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Byron Jennings | TRIUMF | Canada

View Blog | Read Bio

Questioning the existence of God and the God Particle

Does God exist?  This is one of the oldest questions in philosophy and is still much debated. The debate on the God particle is much more recent but searching for it has cost a large fortune and inspired people’s careers. But before we can answer the questions implied in the title, we have to decide what we mean when we say something exists. The approach here follows that of my previous essay that defines knowledge in terms of models that make successful predictions.

Let us start with a simple question: What does it mean when we say a tree exists? The evidence for the existence of trees falls into two categories: direct and indirect. Every autumn, I rake the leaves in my backyard. From this I deduce that the neighbour has a tree. This is indirect evidence. I develop a model that the leaves in my backyard come from a tree in the neighbour’s yard. This model is tested by checking the prediction that the leaves are coming from the direction of the neighbour’s yard. Observations have confirmed this prediction.  Can I then conclude that a tree exists? Probably, but it would be useful to have direct evidence. To obtain this, I look into my neighbour’s yard. Yup, there is a tree. But not so fast–what my eye perceives is a series of impressions of light. The brain then uses that input to construct a model of reality and that model includes the tree. The tree we see is so obvious that we frequently forget that it is the result of model construction, subconscious model construction, but model construction none-the-less. The model is tested when I walk into the tree and hurt myself.

Now consider a slightly more sophisticated example: atoms. The idea of atoms, in some form or other, dates back to ancient India and Greece but the modern idea of atoms dates to John Dalton (1766 – 1844). He used the concept of atoms to explain why elements always interact in the ratios of small whole numbers. This is indirect evidence for the existence of atoms and was enough to convince the chemists but not the physicists of that time. Some like Ernst Mach (1838 – 1916) refused to believe in what they could not see up until the beginning of the last century[1]. But then Albert Einstein’s (1879 – 1955) famous 1905 paper[2] on Brownian motion (the motion of small particles suspended in a liquid) convinced even the most recalcitrant physicists that atoms exist.  Einstein showed that Brownian motion could be easily understood as the result of the motion of discrete atoms. This was still indirect evidence but convincing to almost everyone. Atoms were only directly seen after the invention of the scanning electron microscope and even then there was model dependence in interpreting the scanning electron microscope results. As with the tree, we claim that atoms exist because, as a shown by Dalton, Einstein and others, they form an essential part of models that have strong track record of successful predictions.

Now on to the God particle. What a name! The God particle has little in common with God but the name does sound good in the title of this essay. Then again, calling it the Higgs boson is not without problems as people other than Peter Higgs[3] (1920 – ) have claimed to have been the first to predict its existence. Back to the main point, why do we say the God particle exists? First there is the indirect evidence. The standard model of particle physics has an enviable record of successful predictions. Indeed, many (most?) particle physicists would be happier if it had had some incorrect predictions. We could replicate most of the successful predictions of the standard model without the God particle but only at the expense of making the model much more complicated. Like the recalcitrant physicists of old who rejected the atom, the indirect evidence for the God particle was not good enough for most modern-day particle physicists. Although few actually doubted its existence, like doubting Thomas, they had to see it for themselves. Thus, the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and its detectors were built and direct evidence was found. Or was it? Would lines on a computer screen have convinced the logical positivists like Ernst Mach? Probably not, but the standard model predicted bumps in the cross-sections and the bumps were found. Given the accumulated evidence and its starring role in the standard model of particle physics, we confidently proclaim that the God particle, like the tree and the atom, exists. But remember, that even for the tree our arguments were model dependent.

