October 19, 2017

The Sad Views of Stephen Hawking

Copyright © Cloe Ashton, 2010. Website link below.

By Chaplain Mike

In an exclusive interview with The Guardian, cosmologist Stephen Hawking was as blunt and clear as he could be about his views on life beyond this life. “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”

Hawking’s comments came in response to questions posed by the Guardian in advance of a lecture at the Google Zeitgeist meeting in London, in which he will address the question, “Why are we here?” In answer to that query, the renowned scientist asserted, “Science predicts that many different kinds of universe will be spontaneously created out of nothing. It is a matter of chance which we are in.”

Last year, in response to Hawking’s book, The Grand Design, in which he said that science excludes the possibility of God, Rabbi Lord Sacks answered Hawking by remarking that the author had committed a fundamental fallacy in his thinking. “There is a difference between science and religion. Science is about explanation. Religion is about interpretation. …there is more to wisdom than science. It cannot tell us why we are here or how we should live. Science masquerading as religion is as unseemly as religion masquerading as science.”

Hawking’s pronouncements represent the other end of the spectrum from the fundamentalism of the creationists. This is fundamentalist scientism. It shows that even a man as brilliant as Stephen Hawking can have a stunted imagination, limited to what the human mind can discover or explain. Furthermore, it seems as though this “objective” scientist has also allowed a bit of emotional prejudice to color his words, demeaning believers as children who fear the darkness, who need daddy to calm them with night-night tales.

I, for one, do not think the Biblical story that reaches its pinnacle in Jesus the Messiah is a fairy tale. I would argue that the historical evidence for his resurrection can lead one to the reasonable conclusion that what the early Christians said happened on Easter Sunday and for forty days following really occurred. Faith is a matter of mind, as well as heart and soul.

It is a tragedy that people on both sides of this debate cannot find it in their hearts, minds, and imaginations to make room for each other. But we are reminded again today that it is not just the religious fundamentalists that are making that impossible in our day.

NOTE: Steven Hawking image by Chloe Ashton. Visit the website HERE.

Comments

  1. Brendan H says:

    “It is a tragedy that people on both sides of this debate cannot find it in their hearts, minds, and imaginations to make room for each other. But we are reminded again today that it is not just the religious fundamentalists that are making that impossible in our day.”

    How has anything Stephen Hawking says failed to make room for believers? Because he says that they are wrong?

    Believers say that unbelievers are wrong all the time. What’s more, they often say that unbelievers are going to suffer eternally for being wrong.

    Who’s being charitable here, and who’s not?

    • Brendan H says:

      and just to be clear here, I’m not saying that Hawking is right. I’m just wondering why so many believers seem to take offense that atheists think that believers are deluded. It’s the natural consequence of being an atheist: you believe God is a myth. That isn’t an attack on believers. It’s just what it means not to believe in something.

      • I don’t think Chaplain Mike is taking offense. He’s simply saying it’s a tragedy.

      • To say someone is a child who needs his blanket and a bedtime story doesn’t exactly open a door for thoughtful and respectful discussion, now does it?

        • Brendan H says:

          I read the interview and searched the text and I do not see where he said that in the story. Is it in some other linked interview?

          • From the interview:

            “There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark”

          • Brendan H says:

            @Justin: that is considerably LESS offensive or off putting than the “bedtime story” and “blanket” analogy.

            Calling religion a fairy story is equivalent to saying that religion is a myth (in the non Joseph Campbell sense). This is what an atheist believes. Why should it be any more offensive than a Christian telling an atheist that their lack of belief may doom them to hell?

        • cermak_rd says:

          And yet, that’s frequently what it sounds like when people talk about the afterlife–as if it’s a way to cope with the uncertainties or the unfairness of this life; rather than a concept that draws from a rich, scholastic theology.

          I tend to side with Stephen here. I have seen no evidence of an afterlife. There’s precious information of such in the Scriptures I accept as being somewhat true (Torah–no, I have little belief in the rest of the Tanakh as Divinely inspired works). One of the things about my tradition that attracted me is that there is little interest in the afterlife. I guess the attitude is we’ll all find out eventually.

          • One wonders what evidence of an afterlife would appear to us on this side of the grave. Surely (and this is where Hawking misses the point) it is not something that can be proved or falsified scientifically, but believed on because it is consistent with a worldview that makes reasonable sense on other grounds.

    • A couple thoughts for cermak- Why would people be crtical of what comes across as very arrogant views od the unknown when faith can come across as doing the same thing? Especially if some espouse oblivion. The great irony here is that the message of the athiest is a message of “hell” for everyone. Everyone will go to obvivion. Everyone will be separated from love. Everyone is without purpose. This is the gospel of Hawking.

      Even excluding religious revelation humans are hardwired to believe that life has purpose and meaning… even Hawking deperately wants to discover alien life… he preaches his message and teaches his science with a presupposition that it actually matters. But if he is right it is no different from a randome belch… just molecules in motion.

      Reality is that kids are afraid of the dark because there is something else out there. Animals that

    • A couple thoughts for cermak- Why would people be crtical of what comes across as very arrogant views od the unknown when faith can come across as doing the same thing? Especially if some espouse oblivion. The great irony here is that the message of the athiest is a message of “hell” for everyone. Everyone will go to obvivion. Everyone will be separated from love. Everyone is without purpose. This is the gospel of Hawking. Why would anyone react if a man is condemning all creation to hell? Yet athiest are angry because there is a faith that says you can have life?

