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:

76 Replies to “Stephen Hawking Should Stick to Science and Stop Theologizing. And We Should be Very Sober about One of His Very Dangerous Philosophical Assumptions”

  1. what’s wrong with utilitarian inspired ethics when it’s merit based? bringing up the hitler thing is immaterial to what hawking even alluded to or said. the “nazi” insult is a label used to shut down discourse, also, calling someone a poor “theologian” is basically the equivalent of saying they are highly rational. my favourite statistic to surface over the past few years is that atheists have higher than average IQs relative to those who are religious. perhaps we ought to be listening to those who actually know better, as opposed to inventing invisible beings that “know better” as a way of deflecting the responsibility of knowledge and free will from humanity.

    1. Well I’m not shutting down discourse because we’re talking. I stand by my stated and very deep concern that applying Darwinian theory and asserting that certain cultures or societies had a higher value was precisely the thinking of Margaret Sanger and the others in the Eugenics movement. Thus she started the so called “Negro-project” seeking to lower the numbers of black and brown people because she, by her own lights, assigned white races a higher value. Reduction and ultimate elimination was considered by her and other eugenicists as the way to perfect and purify the human race. I am not so sure that Hawking isn’t close to saying the same thing, though I admit what he says has a bit of ambiguity. Nevertheless it sounds eerily familiar to what was said in the 1920s

      Now perhaps you won’t listen to me because I am less intelligent than you, but I urge you to consider that even a broken clock is right twice a day. Perhaps Mr. Hawking should be asked to clarify his statement so that less intelligent people like me may be reassured.

      As for me, I am happy to be considered a fool for Christ.

      And, Ah, Sofia, your name means wisdom, I pray it for you in abundance.

    2. Would you prefer comparing his views to Nietzsche’s Will to Power, and Beyond Good and Evil?

      Because I gotta tell you, he sounds awfully nihilistic to me. But that is where atheistic existentialism invariably ends, with nihilism, since there can be no meaning to life when all it is is bunch of electro-chemical reactions in the brain, which are strictly bound by laws of biological science, with each reaction (and thus each human thought, action, etc.) being determined solely by the cause-and-effect reaction before it, a chain of bio-electro-chemical reactions going back like falling dominoes for millions of years, such that things like “free will” are an illusion and fallacy.

      After all, how can one have independent and autonomous thought and action when everything is predetermined by biochemistry (or dictated by “computer programming” to use Hawking’s belief)? To say that there is a capacity to transcend the physical, to have autonomy from the biophysical and think what one wills to think, rather than only what the brain’s synapses dictate that one think due to bio-electro-chemical reactions — to say that the will is free and can transcend the physical is to suggest the existence of a spirit. And the atheistic existentialist has already arbitrarily rejected the idea of “spirit” or other “invisible beings” as pure fantasy and invention. Accordingly, the brain thinks only what its computer software programs tell it to think, no more, no less.

      Thus, free will being merely an illusion, and we being instead mere puppets to biology and happenstance, which is the conclusion that logic dictates for the atheistic existentialist, he ends up realizing that there is no meaning to life . . . it is all pointless. Hence, nihilism, emptiness, but not before a fair amount of materialistic utilitarian hedonism.

      Sadly, it looks like Hawking’s soul is even more damaged and diseased than his body. It is too bad that a guy so smart could be so stupid.

      1. Bender, I think you’re confusing/conflating atheistic existentialism, nihilism, and biological determinism. The three are distinct philosophies; believing in one does not necessarily commit one to believing any of the others. Philosophies that deny the existence of free will, such as the determinism you brought up, generally run contrary to the basic point of existentialism.

        1. Confusing and conflating? No, not really. Although they start out distinct, in the end, they all tend to converge. The existentialist starts out thinking that he makes his own meaning of life, that he has a choice, but invariably, because the premise is that there is no instrinsic meaning, and nothing out there to give life an intrinsic meaning, such existentialist comes to realize that, as a result, there is no real choice, and from the realization of determinism comes the despair of nihilism.

          1. But existentialism does not necessarily lead one down that road. Consider existential philosophers like Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus (who wasn’t exactly an existentialist, he was an absurdist, but his ideas were similar.) Camus rejected nihilism over and over in his writings. Both Camus and Sartre rejected determinism. Freedom and free will were of the utmost importance in their systems of belief; determinism was the opposite of what they believed in. My point is that there is no necessary “slippery slope” of existentialism -> determinism -> nihilism. In many ways, determinism and nihilism are rejections of the basic tenets of existentialism.

