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Faith in God; faith in god particle

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PHYSICS is the "hardest of the hard sciences," according to a physicist who works for the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), which operates the legendary Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland.

As such, physics has been the guiding light of 20th and 21st century knowledge and belief, much like Christian theology was in the Western world of the 13th and 14th centuries. As Thomas Aquinas might have argued, theology is the hardest of the hard philosophies.

Curiously, both modern physics and medieval theology share at least one common feature -- both are based on acts of faith, the theologians believing in a god whose existence cannot be proven, the physicists believing in a "god particle," the existence of which has yet to be proven. Its so tiny and so shy, they are not even sure it exists at all, but it underpins the whole credo of modern particle physics.

Scientists at CERN believe they are on the verge of discovering the god particle, or the Higgs Boson, as it is more formally and funnily known. The collider in Switzerland is smashing the basic bits of matter into smaller and smaller pieces. The Higgs Boson is believed to be the smallest and most elusive bit of all, and, although it has not yet been identified or even located, physicists have faith that it will be discovered within a year.

That would be a good thing. Theology is not much in vogue intellectually these days, but physics has become quite sexy and we all have a great deal of faith invested in it, because if the Higgs Boson does not exist, then matter doesnt matter, because nothing exists in the way we understand existing, according to science. Were all living in a fantasy until that Large Hadron Collider gets its collisions correct.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 31, 2011 i12

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