      Even excluding religious revelation humans are hardwired to believe that life has purpose and meaning… even Hawking deperately wants to discover alien life… he preaches his message and teaches his science with a presupposition that it actually matters. But if he is right it is no different from a randome belch… just molecules in motion.

      The funny thing is is that kids “negative” instinct are afraid of the dark because there is something else out there… there are predators. To dismiss the human instinct that life has purpose and hope simply because we desire it is laughable. J.R.R. Tolkien said that faith is the one true fairy tale, the one which all others point… we are in what seems to be a hopeless situation, but one has made a way to overcome.one last thought and irony… computers, even broken down one’s are designed, and comupters can one day be upgraded and the information transfered and the viruses removed… that’s not an unrealistic hope. If one has legs but can’t walk it is not false hope to imagine that legs were designed for walking

  2. Hawking is held in much higher regard by the public than by his peers in theoretical physics. That being said, his rock-star public status gives greater exposure to his views which is too bad. Given that other physists disagree with his theories, I don’t take seriously his theological conclusions based in part on those theories.

    • good point

    • Brendan H says:

      Just a note for the record: Speaking as a member of the physics community, Stephen Hawking is held in very high regard by most of that community. It is simply that his truly groundbreaking work is long behind him. There are a few out there who really resent him, but a lot of that is professional jealousy: he gets attention for work he did 30 years ago, while the cutting edge researchers today don’t get their props.

      Maybe if they tried working on some other project besides dead end string theory they’d have better luck.

  3. If anyone could have a serious conversation with Mr. Hawking, he or she should ask just a couple of fundamental questions. 1. What percent of available knowledge does Mr. Hawking think he has? For example, anthropologists believe there are about 8,000 languages in the world, so someone with 1% of all available knowledge should be able to speak 80 languages. 2. Is it possible that God exists outside the realm of Mr. Hawking’s knowledge?

    Sadly, though, it sounds as though Mr. Hawking has already closed that door.

    • What percent do Christians think they have? Is it possible that the Flying Spaghetti Monster exists outside their knowledge? Don’t close the door to his noodly appendage!

      • Quixotequest says:

        The interest of comparing the FSM to Christianity is confined within a rational thought experiment. Not to say that such a thought experiment has no value. But to eliminate the weight of hopeful tradition, intellectual grapple, and human experience that Christianity represents (even if it’s not always logically consistent) by reducing it on par with an intentionally cynical (if somewhat humorous and useful) thought experiment is an obtuse expression of hopeless and fundamentalist nihilism indeed.

      • D White says:

        Ramen Melvin! The blindness to ones own actions and the hipocracy runs deep in these discussions.

  4. Mr. Hawking is right.

    There will be no Heaven and no saving God for himself.

    It is quite sad. More so if he (Hawking ) has helped lead others to that place of eternal darkness and separation from the Living God.

    • Brendan H says:

      LOL. I knew someone would say this.

      Who’s mean spirited again?

      • Exactly, I don’t know how many Christians (even members of my family) have condemned me to hell because I don’t agree with them. I don’t think they realize just what they are saying.

        I agree with Hawking…there is no proof that the afterlife is anything like the Christians say it is. Maybe the Muslims are correct, or the Hindus or the Buddhists. who knows

        • I would say the Christian faith is based on the fact that there is proof of an afterlife – that proof is the resurrected Jesus. Because He was resurrected, that is what we are looking forward to – a physical resurrection. It may not be proof in the sense that it’s based on repeatable experimental observation, but it’s proof in the sense that what the Apostles and the witnesses of the resurrected Christ saw, they passed on.

          I think the one danger that Christians can fall into is actually talking about an afterlife. As N.T. Wright likes to say, our faith isn’t about the afterlife, but really, the life after the afterlife.

          • D White says:

            What proof are you talking about? If you are talking proof, that falls into the scientific realm and I would think that would end up making history.

        • Topher: It is your prerogative to agree with Hawking. But your statements appear to be internally contradictory. If you really believe that it is possible that one of the many religious worldviews is correct, Hawking is the last person you should be agreeing with–he closes all of those doors with his view that there is no such thing. Then your stated agreement with Hawking is simply an thinly intellectual gloss for a profound intellectual sloth–if one of those worldviews may be correct, you should learn about the claims of the various systems and decide for yourself.

          • Quixotequest says:

            Excellent point. My objection with Hawking’s recent statement isn’t because what he says is “mean spirited”. He’s a brilliant man who can’t help lending the allure of his personality to create a gloss of authority to speaking outside his theoretical expertise — as if his opinion means anything more scientifically than the Believer’s when it comes to that subject.

      • leaving aside the question of whether Steve’s words are mean-spirited or not, I don’t see how that question affects whether Hawking was mean-spirited and dismissive towards people he disagrees with (which was Mike’s point). Surely just saying, “some of you guys do it too” is not a rational defense of Mike’s charge. My logic textbook lists this firmly in the “Tu Quoque (you too) fallacy”.

      • I wasn’t being mean. I was agreeing with Hawking! There will be NO Heaven for him, or others that dent the Lord and lead others AWAY from Him.