    3. I know this is a bit trite, but one thing people with high IQs are able to do is properly capitalize their sentences. I have a hard time listening to a lecture from someone about their own sense of intellectual superiority when they can’t even write proper English.

      1. A person might have a very high IQ but have dyslexia or other problems that perhaps prevent him from having perfect (written) English.

        Also IQ is not the only measure for intelligence and wisdom and it is quite foolish to think one can box the human mind and intelligence within a single test and a number.

        Even if you think the brain as a super-computer (which is unlikely) still it cannot be represented so simplistically.

        A wise sentence in broken ‘Engrish’ is more meaningful than nonsense uttered (or written) in perfect English.

  2. Mr. Hawking’s whole body functions with windows and doors shut to the Church, Holiness, and the Divine etc. His brain operates with lights-out to the love of the Father. Lest he turn on the switch and let the light of the Son Illumine his brain, because quite frankly he has not figured out the secret of the cosmos nor can he change anything in it or alter the fate of mankind. Only the love of the Father and His only begotten Son with the guidance of the Paraclete can guide the boat (the Church) to dock in heaven

  3. In his book on gravity being the cause of the Universe, Hawking says that philosophy is dead. If only he had more wisdom and more prayers were said for him, he might realize – just as St. Thomas Aquinas did – that, for all the knowledge a man has, it is as nothing compared to the vast plains and heights and depths of what is real, and so, man ought to be humble before reality and – if he is a monotheist – before the One Who created reality.

  4. I am a frequent reader of Monsignor’s blog because I find his philosophy and theology very illuminating and very sound. With that, it amazes me that apparent non-believers, which Sofia appears to be, would even bother reading the post about Hawking. Perhaps they too are searching for some truth, “The Truth”, that science cannot provide.

    There was an article at today that read, “All the stars, planets and galaxies that can be seen today make up just 4 percent of the universe. The other 96 percent is made of stuff astronomers can’t see, detect or even comprehend. These mysterious substances are called dark energy and dark matter. Astronomers infer their existence based on their gravitational influence on what little bits of the universe can be seen, but dark matter and energy themselves continue to elude all detection. ‘The overwhelming majority of the universe is: who knows?’ explains science writer Richard Panek, who spoke about these oddities of our universe on Monday (May 9) at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York (CUNY) here in Manhattan. ‘It’s unknown for now, and possibly forever.'”

    This reminds me of the saying, “Science attempts to explain how the universe and all in it were created. The Bible tells Who created it and why.”

    1. Yes, this is certainly a good and brief description of the proper distinction and the limits of science and how faith and science are really dealing with differ aspects of creation.

  5. It would be sad if his comments were not so scary. You are spot on. There are some who seem to believe that if a scientist speaks, everything he says has some tie to an underlying scientific basis. Given the human history the past 100 years or so and the growth of technology (singularity anyone?) the words “Darwinian natural selection of those societies most likely to survive. We assign them higher value.” may lead to unintended consequences if people believe and act on them.

  6. Very good. This is the first time I really attended to what Fr. Barron has to say. And I must say he explained the God question quite well, about as good as I have ever heard it in so few words.

    For me personally, I have always viewed the arguement from beauty as the most satisfying proof for God’s existence. But I add a slight nuance to the argument. To discover that there is a being ( man ) capable of appreciating the endless forms of beauty in the universe proves that a supremely beautiful and intelligent being is the cause of beauty and all that is beautiful and the one physical being that exists that can appreciate its ( beauty) existence. You see beauty is absolutely superfluous as regards its necessity. It can only be explained as gift to man as an inducement to man to posite the existence of an all powerful and loving creator, one who is at the same time personal because he has given man the power to appreciate beauty and take great pleasure in it. This arguement is not unique to me, but I arrived at it myself long ago. I suppose there are some people ( perhaps Hawing is one) who cannot appreciate beauty but that does not diminish the argument because most people do in fact take exquisit pleasure in beauty as it exists in its countless forms.

