That Goddamn Particle

If you find yourself engaged in a drinking game involving sightings of the phrase ‘god particle,’ or are just generally incensed by its use, stop reading now.

The Higgs boson has been found. Probably. At this point adding further nines to the 99.999…% certainty value just looks like showing off, so saying with certainty that it exists looks like a fairly safe bet here in the post-July 4th world.

The ICR’s facebook page directs us to an article by Larry Vardiman in the March Acts & Facts, which I didn’t cover: Did the ‘God Particle’ Create Matter? It’s a classic case of taking things far too literally, in this case the boson’s famous, overused “theistic nickname.” They also warn of an impending up-to-date article on the discovery, but that isn’t out yet.

We’ll ignore the introduction, which calls Genesis the “most important book ever written” and the “foundation of all true history and true science,” and discusses a tendency of scientists to move away from Christianity over the centuries. Typical, if infuriating stuff.

It’s not overly clear what Vardiman is getting at in the rest of his article, though that could just be recoil from his excessive use of the abominable phrase. He says:

Today many scientists reject Scripture as a legitimate source of truth and attempt to find entirely “natural” explanations for the origin of the universe. They go so far as to say you can’t be a scientist if your explanations of our origins depend upon actions of a supernatural being. Biologists who are under the sway of evolutionary theory and physicists who believe in billions of years since the origin of the universe generally avoid references to a creator. When they or the media mention God, it’s often only as ridicule. For example, the use of the term “God particle” when referring to the search for the Higgs boson in elementary particle physics is a thinly-veiled attempt to mock the belief in a supernatural creator. Interestingly, most scientists dislike the term “God particle” because they don’t want their research tainted by such an association.

So he thinks that ‘God particle” is an intentional attempt to mock religious folk, but also claims that they don’t like to be associated with it because it ‘taints’ them. But where did the name come from? Vardiman says:

According to people who have investigated the subject, the term “God particle” originated with a 1993 book by U.S. Nobel Prize winner Leon Lederman about the history of particle physics, The God Particle: If the Universe Is the Answer, What Is the Question?

He does not elaborate further, which is a pity because the correct explanation is quite revealing, albeit trivial. According to a Guardian article from 2008, Father of the ‘God Particle’:

The Higgs boson is the particle that is thought to give everything else in the universe mass, but that bit of theoretical physics is unlikely to be the reason most people have heard of it. Its theistic nickname was coined by Nobel-prize winning physicist Leon Lederman, but Higgs himself is no fan of the label. “I find it embarrassing because, though I’m not a believer myself, I think it is the kind of misuse of terminology which I think might offend some people.”

It wasn’t even Lederman’s choice. “He wanted to refer to it as that ‘goddamn particle’ and his editor wouldn’t let him,” says Higgs.

“Mocking” my eye – it was the editor’s fault. They’re a bit like butlers in that way.

Vardiman goes on to talk about how scientists can’t explain the origin of the laws of physics, citing personal correspondence with Carl Sagan for an admission of this fact. The Sensuous Curmudgeon has a recent post about the Discovery Institute trying the same tactic, which you might be interested in.

While we’re here, this month’s edition has the official article by Lawrence Ford on Vardiman’s retirement. Well, sort of:

When asked how he intends to fill his time during retirement, Dr. Vardiman responded: “I have a ‘third career’ coming. But it’s a part-time career. I’m not as strong as I used to be physically. I’m going to turn 70 this next year, so it’s time to slow down a little bit. I’m planning on maybe spending a quarter of my time working on various articles and technical articles and doing a little bit of research. But mostly writing. I’m going to be mostly writing articles and doing some contract work for a few individuals who want me to do a little more research on the vapor canopy.

He’s not stopping yet. But he also plans to write a book of memoirs:

It has to do with incidents that occurred in my family that I can recall, mainly as a legacy for my brothers and sisters and grandkids and nieces and nephews and so on—just talking about some of the funny things that happened in my life.

That should slow him down a bit.


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