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Science vs. Religion: To hell with the both of them.

September 3, 2010

Stephen Hawking: I know the mind of God! Although he doesn't exist...

The true skeptic’s burden rests heavy. This morning I find myself going from the Internet, where Stephen Hawking has declared God did not create the universe, to the bathroom, where I’ve been reading a book on masculinity by the Christian guru, John Eldredge. Can’t say which itches me more.

Too often, I think, skepticism is assumed the exclusive ally of science and secularism, but nothing could be further from the truth. Science is the product of human endeavor, after all. To accept its pronouncements without question is not only stupid, it’s downright — well, unscientific.

And yet modern western society, standing in awe of all that science has given us (modern medicine, electricity, air travel, mobile phones), is all too ready to endow science with infallibility. This, however, is not science, it is scientism –a belief system.

Let’s consider Hawking. I respect the British physicist as much as anyone. I read his book A Brief History of Time at just the point I was casting off the faith of my childhood, and, along with other books and thinkers, it had a profound impact on my development.

John Eldredge: Jesus wants you to be like Rusell Crowe (!).

Now Hawking, retired from his longtime position as Cambridge University’s Lucasian Professor of Mathmatics (a chair, I’m obligated like every other journalist who writes about Hawking to add, once held by Sir Isaac Newton), he’s written a second popular science book, The Grand Design (with American physicist Leonard Mlodinow).

“Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist,” Hawking writes.

“It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”

To which I pipe up: How do you know? Were you there? Why should we believe you?

That’s not to say Hawking may not be right, only that neither he nor I can know for sure. Oh, you say, he’s a great mathematician and he’s got it all worked out on a blackboard somewhere?

Pish-posh, say I. Math and physics and science in general can tell us a lot, but it cannot tell us everything. Hell’s bells, math can’t even master the Stock Market (you know that mathematicians cooking up frankenstein algorithms at the big investment banks are significantly responsible for the economic crash, right?).

You expect me to believe you can factor out the formula of creation and explain to us the Big Bang? Ha-ha-ha-ha. Good one, Steve.

Besides, even if you can, only–what?– 13 people in the world can understand it? That’s what I read once about String Theory, something physicists have devised to explain the observable universe.

It seems accounting for the mass and energy in the universe, the dome brains can’t get the figures to work out. So they just keep adding alternate universes for the numbers to spill into. They’re up to 11 now, last I heard.

Yeah, I know. Me, too.

But maybe they are right–though given the propensity of scientists to thumb the scale so as to “prove” pet theories and advance careers, I wouldn’t bet on it. Sounds a lot like counting angels on the head of a pin, and about as useful.

On the opposite side of the boxing ring, though, we have knuckleheads like John Eldredge. A friend I respect gave me his 2001 book, Wild At Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul, which I’ve been reading in those unmentionable moments I’d normally devote to the newspaper or a magazine.

Since I took a half-step back from atheism, I’ve read some books on Christian spirituality that I benefited from. This isn’t one of them — and yet, it’s got me all churned up, and I can’t quite give up on it.

Essentially it’s a rehash of the “Men’s movement” malarkey pioneered by poet Robert Bly and others back in the 1980s, only trucked up in born-again drag. What power the book has comes from Bly, who after all, has a deep understanding of literature, myth, archetype and all that jazz.

Eldredge (who is a more than competent writer, let me concede), on the other hand, tries to bend masculinity theory to suit Christianity — and Christianity to suit masculinity theory. For example: He argues that Man is fierce and wild in his deepest soul because that’s how God made creation.

It’s a compelling argument until you remember that whole Fall from Grace thing. The Bible clearly indicates that all was peaceable (lion and lamb, playing cards with the dogs around the table), until Adam and Eve lunched on the Apple. Creation groans “as in childbirth,” St. Paul says (Romans 8:22), and when I was boy, my Baptist preachers taught it was the result of Original Sin.

What’s more, Eldredge indulges in cartoonsy masculine and feminine stereotypes. And he’s  addicted to war metaphors (yeah, yeah, Jesus came to bring a sword, I know, but what about peace on earth, goodwill to men?).

A pox on them both, the scientist and the religionist. Scientists would do well to remember that they cannot know everything, while religious people might keep in mind that they practice faith, not certainty. A little humility all round, eh?

Oddly enough, the best place to find a middle way, at least that I know of, is in a little-known book by the late, great biologists and evolutionary theorist, Stephen Jay Gould.