        If you think that is mean, then take it up with Jesus when you stand before Him in judgement. maybe you can change His mind on all of this.

        • What’s Jesus going to do to him–cripple him again? Or just put him out of his misery?

          • Quixotequest says:

            Or maybe just love him, not condemn him, and invite him into a new experience like He did with Thomas. I hold hope that in the end love wins without feeling badly about being non-commital to how that plays out in time-space between Jesus and those whom he redeems.

        • D White says:

          The FSM will send all you Jesus followers to the sauce pot to simmer until the eternal timer rings! Then he shall lash you three and a half times with his noodly appendage. High carb communion is your only salvation!

  5. It is sad that someone so intelligent has no inner inclination that a higher being created him and cares for him. Oh yes, I know the theory…this all happened by chance…what am I stupid? Faith is a gift and I am glad I have it. I feel bad for him.

  6. Chaplin Mike…what are you refering to when you reference the historical resurrection of Jesus? Does non-Christian historical records confirm the resurrection of Christ? (ie Roman government records, independent observations, etc…) Can you expand please?

    • Eagle, I don’t have time to elaborate on this now. The most helpful person for me with regard to this subject is NT Wright. If you go to ntwrightpage.com you will find a number of resources on this question. Most are distilled from his wonderful book, The Resurrection of the Spn of God. That will get you started.

      • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

        Chap,

        What do you think of Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ as far as this sort of thing goes? I saw the second half of the video with some friends the other day (and was very pleased to see NT Wright being interviewed in it). I hear the book is much better and more detailed, but haven’t read it. From what I understand, Strobel chronicles his journey as an agnostic exploring the claims of Christianity from his perspective as a journalist.

        • Isaac…remember for every Lee Strobel who exists there are agnostics and atheists who write from a counter perspective. Dan Barker (Freedom from Religion Foundation) wrote about his journey from an evangelical pastor to an atheist. William Lobdell who was an evangelical who covered faith issues for the Los Angeles Times wrote about his journey to becoming an atheist in “Losing My Religion”. There are other books out there, I know about some of this becuase I’ve floated around some agnostics and atheists here in DC.

          • Isaac (the poster formerly known as Obed) says:

            Certainly. I think it would be foolish to expect that one can definitively prove any belief system from a purely rational perspective. There is a point where one makes a leap of faith (no matter how short a leap), even if that leap is to atheism or agnosticism. While we can certainly change our minds and our beliefs, ultimately all of us can only see what we are willing to see and believe what we are willing to believe, no matter what the evidence is for or against whatever it is we are for or against. In fact, in the video, Strobel says that while he saw all the evidence pointing toward the claims of Christianity being true, he had to make a faith decision in the end.

            All that to say, I’m not saying that one should consider Strobel or Wright or anyone else as proof in of themselves. Rather, it seems that these authors have compiled what seems to them to be decisive evidence and have provided that evidence for others to also examine.

            Personally, apologetics has very little impact on my faith. It never has. My reasons for faith were never based on stuff like that. I’ve never been impartial enough to weigh the evidence either way. I also don’t really have a “conversion story.” I’ve known Christ since before I was capable of rationality. It’d be like asking me how I know my mom is my mother or how my brother is my brother. But, that’s just me.

        • I’ve heard Lee speak, but I have not read the book.

          • Damaris says:

            I have, and I think it’s very good. I read it from the point of view of a Christian, not an agnostic, but I found his points compelling and I learned things I hadn’t known before.

    • cermak_rd says:

      I was wondering the same thing. Because I have searched and found no independent verified historical record of this. Even the Jesuits never offered anything to support this (and if anyone knows scholarship, it’s the S of J!)

      • There’s no such thing as an “independent” historical record of any sort. All history is told from some perspective. Until someone invents a time machine, we’re always depending on the testimonies of those who recorded the history. Things like archeology and dating can provide evidence for certain things, but how would an event like the resurrection be proven, anyway?

  7. Who knows? Maybe the saving Grace of Christ is enough to get even atheists into heaven. After all, many believe God’s grace is broad and liberal enough to cover Ghandi, and from a Christian theological standpoint is there that much of a difference between someone who worships the ‘wrong’ God and someone who doesn’t worship a God at all? They are both outside the lines, if you draw lines.

    • Oh no, it’s creeping Bellism! He’s a Bellist! Burn, Bellist, Burn!

      Ok, just screwing around. I think that seems perfectly reasonable. Hopefully Piper won’t bid us adieu, since I was hoping to be Christian at least until the Rapture on Saturday.

    • The atheist would be forced to love God, then, would he not? So much for free will…

  8. Is it really appropriate to dismiss those who suffer extreme persecution for their faith as simply unable to cope with death?

  9. At least Hawking doesn’t have to ponder why God put him in that wheelchair. The paradox of why a good God allows bad things to happen doesn’t exist for him. It’s very clear cut, statistical, logical.

    To me, it might be another example of how the circumstances you are born into or inherit can play a large role in the faith you adopt. It certainly seems possible to be born with such a logical brain that one cannot accept things that are inherently outside the bounds of logic.

    • dumb ox says:

      “The paradox of why a good God allows bad things to happen doesn’t exist for him.”

