“There Is No Heaven” – The Faith of Stephen Hawking

I am taking a slight detour from my series on the message of Jesus because of a fortuitous (providential?) coincidence. Yesterday, I asked: “Is the kingdom of God the same thing as heaven?” The answer, according to Jesus in the New Testament Gospels, is “No.”  Heaven is encompassed within God’s reign, but the kingdom of God has as much to do with earth as with what we call heaven.

Today, heaven is in the news. Or, perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the absence of heaven is in the news.

In a recent interview with the Guardian, British scientist Stephen Hawking proclaimed what his fellow Brit, John Lennon, once encouraged us to imagine. Hawking confidently stated that there is no heaven.

“I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first,” he said.

“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,” he added.

Stephen Hawking, who suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which leaves him almost paralyzed and in a wheel chair.

I have to admire Stephen Hawking’s courage, both in life and in his pending death. And I am certainly in awe of his intellect. But what I find curious is his faith. Yes, that’s right, his faith. Stephen Hawking has faith every bit as much as I do. Let me explain what I mean.

Hawking is a scientist, one who operates in the realm of the material and the testable. Now, much of his scientific theorizing goes far, far beyond what can be seen in a microscope or telescope. Testing in the disciplines of theoretical physics, astronomy, and cosmology is not something one can do in a home laboratory. Nevertheless, at least in principal, Hawking’s theories about nature can be tested within the complex theoretical framework in which he operates.

Yet there are many things Hawking cannot know as a scientist because they are untestable. For example, he can’t know as a scientist whether there is an afterlife or not. He cannot know as a scientist if there’s a heaven, and, if so, what it’s like. To put the matter differently, Hawking cannot know as a scientist that there is no heaven. The existence of heaven is beyond the scope of scientific knowledge, even for a man as brilliant as Stephen Hawking.

So, when Hawking affirms confidently that there is no heaven, he is not speaking as a scientist, but as a person of faith. He is expressing his belief that is not based on scientific evidence. Now, he has every right to do this. And he has every right to be taken seriously as a brilliant man with a courageous spirit. But we make a big mistake if we think that Hawking’s conclusions about heaven are a matter of science. They’re not. They can’t be.

“Oh,” you might object, “there is no real knowledge beyond science. The only things that can be known are those things that are determined by science.” The strange thing is that this very statement is itself unscientific. Science cannot prove that science alone is a reliable source of knowledge. So the one who makes this argument has already disproved the argument.

A defender of Hawking might respond by saying that I cannot know that there is a heaven. I would agree, if we’re talking about scientific knowledge. Heaven also cannot be known by means of history or sociology. But if there are other kinds of knowledge, if there is knowledge that transcends the empirical, then heaven might be knowable in that way.

“Ah,” my interlocutor might assert, “but now you’re in the realm of faith!” Yes, perhaps I am, just as Stephen Hawking is when he talks about heaven. But there is a kind of knowledge that interacts with, critiques, clarifies, and strengthens faith.

As you might expect, I believe Hawking is wrong about heaven. And, yes, I hope he’s wrong. But my zeal for heaven does not have to do with my fear of the dark, as he says. In fact, it has everything to do with another of Hawking’s faith commitments. I’ll weigh in on this tomorrow as I talk about what Hawking’s view of heaven misses.

  • http://www.timthurmansblog.blogspot.com Tim Thurman

    The post I just posted on my blog mirrors your comments almost exactly, though your comments are much more thought out.  What is Hawking doing commenting on something like this?  He has nothing of value to say on the subject!  What is fascinating to me is how fascinating people have been lately regarding end-of-life issues.

  • Evan

    Mark,

    You hit the nail on the head. Hawking’s position is every bit as faith-based as your own.

    The academic and media elites have a sneering term for people like you: “faith-based.” That is not so bad, actually, until it is counterposed with their term for themselves: “reality-based.” The problem is that their positions, as you note, cannot be proven via the traditional scientific method.

    Take the origin of the universe. Right now, the prevailing theory is “the Big Bang.” If you ask, “What exactly went ‘bang’?”, typically you will hear, “Hydrogen atoms.” My “reality-based” professors asserted that this is game, set and match in scientifically proving that there is no God. There are two problems, though. First, it is compatable with with Faith, and indeed, even the Genesis account, to simply assert that when God said, “Let there be light,” then there was a Big Bang, and there was light. But the second problem is more to the point: Where did the hydrogen come from?

