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Friday, October 5, 2012

Stephen Hawking and God

The Local Lens
Published• Wed, Oct 03, 2012

By Thom Nickels

Not too long ago, a lot of media attention was directed at physicist Stephen Hawking’s statement that "God did not create the universe." This short statement set off a debate firestorm, despite the fact that there are many famous scientists who are on record as believing in God.

Let me say upfront that I don’t have a beef with atheists. I was an atheist-agnostic myself when I was twenty-two and when I thought I had the philosophical world by the tail. People in their twenties tend to think they know everything, but their "knowing" also comes with a degree of arrogance. There’s nothing bad or even unusual about this. The arrogance stage, as I call it, is a rite of passage, even if some people never quite outgrow it.

I have atheist friends who are good, moral people. These people put many "believing" people to shame.

Still, let’s consider Hawking’s belief that "God had no role in the creation of the universe." With this statement Hawking officially leaves the realm of science and enters an area where he has little or no expertise: the metaphysical spiritual world. I say this because only a decade or so ago, in "A Brief History of Time," Hawking stated that his work was, "on the borderline between science and religion." He wrote at that time, "…I stay on the scientific side of the border. It is quite possible that God acts in ways that cannot be described by scientific laws…"

He should have left it at that, but then was then and now is now, as they say…

Let’s assume, for the sake of this column, that Hawking’s scientific voice is infallible and becomes the mainstay opinion of the nation. Imagine for a moment that Hawking converts people everywhere, even in the riverwards, to the belief that life is just a meaningless hodgepodge of joyful and painful experiences that mean nothing in the end. When you die, you expire like the flame on a cheap throwaway Bic lighter.

How different would everyday life be if we all "digested" the Hawking philosophy and put aside all God "superstitions?"

Perhaps there’d be a neighborhood Hawking Greeting Card Committee that would work to eliminate all Rite Aid/CVS greeting cards that mentioned God. The new Hawking-inspired greeting cards would use phrases like, "In the name of spontaneous creation, we wish you a speedy recovery so that you may do your part to make this a better world." Or: "We are sorry for the loss of your mother, but remember that even though you will never see her again, her genes live on in you and your children. Take consolation in the fact that when she returns to the earth her smile comes back in the eyes of a squirrel."

First Holy Communion cards would be replaced with Scientific Sensible cards that quote Mark Twain: "If there is a God, he is a malign thing."

Get well soon cards would proclaim, "Wishing you a speedy recovery so that you can further enjoy your family and friends, however temporal these joys in a life that means… nothing."

In the new Hawking world, mentioning God in connection with the birth of a new baby would only get you a scientific lecture on how God had nothing to do with it. "It’s all about natural selection and chance, idiot. Lose the superstition." You’d also be advised to shy away from talking about "God blessing you" or saving you from serious injury, possibly saving your life after a major accident or a near miss: "God had nothing to do with it; it was pure chance. Grow up and thank the Roulette table!"

It occurred to me that maybe Hawking’s change of mind about God had something to do with his having to carry a huge burden in life, namely his life in a wheelchair as a paraplegic. While common logic might incline us to believe that people with disabilities need God more than the rest of us, Hawking isn’t having it. Rather than asking God outright, "Why me?" he goes one step further and denies God’s existence altogether, which is maybe his way of "getting even", for a lifetime of… disability.

"You did this to me…okay, I’ll show you…I don’t believe in you—so there!"

In the new Hawking world, Campbell’s chicken noodle soup would be every bit as "powerful" as an all-knowing invisible entity. There’d be constant reminders on billboards and elsewhere for people not to fall prey to temptation: "Say NO to going back to God and bowing your head in mumbo jumbo prayer mutterings."

Television public service announcements would proclaim: "No deity, earthbound or cosmic, cares if you survive or die in a car accident, helicopter crash, or from cancer. When we die we are food for worms, nothing more. As Stephen says, ‘Spontaneous creation is the reason why there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.’"

Joy to the World!

Which means, forget about going to church. Forget silly superstitions such as the Rosary Society or the Sodality of Our Lady of Fatima at St. Adalbert’s church on Allegheny Avenue. Forget about walking to a novena at Saint Anne’s church, or all those silly First Communion decorations on your houses when your kids turn 7. Your many prayers in and out of church are gibberish with no meaning.

Forget absurd sounding parish names like Our Lady Help of Christians, or Nativity B.V.M., churches with colored states, Gothic designs and pointed arches. The only Our Lady, in a Hawking world, is The Lady Is a Tramp show tune from the 1937 Rodgers and Hart musical, Babes in Arms. As for those churches with onion domes in Northern Liberties, they are temples to a mythological god with no power except the power to be spontaneous in order to create new and different worlds for Hawking to talk about.

"They just give you a fake reason to live, but stand on your own two feet without a crutch why don’t you!"

Human beings have no allies on the other side because there is no other side. It’s a fairy story. There is only the bad economy, the inevitability of Monday, taxes, crime, the upcoming election, and SEPTA rate increases.

And while we’re at it, remember to come up to Stephen Hawking’s level, and put aside all this silly "Have a blessed day," nonsense.

Look reality in the face, and snarl.