Having discussed the God particle what about God? I would apply the same criteria to His/Her/Its existence as for the tree, the atom, or the God particle. As in those cases, the evidence can be direct or indirect.  Indirect evidence for God’s existence would be, for example, the argument from design attributed to William Paley (1743 – 1805). This argument makes an analogy between the design in nature and the design of a watch. The question is then is this a good analogy? If we adopt the approach of science this reduces to the question: Can the analogy be used to make correct predictions for observations? If it can, the analogy is useful, otherwise it should be discarded. There is also the possibility of direct evidence: Has God or His messengers ever been seen or heard? But as the previous examples show, nothing is ever really seen directly but depends on model construction. As optical illusions illustrate, what is seen is not always what is there. Even doubting Thomas may have been too ready to accept what he had seen. As with the tree, the atom or the God particle, the question comes back to: Does God form an essential part of a model with a track record of successful predictions?

So does God exist? I have outlined the method for answering this question and given examples of the method for trees, atoms and the God particle. Following the accepted pedagogical practice in nuclear physics, I leave the task of answering the question of God’s existence as an exercise for you, the reader.

To receive a notice of future posts follow me on Twitter: @musquod.


[1] Yes, 1905 was the last century. I am getting old.

[2] He had more than one famous 1905 paper.

[3] Why do we claim Peter Higgs exists?  But, I digress.

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  • rahl

    The existence of God is NOT a philosophical question. Many people make this false assumption. The existence of God is a question of physics, not philosophy. I kinda agree with your concept about models – it is true we can only build models of reality to try to understand the world. For example, it’s easier to think of air as a fluid rather than billions of billions of tiny atoms, because it simplifies calculations. Even if we had a powerful enough computer to calculate the behavior or air as billions of billions of tiny atoms it would make absolutely no difference to the airplane design for example. But back to God. If you treat God as a philosophical debate you risk falling into endless conversations about semantics and whatnot, which deliberately steer away from the ONLY IMPORTANT THING: there are ZERO evidence of the existence of God. ZERO. Not only that, but modern quantum theory leaves NO ROOM for something like God. To put it in another way – the same theories that give you the Internet predict God doesn’t exist. Can that theory be wrong? Highly doubtful.

  • http://www.triumf.ca/theory/byron-jennings Byron

    The whole point the essay was that the question of God’s existence should be addressed by the same techniques as for trees, atoms, or subatomic particles.

  • http://coraifeartaigh.wordpress Cormac

    V interesting post. My understanding is that Mach never truly accepted the reality of atoms, just as he never accepted relativity.
    I too occasionally use the term ‘god particle’ – however, I recommend a small g as it is lessss offensive to some..

  • http://www.triumf.ca/theory/byron-jennings Byron

    I have heard claims both ways for Mach so I am not sure of the correct statement.

  • Patrick

    The philosophical question of ontology is deeper than that, you only scratch the surface. Because you should continue: when I “see” something, does the light exist ? Does my eye exist ? Does my body even exist ? The only thing I really know is that my subjective experience of “seeing a tree” exists. We’re back to Descartes. There’s no way to know that an objective world exists. Only my subjective impressions exist. That’s all. “objective world” is already part of the model hypothesis.

  • http://www.triumf.ca/theory/byron-jennings Byron

    I make a similar point in the previous blog. We cannot know the ultimate reality. I have heard this idea is originally due to Kant. All we have are our observations and our models. Hence when we say something exists it is in the context of our models.

