Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Responding to Hawking through Theology and Science

I wrote a long paper in seminary on the existence of God as found in Quantum Theory.  That in no way makes me Steven Hawking's equal on the subject and I am going to say that up front.  Yet, I tend to get obsessed by certain things, and one of these obsessions for me has been Quantum Physics. Having followed the science for most of my life, I cannot say I am shocked by Hawking's quotes regarding heaven.  I though am somewhat surprised. Now that I have said that, I would like to consider what it is I hear him saying from both a theological and scientific standpoint. 

Theologically, I am not surprised at all by his claim.  He has been distancing himself from ambiguity for some time.  As a scientist, Hawking is always been looking for the answer, and in his search he has done much to forward our understanding of the universe, but in recent years he has started drawing conclusions that have yet to be proven out.  Now that is part of science (and part of faith), we have to have ideas of what we are working towards, but sometimes certain beliefs or thoughts or fears take control and we decide certain things are "just so."  In the case of  Hawking, his moment of deciding things were “just so” was when he decided that not NEEDING a creator was the same as not HAVING a creator.  That movement removed a number of ideas from potentially being part of his reality.  One of those ideas was the idea of heaven and the afterlife. You cannot have a heaven without a God.  It is that simple.  There is no afterlife if there is no reason for life, and without a creator, as Hawking has said himself, we are just here by random chance.  So that brings up one theological question before we get to the scientific stuff:  Why is it that he also says that the purpose of life is that we "should seek the greatest value of our action" in the same interview where he says there is no afterlife?  Who then sets the idea of value?  There is inherent in that statement a global ethic.  Hawking is not just saying "do what's best for me" and he obviously does not assume that as individuals we are just part of a larger "program" as he speaks of death by saying: "I'm in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first."  So within his theology, the individual has value, but life also has some greater purpose.  This issue gets even more complex when we look at the scientific implications of his statement.

Scientifically, Hawking continues to support M-Theory as the most likely explanation of the universe and all happens within it.  I likewise think M-Theory has more pieces of truth in it than other theories, and feel confident that some version of Super String theory is going to show up as THE theory that we base all future discoveries on.  So for the sake of the rest of this blog post M-Theory will be synonymous with Quantum Theory.  In Quantum Theory there are many dimensions (M-Theory says 11) that make up our universe.  Three of these dimensions are easily observable: Height, Length, and Width.  The fourth we assume is time (though there is debate about how space-time really exists in relation to how we mark it/recognize it).  Yet even then, there are 7 dimensions we either do not experience, or cannot fully recognize in the physical world.  This is where we get to the scientific implications of Hawking's statements:  To say there is NO heaven, is to thus say that all the other dimensions can be understood within the context of the dimensions that we already experience.  How is that so?  Because it logically assumes that the other dimensions are subservient to the ones (and Hawking would include space-time as we generally understand it) that we experience.  Otherwise you can't make a statement like the one that there is no heaven, or that we are nothing more than computers (brains).  Those statements give precedence to the physical.

Thus it is that I do not argue with Hawking's theology.  I do argue though with his scientific beliefs.  I give the unknown equal footing with the known.  All 11 dimensions share equal importance and one does not exist without the ones we do not experience being active and equal.  For me the other pieces of the universe are not just shadows, but active parts on planes that do not touch ours all that often.  I believe that the spiritual is one (or more) of these planes and I believe that when the spiritual comes in contact with the physical amazing things happen (See creation, Christ, or our own spiritual moments). Maybe this is also what happens at "Thin Places" and amazing stories of the supernatural, or maybe not, but either way I have to say that we know that the physical dimensions make a difference and thus scientifically I assume that it is true of all the dimensions.

With that in mind, I must politely disagree with Hawking. There is more to life than the physical, and while I take an ethic similar to his own "seeking the greatest value" I am convinced of a creator and an existence that continues even when the physical ceases to function in a way we understand.  Would we experience the world the same without the other 7 dimensions?  Some could make that assumption since that is what we can know through our experience.  But IS the world the same without them?  That is where I say no. Without these other dimensions there is nothing, creation as we know it does not exist, yet because they are able to touch our physical dimensions we are likewise made up of more than just the physical, and do not cease to exist because our "computer" stops working.  We seek the greatest value because we were created to do just that, and in doing so we continue to seek answers about that which created us.  Hawking’s statements seem to me to indicate a desire to try and stop that search for himself and thus assume he has the answer.  I though, knowing a scientific brain, doubt that he really has, and thus give thanks for his own faithful searching journey which has, as shown in this response, influenced my own. 

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