Though an atheist, Gould argued in Rocks of Ages (1999), that no real conflict exists between religion and science if we simply relegate each to its proper place. Science owns the “empircal realm” –that is, what things are and how they work.

Religion, Gould suggested, gets the realm of  “ultimate meaning and moral value.” In other words, render unto Einstein the things that are Einstein’s, and until God the things that are God’s.

When I first read this, still a thorough-going atheist, I took it for a stalking horse. It seemed to give science everything that was real, leaving religion the table scraps of the imaginary.

Now that I’ve opened the door (if only a crack) to spiritual import, however, that equation seems to me reversed. Science gets everything outside my thoughts and feelings — paltry booty, I say — while religion (or, as I prefer, “spirituality”) gets everything that really matters, at least in human terms.

So you two boys go ahead and play in your sandboxes. Prof. Hawking, you say as many ridiculous things as you want, like: “If we discover a complete theory [of the Big Bang], it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason — for then we should know the mind of God.”

So funny, since so far the human mind, tiny as it is, remains beyond us.

And Mr. Eldredge, you go right on mashing up secular and Evangelical ideas, knocking Jesus into some kind of Iron John.

But you might want to get your basic theology straight.

Just a thought.

20 Comments leave one →
  1. Tommy Smart permalink
    September 3, 2010 12:58 pm

    I should read this book. I should also read all of Hawking’s other books. They sound fun. You know what else sounds fun? Plucking my pubic hairs out, one by one, with tweezers.

    Hawking’s (another Brit with some funny ideas, well done with the British posts BTW) quote “It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.” is light years away from saying God does NOT exist.

    iPhones are also not necessary, which ruins my argument that Apple and Jobs are the anti-Christ.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      September 3, 2010 1:18 pm

      No, Jobs is SATAN. Why do you think he always wears black?!? But I am very grateful for my little Mac. Thank you, Satan.

      I didn’t have room to explain everything — the freaking post is over 1,100 words, as it is, which in Internet words is like Moby freakin Dick –but in A Brief History of Time, Hawking says he has no problem with the concept of God, and he will become a believer as soon as someone shows him something in the universe that cannot be explained by natural causes (in other words, by physics and biology). In that light, if he’s saying now that he’s sure God is not needed to initiate the Big Bang, then he IS saying, by his criteria, that God does not exist.

      I’m not arguing that God does exist — how would I know?!? I’m just arguing that Hawking is yet another SMART PERSON SAYING DUMB THINGS.

  2. Chauncey Mabe permalink*
    September 3, 2010 1:57 pm

    Here, by the way, is an update illustrating why — apart from hubris — smart people say dumb things: It pays enormous publicity dividends:

    http://www.thebookseller.com/news/127578-hawkings-controversial-comments-see-sales-surge.html.rss

    And if you read the comments section, you’ll get a quick primer on the ways in which atheists have become the most arrogant and disagreeable class of people in today’s social realm–excepting, of course, the Tea Partiers.

  3. September 3, 2010 2:12 pm

    “Scientists would do well to remember that they cannot know everything, while religious people might keep in mind that they practice faith, not certainty. A little humility all round, eh?”

    Very nice, Chauncey. It’s the human greed and vanity to know Everything, or pronounce on it with certainty, that has either side foolishly overcompensating.
    It does take humility to acknowledge our limits, a kind of patience and courage perhaps to stand in the midst of our confusion and not heap scorn on Mystery.

    Neither Science nor Faith, alone… which is to say no need for the false choice between one organ of perception over another. Instead of, say, mind vs heart, rather a thinking heart and a feeling mind.

    “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.” Einstein

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      September 3, 2010 2:39 pm

      Beautiful, Yahia, thanks. And I love the aphorism from Uncle Albert.

      As the ancients were aware, wisdom begins with the acknowledgment that I know NOTHING. Religious people who doubt this can go any number of places in the Bible, but I suggest the Lord’s Response to Job, (“Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said/ Who is this that darkeneth counsel by worlds without knowledge?”). Secularists who doubt this are referred to the philosophy of Socrates (“I only know that I know nothing”), which can be found Plato’s Apology

  4. September 3, 2010 2:52 pm

    That Socrates quip keeps me in check when I stray from my learned ignorance… which is not infrequently. Good to have such reminders and, as you rightly point out
    The Books (holy and secular) are littered with instances of such wise humility.