      You are probably right. I think there are better answers than the typical examples of theodicy, but it involves chucking a lot of the trappings of traditional theism. Maybe after I can fully digest Spinoza’s “Ethics” I might have a better explanation. He said that the will of God (i.e. blaming everything that happens on God) was a fool’s refuge. The moment that I stopped asking the question, “why did God let this happen?”, was quite liberating.

  10. We live by faith. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God and his death and resurrection can save me if I accept him. That’s good enough for me.

  11. David Cornwell says:

    Stephen Hawking has proven to himself exactly what he set out to prove. He is akin to the holdout in the jury that has decided the case in a different direction and come hell or high water, cannot be moved. In doing so, however, he is not offering hope to the defendant, but withholding hope to himself. He might be judge, jury, and defendant.

    In the end science has offered very little to him.

    • “The holdout in the jury” suggests one lone dissenter out of 12. This hardly reflects the current state of religious opinion, which would suggest a breakdown something like this: 4 Christians (2 of them Catholic), 2 Muslims, 2 Hindus, 1 Buddhist, 1 follower of the Chinese folk religion, 1 miscellaneous, and Stephen Hawking.

      • Donalbain says:

        In the UK, it might well be a jury of 6 Hawkings, a couple of Christians, a Hindu, a Muslim, and some Jedis!

    • Lukas db says:

      All the universe to ponder, and he took only a few (debatable) formulas to heart. Has he forgotten all the things he hasn’t seen? I watched a farmer watch a sunset. There was far more going on in that mind that I would care to know.

  12. It is sad to see that such a brilliant mind limits his imagination to the physical realm. The line from Hamlet comes to mind: “There are more things in this world, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

    We’ve lost something with the enlightenment and modern trends toward a mere materialist view of the universe.

    Hawking’s dismissiveness of those who do believe is of a kind with the dismissiveness of fundamentalists/creationists, etc. on the other end of the spectrum regarding those with different views. For both sides, it’s indicatvie of a lack of interest in real discussion. It’s sad and one more reason for me to stay away from the extremes.

    • D White says:

      Sad? I would say that using your imagination on anything that there is no evidence for is using your imagination on imagination.

  13. Stephen Hawking was first diagnosed with a protracted form of ALS (Loue Gehrig’s disease) when he was 21 years old. At that time, a documented and recognised genius, and about to be married, he was told he had two, perhaps three years to live. This is the normal prognosis for this incurable, and untreatable, always terminal disorder.

    That was 43 years ago…

    Everyday, he has slowly and inexorably deteriorated. He has slowly found his mind to be as clear and as sharp as ever whilst his body has betrayed him, sliding down into absolute…nothingness. His form of ALS, known as limb-onset ALS, is the most common form as it begins with small muscle tremours (fasiculations) that are constant causing weight loss until that muscle mass dies and is no longer responsive to the brains commands. There are excrutiatingly painful cramps as the muscle dies. All medical science can offer is palliative care. As the entire body eventually succumbs, eating, swallowing, breathing, speaking all become compromised. His voice generator, the only voice he has and the one which now identifies him, is no longer manufactured and is so old and so fragile, it is jerry-rigged together. So he has lost an identifying part of himself…again. All that is left is him is a shell. And the incredible mind God has gifted him with.

    And, one day, whilst clearly watching the process, and with complete understanding, whilst everyone does everything for you, you die.

    My Husband died of a different form of ALS. It began with his speech and swallowing, so he was completely ambulatory until three days before he died.

    I should think, after suffering as Hawking has suffered without understanding the purposes of his Creator, we might, just might, cut him a bit of slack. ALS is the most horrific of ailments this fallen world has to offer…

    I should think we might offer him grace and mercy for the journey has had and the rest of the road before him…

    • Hawking proposes a type of radiation, known as Hawking Radiation, which can be emitted from a black hole. As nothing is supposed to be able to escape the event horizon of a black hole, I’m sure when he first discovered (or perhaps calculated, more accurately) this radiation, he was deeply shocked at how the impossible was suddenly possible.

      I see no reason to believe he might not be so shocked again, when he is finally free of this frail form. And the idea that God might allow such reevaluation seems perfectly just and reasonable to me. Here’s hoping.

    • David Cornwell says:

      My wife’s sister died last week from what was first labeled ALS. Later the doctor changed the diagnosis slightly to Motor Neuron Disease with Dementia. She was diagnosed just a little over a year ago, and progressed rapidly through the stages. At the end she could not speak, get out of bed, eat, or remember. We live 300 miles a away and could not be with her constantly, but made frequent trips. She still remembered my wife, Marge. Three days before her death we received a call that the end was approaching and she made clear she wanted Marge by her side. (It was hospice that figured this out with her.) Saturday evening late they hugged and said their goodbyes. The next morning with Marge holding her hand she slipped quietly away.

      You are absolutely right about cutting some slack with the offer of grace and mercy. This disease is horrible beyond description.

