Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Grand Fairy Tale: Thoughts on Stephen Hawking's Interview

Stephen Hawking's latest headline "There Is No Heaven; It's a Fairy Story" spread throughout internet media as the result of a recent interview for London's The Guardian. Hawking's laconic interview reminded me of a quote from G.K. Chesterton's Orthodoxy:
Somehow or other an extraordinary idea has arisen that the disbelievers in miracles consider them coldly and fairly, while believers in miracles accept them only in connection with some dogma. The fact is quite the other way around. The believers in miracles accept them (rightly or wrongly) because they have evidence for them. The disbelievers in miracles deny them (rightly or wrongly) because they have a doctrine against them." (Orthodoxy, 104)
Call it philosophical predestination or presuppositional determinism. The dogma of the skeptic is based on alleged authority: reason, science, and so forth. They have their own apostles and disciples, even their own centers of worship. Lewis makes a similar point in the opening chapters of Miracles. If you rule out a priori the possibility of miracles you have every characteristic of a fundamentalist, just with different dogma. In other words, to quote the popular hymn writer Everlast, "You know where it ends, it just depends on where you start." I've covered some of these presuppositions in a previous post on the miraculous called, "The Question Behind the Question," and hope to cover more in a follow up soon.

Materialists, to paint a broad category and feather Hawking into it (and we must for this short examination), are just as --- and perhaps even more --- zealous in their adherence (dare we say, faith and belief) to the modern definition of science as any given member of any given religion/religious people may be. For, "In their doubt of miracles there was a faith in a fixed and godless fate; a deep and sincere faith in the incurable routine of the cosmos. The doubts of the agnostic were only the dogmas of the monist." (Orthodoxy, 133) In Hawking's case it appears to be more pointedly the scientific monist.

Therefore, Hawking's remarks shouldn't surprise anyone who has read, or even heard of, his most recent book The Grand Design, which essentially deifies science as the sole explanation for everything in the universe. But this thesis itself begs the question: If science is based, in large part, upon the present --- how one observes and tests repeated events --- how can one determine what happened in the past without using historical methodology much as you would for any event? To quote a good friend, "Is not scientific law based on observable and repeatable events? The next time I set off a stick of dynamite and the explosion produces a living breathing chicken, I might consider the scientific explanation of existence to be possible." Until then, we'll just let the particles keep spinning in circles at Stanford and the Large Hadron Collider in Europe. Which reminds me of another great Chesterton quote: "It is absurd for the evolutionist to complain that it is unthinkable for an admittedly unthinkable God to make everything out of nothing, and then pretend that it is more thinkable that nothing should turn itself into everything."

But, lest we digress, here is the direct quote from the aforementioned Guardian interview:
GUARDIAN. You had a health scare and spent time in hospital in 2009. What, if anything, do you fear about death?

HAWKING. 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. 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.
One could easily pull a good old-fashioned switcheroo on Mr. Hawking's statement to make the opposite point: "I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no theory of evolution or Darwinian natural selection for broken (or functional) computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark (or Divine accountability)." You see the point? How much more evidence does he have for his truth claims than what Christians have for any afterlife? Where is the evidence for the truth of Darwinian evolutionary theory? Why do proponents react so harshly to any attempt at real science that may challenge such entrenched ideology? Recall that clever --- and well produced --- documentary, Expelled, by Ben Stein (a non-Christian by the way). Contrary to Hawking's trust in his field, there simply is no monolithic beast we call "science" out there. The beauty of it all is, though, that we are not working with different evidence. The materialist and the Christian (just to name two) scientist look at the same observable data but arrive (often, though not always) at radically different conclusions.
As an explanation of the world, materialism has a sort of insane simplicity. It has just the quality of the madman’s argument; we have at once the sense of it covering everything and the sense of it leaving everything out…He understands everything and everything does not seem worth understanding. His cosmos may be complete in every rivet and cog-wheel, but his cosmos is still smaller than the world. . . .

