Browsing From the Pastor's Desk

Science, Faith, and Stephen Hawking

Oct 25, 2018

Perhaps you’ve seen that bit of philosophical humor. “God is dead.” – F.W. Nietzsche; “Nietzsche is dead.” – God. God always gets the last laugh, but his publicity is decidedly understated.

This week, the greatest scientist of the last half of the 20th century had his final book published. Among other things, it definitively states that there is no God. But the author, Stephen Hawking, is dead now for 7 months and is undoubtedly experiencing some surprising things in his afterlife.

I’m not sure why Stephen Hawking came to this conclusion about God. His biography says he was born into a family of thinkers. They were not believers. (You can be a thinker and a believer, as I hope all of you are.) His father was a doctor and mother a philosopher. Stephen was a theoretical physicist and cosmologist, and when you start thinking about the cosmos, it’s mind-boggling.

The radius of our observable universe is estimated to be about 46.5 billion light-years, and its diameter therefore is about 93 billion light-years, or 550,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 miles. That’s pretty big, and science tells us that the universe is still expanding.

What shape is the universe? We don’t know exactly. There are basically three possibilities: a flat universe, a spherical or closed universe, or a hyperbolic or open universe (sort of like a saddle).

Now, in this universe, our Hubble telescope out in space reveals an estimated 100 billion galaxies, but this number is likely to increase to about 200 billion as telescope technology in space improves. Astronomers infer there are actually 2 trillion galaxies. That’s pretty amazing, considering the first galaxy was only discovered in 1929 by Edwin Hubble.

How did it all begin? With the big bang; this stupendously large universe began from the explosion of a single point the size of a sub-atomic particle, as close to nothing as you can get. We would say God caused this. (But Stephen wouldn’t say this. He would say it just had to happen.)

How will it end? Science doesn’t know. It could be in a big freeze—all the stars burn out. Or a big crunch—all the stars and galaxies reverse course and fall back into that small point. Or a big rip—I don’t really understand that one—space-time tears apart and things just fall out, I guess.

You see, there’s this stuff called “dark matter.” We can’t see it, but it has to exist. Otherwise, all the other stuff science tells us about the universe couldn’t be true; gravity wouldn’t work on a cosmological scale. How much dark matter there is, how much you put into the calculations, determines how the universe ends. Science believes in dark matter but not in God, because you can’t see God in any of our mathematical calculations. You can make the calculations work without God but not without dark matter.

Stephen Hawking had a lot of good ideas, but for him to make a categorical statement on his own about theology would be like me, whose mathematical knowledge barely goes beyond arithmetic, making a statement on my own about higher mathematics or theoretical physics. An expert in one area is not an expert in all areas.
Hawking says there is alien life, forms of intelligent life out there in the universe. I can believe that, and some theologians are beginning to think about what that would mean. God would have created a lot of wasted space otherwise, and God’s love and power are infinite. Hawking does say we need to be wary of making direct contact with other intelligent beings until we have developed a bit further ourselves. We haven’t quite gotten the knack of living together with other human beings.

He thinks within the next hundred years, we will be able to travel anywhere in the solar system. I suppose that’s true, but there isn’t anywhere else in the solar system that can support human life or that has five-star hotels.

Very presciently, he says that artificial intelligence could outsmart humans. (That is a real danger. Remember HAL in 2001: A Space Odyssey.) He thinks that time travel can’t be ruled out and that there may be wormholes and other universes; I know my limits, so I can’t comment on those things.

Alas, he mourns that we seem to have lost the ability to look outward, and we are increasingly looking inward to ourselves. He says, “Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet.” I think we have to do both. If you’re not looking at what’s under your feet as you go, you are liable to fall into Nietzsche’s abyss.

Science is a faith, a religion. Belief in dark matter requires faith. You can demonstrate the existence of dark matter, but you can’t demonstrate it or produce it. It’s no different with God. Thomas Aquinas demonstrated the existence of God. Except that God is a person, who can relate to you and to whom you can relate. And God has become a human being. Dark matter is cold comfort, and worshipping science makes us inhuman.

When we look at the universe, at all that is out there, the order of its existence and development, we must come to a conclusion. We must make a choice. The author of the Letter to the Hebrews says, “Faith is the realization of what is hoped for and evidence of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1. The New Jerusalem Bible puts it this way: “Only faith can guarantee the blessings that we hope for, or prove the existence of realities that are unseen.”

What do you…what do we…hope for? Do you have faith? How does faith NOT make sense for a truly human life?

Joshua 24:15 says this: “If it is displeasing to you to serve the LORD, choose today whom you will serve, …As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” And Jeremiah 10:10: “The LORD is the true God; He is the living God and the everlasting King.”

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