    • Dear Laura,
      I am so sorry to hear of your husband’s suffering and your loss. I feel very badly for Mr. Hawking. Not only has he lived a physically tremendous and long suffering life, but he has not found any comfort in knowing God. My heart is full of mercy for him, and grace too. I suffered an emotional earthquake last year (not at all physical, except for the ensuing depression), but through that suffering I called out to God and found Him so real I couldn’t deny Him. It doesn’t make sense and is not logical. For I know I could not lift my head nor forgive a loved one who had betrayed me deeply, yet as I cried to God I know He led. It’s a beautiful mystery I cannot well describe. I only know that I’d have denied God’s existence if He hadn’t come to me boldly and swiftly.
      I look upon Mr. Hawking with mercy and grace–for having to suffer so and for having no relationship with Father God.
      Peace to you,
      Kris

    • Thank you for this perspective, Laura. It’s good to be brought back to empathy amidst so much judgment. Not that I mind the discussion, but your post reached my heart.

  14. funny thing about the highly respected & intelligent scientist: he is no expert on things spiritual.

    i would wager he would politely pass making any absolute statement about many things outside his purview. i do not think he would be so quick to counter all the experts of say, alethiology, arctophily, limacology, odology, oenology, storiology, vermeology, zoosemiotics. i would think professional courtesy would result in a self-imposed acceptance of his limited knowledge, experience and/or interest.

    art? history? music? foods? architecture? behavioral psychology?

    i do not think he would be able to assist with many things of a practical nature since he focused on theoretical & advanced physics. he has made a common human error based on ego: my perception trumps everybody else’s.

    his intellectual pursuits are not the pinnacle of human knowledge as if his concept of the universe does in fact make all other studies, well, puny. trivial. wastes of time+effort. don’t bother trying to determine purpose or significance or even worth/dignity to our existence.

    his notoriety has ‘launched’ him into the top echelon of quotable scientists, but he has no business speaking out about things he absolutely has no way of proving.

    sorry Professor Hawking, stick to the empirical arena of science that is simply capable of measuring what by definition is measurable. have at it. theorize. challenge. rethink. reshape previous conclusions. but saying anything about an area completely outside your expertise comes across more as a petulant child than a world renowned scientist.

    i am thinking though since he is only recently becoming more adamant about the existence of God & an afterlife, that his own approaching mortality has him backed into that proverbial corner??? he is trying to convince himself???

    • and this does tie in perfectly to the thread on Dying Well…

      • and i think Professor Hawking has had numerous discussions with other Christian scientists that have presented reasons for their faith. Hawking is not ignorant of religious beliefs, but he seems insistent on trying to debunk the notions…

        however, he is one noble atheist compared to those that have little or no regard for living a virtuous, moral life. he has not used his intelligence for evil pursuits. and i would think most of the more high profile/vocal atheists that promote their ‘belief’ system are not burning any myth believing Christians at the stake…

        when it comes to discussing issues of God as Creator, the afterlife, spiritual reality separate from our physical existence, etc., we are all on a very level playing field. we can approach it thoughtfully, logically, seriously & respectfully without resorting to passionate proselytizing as if the shear weight of emotional entreaty makes a better case.

        Professor Hawking has made some serious claims but with no logical support. and i would wager there will be Christian apologists respectfully countering this sweeping statement by pointing out those weaknesses. there is nothing to fear from outstanding experts in any field making sweeping claims of a spiritual nature. after all, the weight of proof is with them. everything else is still in the realm of very logical consideration regarding other points-of-view…

  15. Great–now I have to decide whether to put my faith in Jesus Christ or Stephen Hawking.

    • teeheeheeheeehee…..that was good!

    • Hawking appeared in a cameo role in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

      The role of Jesus Christ was written out of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

      So there you go.

      • Damaris says:

        Yeah, and Hawking also was on The Simpsons, where Jesus Christ is conspicuously absent. So . . . there you go.

        • Quixotequest says:

          Jesus Christ isn’t conspicuously absent on The Simpsons. The Simpsons is remarkably praiseworthy of Christian faith even if it will also kick it in the shins a moment later. Jesus, however, wasn’t made into an action figure like Stephen Hawking unless you allow for extra-universe creations like Buddy Jesus or the Miracle Jesus my wife has (that comes with a water vessel that turns into wine). 🙂

  16. We have been deifing scientists for a couple generations now. Unfortunately, many of them have tended to accept our worship, and feel qualified to speak on almost any area of human thought. Also, many of them, when writing outside their field, commit rather serious logical errors.

    I have read some of Hawkings popular works, and while he is undoubtedly a good researcher in his own field, he did not strike me as an exceptionally good thinker. He certainly has a right to express his opinion, but I would not give that opinion much weight on philosophical/metaphysical/religious questions.

    (For those interested, I just posted a piece on my blog detailing what I think was a rather serious logical problem with an essay Einstein wrote on the meaning of life).

    • cermak_rd says:

      We’ve been deifying scientists because they have made our lives better through chemistry (life-saving and extending drugs) and technology. They have also given us incredible views into the universe via physics (optics) and astronomy.

      The theologians have given us? Squabbling opinions with little to back up their claims.

      • cermak, one can be grateful for technology without deifying scientists (who are motivated by the same things that motivate us all, and prone to the same follies).

        since I did not contrast them with theologians, I’m guess I am not sure why you included your insult of them.