    Asserting that the Big Bang is based purely on facts collides with the problem that to assert that hydrogen, or anything else for that matter, that was simply there, waiting to explode, puts you in the camp of having Faith in Eternal Hydrogen of unknown origin. Saying it was “just there” or “always there” is a statement of faith, not fact. There is no way to prove scientifically it was always there, any more than you can scientifically prove God was always there. Neither theory can be replicated and observed using the scientific method. It is an assertion of Faith, whether it is Eternal Hydrogen or Eternal God.

    So I have no problem with the notion that folks can examine such facts as there are and extrapolate that there is no God, etc. But that extrapolation is based on faith, not “facts.” I completely agree with you that the scientific facts that can be proven only go so far, and that Hawking’s assertions about heaven are therefore as faith-based as your own.

    Evan 

  • Anonymous

    Tim: That’s a good point about the fascination with end-of-life issues.

  • Anonymous

    Evan: Thanks for your comment. Insightful, as always.

  • Rob

    Hawking’s faith is called “scientism.” Unfortunately, many scientists (or atheists) feel the need to disparage people of other faiths: “a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.” To  me, this reveals their own childishness and fear.

    Thanks for exploring this area, Dr. Roberts. More people need to understand just what “faith” actually means.

  • http://www.facebook.com/noelkanderson Noel K Anderson

     Hawking has a god though he doesn’t acknowledge it.  Almighty, omniscient, all-encompassing, irresistible, absolute, and absolutely perfect—Death. Hawking worships Death in all he says and teaches. Death will have its way with him and every corner of the mysterious universe. There is no higher power for a scientist. If there is no God, the Death is god, absolutely, for everyone, no way around it. 

    When your only lens on this world is this world, then you have no recourse but to be a blind struggler among other blind strugglers. 

    But there is an alternative: are you listening, Stephen? 

  • http://AandBCounseling.com Don Ibbitson

     Sad. A smart guy gets it wrong. I pray he “figures” it out before he draws his last breath!

  • Anonymous

    Noel: Thanks for this comment. Interesting thoughts on Death.

  • Anonymous

    Don: Thanks. Yes, indeed.

  • Anonymous

     Yes, “scientism” goes beyond what is truly scientific.

  • Pingback: Don Ibbitson

  • Rob

    Excellent point, Noel. Freud was absolutely obsessed with death, to the point where he tried to predict when he would die. This was the man who wrote “The Future of an Illusion.” To Freud and many other atheists, being a “blind struggler” is somehow heroic. Talk about an illusion. 

  • hydeejay

     Excellent logic. Thanks, Mark.

  • Anonymous

    Hmmm. Didn’t know that about Freud. Thanks for the input.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for your comment!

  • Rob

    You should read “The Question of God” by Dr. Armand Nicholl, Jr. He compares the lives and views of Freud and C.S. Lewis. A great book.  

  • Anonymous

    Thanks. Dr. Nicholi is a wonderful man and a fine scholar.

  • Kpecknold

    Mark: Thank you for taking the time to address Stephen Hawken’s  proclamation. 

  • Anonymous

    You’re welcome. Thanks for this note.

  • Anonymous

    By the same logic he uses, Hawking made himself a fool.

    Proof: Only those who are [now existing] in [the reality of] heaven [i.e. those who have life from eternal dimension] knows what heaven is.

    Sadly, those who are in [the reality of] hell, they don’t even know they are in hell.

    No one (even a genius) cannot know heaven by analyzing and study in depth h.e.a.v.e.n. (or even h.e.l.l.), by means of science, mathematics, technology, philosophical inquiry, or meditation, mysticism, spiritualism, new-age-ism, looking into one’s soul or mind, mind-control, positive thinking, purpose-driving, tongue-speaking, self-awakening (a la Buddhism), self-hypnosis, or even obedience to ‘god’ or ‘gods’.

    Note: ‘heaven and hell’ are not the place people go to after death. It is here and now, simply it’s one’s relationship to God through Christ.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for your insightful comment.

  • Stephen Paul

    To believe that there is no creator is not a rational decision but an emotional one of the simplest kind: “Because I don’t wanna.”

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for your comment.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X