can observe (96 percent of the universe consists of “dark matter,” about which scientists know almost nothing).
Ironic as it may seem to many of these physicists, however, only if there is a God does their discovery matter. Otherwise, it is no more important than whether the Knicks beat the Celtics.