    But as regards athiests I will never be convinced that such people exist. People exist who hate God so much that they will do anything to avoid admiting His existence. And for these I always fall back on God’s own word in Pslam 22 “…The fool says in his heart: there is no God. They are corrupt, they do abomnibale things…”

    The danger is not Hawking and his type but the fools in the media that give him a platform from which to indoctrinate. One can see Satan at work in the growing chorus in the various forms of the media, education, etc. that help spred this evil indoctrination. Someone recently published an interesting study showing that nearly every top media personality is associated with George Sorros in his efforts to shape a world political and economic view that is hostile to God and Christianity – he has basically bought the media and is using it to indoctrinate the public to his ” open society ” philosophy.

    1. Yes, it is interesting that in the longer version of the interview over at Guardian and CBS Hawking is asked about beauty and he give what is, to me, a strange and unsatisfying answer: “Science is beautiful when it makes simple explanations of phenomena or connections between different observations. Examples include the double helix in biology, and the fundamental equations of physics.” Well OK, I don’t mind if he finds a double helix beautiful, I just wish he’d find beauty in the longings and sighing of the human heart as well.

      1. To be fair, Hawking was asked “What are the things you find most beautiful in science?” And I think that Hawking’s answer emphasizes that there is sometimes a simplicity that underlies the complexity that we observe in nature. One person can look at these beautiful truths uncovered by science and marvel at man for his ability to “discover” them, and another person can look at these same truths and marvel at God for the manner in which He created complexity from simple fundamental principles. Implied in Hawking’s view is that man’s understanding of science has progressed to a point where we have acquired enough knowledge to have reached a fundamental understanding of all of God’s creation. To come to such a conclusion requires a lack of imagination and displays a sort of scientific orthodoxy which is closed to any future scientific discoveries of a revolutionary nature.

        How can anyone who truly calls himself a scientist ever be satisfied with the current state of scientific knowledge? Tomorrow, a new Copernicus may emerge who will totally disrupt our view of the universe. In fact I have always found Hawking’s book “A Brief History of Time” pretentious in that it pretends to provide an answer to the origin of the universe. What about time itself? Where does it emerge from? Why is there an “arrow of time” which cannot be reversed? These are questions that modern physics largely ignores because it has no answer for them. Students of physics are told to just measure time, but not to think too deeply about it.

        I wrote an article which touched on Hawking’s anti-God comments, but focused more on the larger concept of truth as taught by Jesus and understood by the Catholic Church. The article is simply titled “Truth”. Modern science is like the blind man that was given sight by Jesus, but instead of praising God it denies his existence. In this case, science was given the gift to see the physical truth, but still remains blind to the more profound spiritual truths. This puts scientists like Hawking in the unenviable position of being compared to the Pharisees who were not “blind” but still could not “see” the truth that Jesus showed them.

  7. Thank you Msgr. for your excellent remarks. As I read this I was struck by Hawking’s assertion that we are just computers of some sort and I agree this thinking takes us down a very dark path. God’s natural law, imprinted on all of our souls, directs us in the way we treat our fellow human beings and to treat them as we would a mechanical, man-made device is dangerous and contrary to the natural law. If I treated my computer the way God demands me to treat my fellow humans I would still be typing this on a Commodore or Apple II. If I treated my wife of 35 years the way I do computers (and contrary to God’s law) I would have traded her off for a new model long ago and would do so every couple years. Further, I would have broken her down for parts to be recycled. The problem as I see it is that if one, such as Hawking, decides not to beleive in God or the afterlife that is his prerogative, but to do so while abandoning any recognition of a universal and natural law leads us to the very frightening things you speak of, such as genocide, eugenics, euthanasia and so forth. I am really surprised at Dr. Hawking’s assertions here given his disease as his own argument would argue that his Darwinian approach would have meant his death long ago as he would have been naturally selected out. Thank God we have scientists who are willing to develop new treatments and therapies so those with terrible diseases such as this can “realize their full potential on Earth” as Dr. Hawking himself said.

    1. All good points here. I really like the way you work the Brain=computer motif of his. I too marvel at how a man with a disease such as his can so blithely advance a Darwinian natural selection approach to the current human situation.

  8. He contradicts himself.

    He states the religion is foolishness, yet according to “We need to use the effective theory of Darwinian natural selection of those societies most likely to survive. We assign them higher value” societies that reproduce and survive have a higher value. By this principle, Catholicism has the highest value (since it values children and has survived the longest) and atheism has the lowest (which tend to have the fewest children and since it is most recent).