  5. Marla permalink
    September 3, 2010 4:55 pm

    “God, the Bible and religiosity are all man-made creations carved out of the deepest figments of humankind’s imagination originally conceived in order to stop lawlessness and point people toward the direction of choosing good over evil,” anonymous. “The majority of people seem to need rules in order to give them purpose, a sense of being, hence – the Bible, in all its versions and interpretations. Perhaps it’s time that humanity finally lifts itself out of the dark ages. The fact that it has taken Hawking this long to come to his particular realization in his relationship with a so-called supernatural being that allegedly created humanity is astounding to me.”

    Any thoughts? Anybody?

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      September 3, 2010 5:13 pm

      “God, the Bible and religiosity are all man-made creations…” Says who? Prove it, says I. And of course, you can’t. I happen to agree that the Bible was conceived and written by human beings, though I doubt very much it was to stop lawlessness. If morality comes only from a Transcendent Authority –and no such Transcendent Authority exists — then we are well and truly screwed. Fortunately, I do not subscribe to this notion. God, the Bible and all forms of faith and religion were devised to give human life meaning. Morality –and spirituality — evolved, like all other human traits, from the ability to walk upright to the love of children. So it really doesn’t matter if God created Man or Man created God. If I feel like a spiritual creature, then I am one, and I damned well better attend to my spiritual hygiene, just as I better take care of my physical cleanliness and my emotional needs. All these things are innate in the human animal because, like the opposable thumb, they confer survival advantages.

      • monica permalink
        August 4, 2012 4:21 pm

        Chauncey Mabe,

        but would it not, if possible, make you evolve AS a human being if you CAN get rid of this “spiritual need”? , the same way you would benefit if you can rid yourself of your emotional needs. you can STILL KEEP ALL YOUR MORALS, willingly, BY YOURSELF, not cuz you are afraid you will be banned to hell if you did bad . isn’t that MORE GENUINE?, eat only healthy food, not contribute to the massive slaughtering and very immoral ways in which farms develop their livestocks (ironically, given we live in such a vastly religious society with so many people who believes in morals. ironic, ironic. and if true that most people are UNAWARE, whhich is highly likely the case, then would it not be fair to say they are blind? lazy? choose not to look into such matters? just takes things as they come; the food, the bias media, etc?).

        Argument isn’t about god. it’s about what’s the point in LIMITING yourself with the belief. let’s say if god WAS to exist, i don’t think he would mind if we focused our energy elsewhere–like helping each other, helping the poor/starving children, joining medical field so that we can save our loved ones who suffers from cancers and horrific diseases… it’s like, why are we even DEBATING about such a miniscule matter in all the POSSIBLE achievements we are capable as human beings? why don’t we become even more spiritual if spirituality was so important to the human survival, let’s start believing in crazy clowns who fly invisible spaceships around earth and casts karma amongst people who does “bad.” is that less believable than the whole God theory? is it REALLY??? it’s just as invisible, justifies good and bad just as much.

        but why? why even debate about this? why not utilize this LIMITED TIME as we know that it is limited to our knowledge, and learn to reprogram dead skin cells , make them blank and available to grow new hearts, lungs, and livers for your parents who you love so much (whether scientist or god-believer). point i’m making is, taking the route of scientist ENABLES and is the key to opening doors for these things we THANKLESSLY use everyday– amusement parks and rides built from equations derived from physics (or whatever science- i’m no expert), medicine which can and DOES save lives. we are able to monitor diabetes, use chemotherapy to fight cancer, etc, BECAUSE someone TOOK THAT TIME to CREATE it, rather than using that time to dwell on WHETHER OR NOT GOD EXISTS. it’s like… everyone misses the whole point.

  6. Richard Shigley permalink
    September 3, 2010 5:46 pm

    False words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil.

    Some European said that way back when. One thing I am certain of is that I never sound as dumb as when I try to sound intelligent by speaking of matters beyond me; especially God and (my) human (mis)understanding of Him.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      September 3, 2010 10:13 pm

      Richard, I’m a little unclear on your meaning.

      That’s true as far as it goes, but I fear it doesn’t go very far. For one thing, that maxim implies a Manichean world view –everything is either good or evil, while the world I live in is a spectrum of gray gradations. Besides, learning to lie is a normal step in childhood development, and the rare child who doesn’t learn to lie is mentally and emotionally handicapped. Furthermore, strict adherence to truth telling is inhumane, in the same way the New Testament Pharisees were inhumane in their insistence on obedience to the law of God at all cost. But Jesus rebuked them, at one point saying, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath,” thereby instituting the principle that people are more important than petty obedience, and justifying the little white lie: “Does this dress make me look fat?” thus becomes a much easier question to answer.