For we must remember that the materialist philosophy (whether true or not) is certainly much more limiting than religion. . . . The Christian is quite free to believe that there is a considerable amount of settled order and inevitable development in the universe. But the materialist is not allowed to admit into his spotless machine the slightest speck of spiritualism or miracle. . . . The Christian admits that the universe is manifold and even miscellaneous, just as the sane man knows he is complex. The sane man knows that he has a tocuh of the beast, a touch of the devil, a touch of the saint, a touch of the citizen. Nay, the really sane man knows that he has a touch of the madman. But the materialist’s world is quite simple and solid, just as the madman is quite sure he is sane. The materialist is sure that history has been simply and solely a chain of causation, just as the interesting person before mentioned is quite sure that he is simply and solely a chicken. Materialists and madmen never have doubts." (Orthodoxy, 17-19)
Or do they? Perhaps in a moment of glaring honesty. Perhaps if you could push them to the wall in an argument. With their backs against the wall, behind the confidence of scientific knowledge lies the existential certainty: Taxes. Death. And the wild inconsistency we call daily life. Hawking says so himself: "I'm not afraid of death; but I'm in no hurry to die." Who can blame him? Very few are in a hurry to die. Death is called the last enemy for a reason. But thankfully he is a defeated foe. You don't find fatalism --- either the gleeful or desperate kind --- in orthodox Christianity. It was not mere Christianity that was responsible for epicurianism, nihilism, or any other ism for that matter. One need only look across the killing fields and the smokestacks and the mass graves of the 20th century to see where the logical conclusion of Hawking's beloved Darwinian theory has left (and continues to leave) its cruel mark. Tragically, this is not a fairy tale.

But unlike Hawking's characterization of a generic afterlife as fairy tale, truth is found in fairy tales. The modern assumption regards fairy stories as myth and fiction. What if it where the other way around though? What if nonfiction really gives way to fiction; and history actually gives way to myth and fairy story, in the best and most glorious ways imaginable? What if there were a kind of story that sounded almost too good to be true, but was in fact and in reality, true. And not just true, but Truth; and Truth Incarnate. Such a story exists. It's the kind of story that grounds us in reality, for it is reality.  This is why Jesus, being both God and Man, gives us the best evidence for an afterlife.  The comfort is found in Christ, especially when He speaks to His disciples and us in John 14: "In my Father's house are many abodes andI go to prepare a place for you; if it were not so, why would I say to you, I go to prepare a place for you?  Let not your hearts be troubled."  Many writers have commented on this. But none have done so brilliantly and quite poignantly as J.R.R. Tolkien. Pray for Mr. Hawking that in the midst of his quest for the beauty of science he would be led and guided by the Spirit to faith in Christ Crucified; the same Spirit that once hovered over the waters of creation before its beauty had yet begun. And now that it has begun and continues to blossom despite our best efforts to destroy it, we marvel at our Lord's book of nature and rejoice together in the greatest story ever told, the great eucatastrophe:
The Gospels contain . . . a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy stories. The birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the incarnation. This story begins and ends in joy. It has pre-eminently the inner consistency of reality. There is no tale ever told that men would rather find is true, and none which so many skeptical men have accepted as true on its own merits. For the art of it has the supremely convincing tone of Primary Art, that is, of Creation. To reject leads either to sadness or wrath. . . . It is not difficult to imagine the peculiar excitement and joy that one would feel, if any specially beautiful fairy story were found to be “primarily” true, its narrative to be history, . . . the joy would have been exactly that same quality, if not the same degree, as the joy which the “turn” in a fairy story gives: such has the very taste of primary truth. It looks forward (or backward) to the Great Eucatastrophe. The Christian joy, the Gloria, is of the same kind; but it is pre-eminently (infinitely, if our capacity were not finite) high and joyous. Art has been verified. God is the Lord, of angels, and of men --- and of elves. Legend and History have met and fused." Tolkien, On Fairy Stories.

P.S. Mad props to Andrew DeLoach, Esq. for the superb editing.

No comments:

Post a Comment