    Yet again, he believes the brain is a computer and that one must be dedicated to science, yet if the brain is a computer, it doesn’t matter what program that computer is running. The “science” program or the “saint” program or the “axe murderer” programmer are all equally valid so to “look down” on other programmings is to be inconsistent with reality.

    The problem with people who are too smart is that they are comfortable with complexity and thus can honestly use complexity to rationalize just about anything to anyone including themselves. The only way to really argue with them is to show the inconsistency in their own arguments, since adding more arguments only encourages more complexity in their system of their thoughts.

    1. Not sure you are correct in saying Catholics ” have the highest values.” I think the Muslims are out producing us. The problem we Catholics is that we don’t live the values we do hold. I wish you were correct.

      1. Linus, Anil said that Catholicism has the highest values. But I agree with you: problems start when Catholics become “Catholics in name only.”

  9. It all boils down to faith.

    Some like Hawking have faith only in science. Despite the fact that there is no scientific experiment that can be designed to prove that all that is real is material. So if you are going to believe that all that is real is material and base your life decisions on that premise you are doing so on faith.

    Blessed John Paul the Great reminded us that we can and should use both faith and reason to understand the reality we find ourselves in. Faith and reason are not mutually exclusive, most of the post-enlightenment world has tried to drive a wedge between the two. Someone needs to remind Hawking that gravity did not come into existence on its own. Gravity cannot be the first mover or first principle of all things since it is part of this universe.

    I prefer to use all of the gifts that God has given us (faith and reason) and quite frankly every time I see one of the Hubble Space Telescope photographs I am more humbled and awed by how great God is. My faith is in Jesus Christ and the gift of intelligence God gave us, others can choose to have faith only in science if they choose. Which is the more limiting.

    Finally, Blessed John Paul II also reminded us in Redemptor Hominis that we cannot understand man without Jesus Christ, that God has a plan for us (gravity doesn’t) and that plan is set forth in Christ, True God and True Man. Science cannot talk to us about meaning or purpose; faith and reason working together can. That is the brilliance of our faith.

  10. Hello Msgr. Pope. My name is Kathleen Poley I am writing on behalf of the BBC program World Have Your Say. We are wondering if the author of the Stephen Hawking blog entry would be interested in participating in our live radio broadcast of World Have Your Say, discussing their views on-air. Today’s topic is related to Stephen Hawkins’ recent comments to The Guardian newspaper. As the show’s topic is selected based on what is currently being discussed in the world, the show we would like you to participate in is taking place this evening, from 18:30-19:30 GMT. If you are interested, please email my colleague, Krupa Padhy, at [email protected] as soon as possible. Sincerely, Kathleen Poley

    1. Hello Ms. Poley, I was wondering if you are aware of the book by Patric Madrid and Kenneth Hensley” The Godless Delusion – Turning the Tables on Athiests

    2. Poly, have you read the comments and references mentioned in this blog. As a member of the media you have a moral responsibility to see that truth sees the light – as opposed to indoctrination to some by vested interests. And you and other media personalties will be judged by God on how you uphold and defend the truth.

  11. Msgr.,
    It’s clear from your defensive tone that you were offended by Hawkings comments, but I’m not seeing anything new in what he said. There have always been people who claim there is no God, no heaven, that people of faith are fools, etc. These types of messages have frequently come from people in the public eye as well. I suggest the best response is not to denigrate him (damaged and diseased soul?), compare him to Hitler, or to claim he has no right to talk about these matters–all human beings are entitled, even required to think theologically. If he is trapped in a scientific world view or by his own experience of illness or whatever, the best response is love, not polemics. I doubt you’ll win him over with a superior rational argument. Anyone who has no faith has no hope either. Hawking, and the world, needs the Good News.

    1. Well, your own words about me that I am “defensive” and “offended” indicate perhaps to me that these are probably terms more about you than me. What I do on this blog is to, among other things, engage the culture and keep the discussion open on in. I DO intend to engage Mr. Hawking’s ideas and push back. As for your assertions that by doing that I am defensive and offended, well, that really isn’t in your ability to know and is, frankly, beside the point. In comparing his final remarks to Sanger and Hitler et al. I do not attempt to denigrate, but intend what I consider to be a very real and sincere concern that we have heard these sorts of thoughts before (about natural selection applied to societies and races) and that they have lead to some very dark chapters in history. We ought be very sober about this sort of stuff and not let it slide under the radar. That others have referred to his damaged and diseased soul….well I don’t know, I guess they will have to answer for their own remarks but would agree that we cannot really know the state of his soul. But, Daniel, what do YOU think of what Hawking says about believers? For he dismisses us as merely fearful and that our faith is a mere medicine for anxiety.

