The Lead-Quote of the Day

Stephen Hawking NASA 50th (200804210008HQ)
Image by nasa hq photo via Flickr

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks wrote the first response (also from behind a paywall):  What would we do for entertainment without scientists telling us, with breathless excitement, that “God did not create the Universe”, as if they were the first to discover this astonishing proposition? Stephen Hawking is the latest, but certainly not the first. When Napoleon asked Laplace, two hundred years ago, where was God in his scientific system the mathematician replied, Je n’ai pas besoin de cette hypothèse: “I do not need God to explain the Universe.” We never did. That is what scientists do not understand.

There is a difference between science and religion. Science is about explanation. Religion is about interpretation. Science takes things apart to see how they work. Religion puts things together to see what they mean. They are different intellectual enterprises. They even occupy different hemispheres of the brain. Science — linear, atomistic, analytical — is a typical left-brain activity. Religion — integrative, holistic, relational — is supremely a work of the right brain.

It is important for us to understand the misinterpretation Professor Hawking has made, because the mutual hostility between religion and science is one of the curses of our age, and is damaging to religion and science in equal measure.

via The Lead.

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9 thoughts on “The Lead-Quote of the Day

  1. I didn’t read all of Hawking’s article or book or whatever it was that caused all this fuss. I do recall hearing a bit about it and watching an interview with him in which he was trying to explain that God wasn’t required for the universe to exist in its current state. He didn’t state that this eliminates the existence of God, the implication was that God wasn’t necessary for what currently exists. But that’s the impression I got, and I could very well be wrong. Maybe Hawking is a strong atheist and feels that God is both unnecessary and absent. I have no idea (and never really cared as a the religious beliefs of a scientist rarely concern me, unless there appears to be a bias that affects their work). In this case, such a bias may be relevant if he has a passionate agenda regarding the elimination of religion. Personally, I usually find Hawking’s ideas refreshing, as he tends to get a little radical in comparison to his peers. Let him stew for a bit and see what he comes up with in another year or so – it could be completely different, and he may espouse that some form of greater intelligence is “inevitable” in the formation of reality.

  2. I think you’re right about that. He did not say God didn’t exist. He said just as you said, that God wasn’t required to make what currently exists. It’s a classic case of hearing what we want to hear in such a statement. What I find fascinating is this eternal dance of religion and science as if they are polar opposites. I don’t think so. Religion is like philosophy in that it merely posits the possible meanings of things. Science is like …. well, like science. Why does this work the way it does? What’s in there? What happens if you take this apart? Like mechanics. I think what pisses people off is when each strays into the other’s “territory.” Silly people, all of life is subjective. We are IN IT right now and are always looking from the inside out, never the other way around.

  3. I don’t think I understand the point of the sentence: god is not needed to create what exists? how can science determine that?

  4. Bryan,
    Well, I suppose he’s saying that the universe would have everything it needs to come into existence without adding God to the list of necessities. Of course this does not preclude the idea that God may exist within all of creation and without it at the same time. And for interest’s sake, I don’t think a scientist can say that with certainty. It takes as much faith in science to say God is not necessary as someone needs to say God is necessary. Neither of which can be proved.

  5. From my perspective, you have to look at it at the multiverse level, not the universal level. Just go up one step. If the existence of gravity (which we still don’t understand fully) will cause the formation of a universe, and multiple universes exist because of that effect (which looks more and more likely) then what lies above their existence? If the universe is truly finite (while space time is still expanding) then is the number of existing universes finite (which seems unlikely, but could be possible). If God is infinite, then he must encompass something greater than one universe. If God is infinite, and the multiverse is finite, then God must also encompass something greater than that.

  6. Well I agree with this. Should God exist in a multi-verse then it’s possible such a God could have set the evolutionary processes in motion that didn’t require being looked after. Worlds may come into being like flowers for all we know. In that instance a God isn’t necessary to be “there” creating at that moment. But that’s all theory anyway. We can always conceive of something greater. And as for the number of existing universes, that seems like a question like how many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Something we shall never know.

  7. I think we’re back to trying to compare belief based on externally exchangeable rational criteria, and belief primarily based on internal conviction. Science can construct different models to theoretically explain the existence of this universe as we believe it to be. We neither fully understand this universe, let alone any others, nor do we understand any kind of super intelligence or energy which, because we don’t understand it, we call God. therefore, we can’t meaningfully know whether a God, wich we would have no hope of understanding may or may not be necessary in order for a universe, which we don’t fully understand, to exist. Speculation is fascinating. But do we feel that God exists, yes or no? It’s the answer to that question which leads us to speculate on one side or the other of this argument.

    We can prove nothing that may not be superseded tomorrow by some new insightht into what we think of as physical reality. Think of the difference between the medieval world view and ours, and the pace of scientific progress is growing exponentially. Science merely theorises, while the human heart can be so easily misled. It’s all guesswork on both sides, which we desperately try to make as convincing as possible. But these guesses, rationally or spiritually led, are all we have. Whatever the basis of our individual truth, we mustn’t confuse the fact that we feel it to be true with certainty that it is true. If we can avoid that danger, sincere enquiry is very exciting.

  8. “we can prove nothing that may not be superseded tomorrow by some new insight into what we think of as physical reality.”

    Good point Reg. I would agree that something we think so true, so normal can be swept away in a second by a totally unbelievable reality thrust upon us. I love science fiction as you know, and one of the main plot devices of science fiction is to put humans in a completely alien environment or have said environment thrust upon them. This always precipitates new ways of thinking and new ideas as well as challenges old ones. I like this. Like one of my favorite movies “War of the Worlds,” we can come upon something that we couldn’t have imagined before. The trick is to adjust our thinking and acceptance, not fall back onto what used to be “tried and true” but which no longer works for us. Evolution is a way of life, not the least of which is ideas and beliefs.

  9. MOI, “A grand adventure” in fact.
    I have a thought about rationalism.
    Those who declare themselves to be rationalists often take that position as their only source of “provable” certainty. As the prison service can attract sadists, and as a convoluted relativist position can attract wooly thinkers like me who are overwhelmed by the complexity of everything, so rationalism can (not always of course) attract those who wish to shell their poor benighted intellectual inferiors from the high ground of real knowledge.

    However, it strikes me that to think rationally exposes us to the necessary limits of our certainties.
    To enshrine the most probably true as absolute truth is just not rational.

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