The Higgs Apocalypse
In Monday’s post, we saw how God could have used the Higgs mechanism to help power the creation event—but the Higgs might also provide the mechanism by which God will someday sweep away this creation and replace it with the new heavens and new earth. Higgs physics allows for a possible scenario that sounds a lot like the coming events described in Scripture.
Physicists are busy studying the particle they discovered in 2012, to see if it is indeed the Higgs boson. In the standard model of particle physics, the Higgs is a single particle, but in some alternate theories the role of the Higgs is played by a more complicated set of particles called the Higgs sector. Ongoing studies are researching if the universe has a simple Higgs or a Higgs sector.
In a previous article, we learned that the Higgs potential is special because its lowest energy state is not at zero but is at some finite value of the Higgs field. We also saw that in the beginning, the universe could have been entirely empty—until a process called spontaneous symmetry breaking caused the Higgs field1 to develop a non-zero value everywhere in space, filling the universe with energy and helping to power the big bang. This may describe how God went about creating everything from nothing.
Physicists are still working out the details of how it all happened, and one of the critical details is the shape of the Higgs potential. For example, if the potential is very flat at the top, then the process could take a long time (a “slow roll”) and result in what is known as “inflation,”2 where the three spatial dimensions we experience as height, width, and depth expanded exponentially from infinitesimally small to immeasurably large.
An intriguing possibility is that the Higgs potential has more than one minimum (valley). If this is true, it is possible that we live in what is known as a “false vacuum.” The true vacuum is the lowest energy valley of the Higgs potential; any other valleys represent false vacuums, and, generally speaking, the physics in each vacuum will be different.
Looking at Scripture, it seems the book of Revelation explains that the physics in the new heaven and new earth will be different from the physics in our current universe. Not only does Revelation 21 tell us that the first Earth will pass away, but it also describes a new Jerusalem that is inconsistent with physics of this universe.3 So, moving the Higgs field from its current vacuum state to a new vacuum state might be a way God could cause the first Earth to pass away and usher in a new heaven and new earth.
How can we live in a false vacuum if there is a lower energy true vacuum? This can happen if there is an energy barrier between the vacua. Overcoming this energy barrier would be similar to lighting flammable material on fire. Introducing a heat source allows the material to transition to the lower energy state, releasing energy in the process.
If the universe is in a false vacuum, then it is possible that the first heaven and earth could be swept away at any time by the Higgs field changing from its current vacuum expectation value (VEV) to the VEV corresponding to a lower energy vacuum. If some event were to cause the Higgs field to change anywhere in the universe, the change would propagate to the rest of the universe at the speed of light, just like a spreading flame, sweeping away the old creation and releasing energy as it replaces it with the new creation. This sounds a lot like what we read in 2 Peter 3:7–13 (NASB):
But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men….But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up….the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells.
In other words, everything cannot continue on as it has since the beginning of creation. Peter’s description of the elements being consumed by fire is consistent with what would happen if the Higgs vacuum were to change. In fact, some people were so concerned that the Higgs research at CERN’s Large Hadron Collider (LHC) would doom the universe by kicking us into a new vacuum state that they filed a lawsuit to halt the project. Fortunately, the LHC cannot do anything that has not already been done by high-energy cosmic rays, so it does not pose a threat. However, quantum mechanics permits tunneling through an energy barrier, so God, being the Creator of all, could initiate the apocalypse at the time of His choosing without the need for so much as a match.
With the date of this apocalypse unknown (and unknowable), it would be wise to keep Peter’s warning in mind.
You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (2 Peter 3:17–18, NASB emphasis original)
- Or a similar scalar field; the details are not understood, but the 2012 discovery and subsequent research proves the existence of at least one scalar field.
- See, for example, Jeff Zweerink, “What Is Inflation?” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), last modified September 1, 2010, http://www.reasons.org/articles/multiverse-musings-what-is-inflation; and Zweerink, “Big Bang ‘Smoking Gun’ Discovered,” Science News Flash (podcast), March 17, 2014, http://www.reasons.org/podcasts/science-news-flash/big-bang-smoking-gun-discovered.
- While many biblical scholars believe the new heavens and new earth will be a cleaned-up version of this creation, new physics is required to eliminate decay (entropy). Even the new Jerusalem, which is described as a cube, would be forced into a spherical shape by gravity as it currently exists.
By Dr. Thomas Phillips
Dr. Thomas Phillips received his PhD in particle physics from Harvard University in 1986, and recently retired from the faculty at Duke University to work as an entrepreneur. He is also currently a research professor of physics at the Illinois Institute of Technology.