      As for the love, and understanding approach you recommend, that works well in a personal relationship. But when someone steps out publicly like and says what he says there are third parties and the common good involved and such remarks ought be clearly addressed for their sake as well.

      I realize that your usual technique is a rapprochement with the world. TO my own mind, this approach has been tried for forty years and found wanting, over all. The time has come in my opinion to more directly engage and push back, at least in the public forums like this.

      Maybe the solution is to admit that both your approach is needed in certain circumstances and, that more direct engagement is also needed.

      1. Again,
        I just don’t hear anything in his comments that is new or particularly threatening. Christianity has persisted in the face of charges like this (and worse) through the years by demonstrating God’s exstence in action rather than merely arguing for it with words. If I had to guess, I’d say it’s his heart rather than his head that needs to be convinced. They will know we are Christians by our love, not our polemics.
        Rather than “rapprochement”, I prefer the terms “aggiornamento” and “ressourcement” 🙂

        1. @ Daniel

          Christianity has persisted by the blood of martyrs and condemning heresy for what it is, not sitting back on it’s laurels.

          1. I have to agree with Daniel, this isn’t new. It may be more public, but I have heard these same thoughts echoed from other scientists before.

            ” A church that suffers no persecution but enjoys the privileges and support of the things of the earth – beware! – is not the true church of Jesus Christ” – Archbishop Oscar Romero

  12. People should listen to scientists talking about theology as much as scientists listen to fundamentalist preachers talking about science.

      1. Ray, I see that you qualified your comment with a reference to “fundamentalist preachers,” but since you posted that comment here, on a website about Catholic teaching, I will be so presumptuous as to conclude that you include Catholic priests and theologians in your comment.

        I wonder, should we listen to Georges Lemaître, the Catholic priest who first posited the Big Bang Theory for the origin of the universe? Or Gregor Mendel, Catholic monk who is the father of modern genetics. Or countless other priests and religious men who have been at the forefront of scientific advancement?

        Wikipedia, by the way, has an interesting list of some of these men.

        Do not make the mistake of thinking that because the Catholic Church understands it to be wrong (and foolish) to worship at the altar of “science” that we all have our heads in the sand. Rather, the Church worships at the altar of Truth because God is Truth. It is only the false and counterfeit “science,” which arbitrarily closes itself off from certain avenues in the pursuit of truth, a “science” which arbitrarily and obstinately makes the scientist blind, that the Church is opposed to.

  13. I did not find Msgr. Pope’s tone defensive at all. He makes some very good points in refuting Hawking’s dismissal of people who believe in an afterlife as people “who are afraid of the dark.” It’s good to remember that we should always be ready to give a reason for our faith!

  14. Jim Mazzarelli: The other 96 percent is made of stuff astronomers can’t see, detect or even comprehend. These mysterious substances are called dark energy and dark matter. Astronomers infer their existence based on their gravitational influence on what little bits of the universe can be seen, but dark matter and energy themselves continue to elude all detection. ‘The overwhelming majority of the universe is: who knows?’ explains science writer Richard Panek

    The modern “scientist”: We demand scientific proof of God! And since 96 percent of the universe is made of stuff we can’t see, detect or even comprehend, even if there are various mysterious influences on what can be seen, there is no proof and he does not exist.

    The same modern “scientist”: Proof? Who needs proof? Science also includes hypothesis, theory, etc. And since 96 percent of the universe is made of stuff we can’t see, detect or even comprehend, because there are various mysterious influences on what can be seen, we infer the existence of dark energy and dark matter, even though they continue to elude all detection and thereby fail the “scientific method” of testing and verification.

  15. Msgr. Pope,

    While I agree with your objection to Stephen Hawking’s insanity, I did not find all of your responses sound. The most frequent objection I had was to the sense in which both you and Mr Hawking used the term science. The classical definition of science is: a body of related data, set forth systematically, expresses with completeness, and presented together with the evidence which justifies and establishes these data as certain and true. Philosophy is a science. It is the science of all things naturally knowable to man’s unaided powers, in so far as these things are studied in their deepest causes and reasons. The enemies of the Church (the ultimate guarantor of correct thinking) have replaced this definition with one which is more suited to there indefinite ideas, namely empirical science. However even in this they can not be consistent because empirical data has never proved anything and never can. It is only data. An individual must reason and determine what data to look for for evidence and then make a judgement based on that data. When Mr. Hawking declares that science can not prove something, he is really saying that there is no physical evidence for it. What is then more important to attack is his undeclared premise that that for which there is no physical evidence does not exist.