        • That is true what have theologians given us? I mean scientists have given us a greater knowledge of the universe and the internet, and the combustible engine, and a lot of stuff. Theologians haven’t even shown if there is a life after this. Pardon me if I choose the side that has results. 😉

          • (…bangs head against keyboard…)

            Okay, a couple things:

            First, to compare the accomplishments of theologians and scientists in terms of what they have “given us”, especially when that is framed in terms of inventions, is to completely miss the point of their respective roles. What have music theorists, or sociologists, or teachers invented? The argument seems to confuse value with a certain type of production.

            Second, to do an adequate job of accessing what the scientists have “given us” we would need to do a cost/benefit analysis of all modern technology (including such things as nuclear bombs) which would also include their social cost. For example, you mention the “combustible engine” (and I assume you mean the internal combustion engine, not an engine that explodes); this has given us mobility, but at the price of pollution, white-flight, the rise of the suburbs, the decline of the downtown, global warming, and other ills. Is it worth it? Are the gains greater than the costs? Ultimately, that question can only be answered by the value-judgments you place on human mobility and freedom versus the value judgments you place on the environment, racial integration, and healthy human society. But how do you make those value judgments without relying on a worldview, which will include judgments of a religious or metaphysical nature? In other words, no important invention is value neutral, and the value cannot be determined only in scientific terms.

            That is why the comparing the contributions of scientists and theologians is like comparing the value of sunshine and Tolstoy. No sense.

          • Okay, one more thing:

            To draw a sharp dichotomy between the contributions of science and religion is to show a lack of understanding on how much western science is based upon religious (in particular, Jewish and Christian) foundations. It is not mere chance that the scientific revolution occurred in those countries and cultures that had a Judeo-Christian understanding of the nature of reality and the worth of man. In particular, Judaism and Christianity both provided a framework for believing reality is rational (since a rational God created it) and knowable (since God has made us in his image). Without a strong belief in these two ideas (that reality is rational, and the reality is knowable) modern science is without a foundation.

            I hope it is obvious, by the way, that those two statements are philosophical/theological statements, not something that can be proven scientifically. They are metaphysical statements, not physical statements. Modern science is a wonderful house, but can only be built on a foundation supplied by a certain type of religion.

            This is why the sociologist Rodney Stark could say, “It is the consensus among contemporary historians, philosophers and sociologists of science that real science arose only once: in Europe. The leading scientific figures in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries were overwhelmingly devout Christians who believed it their duty to comprehend God’s handiwork.”

          • Daniel,
            Your point about the theological underpinning of science is an excellent one that I think many do not realize. There have been technological innovators in cultures all over the world, but science as we have come to understand it has, as you said, the fundamental philosophical foundation that there is a rational God who created and sustains things and who gave us a mind to understand what He created. No one today would say anything like that about science, but historically, I think there’s no question that was the driving philosophy.

          • Damaris says:

            I’m applauding, Daniel. (Can you hear me?) Your logic is exhilarating.

          • This is going to be way too long, but… I give you the opening paragraphs from Thomas Howard’s Chance or the Dance?

            “There were some ages in Western history that have occasionally been called Dark. They were dark, it is said, because in them learning declined, and progress paused, and men labored under the pall of belief. A cause-effect relationship is frequently felt to exist between the pause and the belief. Men believed in things like the Last Judgment and fiery torment. They believed that demented people had devils in them, and that disease was a plague from heaven. They believed that they had souls, and that what they did in this life had some bearing on the way in which they would finally experience reality. They believed in portents and charms and talismans. And they believed that God was in heaven and Beelzebub in hell and that the Holy Ghost had impregnated the Virgin Mary and that the earth and sky were full of angelic and demonic conflict. Altogether, life was very weighty, and there was no telling what might lie behind things. The ages were, as I say, dark.

            “Then the light came. It was the light that has lighted us men into a new age. Charms, angels, devils, plagues, and parthenogenesis have fled from the glare into the crannies of memory. In their place have come coal mining and E = mc2 and plastic and group dynamics and napalm and urban renewal and rapid transit. Men were freed from the fear of the Last Judgment; it was felt to be more bracing to face Nothing than to face the Tribunal. They were freed from worry about getting their souls into God’s heaven by the discovery that they had no souls and that God had no heaven. They were freed from the terror of devils and plagues by the knowledge that the thing that was making them, scream and foam was not an imp but only their own inability to cope, and that the thing that was clawing out their entrails was not divine wrath but only cancer. Altogether, life became much more livable since it was clear that in fact nothing lay behind things. The age was called enlightened.

            “The myth sovereign in the old age was that everything means everything. The myth sovereign in the new is that nothing means anything.”

          • Damaris says:

            Thanks for that, Ted! I’m going to have to get that book.

    • The Singular Observer says:

      I’m a scientist, and I have not been deifyed yet. As a matter of fact, disrespect is most of what I get. It will be great to be deifyed – maybe I can get some more cash to make ends met :).

      Really, the only time scientists were deifyed was for a brief period in the 50’s and 60’s. I think.

      • I perhaps overstated that, based the tv shows and movies I see. If the guys in the lab coats aren’t always the good guys, they are at least the ones who should be taken seriously (as opposed to almost every religious leader presented).

        • cermak_rd says:

          eh, after being cast as the mad scientist in all those b science fiction movies, it’s probably time scientists got some due.

          Some religious leaders are presented well. Fr. Brown did OK on TV. I thought the Rev. Daniel Webster was a neat character.

