Friday, May 20, 2011

The Folly of the World's Most Popular Scientist

Writing from a distinctly Christian point of view I immediately feel the tension in the title of this article. The temptation is to extend credibility “where it is due” from a certain perspective. And if anyone is due just credibility in the scientific community from a certain perspective, it is certainly Stephen Hawking. After all, Hawking’s contributions to the study of science are arguably unrivaled in modern times. His resume is as impressive as any resume could be as far as resumes go. So why would I refer to Hawking’s work as folly? To be clear, I do not refer to Hawking’s work in general, as folly. His education, accomplishments, contributions, and brilliance demand a certain level of respect and appreciation. However, I am not referencing any of these when I use the adjective ‘folly’ to describe Hawking’s theories. What I am referencing is Hawking’s theories about God. Many people think Steven Hawking arrived at his view of God after years of scientific study and research. They unwittingly extend credibility where it is not warranted in Hawking’s case. There are two things I wish to convey in this article. First and foremost, every position is a faith position, admitted or not. And second, all scientific arguments against God are tragically irrational at their most basic level. In fact, one could say that any argument against God is irrational since it is only from God that reason comes. Hawking’s life is an excellent example of what can happen to someone who enters an investigation with a dogmatic predisposition regarding what the evidence must demonstrate. But Hawking is not alone. I have recently engaged in discussions that found opponents of Christianity outright rejecting historical facts about wars as well as irrefutable medical data regarding certain lifestyles all in an attempt to hold tightly to their prejudiced views of God, life, and morality. We want to avoid the two extremes of having our minds rusted tightly shut or having them so open that our brains have fallen out. Christianity is the world’s greatest “thinking” religion if you want to call it a religion. I for one have no problem calling it a religion. According to Scripture, Christianity is the only true and pure religion that exists. (James 1:27) All others are black market fakes created by men who would rather craft a god of their own liking than worship the true God that exists and is revealed to us in Scripture.

If you made the assumption that Steven Hawking arrived at his theories about God as a result of intense scientific investigation, you are mistaken. History reveals that Steven Hawking’s beliefs about God have remained relatively unchanged since he was a young teenager. The most influential person in Hawking’s life was his mother Isabel. Isabel Hawking was a member of the communist party in England in the 1930s. By the time he was an early teen, Hawking’s hero was Bertrand Russell. Russell, aside from being a mathematician was also a renowned atheist philosopher. Hawking’s views of God were already formed at that time and have remained relatively steady over time. Therefore, if you were looking to Hawking as a source of authority that had evaluated the evidence with some sort of objectivity with untainted bias, and arrived at the view that God is not, I hate to disappoint you, but that is not the case. In fact, thus far, everyone who has looked to science to rescue them from the ‘idea’ of God has been let down at this point. Admittedly, most will not confess to this, but the fact that prisons are filled with self-proclaimed innocent people does not make them innocent any more than refusal to admit that science has failed to prove there is no God does not mean that it has not done so.

