I will never forgive Leon Lederman for calling the Higgs boson the “god particle”. It’s fueled decades of unjustified patronizing nonsense from theologians, and the latest is Alister McGrath, who babbles obliviously about it.
Science often proposes the existence of invisible (and often undetectable) entities – such as dark matter – to explain what can be seen. The reason why the Higgs boson is taken so seriously in science is not because its existence has been proved, but because it makes so much sense of observations that its existence seems assured. In other words, its power to explain is seen as an indicator of its truth.
There’s an obvious and important parallel with the way religious believers think about God. While some demand proof that God exists, most see this as unrealistic. Believers argue that the existence of God gives the best framework for making sense of the world. God is like a lens, which brings things into clearer focus. As the Harvard psychologist William James pointed out years ago, religious faith is about inferring “the existence of an unseen order” in which the “riddles of the natural order” can be explained.
The parallel breaks down hard, though. Yes, the Higgs boson is a satisfying theoretical construct with much power to explain. But notice that mathematical beauty was not enough: the physicists of the world, from over 100 countries, gathered and spent over $9 billion to build the largest scientific instrument in the world to test the hypothesis. Faith was not enough.
In contrast, you couldn’t convince a Baptist and a Mormon to get together and chip in $1.98 to test their god. Because they don’t have the slightest idea how to do it, and wouldn’t be interested if they did.
That’s the real lesson to be learned from the science: you have to do the test.