          However, there’s a couple of things that might make it easy to make the religious folks the bad guys in the TV shows. 1. Everyone loves an underdog. With the religious right having so much power, the underdog role does not go to the faith folk. 2. Animus caused by religious folks wanting to control how non-believers live. SO you had religious folk against women’s suffrage, against contraceptives being widely available etc. This is not limited to Christians, by the way. One sees the same thing in Israel with the hyper-observant trying to enforce their way of being Jewish on everyone else. 3. nuts. Fred Phelps, Harold Camping and Rabbi Ovadia Yosef are working overtime to make religious people look weird.

          • David L says:

            “Animus caused by religious folks wanting to control how non-believers live. ”

            This cuts both ways. And is rarely acknowledged by either side as they both tend to assume their side is OBVIOUSLY right.

  17. Ron West says:

    Hmmm…I think someone just proved Daniel’s point.

  18. Paul Davis says:

    Hawkings claim is based on what?

    Empricism states that to know if something like heaven does not exist, we must posses absolute knowledge of it’s non-existance, anything else (like hawkings statement) is falls into Humes inductive trap. what proof can he actually offer?, certainly no scientific evidence that would hold up to scrutiny.

    What bothers me is not his statement but how polemic it is, these type of attacks on theism actually detract from a healthy conversation. We who believe must be careful to not fall into the Ray Comfort nonsense, of things
    Ike “you can lead an atheist to the truth, but you cant make him think”. It damages both sides when we cannot have an open irenic discussion about the topic.

    -Paul-

  19. dumb ox says:

    I think the key is that faith, in the words of Tillich, is to be seized by the ultimate concern. I think Einstein echoes that in his address, “On Science and Religion”. Scientists and the religious can fight over their various beliefs, but holding to a set of beliefs is not faith. In this sense, the scientist and the religious both have faith, in the conviction of the existence of something greater than oneself, in something timeless and significant above all else.

    I probably don’t agree with Hawkings. What you call “scientism” is as odious to me as religious fundamentalism. But rather than criticize him for not affirming my beliefs, I would seek to find a common ground of faith in the ultimate concern.

    As I have said, before, the atheist is not my enemy. Who is? Fascists and materialists who raise things like nation, power and wealth to the realm of ultimate concern – especially those who wrap those ends in the trappings and language of religion. The end is not just godlessness but inhumanity – turning not just “god” but people into objects, into “it” rather than “thou”.

  20. There is an interesting artical in “Real CLear Religeon” that is a subhead under,”Real Clear Politics” What the Pope might say to S. Hawking.

    • JoanieD says:

      That was an interesting article, Vern C. Thanks. I liked the part that said, “Ratzinger argues that universal objective intelligibility leads to the conclusion of the existence of a great Intelligence, which has thought the world into being.”

  21. I would heartily recommend reading or listening to the critique John Lennox gives about the presuppositions that undergird Steven Hawking’s recent book. As Professor of Pure Mathematics in Oxford he is a smart cookie, and as an Irishman he is well able to talk.

    From the below link of a recent lecture tour he did in New Zealand, I would heartily recommend the talks entitled

    An evening with John Lennox: God, Suffering, and the Christchurch

    and

    Mathematics, Stephen Hawkings, God, faith, and Christchurch

    http://thinkingmatters.org.nz/2011/03/full-audio-from-the-john-lennox-nz-tour/

  22. Hawking may be a brilliant physicist, but he’s speaking way outside of his area of expertise when he makes statements about God, heaven, or eternity. Much like Richard Dawkins, he apparently thinks that being an expert in one thing makes him an expert on anything. Unfortunately, the public rarely makes this distinction and gives these sorts of comments undue credibility.

  23. “a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.” Hawkings aura just faded to black. Frankly, I am terribly disappointed to hear a man of his caliber make such a blanket judgement. Are not the best physisists always on the speculative edge of the sword? Isn’t their world currently in flux with way more questions than answers? Shame on him for being so brutish about the subject. How unscientific! No creativity whatsoever.

  24. Let’s not be too quick to assume that science and religion are non-overlapping magisteria. Religion often comments on matters which science can discuss with some authority, e.g. the origin of the universe, earth, and humanity, or whether humans differ qualitiatively from animals. Whenever some religious notion is disproved to the satisfaction of reasonable people (e.g. YEC, an abbreviation which BTW I know only from this site), some religious people abandon it–or reinterpret it half to death–while others “bite the bullet” and abandon science instead. Now “eternity” turns out actually to fall within Prof. Hawking’s field of expertise. Apparently there is some problem with traditional religious notions of time, as implicit within such things as the assumption that God created the universe. I am not remotely capable of determining whether he is right, or what interpretive strategies religious people might follow to “solve” the problem for their own theologies. If religion can be reduced to matters of opinion, however, it is difficult to think of it as magisterial.

  25. You missed the best bit of the Rabbi Sacks quote:

    “Science takes things apart to see how the work.
    Religion puts them together to see what they mean.”

  26. Rabbi Lord Sacks: ‘Science cannot tell us why we are here or how we should live.’

    Believers always ask the wrong question. There just is no ‘why’. Nature exists as it exists. Period.

    • The logic you would use to prove the claim that there is “no why” is circular, and cannot be proven from inside the worldview you seem to be advocating. Where are you borrowing your epistemology from?