  • http://www.myborealis.ca Kathie Bondar

    We think of God as the omnipotent, omnipresent entity somewhere out there. This is not quite right. The Creator and God are not the same. The Creator is not involved in the moralistic, ethical sense of management, God does that, and every every unit, be it a planet or solar system has its own god.
    Let us start with your tree analogy. Suppose the sun is just setting leaving long shadows. If you look at the tree from the west you see it clearly. From the east your vision is impared,you loose much detail. From above what you see may be a shrub or a tree. Taking Dna might be helpful.
    Defining God, who many of us believe created this vast complex universe, may not be simple. I did it my way: I defined telepathy as having speed and direction and that it is not in the realm of electromagnetism. Then I defined that dreams are telepathy in the sleeping state. Then I progressed to proving that there is a parallel universe and the passage from one to the other is accomplished by the Higgs particle. So, now that we experimentally proved the Higgs, let us follow the tracts, there will be a a Creator at the end. He communicates by telepathy. From my diary here are a few sentences of my initial dialogue with him:
    February 27, 2008
    I finished my painting of the black hole and left it to dry on top of the fireplace, then went for a jog.
    telepathy [ He (to my surprise the high voltage buzz adjusted to my human telepathic ears) The planks have thickness.
    I That’s right! I drew them as rays, although in the dream they did look like boards with a thickness. What are they? Are they resting on the ledge or are they passing through?
    He Not boards. Planks.
    I Max Planck! Quantum physics; wave length, Planck scale energy. Surly, by thickness you mean wave length. I need to refresh my memory. Lucky I kept my physics textbook.
    (Planck scale energy = 1.22 x 1019GeV; Planck scale length = 1.616 x 10-35 m)
    Dear God, I am overwhelmed! How did I merit your attention? I am overjoyed and humbled but above all thankful for your grace.
    I hop-skipped home in my excitement, humming a tune thinking that if HE was looking, he would see a little girl way down below jumping for joy.
    He (bemused, smiling) Microcosm. ]

  • Mukund Hambarde

    Does the God exist ? Absolute consciousness do exist. The existence is transformation of this absolute consciousness. We call that god, Allah Eeshwar etc. IS THE EXISTENCE NOT GOD ?

  • http://www.quantumdiaries.org/2013/06/07/god-and-the-god-particle/ Jim

    Interesting viewpoint! Does that mean that neutrons don’t exist, because 200 years ago, there was no evidence of their existence? If we define what exists and what is real by what we know today, we eliminate a lot of the universe from existence. I suggest the question cannot be answered definitively today, becasse we don’t have enough evidence in either direction. If you say we have no evidence that God exists, what evidence do we have that God doesn’t exist? If you really trust science, you must have evidence to prove any theory.

  • http://www.triumf.ca/theory/byron-jennings Byron

    Interesting comment. Perhaps the statement should be that we can only claim things exist if they appear in models. Certainly our current models claim neutrons existed 200 years ago. However at that time we would have had no reason to even speculate about their existence.

  • http://www.triumf.ca/theory/byron-jennings Byron

    Absolute consciousness cannot simply be assumed to exist. If it exists it too must come out of a model.

  • David Lau

    Personally, I think it is senseless to ponder about the existence of God as science cannot prove or disprove His Existence. But science can certainly eliminate the necessity of His Existence and still be able to accomplish what it had in the past, what it is currently doing and what impacts it will have in the future for all of us without any Divine intervention. Science is real and the laws of physics are all real.

  • http://www.triumf.ca/theory/byron-jennings Byron

    Science cannot prove or disprove the existence of quarks either but we should use the same standards in both cases.

  • Mike Decker

    Religious faith is something you can’t confirm empirically, otherwise it loses its significance. The allure is gone, because you can actually check it out. The controversy arises when large numbers of people aren’t willing to face the facts, choosing to conceal or suppress the evidence. Unless it’s the kinder, gentler version, where enthusiasts are being encouraged to ignore. It’s nice to imagine a friendly inquisitional presence that watches over everything, faintly amused by the seemingly transgressive aspects. A true sun god, incapable of intervening. Christopher Hitchens comes to mind, towards the end of his life, railing against the prospect of what he called a celestial dictatorship. Willing adherents that are quite taken by the possibility of grotesque ignorance emerging in the guise of a sophisticated understanding. It seems scientific somehow, in the sense that continuous monitoring and surveillance are required. And leading edge research as well. Important discoveries are being made, confirming the origin of the universe as a point of departure.
    The origins of humanity as well are being called into question. Your ancestry doesn’t extend back indefinitely. There was a magic moment of some kind, as your distant precursors emerged from the primitive ape like existence that was taken for granted. In particular, there’s no way to get it backwards, as if it hasn’t happened yet. The worst that can happen is that you’re going to lose the basic human capabilities, because they seem to have outlived their usefulness. The kind of discernment that served your ancestors well isn’t registering any more as a survival necessity.