Faith as the Universal Starting Point

Hawking’s atheism is the same as every other atheist: it is arrived at via a predisposed bias more so than some sort of objective inductive undertaking. That is to say that it is a position based on faith just like every other worldview. However, I should note that biblical faith and this sort of faith are not exactly the same thing. There is an emotional incentive for man NOT to accept the God of Scripture. In other words, man has skin in this game and this is just as true for Hawking as it is for everyone else. Being a brilliant scientist does not exempt one from the impacts that sin has on human nature. And this brings us to my first assertion, namely, that every position, at bottom, is propped up by faith. In other words, every position is a faith position. There is no such thing as a faithless worldview. Once this is demonstrated, the question is, “what is the ground of one’s faith?” Hawking begins his research with the conclusion that God is "not," as opposed to permitting the evidence to speak for itself and drawing the most likely conclusion based on what is in front of him. Hawking has an enormous amount of faith in science, not to mention a misplaced confidence in man’s ability to reason accurately apart from any reliance on God who is Himself the source of all proper reasoning. Rationalists have an amazing amount of faith in man's ability to find truth through autonomous human reasoning. Scientists have an amazing amount of faith in the scientific method even though the method itself cannot pass it's own test. Mysticism places tremendous faith in man's ability to connect with the world around him through the inner search. Yet the mystical experience itself remains unverifiable to any test of reason or science and is highly subjective. The existentialist has an unjustified faith in human experience. We all have faith in something before we ever begin our search for truth. Sadly, for most people, that faith is misplaced because it is usually placed in oneself. The rationalist places his faith in his reasoning skills, the scientists in empiricism, the mystic in his subconscious, the existentialist in his experience, and so on and so forth. My aim in this section is merely to demonstrate that we are all creatures of faith regardless of our disposition toward Christianity or even our view on religion in general. The only appropriate place to anchor our faith is to place it in that one being that both transcends creation and is at the same time immanent in the daily affairs of mankind. And that being is the God of Scripture. I would be negligent if I did not confess at this point that this faith comes only as a gracious gift of a loving God.
The Irrationality of Atheistic Arguments Against God

G.C Berkouwer wrote,
For the riddle of sin is the same as the essence of sin, with its antinormative character and illegality. It is the same as the senselessness of sin. Therefore, since every "unriddling" of sin implies a discovery of "sense" where no sense can possibly be found, the very notion of an "unriddling" is impossible. One cannot find sense in the senseless and meaning in the meaningless." [Berkouer, G.C. Sin, Studies in Dogmatics, 134.]
If it is true that faith drives human behavior, then the converse must be true as well. Since God is the source of all lawful predication, it must follow that thinking properly also equals thinking rationally, that is if we assume that God is infinitely rational in nature. And Scripture certainly presents God in this fashion.

Scott Oliphint writes,
Given that unbelief is at the root of quintessential sin, it is therefore, necessarily, quintessentially irrational. [Oliphint, K. Scott. The Irrationality of Unbelief. Revelation and Reason, 60]
Since God is the source of proper reasoning, proper thinking, logic, if you will, then it is impossible to think reasonably, logically, soundly, rationally if you will, apart from God. Paul describes the irrational lifestyles of unbelievers in Romans 1. K. Scott Oliphint does a brilliant job of exegeting Romans 1:18-32 in the book, Revelation and Reason on pages 59-73. We say that someone who touches a hot stove knowlingly, thinking they can do so without getting burned, is behaving irrationally. Hence we may generalize that knowingly going against truth is irrational. Someone once said to me that you think your right about this subject and that anyone who disagrees with you is wrong. Well, I sure try to think that way. Could you imagine what people would say if I confessed that I knew I was wrong about something but still believed I was right about it too? We classify such thinking as irrational. Of course we think others are wrong about a matter if we have a contrary view of it. That is only reasonable! That is rational thinking. What is irrational is that we know the truth about something, but we refuse to accept it and choose rather to believe the contrary. That is irrational. And this is precisely Paul's point in Romans 1:18-32. Paul says in verse 18, "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness." The Greek word suppress means to prevent the doing of something, to hold down, to hinder, prevent and restrain. And then Paul goes on to say that that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. There is no such thing as a person who does not know about God. Men know that God exists. There are no real atheists. Scripture explicitly teaches this fact.

The finite nature of man makes faith necessary regardless of the method man uses in his search for truth and his claim to knowledge. As finite creatures our primary relationship to truth, to knowledge, to understanding, may best be described as interpretive. We do not establish truth. We do not determine what 'is' or even how things 'are.' We study, we observe, we research in order to know, to understand, what is true. That is the very best we can do. Now, before those of you who are specifically educated in theology and/or philosophy conclude I have run off the proverbial agnostic cliff, allow me to clarify. While it is true that we are creatures confined to the realm of interpretation, that does not ipso facto eliminate the possibility of true knowledge. Our interpertation of life, literature, nature, human behavior are often spot on. And God is the reason for that. God has endowed human beings with the ability to adequately interpret their world so that they may arrive at truth. While this endeavor is wrought with challenges and many perils, it can be engaged in successfully. Suffice it to say that for the believer, the one thing you should take solice in is the fact that the unbeliever is in the same interpretive position you are in. Well, sort of. Actually, you are much better off. But space constraints prevent a more robust discussion of this fact at this time.

