Stephen Hawking RIP
Professor Stephen Hawking RIP
With the death of Stephen Hawking, the world has lost a great physicist who made important contributions to our understanding of cosmology. Together with Prof. Roger Penrose, he linked General Relativity with Quantum Physics in the immensely challenging context of Black Holes. His early onset of a type of motor neurone disease is familiar to those who have seen the film "The Theory of Everything". As a paralysed, wheelchair-bound genius with a synthesized voice Hawking had a unique image and the runaway success of the book "A Brief History of Time" cemented his celebrity status.
Like many scientists, he thought that philosophy is irrelevant: "...almost all of us must sometimes wonder: Why are we here? Where do we come from? Traditionally, these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead...Philosophers have not kept up with modern developments in science. Particularly physics.”i
Indeed the lack of serious engagement by philosophers with science, particularly physics, is all too apparent, including among most philosophers and theologians within the Church during the last century. This has aided a classic contrast made by scientist-atheists between science and religion. Science, they say, is based on fact - experiments and observation, developing into mathematical theories that are able to be tested, whereas religious belief is untestable and is based purely on myth or the authority of sacred books or rulers. In other words science is 'reason' as opposed to 'faith', which is irrational.
Hawking had written in "A Brief History of Time" that we [humans] could "come to know the mind of God" but, in a 2014 interview with the Spanish newspaper El Mundo, he clarified this: "Before we understood science, it was natural to believe that God created the universe. But now science offers a more convincing explanation. What I meant when I said that we would know 'the mind of God' is that we would know everything that God would know, if there were a God. But there is no God. I'm an atheist."ii
In 2008, at a meeting of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, of which he was a life-long member, Hawking stated, "The laws may have been decreed by God, but God does not intervene to break the laws."iii. Indeed, at this meeting Pope Benedict said: “There is no opposition between faith’s understanding of creation and the evidence of the empirical sciences."iv
Truth cannot contradict truth, so we would expect material reality, with its complex and dynamic interrelationships, to reflect the relationality which we know is at the heart of God's trinitarian nature. As Fr. Edward Holloway often said: "The universe is equational". The 'laws', or better patterns of natures, that “God does not break” are the dynamics written into the fabric of created reality by the author of that reality, God Himself.
There is no doubt that throughout history, the intervention of God, or of supernatural beings, has been invoked where now we could explain phenomena by purely physical causes, in other words 'scientifically'. However, the body of philosophy that deals with being and the relationships between entities, metaphysics, is just as necessary now as in past ages (perhaps more so given the prevalence of the idea that an individual world-view is just as 'real' as any 'imposed' objective reality).
Physics itself, as a body of thought, is not material. Physics cannot explain itself; it's very existence begs the question: Why is there meaning latent in material reality? Why is the universe mathematical and relational?
Holloway's philosophy discerns the results of 'Mind' in the universe. The unique gift of human nature is that we can reason, that we have 'mind'. We can therefore come to understand the universe as the result of the 'Mind of God' not merely in a poetic sense but as immediately founded upon the creative power of God's own perfect relationality and unity of being. The patterns discovered by physics are part of a Unity-Law that inheres in the fabric of the whole universe, giving it meaning.
Hawking, like many cosmologists, was excited about the possibilities offered by 'M-theory', a theory that seeks to unify superstring theories, unifying the fundamental forces of nature in a 'theory of everything'. This would, if successful, prove to be the most convincing mathematical theory of material reality to date. As such, we would see it as a key aspect of the Unity-Law in matter.
In the Faith vision, key to the Mind of God is the Divine Thought or 'Logos', the second person of the Trinity, made incarnate in Jesus Christ so that He could "...come to His own home" [Jn 1:11]. The universe was made for Him and by Him. Instead of science explaining away God, science points the way to Him. Rationality, no less than love, is God-given. The virtue of faith, far from being an encumbrance that prevents us from accepting the findings of the natural sciences, enables us to see clearly that the intrinsic relationality and inter-dependence within the universe is a sign of the rational and relational Mind of God.
Like all physicists, Hawking could be wrong, famously wagering that the Higgs boson did not exist - it was later discovered (in 2012). He preferred to be regarded as "a scientist first, popular science writer second, and, in all the ways that matter, a normal human being with the same desires, drives, dreams, and ambitions as the next person."v Although he was one of the foremost disabled celebrities, he was an advocate of assisted suicide for the terminally ill. This is ironic given that he was classed as terminally ill and had suffered a period of depression in those first years in which his disability kicked in.
There is no doubt about Hawking's intellectual abilities and personal achievements, nor about his inspiring determination not to be defeated by his considerable disability. But his atheism should not be allowed to go unchallenged. May he rest in peace.
i Warman, Matt (17 May 2011). "Stephen Hawking tells Google 'philosophy is dead'". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 17 June 2012, retrieved 23/3/18
ii El Mundo, Sep 2014, (author's translation), reported on Mar 14 2018 in http://www.elmundo.es/ciencia/2014/09/21/541dbc12ca474104078b4577.html , retrieved 23/3/18
iii Stewart, Phil (31 October 2008). "Pope sees physicist Hawking at evolution gathering". Reuters. Retrieved 23 Mar, 2018.
v White, Michael; Gribbin, John (2002). Stephen Hawking: A Life in Science (2nd ed.). National Academies Press. ISBN 978-0-309-08410-9. retrieved from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Hawking, 23/3/18
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