  • veeramohan

    Every Human and animal think basically in same way, also in different ways. So there is no wonder, we agree and disagree.
    We agree there is tree, but disagree in parallax. If we hit a tree we agree it affect us – here common sense of mass plays the role.
    But in quantum mechanics, we still search for “mass”.
    Common sense says, there is effect of “Gravity”, but in standard model it is still not included.

    Can you prove the discreteness of proto, neutron and electron in an atom ?

    Charge and mas are same, becaz it affects physically, us. We can completely describe in different ways the electron in an atom and the one running in a wire ?.
    At quantum level we loose this physical effect, only in AXIOMS of mathematics ?

  • veeramohan

    What we are going to do, if we know God is there or no ? We will again start to question the God, “why you are here ?”

    During Albert Einstein’s period, there was lot of human conflicts. He soothed them with relative theory that, “All the human opinions are same”. It doesn’t mean parallax are invariant. It is negligible at the broder level, the speed of light.
    At the speed of light, consciousness become numb, axioms disappear, “mass” have no effect ?

  • http://www.triumf.ca/theory/byron-jennings Byron

    Einstein did not say “All the human opinions are same”. His relativity was strictly related to how the law of physics change in different frames. That is more like Paul Feyerabend.

  • veeramohan
  • http://www.triumf.ca/theory/byron-jennings Byron

    I would call him the first of the post-modernists and Epicurus the first of new atheists (although he was not really an atheist).

  • veeramohan

    Yes you are (also Kant) correct Patrick,
    /The Italian Renaissance destroyed God in the West, schism after war after apostasy. outlaw toilets/- Uncle Al says.

    The origin of “Secularism” and private property Law(capitalism) – The Italian Renaissance and Roman Law:
    A place in the Sun:
    The greed of their own,compromised proselytizing of the Paganistic European culture, the Christian faith and schools, the brutality in the name of democracy? brought “We also require our place in the Sun” – this was the opinion that finally prevailed. Made Bismarch also to succumb under Hegelian classical conservatism (monetary union of vassals) against the subjugated peasantry & warrior class’s Romantic conservatism (workers party).

    Albert Einstein had done good to rectify this problem in belief, by physical law. In reality there is no need for Ethics and Morality, but without them, the world is not better place to live than with them.
    The point of origin of philosophies (axioms) make the the base for models. If the Models didn’t work, we must have courage to come out of constructs. Then only we can differenciate between physical laws (nature) and authority of Models.

    What is Toilet ?
    We are satisfied with our beautiful house (Model) built by our wishes. The accomplishment also based on experiments (material availability). But we feel this house without Toilet will be more beautiful and neat (known particles with zero mass and without gravity) – does this fit into common sense ? Then with murmuring we built a toilet to accept reality ?

    — collected in net.

  • http://www.principia.net.au Christina Munns

    God does exist. God is Absolute Zero. It is the Absolute Zero state from which everything emanates and of which it consists. Absolute Zero = Pure Consciousness = God. Thus the phenomenon of Pure Consciousness unifies science & spirituality, since both schools of thought exist within the unified field of Pure Consciousness.

    It is from the state of nothing (0) or Absolute Zero that something (1) arises. This is the binary code of the cosmos. The understanding of the physics of Absolute Zero is related to the Unified Field Theory & Unified Standard Model that I have just completed – entitled “Principia Unitas – Volumes 1-6″.

