Wednesday October 17, 2018 So I’m told Stephen Hawking’s last book declares there is no God. Whoop-dee-do, so what did the little Limey do, scoot his wheelchair out into the multiverse and look under every rock and not find God there? Hey, here’s a thought, perhaps God sneaked off to another location while Hawking was looking for him, Bugs Bunny behind Elmer Fudd-style, like we used to do as kids playing hide and seek. Strictly against the rules but wonderfully effective.
For a scientist in the 21st century to declare he doesn’t believe in God is as de rigueur as a Mormon boy in Salt Lake City becoming a Boy Scout. (Except I think they’ve now got their own organization in response to the gay policies…oh, and my friend Mandy tells me they don’t like being called Mormons anymore.)
Actually I was never captivated by Hawking, though that is kind of a cool last name, or for that matter Neil deGrasse Tyson, and thought they were both Sagan-wanna-bes. I sometimes thought how easily it would be for Hawking to make up his claims, which frankly often consisted of him speculating after deep thought, and rarely being challenged. What is the difference in a sci-fi writer advocating for infinite universes, no weight of supporting evidence, and Hawking declaring these grand ideas must be true because he felt that was a logical extension of the big bang?
The public rarely seemed to challenge anything Hawking said any more than Medieval peasants challenged the Church, but the difference is Medieval peasants probably weren’t as snooty about riding the Church’s coat tails as modern people are when they defend Hawking and his colleagues without once likely ever evaluating their claims for themselves.
Okay, so you’ll call someone ignorant for casting any doubt on Stephen Hawking’s work, yet have you ever bothered to put it to the test yourself? No? Well guess what, that’s called taking something on faith, so how do you differ from those Medieval peasants who also believed what they were told? You got a copy of A Brief History of Time gathering dust mite poo on your bookshelf, but ever actually read it through? Probably not.
But if you did you might come away noticing it doesn’t make a lot of sense. Well not to me, you tell yourself, Hawking was far more brilliant. Brilliant, yes, but infallible? Thomas Aquinas was also among the most intelligent humans ever born and equally capable of writing long intertwining, confusingly dense paragraphs, but did that staggering intelligence alone mean his thirteenth-century ideas were right? Ever wondered one step farther and dared think, maybe Hawking’s copious jottings don’t always quite cross the finish line?
Oh, Hawking speculated about beautiful things, and for that I salute the man, especially since he worked against such, well, handicaps, but I don’t take everything he said as a given, and if you do you’re betraying science by making laws out of theories.
Personally I find it difficult to believe in God. My default setting is not faith, never has been. I base my sometimes shallow acceptance of God on what I see as evidence, and how that evidence can be dismissed in its entirety, as Hawking apparently did, mystifies me. To save you time, his argument runs as follows: life is hard and unfair, the indifferent universe is largely empty, ergo, Godlessness is the answer, because HE THINKS SO. Yep, that's about it, Hawking says there is no God because that's his opinion.
Question: might a man stuck in a wheelchair maybe, just maybe have been a little bitter about why if God exists he drew the bad hand he did? Scientists are human too and just as given to the frailties of their points of view. Surrounded as he was by fellow scientists wouldn't it have been more remarkable, newsworthy and downright courageous if Hawking's legacy had been a declaration that it's at least possible God exists?
Nope, he chose to go out on a predictable note.
Since following a trail of evidence is one of the things science is about, to declare an absolute from within a negative is hazardous at best, since how can a negative be proven? It can’t. To say you don’t know there is a God is fine, even logical; to declare there is not one slides you down into the realm of faith where most believers dwell. Such strange bedfellows extremes of thought can sometimes make, right?
Is there a God? I don’t know, but I think it is likely that something best described that way is hinted at by a lot in nature and even in recorded history, though its reasons for its anonymity are as puzzling as its apparent unwillingness to intervene to save sick children, or still an earthquake, or halt a plague. Why if God is real doesn't God give us a better, more equal life? I have no idea. But does human suffering alone mean a higher being is impossible? No.
No it does not.
Instead of scientific open-mindedness in this era we have two extremes as dogmatic as the other: science versus religion. Of the two, to my shock, it’s actually religion these days that is the easier of the pair to crack open and find license inside to let your thoughts freely roam on the idea of God, since in religion there is a central concept behind it of “it could be” but science’s mandate of “it’s not possible” shuts down all analysis of even the chance that the engine of creation may be other than what we think it is.
Science draws to it the most intelligent people among us, true, yet religion attracts those who trust instinct, and instinct is often a better guide and survival mechanism than cold logic, and should not be dismissed. I know a few times I've relied on my gut feeling and come out better than if I had stopped to reason something out. Instinct is important. Instinct speaks of a deep Gnostic knowledge within our species. Instinct tends to testify to their being a God.
The Church abandoned inquisitions long ago, but science still holds its own version, and woe to those who fail to spew forth the required answers to questions that define loyalty to science as it is in the 21st century. (Doubt me? Look up the case of the heretic Matti Leisola just for starters. Scientists who ask the wrong questions get excommunicated faster than a Lutheran at Saint Peter’s circa 1550.) Could even one so grand as Hawking have fallen to the Inquisitors? Of course, but in declaring at the end that there is no God, he left his legacy safe in adoring hands.
(Unlike Carl Sagan, who spoke of other possibilities near the end of his life. Look at his final interview with Charlie Rose sometime, him speaking of possible contact with dead relatives.)
And ultimately religion and science meet in the end, both declaring all that is once arose from nothingness. The state of the universe a microsecond before the big bang meets Genesis’ description of how “in the beginning” all was a lightless void. If both independently arrive at the same conclusion, perhaps it’s wise to look into the further claims of both sides. If something did arise from nothing, which is likelier then, Aquinas’ uncreated creator argument of the Age of Faith, or the constantly re-tooled theory of a blind universe creating itself out of a state of total non-existence?
Personally I think Aquinas was onto something, as were the ancient Greeks, who unknown to him, advocated the same ideas 2,000 years earlier.
But that’s just me.