    1. Your concerns are understandable. The word “science” has largely come today to mean the material sciences whereas the older meaning of the term would certainly include what you mean (Latin – scientia = knowledge). Perhaps you are right that we have lost something here, but I am not sure I can do everything in a post, like reclaiming the original meaning of every word. Yet, your concerns are valid.

  16. Msgr. Pope,

    Regarding your point about a blind person concluding that something doesn’t exist because he can’t see it: Your argument is spot on, and I think there’s a further point to be made. You say it’s arrogant for someone to assume that the only real things are those we can sense or measure. It is arrogant, but it’s also a holdover of the Judeo-Christian tradition which holds that man was created by God for experiencing the universe. Atheists like Hawking have forgotten it, but that understanding is really at the foundation of modern science.

    Why would one ever assume that the human senses and human ability to measure physical phenomena is perfectly matched (or even significantly correlated) to the ultimate reality of the universe (as Hawking does), unless man was put here for the reason of experiencing and understanding the universe?

  17. Since Hawking wants to psychoanalyze, allow others the same privilege. With no meanness intended, it has always seemed to me that Hawking is a man blessed with intelligence, and education, the world is his to take. Then along comes a terrible disease rendering him physically impotent. How grossly unfair, he would think, others yes, but never me. This would easily create a hatred for God. What better way to revenge oneself against God than to use one’s position of influence to lead as many away from God as possible.
    A high intelligence is not immunity against all the emotions and foibles of being human.

    1. Can we say here that you are engaging in “speculative psychology?” Or perhaps forensic psychology? You are, as you point out, free to do it, Mr H surely feels free to do so. Your last point is surely important to recall!

  18. I recently leafed through one of my wife’s ‘ladies’ magazines and quickly read the last page. The guest writer said that at the end of the day she ‘prays to the Universe for her health, loving family, and peace’. It would seem that you don’t have to be a genius to conclude that the Universe is the Giver. Period. On another note, dark matter and being afraid of the dark. Hmmm…. My scientific mind wants to connect…?!?!?

  19. I wonder if Hawking is in competition with Dawkings for public attention and praise? The best thing to do is to ignore interviews like the one he gave. After all if I believed that God does not exist, why would I care what any “king” has to say?

    1. Well, it’s nice that you can be so irenic but silence and ignoring public statements isn’t always the best thing. Hawking is influential. There may be times to ignore people, but there is also a time to speak. There is a statement from the moral realm that can be applied here as well: Evil triumphs when the good remain silent. And while this is not a moral matter per se, doctrinal issues ought also be addressed from time to time.

  20. As I understand, Hawking is not a scientist at all. He is a theorist, that is, he is well versed in scientific advances, but he only makes theories about the universe with abstract mathematics. Scientists, by definition, are required to make observations and conduct experiments in order to create scientific theories. Theorists, like Hawking, study the experiements and observations of scientists and apply mathematics to produce theories about aspects of the universe that cannot be experiemented on or observed easily, like time, black, holes, afterlife, and other aspects Hawking has written about. I think too many people believe that he is drawing his conclusions from experimentation and observation, even though Hawking’s ideas actually come from books and blackboards.

  21. What all the super-smart and intellectually-gifted atheists like Prof. Hawking should remember is that history teaches us over and over again that wherever Reason is worshipped, a great deal of murder will surely follow: after all, it is reasonable to hate your enemies and desire their deaths. Science simply provides us no guidance on how we should live.
    Pace Galileo (mutatis mutandis), if science is to be viewed as a valuable source for ethics, why did they leave it out?

  22. I agree that Stephen Hawking isn’t qualified to speak about the afterlife, but I strongly disagree that anyone else is. Since none of us have died and returned to tell the tale, all we have to go on are unsubstantiated stories about it, “fairy stories” if you will.

    Also, twisting his words to make them sound like he’s advocating eugenics is a very dishonest attempt at scaremongering.

