I recall once watching an interview by ABC’s Diane Sawyer of Stephen Hawking, the renowned theoretical physicist and author of several books including, A Brief History of Time and The Theory of Everything: The Origin and Fate of the Universe and being intrigued by the philosophically contradictory statements and problematic assertions that Hawking maintained not only in the interview but consistently throughout his various venues as a past professor of mathematics at Cambridge University, best-selling author, and pop-culture icon for rationalism.
In the interview, for instance, Hawking, who prides himself on his atheism, made the statement that “there is a fundamental difference between religion which is based on authority, (and) science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works.”
On the one hand, I thought it significant that Hawking indirectly acknowledged that there is an ongoing conflict between “religion” and “science.” I do not want to read too many things into his remarks, but taken at face value, his statement clearly voiced a personal conflict that he himself has with the idea of a personal, loving, and all-knowing God (facts notwithstanding). When he said “science will win,” he was saying, “I will win.”
That aside, however, he was simply mistaken in his statement regarding the fundamental difference between religion (by which he may have meant all religions but most certainly meant the Christian religion) and science (by which he seemed to mean a rationalistic perspective which irrationally denies the existence of God, since, rationally speaking, even Hawking cannot disprove it). He said that the difference is that religion is based on authority and science is based on observation and reason.
His fundamental mistake was how he perceived religion (the Christian religion at any rate). It is not based on authority as he claimed, but on something entirely different, something that is actually akin to observation and reason. That something? In a word, it is “revelation.”
To put it another way, when we profess and are genuinely immersed in the essence of Christianity, we are saying that what is worth knowing and what gives life meaning is derived from what an otherwise unknowable Creator chooses to reveal about Himself.
Some of that revelation is, of course, unveiled in the complexity and sophistication of the world around us. From the sheer immensity of the universe which is still far vaster than our means of observing it can assimilate for us to the incredibly fragile and infinitely intricate facets of life and its life-sustaining environments, we can perceive, should we care to, a mighty (though invisible) hand at work.
But that revelation is fine-tuned so that life here might even more clearly perceive the One Who sent it. Isn’t it reasonable to assume that a God Who takes such care to create a perfectly hospitable home here on earth for life would also want also to communicate with it? Doesn’t reason also tell us that such communication would be a “written record” so that through it the one life form that had been given the ability to comprehend it might also preserve it down through the ages? Of course it is!
Hawking said, “What could define God (is thinking of God) as the embodiment of the laws of nature. However, this is not what most people would think of God. They made a human-like Being with Whom one can have a personal relationship. When you look at the vast size of the universe and how insignificant an accidental human life is in it, that seems most impossible.”
But Hawking, in his statement, tipped his hand. He said, “accidental human life.” God’s revelation (His Word) tells us that your life here is not accidental. And once we have that established, the rest of Hawking’s dilemmas are easily resolved.
For if God created you indeed (which the aforementioned fact of the incredibly complex requirements for the sustaining of human life suggests), then it is perfectly logical to assume that He will also reveal Himself in some manner to His creation. And if He has chosen to reveal Himself so that one can observe what He has chosen to reveal, then we can safely assume that He truly does desire a “personal relationship” with us in spite of its seemingly impossibility to Hawking.
Honestly, science cannot “win” because science has not “worked.” While I am grateful to God that He has provided us faculties to see and appreciate the forces at work around us in physics, genetics, medicine, communication technology, and so on, there have been limits to what these things can do, limits to what can be known (apart from revelation), and limits to what can be done with that knowledge.
Our culture is still reeling from the failed promises of “reason” and “science” which, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were assumed to be ready to solve all of humanity’s problems (ranging from curing cancer to humanely solving social evils such as crime, hate, and war). What science has really done is show us that we know far, far less than we thought. The ensuing disillusionment has naturally left our world hopeless and ripe for all manners of confusion and conflict.
Hawking shared with Diane Sawyer his attempts to give benevolent advice to his children. Among his three admonitions he says, “Never give up work. Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it.” I think I understand what he means, but it’s a delusional remark nonetheless. At best, work can only give you a feeling of purpose, but the moment you stop and reflect on it you realize that if you really are an “accidental life form”, then nothing you do, say, or contribute means anything at all. Think about it! If Hawking is right, then a day is coming when all you’ve done, said, and contributed will be forgotten. You are a “nobody” dwelling in the midst of a throng of “nobodies”, all about to become “nothing” except inanimate matter that neither knows anything nor cares that it doesn’t know.
But there is a mightier reality at work than can be perceived with our senses or comprehended by our intellects. It is rational after all to not only believe in God, but to seek Him out and trust that as you do so, He will reveal Himself to you. You will find that He has done so through the Person of Jesus Christ. Hawking’s problem with the Christian notion of God is what actually ultimately supports it. An infinitely powerful God not only created you, but in an infinitely awesome act of love, gave Himself through Jesus to you so you could have that “personal relationship” with Him!
“Without faith it is impossible to please (God), for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him…. (and look) to Jesus, the Founder and Perfecter of our faith, Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 11:6, 12:2 ESV).
Thom Mollohan and his family have ministered in southern Ohio the past 21 ½ years. He is the author of The Fairy Tale Parables, Crimson Harvest, and A Heart at Home with God. He blogs at “unfurledsails.wordpress.com”. Pastor Thom leads Pathway Community Church and may be reached for comments or questions by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.