God Particles?


Though I love language and literature, I sometimes wish I’d had better science teachers.  Today was one of those days.

The Washington Post’s online version briefly posted a link to a story about a conference in Italy where physicists were discussing the Higgs boson, dubbed The God Particle in a book by Nobel Prize winner Leon Lederman because his publisher refused to let him call it The Goddamn Particle, a title he wanted because “nobody could find the thing.”

The title started as a joke, much to the dismay of the man for whom the particle is named—Professor Peter Higgs, an atheist who first proposed in the 1960s that the universe acquired mass in a split-second when particles joined together before decaying into the commonplace, everyday components of the world we know and understand.

Generally, I wouldn’t pay close attention to such a complicated scientific principle.  But today I did because the illustration accompanying the article reminded me of a long-ago sketch in a textbook that accompanied one of my favorite poems when I read it for the first time, James Weldon Johnson’s “The Creation.”

I once read the poem to my daughter when, as a three-year-old, she asked me how God got all those stars up in the sky.  I couldn’t explain the scientific principle of stars to a toddler, so instead, I read her Johnson’s poem, which says, in part:

And the light that was left from making the sun

God gathered it up in a shining ball

And flung it against the darkness,

Spangling the night with the moon and stars.

Johnson, best known as the man who catapulted the NAACP from being an organization of 9000 to one of 90,000, was one of my favorite poets, and this poem was my favorite of all his work.  When I read his poem, it brought the God of the Book of Genesis to life for me.  I could see and hear God flinging the stars against the sky and saying, “That’s good,” almost as if surprised at his own creativity.

So it was fascinating to me today when the illustration that accompanied the article in the newspaper looked very much like the sketch I’d seen so long ago in the textbook where I first encountered one of my favorite poems.

The artist’s rendition of the Higgs boson also reminded me of Michelangelo’s painting of the Creation, with the arcs of energy from the Large Hadron Collider in Geneva, Switzerland looking eerily like all those cracks from hundreds of years of wear on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

And so I wondered, yet again, why devout Christians and respected scientists consider the Biblical story of creation incompatible with scientific principles.  I am in awe of both, and I find them to be in perfect harmony with one another.  I read the story of creation and picture a God flinging the stars against the sky the way an artist splatters paint on a canvas with utter abandon, and I’m amazed at how colors collide into something incredibly beautiful.  I read about the scientists who are so passionate about particles they are only beginning to understand, as I struggle to understand their explanation, and I am in wonder at the incredible energy of that collider that tries to replicate the tiniest components of existence.

Both take my breath away.  So here’s to the scientists who seek to explain the universe.  And here’s to the Creator, who fashioned a universe that, so far at least, is simply too wonderfully complex to comprehend.

I’m in awe.  What about you?