Stephen Hawking Should Stick to Science and Stop Theologizing. And We Should be Very Sober about One of His Very Dangerous Philosophical Assumptions
CBS News seems to have confused Stephen Hawking with a Theologian or spiritual guide. For recently they focused on an interview published in the Guardian wherein Hawking calls heaven a fairy tale for those afraid of the dark.
Well, first of all Mr. Hawking, I am not afraid of the dark. Secondly, you should stick to science and stop trying to psychoanalyze believers. And as for CBS News and the Guardian, please note that Mr. Hawking is a scientist. He is no more qualified to opine on life after death or make psychoanalytic pronouncements than some random person on the street. Smarts in one area doesn’t make him an expert in all areas. Perhaps CBS News would like to interview me on string theory? Of course Mr Hawking and many others might object that I wasn’t exactly the best “go-to guy” on this topic. And that would be true. Asking Mr. Hawking to opine on heavenly matters and the psychological makeup of believers is in the same vein as trotting out Hollywood stars to testify before congress as “experts” on global warming, or some other highly technical matter. Mr Hawking’s opinion on believers or the afterlife is of no more value than anyone else. He is entitled to his opinions on this matter, but it doesn’t deserve to be in headlines and is no more true because he is smart in other areas.
Further, I hope you will note a VERY DARK philosophical assumption he makes at the end of the article. Beware, for he is an influential man.
Let’s look at excerpts from the CBS article. These are excerpts of the longer article which you can read HERE. The original article excerpts are in bold italic typeface. My remarks are in normal red typeface.
Physicist Stephen Hawking believes there is no afterlife (so what?), and that the concept of heaven is a “fairy story” for people who fear death. While he is entitled to his opinion, he has never met me and is not able to know why I believe in life after death. Further he is not a trained sociologist or psychotherapist. He cannot really know the motivations of everyone who believes. Frankly he is also showing himself a poor scientist here. For a good scientist looks for real data and knows that large scale phenomenon (like, say, faith?) are not usually explained by simplistic, single source causes. There are usually a variety of causes and influences at work. For example, when a leaf falls from a tree there is surely gravity, but also wind resistance, and the presence of obstacles that influence its descent.
Mr. Hawking is also condescending and (heaven forfend!), judgmental. For what if I were to say Mr. Hawking does not believe in an afterlife because he fears judgment, or because the existence of God is “inconvenient” to his vision and chosen moral life. You would likely say I should not talk like that, and that I had no real way of knowing that. Exactly. And Mr. Hawking has no business making judgments about my motives either. He doesn’t have a clue as to why I believe in heaven. I don’t fear death any more than he does. I believe in an afterlife because some one I trust, (God and the Church) have revealed it to me and taught me of it.
In an interview published in the Guardian, Hawking – author of the bestselling “A Brief History of Time” – said that when the brain ceases to function, that’s it. This is not a scientific statement, it is philosophical belief on his part. It cannot be verified scientifically, one way or the other, that existence ceases when the brain stops functioning. He is entitled to his belief, but that is what it is. This is not a scientifically verifiable statement. That a renowned scientist is speaking in this way may give the impression that this is science, but it is not. He has moved beyond science and is now in the realm of philosophy.
“I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail,” he told the Guardian’s Ian Sample. “There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.” Reducing the human person to a brain or computer, or to merely our physical components, is also philosophy, not science. It is true, science can only deal with the material, for that is its realm. But to say that physical matter is all there is, or that there is nothing outside of what science can measure, is not a scientific statement, it is a philosophical one.
Consider if a blind person insisted that there was no such thing as light, concluding this merely because he could not measure it with his senses. But of course for him to assert the non-existence of something merely because he cannot measure it, is both arrogant and wrong. Science too would be wrong to conclude in some absolute sense that there is no soul, or nothing beyond the material, merely because science cannot measure it with its own tools. There are just some limits to science, just as there are some limits for a blind person. Science is not bad because it cannot go beyond the material, any more than a blind person is bad because he cannot see. But what IS bad is to insist there is nothing beyond merely what I can sense, or measure. Not only is it bad, it isn’t science, for science cannot prove the non-existence of non material things. It just isn’t set up to do that. To say that nothing exists beyond the material is a philosophy, it is not science.
We have already discussed Mr. Hawking’s incapacity to psychoanalyze believers as afraid of the dark. Indeed his caricature of us is dripping with arrogance and thinly veiled superiority. Would I be psychoanalyzing him if I suggested that his superstar status has gone to his head? I guess I would. I withdraw the remark, your honor!
Hawking, 69, who has survived for nearly five decades with a motor neurone disease that doctors believed would kill him while he was still in his early 20s, said he does not fear death. He also said that having lived with the prospect of death from his incurable illness has ultimately led him to enjoy life more. He has dealt with his disease heroically
…Hawking rejects an afterlife and emphasizes the need for people to realize their full potential on Earth. It is an old and tattered claim that belief in heaven somehow limits our concern for this world. The Christian world is replete with examples of those who have powerfully cared for and impacted the people of this world and the world itself. Indeed, Mr. Hawking might reflect of the debt he owes to belief and to the Church for things like the great universities of Europe, the scientific method, the existence of hospitals and modern medicine. Faith doesn’t just make people “other-worldly” it also gives them hope and insists, in its truest form, for great love for the people of this world and for all God has created.
When asked what is the value of knowing why are we here, Hawking replied, “The universe is governed by science. But science tells us that we can’t solve the equations, directly in the abstract. We need to use the effective theory of Darwinian natural selection of those societies most likely to survive. We assign them higher value.” This is so limiting. It is also philosophy, not science to say this. Mr Hawking is entitled to have a philosophy, but when he says the world is “governed by science” and then goes on to philosophize, that looks pretty silly and contradictory. Further, Mr. Hawking, if you ask me, is edging dangerously close to eugenics in what he says here. What exactly assigning a “higher value” to certain societies looks like as a practical matter is uncertain in what he says, but I sense a growing darkness here, not light. Margaret Sanger and Adolph Hitler may well be smiling as he says this. BEWARE!
Hawking said that our existence is down to pure chance, (Again, philosophy here, not science, Mr Hawking cannot prove this statement scientifically) and that one’s goal should be to “seek the greatest value of our action.”
Well there it is. I will say, not only is Mr. Hawking a poor theologian and psychotherapist, he is also engaging in a very dark and dangerous philosophy in applying once again (as did Sanger and Hitler along with others) a natural selection to societies (races?). Watch out, Mr Hawking is influential, we may be in for some very dark days ahead.
How say you?
Here’s Fr. Barron’s take on Stephen Hawking’s last foray into philosophy and metaphysics some months ago: