Big Bang Day
If you are reading this I guess it didn’t happen. I mean the world didn’t end. I write this on Tuesday 9th September, the day before Big Bang Day, when the long awaited particle accelerator at CERN near Geneva is switched on for the first time. The Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the world’s largest atom smashing machine has been designed to smash together beams of phenomenally high velocity protons in order to discover more about the nature of matter and what the universe was like one trillioneth of a second after the big bang that created the universe. One fear that has been expressed about this experiment is that the scientists will inadvertently create black-holes here on earth into which we will all be instantly sucked never to reappear, heralding the end of the world.
I’m carrying on writing this in the confident hope that this doesn’t happen and that you’ll still be here tomorrow to read these musings. The scientists at LHC are hoping that these high energy pile ups will allow them to see a particle that has long been predicted to exist but hasn’t yet been seen – the oddly named Higgs boson. If they see it for the first time, that of course will be exciting and will confirm their theories; but if they don’t see it that may be even more exciting because it could lead to a whole rethink about the basics of nuclear physics – akin to the great rethinks in the days of Copernicus or Newton.
The existence of the Higgs boson was proposed by Professor Peter Higgs of Edinburgh University in 1964 in order to explain the origin of mass in the universe. Such is the theoretical importance of the Higgs boson and its predicted omnipresence in all matter, it has been dubbed ‘the God particle’.
Now that God has been mentioned it is worth asking where does all this leave belief in a creator? Will the LHC experiments get us any nearer to proving or disproving the existence of God? Could further experiments take us back to before the big bang? Nuclear physics has been amazingly successful in helping us to understand the evolution of the universe that we see and experience today. We can investigate its development right back to the tiniest fraction of a second after the big bang, when space and time exploded into being. However, to go back and consider the nature of things before the big bang at the beginning of the universe makes no logical sense at all, because there was no time before the big bang – the dimension of time was created in that explosion. The universe we experience today depends on something beyond both space and time and therefore beyond the realm of physics. This leaves plenty of room for a belief in a creator – one who doesn’t just ‘light the blue touch paper and retire immediately’ but who sustains the whole space-time web in being.
All this is giving me a bit of a headache: I think that I’ll go and have a lie down confident that Richard Dawkins doesn’t have all the answers.