    1. It’s not “speaking about the afterlife” that is a problem, but rather, the refutation of it by him on some pseudo-scientific manner and the ad hominem dismissal of those who do believe as simply fearful and prone to accept fairy tales.

      As for twisting words, how do you understand Hawking here? It seems to me he is advocating Darwinian Natural Selection to human societies, which DOES seem very dangerous.

      Finally I am not sure what your expression dishonest attempt at scaremongering means. It would seem you mean to imply that I am scaremongering but then you call my attempt dishonest, which would imply that I not actually scaremongering but just pretending to scaremonger. So anyway I am not sure what you mean. However, the word I chose to use was sober, rather than fear. We ought to be sober to the implications of what Hawking is saying, that is, we ought to be alert, clear minded as to what applying natural selection to human societies has meant in the past and what reviving this sort of thinking might imply for the future. Fear and running around in a panic, usually isn’t a good approach to problems, rather sobriety and careful consideration of implications and alternatives is usually a better approach. In a word, sobriety.

      1. Your opening paragraphs argue that Hawking isn’t any more qualified to speak about heaven than you are about string theory. My point was that Hawking’s qualifications are no worse than a theologian’s or anyone else’s on the issue of whether there’s a heaven.

        Hawking made no pretence of doing anything but offering his personal opinion when he said “I regard the brain as a computer…”, so when you criticize him for doing philosophy instead of science, you may as well be criticizing him for doing philosophy instead of dancing. He didn’t claim to be dancing. Where science comes into this discussion is in its capacity to explain phenomena without any need to invoke a god. Gods are unnecessary, not disproved.

        As for his comments about natural selection, he was almost certainly talking about natural selection in the cultural domain, locating the ideas and values that serve us best. You have to be wantonly misinterpreting his words to think that he, a man suffering from a severe degenerative disease, is advocating eugenics.

        As for dishonest scaremongering, you know exactly what I mean, but again you wantonly apply an uncharitable interpretation. Incredibly disingenuous.

        There are valid criticisms one might make about what Hawking said, but you’ve chosen to go about it with distortions and a series of ad hominem attacks that you mention, but of course disavow personally.

        “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.”

        “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!”

        In each case, you take a swipe, but manage to convince yourself that you’re not. Disingenuous.

        Your whole case lacks honesty. The man opines that the idea of heaven is *for* people who are afraid of death. He doesn’t say that everyone who believes in the idea is afraid of death, but merely that this is the function of the idea – the reason for its existence in the culture. But you settle on an uncharitable interpretation, again. It is the height of conceit to think that a renowned thinker like Stephen Hawking could make such elementary mistakes.

        1. I think your a little being hypersensitive, I am just using Mr Hawking’s own inappropriateness in the examples you cite to indicate the inappropriateness of his remarks. That you consider the cited remarks inappropriate is itself an illustration that the technique has had the desired effect. I think you actually now get the inappropriateness of Hawking’s remark, but only as if through a surrogate. Your anger is more properly addressed to him since I am only adopting his technique for the sake of argument.

          Now regarding charity, you lack a certain charity yourself, e.g. Your whole case lacks honesty. I’m not feeling a lot of love here Mano.

  23. The gift of 20th century phenomenology (of which JP2 was a practitioner) is that it corrects the “Enlightenment” idea that we can know what is real in the material world without first accounting for the nature of the consciousness investigating that question. I have been told by priest friends that were reading JP2’s philosophical writings that we won’t “unpack” them and be able to expound them for the next several dozen years because they are so dense. But that they are geared toward defeating moral relativism and naturalistic skepticism once and for all. The phenomenologists tell us that the naturalistic or scientific attitude is just another type of philosophical naivette. There is apodictical truth but you can’t arrive at it without taking into account the instrument with which you are looking (i.e. human consciousness). Hawking is professing a rather silly epiphenomenalism for which there is no evidence. Or rather for which there is all the evidence in the world if you assume that all that truly exists in creation can be known by the five senses of a human being. I will personally stick with Aquinas: Praestet fides supplementum Sensuum defectui.

    1. Alright Joey, you need to speak English here for some of the rest of us 🙂 I think I follow most of what you are saying and that we cannot suppose that we are per se neutral observers of what we sense. Clearly our “brain” and our mind both selects and interprets the data our senses supply. Likewise our senses too are limited. For non Latin speakers, your Aquinas quote says, Faith grants a supplement for the defect of the senses.

