Advanced particle physics may not seem the vehicle for popular fiction to address the conflict between science and religion. Yet Richard Cox uses the subject successfully in
On the surface, The God Particle tells the stories of two men. Steve Keely is a California businessman who suffers a severe head injury when he falls three stories from a window while on a business trip in Switzerland. Mike McNair is a physicist who heads up the world’s largest super conducting super collider in Texas and the search for the Higgs boson. This hypothesized subatomic particle is known as “the God particle” because it is believed to be the component of a field through which all other particles move and responsible for giving those particles mass. If you don’t quite grasp the last sentence, that is one of the attributes of the work. Cox explains and uses such advanced concepts in a fashion that prevents them from being stumbling blocks. (In a concluding note, Cox gives credit to a similarly titled work by Leon Lederman, the 1988 Nobel laureate in physics, as the inspiration for this book).
Yet The God Particle is much more than a fiction-based exploration of theoretical physics. Whether we go back to Galileo’s conflict with the Catholic Church or today’s debate over teaching evolution or “intelligent design,” it seems we perpetually face certain core questions. Do we look to science or religion to try to understand the essence of life? Is there a point at which scientific objectivism and spiritual faith both are essential to any such understanding?
Keely must deal with these issues firsthand. McNair examines them more abstractly. In the end, though, the paths of both men converge and require them to confront the same metaphysical questions.
Cox explores the issues in a way that does not make this a pondering philosophical tome. Not only is the work straightforward, it is generally evenhanded and balanced. The effort to maintain balance is aided by the fact Cox takes the time for readers to understand key characters and their motivations. Likewise, while any work of this sort requires you to suspend belief, Cox does not over-abuse the reader’s sensibilities. Additionally, his descriptions of Keely’s experiences following his injury and the emotional struggles of one of McNair’s closest friends are quite effective.
Still, The God Particle is not flawless. About a third of the way through, I guessed how and why McNair’s and Keely’s paths would cross. There also seem to be a few too many diversions into sex, whether by obsessions or encounters. For the most part, they do not add to the story and seem more titillation than anything.
At bottom, though, the good outweighs the bad and there’s plenty to praise. The God Particle accomplishes what science-based fiction should do—raise and encourage the reader to think about essential issues. Here, these issues include not only belief (whether in religion or science), fate, and the essence of life and the universe, but also how science and religion may each explore these issues with different constructs, language and methodology. As such, The God Particle is an enjoyable success.