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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

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Dr. Stephen Hawking & Life After Death

I am increasingly amazed and impressed by Msgr. Charles Pope’s expertise and the range of his wisdom on the ADW Blog.  As someone who has long been intrigued by the complementarity of truth between science, philosophy and theology, I read with great interest his response to Dr. Stephen Hawking’s atheistic and mechanistic view of creation and reality.  Dr. Hawking is very much in the news because he has pontificated that there need be no God and no afterlife.  He suggests that religious believers are just poor people who are afraid of death.  It should be noted that there is no evidence that he has studied religion with any depth and neither is he a philosopher.  Dr. Hawking is a scientist.  His world is that of numbers and that which can be viewed in a telescope.  Msgr. Pope rightly suggests that he is no more qualified to speak on religious questions than the good priest would be to lecture on string theory.  Dr. Hawking has jumped to a conclusion without sufficient study and reflection.  Coincidentally, the great expert on black holes has suffered professional setbacks lately for espousing scientific opinions (within his field and about evaporating black holes and alternative dimensions) with little or no hard science to back up his claims.  He looks impressive in his chair and linked to a computer and voice synthesizer, but the researcher may be slipping more and more into science fiction and fantasy.  What I am trying to say is what Msgr. Pope says so much clearer than I could; Dr. Hawking is not infallible and has a personal opinion about religious faith that should not muster great weight or concern.  The media treats him much in the way they reported on the late Dr. Albert Einstein– with exaggeration and almost cultic worship.

Msgr. Pope notes that the famous scientist views his brain much as a computer and that when it stops functioning, that will be the end of him.  This is not so much a scientific view (as it cannot be proven) but a philosophical one.  Here too Dr. Hawking is outside his area of expertise.  I would also suggest that something of his fatalism is due to his personal condition.  He has remarked that he feels like a brain trapped in a useless and dying body.  Separatists identify the person with the mind and view it  (much like a computer) in opposition to the rest of the “robotic” body.  This is not a true Christian or Catholic perspective.  We regard the human person as a whole and the mind is not merely “thinking meat.” The Church speaks of human beings as spiritual-corporeal-composites.  The body breaks down but the soul has no parts and is immortal.  God has promised us restoration of the body and soul.  While it is true that some fear death, Christians also believe that love is stronger than death and place their confidence in a personal and corporate relationship with Christ.  The Church proclaims that Christ is risen and that he desires to share his life with us.  God has even planted a desire in us for happiness, reunion and life.  This yearning is neither accidental nor capricious.

Dr. Hawking has given a heroic witness of living and working through terrible adversity.  But his answer that people should live their full potential and forget about an afterlife is no real answer.  It is unfortunate that a man who has pursued truth would dismiss the genuine journey of others to find ultimate meaning.  If the good doctor had lived at an earlier time in history there would not have been the technology to keep him alive and to allow him to work or communicate.  Others in our own time have disabilities of both the mind and body.  If human life is only valued in terms of utility and there is no higher value then the recourse of people with his mindset would be a massive campaign of euthanasia and suicide.  Those suffering severe retardation and in coma could not actively engage in any effort for the good life or for any potential, earthly rational or otherwise.  Indeed, dissenters have argued to strip the title “human” from any entity that does not have a clearly rational potential.  Does the media really understand what kind of nightmare world that Dr. Hawking’s views would create?  Msgr. Pope sees these very same danger signs.  Such ideas were tested before by the likes of Margaret Sanger and Adolf Hitler; ironically they would result in a eugenics that would have cost Dr. Stephen Hawking his mortal existence.

2 Responses

  1. While I,m very skimpy with public blessings, please let me state, God bless you Father Joe. Hawking’s statements were very troubling to me. Perhaps he regrets this definitive statement about the non-existence of God. Thank you for addressing his comments.

  2. Dear Fr Joe,

    Stephen Hawkin, ‘he’s not the Messiah, he’s a very naughty boy’

    For those who have seen “The Life of Brian” they will know what I mean and it demonstrates clearly how we, as single human entities are all looking for some ‘hero’ architype to emulate and revere. That ‘Python’ film summed it up very clearly even if many considered it irreverant and some even defined it as sacriligeous or blasphemous.

    Most of us Catholics see Jesus as our ‘hero’ and obviously so much more. Many Catholics and others will put some fameous footballer or business leader onto the top of the heap and hail them if not worship them as a hero figure. Many religeous sect leaders have that certain charisma and charm and even enjoy the adulation. The one thing that most of these all lack, but what our ‘head of state’ has in plenty is modesty. The Pope is a very modest and humble man and that puts him in a totally different league to most of the other leaders.

    Stephen Hawkin has a singularly well developed brain in one specific direction and he has become exactly that cult leader that so many ‘lost souls’ need. I believe there was a cult that even expected the world to end the day before yesterday and I imagine that the leader of that pathetic but yearning group of desperate souls was also hailed as some sort of ‘guru’. I see it as so sad when, out of desperation, so many needy individuals are deceived.

    And then it comes down to the real crux of the problem as I see it: do we have a duty, as Catholics, to try to reason and educate the man and lead him to the truth, if he is willing to follow, or do we just love him and leave him?

    I remember that the Bible tells us that ‘the good theif’ who I imagine had not followed the Jewish Law so was crucified next to Jesus, repented at the eleventh hour and Jesus promised him salvation there and then; perhaps Stephen will also turn to Jesus in that last nanosecond of life and say; “This truely is The Son of God”, who knows and who cares?

    Stephen is, without doubt, the peculiar cult leader of a group of many who would rather believe that everything we see and know to be around us suddenly came into existence out of nothing without any designer or Prime Mover. If he is willing to believe that bizarre statement rather than the much more plausable truth that God created everything then he really is not as intelligent as many give him credit for.

    How can any rational thinking human ever justify their belief that everything just evolved and the deception is so convincing to suggest that there was a creator (Dawkin’s arguement). Just look at the human body and mind. The human brain with more cells than there are stars in the galaxy, all interlinked, the eye and it’s extrordinarily complex function……to even suggest that this just evolved out of necessity rather than the fruit of a Creator suggests more than a myopic view on life. It demonstrates a prideful ignorance that is deliberate, and when we deliberately turn away from God we are truely lost.

    As for his ideal that there are other dimensions? Welcome to the club, sunshine, of course there are and God and all His Angels are filling them everywhere. There is infinitely more to reality than we can see and understand and the emperical proof is all around us if we look with the soul rather than just the eyes. Poor Stephen has a well developed brain but poor eyesight. That was the one gift that Jesus was recorded as giving to those who asked, the gift of sight to the blind. I pray that not only will Stephen receive the gift of sight before he dies but that he will not lead any astray because that would be a bigger burden to carry, and his shoulders are just not up to it.

    With love, Paul.

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