  • Mike Decker

    Here’s an impressionistic twist. It happened a long time ago, back in 1994, a nightmare I’d prefer to forget, moving to a small island near Vancouver, and what turned out to be in store. Left graduate school back in the late eighties. Chaos was big. And string theory. Paul Feyerabend is the individual I remember. I had a copy of Against Method. Ironies abounding, as to what that might mean. The all bets are off approach to theorizing and speculating, leaving behind the tired methodologies that might have proved fruitful in a more heroic era. And you might actually hit the jackpot.
    Black holes were quite fashionable, in the popular realm, without really having to get a sense of what they might be. Not really part of the curriculum for a regular science student. You were becoming acquainted with the formalities of spacetime and gravity. Collapsed starts is what they are, presumably, or they’re the gravitational vortex formed by a collapsed star. The sun isn’t massive enough to undergo the full collapse, supposedly, an insight due to Chandrasekhar and some of his contemporaries back in the 1930’s. Not too sure of what the reasoning is, or whether the Chandrasekhar limit has been verified empirically.
    A rebuilding process of some kind, presumably. The sun can’t radiate unless there’s something drawing the energies. Thermodynamic equilibrium requires radiation sinks as well. Passive absorption wouldn’t serve the purpose, because temperatures would increase indefinitely, and the radiation being absorbed would have to be reemitted in some fashion.
    The materials composing a collapsed start aren’t well known, but Higgs bosons might serve the purpose, to the extent that they have an enormous absorptive capacity, storing up energy over a long period of time, in preparation for the radiant stage beginning to reemerge, the initial glimmerings of the sun being an obvious point of departure, rather than the origin of the universe.
    They would have to transform into solid hydrogen, presumably, and you’d have to know a little bit about fusion processes at incredibly low temperature. Beginning at the core, perhaps, with pressure playing a crucial role, helium being more dense than hydrogen is.
    I really don’t know much about the Higgs field, or what purpose it’s supposed to serve. Black holes are presumed to be merely gravitational anomalies, which is probably far too weak to account for the massive amount of absorption that would have to occur.
    Strictly for active theorists, including rank amateurs that might be taking an interest. Tends to be associated with traumatic experiences for me, that I’ve managed to forget, mostly, and don’t need to be dredged up. And the nineties, especially, the mid nineties, which is when it all went down. On Gabriola, of all places, an innocuous island out in the middle of nowhere.
    Found out only recently that Professor Feyerabend passed away in 1994. Always a thorn in the side of the establishment. Managed to create a few lifelong enemies, self styled marxists mostly, wanting to go to bat for the unsung masses, relentless traumatized by the surplus value from their labours. Kind of ironic in that he apprenticed with Bertholt Brecht in his younger years, when he was contemplating a career as a dramatist. Feyerabend was never really a theorist, shying away from enjoying the status of a legitimate scientist in favour of pure philosophy and cultural critique. I abandoned the academically inclined milieu a long time ago. I was going to write to Professor Unruh back in 2006 when I left Gabriola, but it was an opportunity that kind of lapsed.
    As a sidelight, the materials composing a black hole, wouldn’t have to be confined to within the Schwarzchild radius, which is kind of arbitrary. One can imagine a reversed corona, if you like, extending well beyond the limit from which light fails to emerge, trapped solely by gravitational forces.

  • Glauber

    What makes you think that walking into the tree and hurting yourself is not something produced by signals of your brain, just as much as your vision of the tree? In other words, why do you put the sense of TOUCH in a higher level than that of VISION? Your MODEL of reality as model-based is simplistic and even self-contradictory. For we could say that, under your own premises, its being a model makes it true only after it is tested, which you can’t do.

  • http://google JohnnyG

    something sparked the beginning of time – it just didn’t randomly happened – as a explosive needs a fuse, this universe need one as well & I call it God- the more we try to discuss about God if he is real the more I find we put ourselves in a box – as a finite we will never understand infinite

  • Randy

    Again, we have an example similar to Columbus discovering the America’s. Columbus (God particle) discovers America (big bang) shouted the crowd as they celebrated their newborn wisdom. The first man declared, “I shall write a thesis which completes our earlier theories in their entirety”. The second man replies, “Marvelous, I shall rarely sleep knowing that we have unraveled the beginning and gave it an end”. A third passerby overheard the exchange and politely interrupted, “Excuse my dear gentlemen, but who created the particle”? There seems to be a distinct difference between discovery and creation. Everything created can be discovered. Everything discovered does not equal everything created.