      But if, as I infer, you mean to say that you are an agnostic, on the grounds that it is impossible to know the answers to ultimate questions, then I’m right there with you. I think a workable misunderstanding of God is the best we clay monkeys can hope for.

  7. September 4, 2010 4:20 pm

    “…a workable misunderstanding of God.” Brilliant. I don’t truck with either of the all-or-nothing approaches. They both provide oodles of comic relief, imo.

    Hawking follows his assertion that “Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist…” with “…then we should know the mind of God.” Eh? The man sounds confused – just like all the rest of us.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      September 5, 2010 5:12 pm

      Yeah, and don’t you love that notion of “spontaneous creation?” Oxymoron much? Is that more like “spontaneous generation,” an obsolete scientific theory about animals arising from inanimate substances (mollusks from mud, for example, or worms from rotting trees), or is it more like spontaneous human combustion? Really, what a ridiculous thing to say, “spontaneous creation”! Could the universe arise without divine intervention? I have no idea. Sure, why not? But such a process cannot be termed “creation,” which implies — for God’s sake! — a “creator.”

      • monica permalink
        August 4, 2012 4:42 pm

        then where did God come from? tell me and i will believe in God. but please back up with also how you KNOW. I don’t KNOW if God exists. the universe and the books hawkings wrote was to enlightening, open up for discussion, and spread physical knowledge which we can benefit from by learning. He never said he didn’t believe in God, he works on THEORIES–theories are left as working progresses and are OPEN TO ANYONE to argue against. If his book is written on THEORIES, it means none of his STATEMENTS are FACT that he “doesn’t believe in God”. you misinterpret the entire book, hence, the entire concept of the book. he is just ONE more human who’s TRYING, rather than RESISTING. if God wanted us to resist, he would show himself. i don’t think he minds us Learning. this technological world occured as a result of learning. is learning against religion? because it sure seems to be.

      • August 4, 2012 5:41 pm

        spontaneous creation – for lack of better words because language is only but so perfect which is why i never focused on grammar so much as choice of words. and spontaneous creation for lack of better words so that he can label that part of his theory (THEORY- which again, is working progress concept and totally welcomed for anyone to step foot in to object) which he used physics, logic, and deductible reasoning to conclude. i don’t know how much more one can be more careful with words. general population needs to learn to RETAIN the defintion of what a THEORY is to begin with.

  8. September 5, 2010 8:18 pm

    In “The Grand Design” Stephen Hawking postulates that the M-theory may be the Holy Grail of physics…the Grand Unified Theory which Einstein had tried to formulate and later abandoned. It expands on quantum mechanics and string theories.

    In my e-book on comparative mysticism is a quote by Albert Einstein: “…most beautiful and profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. It is the sower of all true science. To know that what is impenetrable to us really exists, manifesting itself as the highest wisdom and most radiant beauty – which our dull faculties can comprehend only in their primitive form – this knowledge, this feeling, is at the center of all religion.”

    Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity is probably the best known scientific equation. I revised it to help better understand the relationship between divine Essence (Spirit), matter (mass/energy: visible/dark) and consciousness (fx raised to its greatest power). Unlike the speed of light, which is a constant, there are no exact measurements for consciousness. In this hypothetical formula, basic consciousness may be of insects, to the second power of animals and to the third power the rational mind of humans. The fourth power is suprarational consciousness of mystics, when they intuit the divine essence in perceived matter. This was a convenient analogy, but there cannot be a divine formula.

  9. Lynn Demarest permalink
    September 13, 2010 5:42 pm

    Hawking didn’t say that God doesn’t exist. He said God was not necessary for the Big Bang (itself a theory) to have happened. He’s been widely misquoted.

    Any scientist who proclaims that God does not exist is, in the vernacular, speaking out of his paper asshole the same as any believer who proclaims that God does, in fact, exist. Until verifiable proof exists one way or the other (don’t hold your breath) both are wrong.

    True science, of course, deals exclusively with the physical universe and is always ready to change its conclusions when new facts come to light. Thus, Einstein’s gravity refined Newton’s.

    String Theory is clearly identified as a mathematical guess designed to discover a unified theory of all four basic forces. http://csep10.phys.utk.edu/astr162/lect/cosmology/forces.html

    The number of people who understand a theory has no bearing on whether it is true.

