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Stephen Hawking: The Spiritually Blind International Killjoy

This past May celebrity physicist Stephen Hawking, easily recognizable with his wheelchair and high-tech voice-communication device, made media waves in an ever-so-brief interview with London’s Guardian newspaper. In a dismissal that underlines his firm rejection of religion, Britain’s most eminent scientist proclaimed that Heaven is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark. When asked about a recent hospitalization and whether there is anything he fears about death, Hawking took the opportunity to let fly a little atheist ideology mixed with a dash of I’m-a-brilliant-scientist arrogance: “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.” There you have it, folks — misguided metaphor of the month: The human brain is a computer. Never mind neuroscience. Hawking speaks. Eyebrows go up.

Hawking’s rejection of God and religion has intensified, or at least become more outspoken, in recent years. In his bestselling 1988 book, A Brief History of Time, which sold a reported nine million copies and propelled the physicist to instant stardom, Hawking describes what it would mean for scientists to develop a “theory of everything” — a set of equations that describes every particle and force in the entire universe. “It would be the ultimate triumph of human reason — for then we should know the mind of God,” he wrote. Twenty-three years later, he has pushed God out of the picture.

Hawking’s latest comments go beyond even those laid out in his 2010 book, The Grand Design, in which he asserts that there is no need for a creator to explain the existence of the universe. All you need is Stephen Hawking. The book provoked a backlash from some religious leaders, including Britain’s chief rabbi, Lord Jonathan Sacks, who accused Hawking of committing an “elementary fallacy” of logic. “There is a difference between science and religion,” the chief rabbi explained in the pages The Times of London (Sept. 2, 2010). “Science is about explanation. Religion is about interpretation. The Bible simply isn’t interested in how the universe came into being.” Lord Sacks also pointed out that the hostility between religion and science is one of “the curses of our age” and warned it would be equally damaging to both. “But there is more to wisdom than science. It cannot tell us why we are here or how we should live. Science masquerading as religion is as unseemly as religion masquerading as science.”

NOR readers are no strangers to discussions on faith and reason, with concepts like Pascal’s Wager (that a rational person should wager as though God exists, because living life accordingly has everything to gain and nothing to lose), and the tendency for atheistic scientists to mislabel their own “faith” theories as scientific facts. But this time around, Hawking’s heavenly pronouncement is so absurd — and so clear too — that he’s been skewered from every angle. “Hawking is an inspiration, demonstrating how one can overcome severe physical handicaps in order to rain on EVERYONE ELSE’S parade,” quips Danny Tyree, writing in The Jersey Journal (May 18). Tyree likens the aging Hawking to an over-enthusiastic Grinch who not only wants to steal Christmas from us but Easter, baptisms, and weddings as well. After all, “computers” don’t need to form sacramental unions, do they? On Twitter, Hawking was poked by a satirical “news flash” from Ian Speir: “Stephen Hawking admits to being an alchemist; insists gold will create itself from nothing.” Ouch! Those pop-culture lashes must hurt a lifelong academic.

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