The Higgs boson: More than a triumph for science

Peter Higgs, 83, sheds tears of joy upon the Higgs boson discovery

By James Clark Ross

As the world revelled in response to the monumental discovery of the Higgs boson, I couldn’t help but feel proud of my good old buddy science. Watching Professor Peter Higgs wipe tears from his eyes (above) upon the much anticipated announcement, an immovable lump anchored itself to my throat. This lump then felt as though it was accumulating mass from the Higgs field itself, so to speak, as Stephen Hawking mustered up a laugh whilst recounting a bet that he has now lost with regards to the Higgs.

The whole world was celebrating a remarkable achievement: one of profound discovery and human progression. Sometimes I hear science being denounced as a rigid and trivial model solely for the sake of knowledge, despite its continuous endeavour to improve our lives – but not now. No cynic can ruin this moment as the news unfolds and the excitement grows… July 4th 2012 – an incredible day for the history of humankind.

The scientific community has achieved the minor triumph of pinning together a model explaining the very fabric of the Universe. Many have already proclaimed it to be one of the greatest breakthroughs in the history of science (that is certainly for the duration of my lifetime), alongside the Moon landings and the unravelling of DNA.

For all you non-Physicists, I will spare you the pain of attempting to explain the Higgs boson and its significance (to my limited knowledge). What is relevant to us, and to the theme of this blog, is the intentions and the stance of science. The whole discovery may have been costly at a whopping £2.6bn, but as a community we have developed many technologies at a location where the World Wide Web was founded. Furthermore, we have innovated PET (positron emission tomography) for medicine and cancer treatment, and developed  high quality electronic and superconducting systems, to name but a few. The whole world can benefit from such technological developments. Who knows what the uncovering of the Higgs boson will do too, but in getting there we have learnt so much and developed a deeper understanding of the Universe. Moreover, many countries have collaborated cordially and successfully. Vast numbers of students and professionals have benefited from the resources and education they have received, which in itself has knock-on effects to our society.

A religious person wouldn’t necessarily oppose this scientific triumph – it would all be part of God’s plan. But what differs between science and faith is that science will make predictions and won’t stand by them if they are proven to be incorrect. In my lectures I have learnt about the Higgs, but if we didn’t observe it at the LHC, the future of my course and the rest of Physics would certainly not be in jeopardy. This brings me to a quote from Right Reverent Lee Rayfield, Scientist and Bishop of Swindon, today in The Independent:

“…the Higgs boson still leaves plenty of unanswered questions that science alone can never address.”

He may be right. But if I’m sensing his drift correctly, the implication is that a metaphysical deity can fill those ‘unanswerable’ gaps. But what makes a religious person more qualified to answer the most fundamental questions? To me it seems, the more we uncover of nature, the more ‘God’ retreats. At least a scientist doesn’t claim outright to know those answers. They have merely gained further tools to understand the Universe and its majestic nature. The Higgs boson has presented us with more problems that will no doubt do us good to investigate.

There is an associated modesty that science can be proud of. Further, as humans we won’t advocate any negative repercussions if we – not zealous dinosaurs or dated writ – deem it immoral since humans have, and always will, positively lack moral rigidity.

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