    There are no true scientists who proclaim that theories are true. Hell, they’re so careful they even still call gravity a theory.

    In sum, the salient difference between science and religion is that science welcomes skeptical inquiry while religion does not.

    Religion is placed into this awkward “don’t mind the man behind the curtain” position because of its inherent need to proclaim things as true that it does not know to be true (known in other circles of endeavor as lying.) Skeptical inquiry risks exposing some of these blind proclamations as false, which is why you hardly ever hear religion these days talking about science-y stuff as they did back in Galileo’s day, when science was just gaining a foothold.

    Finally, I am an atheist, but only because there is no closer word for what I believe. I do not aspire to be arrogant, I aspire only to be honest.

    So here’s my THEORY on the God notion:

    1. God may exist, but there is no evidence that He does. I’m OK with “I don’t know,” especially since God, if He exists, appears to want it that way. (I assume He could reveal Himself if he wanted to.)
    2. Anyone who claims that they are sure that God exists are either lying or delusional, for they simply can not know such a thing.
    3. Anyone who claims to know what God “wants” is either lying or delusional. This means all holy books are fiction.
    4. Teaching our children that God may speak to them and tell them to do things is a dangerous practice, for when these children grow up to be adults God sometimes tells them to do awful things.
    5. I sense that I am more than mere machine, i.e., that I have a “spirit,” but I am open to the idea that it may be an illusion. (For that matter, I am open to the illusion of free will.)
    6. In fact, all of reality can hardly be anything but an illusion when you consider that 99.99 percent of the volume consumed by an atom of matter — aka energy — is empty space. Thus, my favorite quip: Everything is Mostly Nothing.

    I have spoken.

    Imagine no religion.

    • monica permalink
      August 4, 2012 4:32 pm

      In sum, the salient difference between science and religion is that science welcomes skeptical inquiry while religion does not.

      well put. that’s all i ever try to explain to people, but you can’t even get to even THAT AGREEMENT, which is indeed a FACT, as much as we can agree on what fact is.

      here’s to add to your argument.

      but would it not, if possible, make you evolve AS a human being if you CAN get rid of this “spiritual need”? you can STILL KEEP ALL YOUR MORALS, willingly, BY YOURSELF, not cuz you are afraid you will be banned to hell if you did bad . isn’t that MORE GENUINE?, eat only healthy food, not contribute to the massive slaughtering and very immoral ways in which farms develop their livestocks (ironically, given we live in such a vastly religious society with so many people who believes in morals. ironic, ironic. and if true that most people are UNAWARE, whhich is highly likely the case, then would it not be fair to say they are blind? lazy? choose not to look into such matters? just takes things as they come; the food, the bias media, etc?).

      Argument isn’t about god. it’s about what’s the point in LIMITING yourself with the belief. let’s say if god WAS to exist, i don’t think he would mind if we focused our energy elsewhere–like helping each other, helping the poor/starving children, joining medical field so that we can save our loved ones who suffers from cancers and horrific diseases… it’s like, why are we even DEBATING about such a miniscule matter in all the POSSIBLE achievements we are capable as human beings? why don’t we become even more spiritual if spirituality was so important to the human survival, let’s start believing in crazy clowns who fly invisible spaceships around earth and casts karma amongst people who does “bad.” is that less believable than the whole God theory? is it REALLY??? it’s just as invisible, justifies good and bad just as much.

      but why? why even debate about this? why not utilize this LIMITED TIME as we know that it is limited to our knowledge, and learn to reprogram dead skin cells , make them blank and available to grow new hearts, lungs, and livers for your parents who you love so much (whether scientist or god-believer). point i’m making is, taking the route of scientist ENABLES and is the key to opening doors for these things we THANKLESSLY use everyday– amusement parks and rides built from equations derived from physics (or whatever science- i’m no expert), medicine which can and DOES save lives. we are able to monitor diabetes, use chemotherapy to fight cancer, etc, BECAUSE someone TOOK THAT TIME to CREATE it, rather than using that time to dwell on WHETHER OR NOT GOD EXISTS. it’s like… everyone misses the whole point.

  10. monica permalink
    August 4, 2012 4:36 pm

    and yes, the big bang itself is a theory, so any statements on a theory would also be based on theoretical grounds, which people ALSO seem to have difficult understanding, when they are fully capable of such simple comprehension. but it is sad how most simply do not want to use their brain.

  11. AJAYI STEPHEN permalink
    May 26, 2013 3:38 pm

    Can any valid proof be given that God does not exist

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