  27. The atheist critique of religion is meaningless on its own terms.

    If I were an atheist who believed that Darwinian evolution is the grand story of origins, then I would have to believe that everything that exists—including the religious views of religious people—must have evolved. Moreover, I would have to believe that these things evolved for some reason related to the promotion of survival.

    A consistent Darwinian would not care whether or not any given religious views are true. All he would care about was whether or not those religious views gradually came into human consciousness through natural processes in order to promote survival. Given the fact that the overwhelming majority of human beings have been religious believers of some kind, it would seem that humanity’s religious aspect is an important factor in the evolution (and thus the survival) of our species.

    If, on Darwinian terms, that is the case, then it would behoove Mr. Hawking not to ridicule religious people.

    • Quixotequest says:

      Well said, Aaron. It’s like an elephant snorting out a criticism of a giraffe for having an ugly long neck.

      From a Theory of Evolution by Natural Selection point of view an outlier (non-belief) can be shown to be as much a process of “fitter survival” as a persistent majority view — we’ll only know in hindsight. Certainly from hindsight as we now see it I’d have to say theism, and more particularly monotheism, is the likely most fittest human expression because of its ability to persist yet transmute without sacrificing foundational characteristics — but with generous charity as to what is a unifying meaning of God. It’s hard to get too parochial about it.

      One view — theism or atheism — could be a more-apt-to-survive evolutionary trait, the other not. Both could be failures (and from a rationally nihilistic view this is certain). Then again, like the elephant and giraffe, theistic yearning and agnostic doubt could both be mutually fit and survivable expressions of human survival and flourishing. They could even be different means by which God accomplishes his good purposes in creation. From the two world-views in this particular pissing contest there is no reason, as I see it, for charity, love and graciousness to not reign supreme as we all grasp to comprehend Truth, Beauty and Eternity.

  28. Douglas Hayworth says:

    A couple of comments…

    Perhaps I’m nit-picking without understanding the full context, but there is sense in which Rabbi Lord Sacks’ comment (Science is about explanation. Religion is about interpretation.) is misleading. Both scientific and theological epistemology require observation of data within a conceptual framework within the observer’s mind, followed by interpretation and communication as explanation. Both science and religion are concerned with making sense of the world. For the Christian, the data to be interpreted includes scripture and the history of human thought and experience.

    Which brings up my second point: Yes, Hawking represents the opposite end of the spectrum from Fundamentalist Christians. However, in one important sense they are in the same camp. Neither one accepts the validity of the other’s kind of knowledge (scientific or religious). In many ways (and despite what the Intelligent Design movement would argue), Hawking is correct in saying that science in and of itself provides no particular evidence of life beyond death. There are, of course, many Anthropic Principles that provide a hint at design, but they are not proof in the usual evidentialist sense. There are scientific hypotheses, which if true, can explain the appearance of design.

    Those who are interested in this topic should check out the documentary film called “Test of Faith”. Just Google it. Every Christian should buy and watch this movie.

    • I’m not sure I agree. I certainly accept his knowledge about cosmology and physics, and have no problem with the standard models of the history of the universe. I just don’t think science can explain everything.

      • Douglas Hayworth says:

        Science can explain everything (at least that is the working assumption of all science) in terms of being able to investigate all phenomena that take place within the physical universe. However, it can only do so from a scientific perspective (i.e., in terms of physical cause-and-effect). Of course, it is quite obvious to we believers (and most normal people) that the scientific perspective is only one very limited language (powerful as it may be in certain ways) for comprehending reality in its totality.

        Nothing in this creation exists or occurs as a purely spiritual entity or event devoid of a physical dimension (its physical medium). Therefore, everything (even spiritual experiences) have a physical dimension. Think of prayer or worship, which has measurable correlates in brain patterns. Thus, everything is a valid object for scientific research and description on some level.

        • Douglas

          I see your point. It’s obvious you have done some good thinking along these lines.

          While not totally disagreeing with you, I do have a few questions:

          • You note, “Nothing in this creation exists or occurs as a purely spiritual entity or event devoid of a physical dimension (its physical medium).” How would this be proven by the scientific method?
          • If it is simply a matter of definitions and logic, does it not pre-suppose not only a certain epistemology, but a certain epistemological position (that is, the position of an outside observer of the universe, with an accurate understanding of how spirit and matter interact within the universe)?
          • Are not unrepeatable events in the past (so crucial to understand and interpret the world we live in) necessarily excluded from the scientific method?
          • Related to the above, are not important events in the future necessary in order to “explain” all things in the fullest sense of the word? In other words, we can really only understand the “meaning” of a baby if we know what it is designed to grow into (an adult). This is true even of its anatomy, let alone more profound meanings. Can we really understand the universe without knowing its future? But is not science limited to telling us what may happen physically to the universe without outside intervention?
          • Most importantly, even if granted your quote above, would we not only be conceding that science can investigate (to use your word) all things, not that it could subject all things to the scientific method (or the test of falsity), comprehend all things, or explain all things?

          Anyway, these are some of my thoughts.

  29. Every time I spot an article on one of the news sites I check reporting what Stephen Hawkings says about theology, I roll my eyes because I don’t care what he says. He’s not an expert in this field, so his pronouncements have no weight. I don’t try to learn science from theologians, either.