  24. In saying “We need to use the effective theory of Darwinian natural selection of those societies most likely to survive. We assign them higher value” Hawking is suggesting, I suspect, not a racial divide but a Faith/ atheist divide. Faith societies are to be assigned lower value, atheist ones higher value I presume. Of course the irony is that atheists don’t have enough babies so they’ll all be very valuable and die out. The worthless religious will inherit. It’s the great peculiarity of natural selection; the most suited to evolutionary success (wealthy, educated, safe, healthy well-armed and keen to use it) are the ones dying out, by choice. As Father Barron quotes, ‘Ex nihilo nihil fit’.

    In the future atheists will be so rare they’ll become the must-have accessory for the mindlessly wealthy, no footballer’s or pop star’s retinue complete without a whittering ex-Ivy League/ Oxbridge academic on a leash, frothing at the mouth and chasing their fallacious arguments round and round in circles like vaguely cerebral dogs.

  25. I was once a believer of Science until I grew up and discovered actual scientists. My parents raised me in the culture of Science. I went to secular schools and stayed after school for science fairs. Our family even made regular pilgrimages to observatories and museums. I still remember the joy my freshman biology professor had for his calling, and all those tireless, loving research assistants running around serving their world. Yeah, I still the Science of my childhood.

    However, Dr. Hawking’s Science is just a little too vengeful and old testament for me. Surely Science, if it does exist and I still think it does, wouldn’t be so vengeful. Seeking to separate, outcast and even systematically destroy groups of people according to utilitarian ethics and social Darwinism? I don’t recall the books of Pascal and Einstein saying any of that! I think Science would rather us pursue knowledge of It, encourage logically virtuous lives in accordance to Its rules, and serve to make the world better and in perfect union with It.

    And the suggestion that Dr. Hawking makes that we should harness Science, control It and initiate his own vengeful interpretation of It for and against selected groups of people is so incredibly fascist of him. No, Dr. Hawking, I will not worship your Science.

  26. “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.”

    Anyone who has seriously documented regarding the “near death experiences” (NDEs) may become convinced that when all the brain’s components have failed (flat EEG) the brain still is working, and if not the brain itself, anything else which replaces it, thus giving strong clues that contrary to what Hawking asserts, thre is an afterlife.
    The problem with scientists is that their knowledge inflates their pride that leads them to dismiss as insignificant the facts they cannot explain (and those are many).

  27. Bashing religion is the ‘new fad’ to become popular, these days.

    Hawkins carreer is almost over, seen his late age and his disease, and the last ten years have not been kind to his scientific theories either, since several scientist criticized Hawking’s work.

    I guess if Hawkins still desires the spotlight he needs to do the ‘Dawking Shuffle’: do ridiculous philosophy and call it science.

    This saddens me greatly, because I admire Hawking a lot: it pains me to see him to take the same road as a far lesser individual like Dawking.

  28. Mr.Hawking seems to have lost touch with the scientific means of employing the strength of humility so that it is, indeed, the strength it was meant to be. Namely, “insufficient data”
    Where’s the peer review report, the hard data, the examples of calculations which validate the hard data, etcetera, etcetera. Or, without these, where’s the disclaimer saying that his statement is less than an approved theory and, perhaps, even less than a hypothesis – which is only part way to a theory.
    If someone in his position presents an opinion in a way that misleads (deliberately or inadvertently) people who are outside the mainstream of science into thinking that, the aforementioned opinion is as thoroughly validated as one of his well scrutinized items, then he risks reducing the credablity of, not only himself but, any organization he represents. As a scientist Mr Hawking has more responsiblity than the majority of us to double check everything he publicly releases.
    Perhaps an offended party or offended parties (all Christian groups could be effected) could consider calling this to his employers attention. Would an open challenge to his statements through the media be overdoing things or, maybe even, inappropriately buying into needless conflict. I will make my attempt at worthwhile humility by saying that I don’t know. If I was in a position to make a decision like that I should hope to pray for guidance.

  29. I believe what you said made a bunch of sense. But, think on this, what if
    you typed a catchier title? I mean, I don’t want to tell you how to run your website, however what if you added a title to maybe grab people’s attention?
    I mean Stephen Hawking Should Stick to Science and Stop Theologizing.

    And We Should be Very Sober about One of His Very Dangerous Philosophical Assumptions

  30. Sounds like pride has gotten to steve, and ignorance is taking over his judgement.

    Good call, Charles!

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