The Scientific Method (Empiricism) Requires Faith
According to Merriam Webster, the scientific method can be defined as follows: principles and procedures for the systematic pursuit of knowledge involving the recognition and formulation of a problem, the collection of data through observation and experiment, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses.
First one must understand the any principles man uses to guide his procedures are unavoidably subjective. This does not make them wrong. It merely suggests that a degree of interpretation went into formulating the rules. Anywhere there is interpretation, there is faith in something. Whether that faith is justified or not is another question altogether. I am not concerned with justification at this point. My only concern is to demonstrate that we are all in a similar boat.
Second, recognition of a problem is not as easy as the definition might suggest. This is because there are no brute facts. They simply don't exist. This was established above when we demonstrated that man is a creature confined to an interpretive nature. There are only interpretations. They may be correct or incorrect.
Finally, even the idea of testing hypotheses involves faith in the idea that we have our standards right. We are testing our discoveries against a standard that is subject to our own finite understanding. And that understanding is confined to interpretation as well. In some cases the interpretation is right, but in others it is wrong. But since we are the finite creatures we do not get to establish right and wrong. We can only discover it. Created, finite beings can never establish morality without that morality being arbitrary. Morality predates human beings and because of this we can only discover it. This truth also applies to the natural world. The truth of the operation of the natural order predates human beings. The best we can do is interpret accurately and arrive and an understanding of how things operate. But this too requires faith.

Exististentialism (Human Experience) Requires Faith
At the heart of existentialism is the idea or belief that existence takes precedence over essence. In other words, meaning and value are found in being, living, willing, and acting. [Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics] The individual is valued over society. Morality is not discovered, but rather established. And it is established to serve the individual, not the individual the ethical. This is why we see people argue irrationally when it come to moral law. The influence of existentialism on western culture and even the church has been profound. Taken to extremes, existential lends itself quite easily to mysticism. Like the scientific method, existentialism requires a radical faith in human experience. This is a highly subjective worldview, and due to it's emphasis on individual experience, it requires extreme faith in both human experience and the individual. Such a faith is untenable. That is, it cannot be defended because of it's extremely subjective nature. How can I defend truth that I allegedly arrive at through my experience? It is impossible for you to experience my experience. You may experience burning, but you cannot experience my burning. For a pure existentialist, one cannot even know if my burning is similar to other's burning. They have to take it by faith. So for the existentialist, faith in experience and the individual is absolutely necessary. But that faith is a radical faith anchored in the individual. This, of course, is a vicious circle. Circularity is unavoidable, but vicious circles should be shunned.

Mysticism Requires Faith
Mysticism involves the idea that one can attain an intuitive knowledge of truths through meditation. Truth is discoverable through the use of human consciousness.  As one might imagine, incredible faith is placed in human consciousness, not to mention the notion that such things exist and are discoverable to begin with. One may say that mysticism requires a "leap in the dark" in some respects. Mystical experiences are not self-authenticating, they are highly subjective, and are unverifiable. Add to this the fact that even these experiences are interpretations and one can easily see that a great deal of faith is required for mystics.

The Profound Difference in Biblical Faith
Now one may be tempted to think that I consider the faith of empiricists, existentialists, and mystics to be on par with Christians. Nothing could be further from the truth. Before closing this article, I want to make it clear that Biblical Faith is not the same as faith that is spoken of in common vernacular today. The truth is that there is a remarkable difference between the two. Merriam Webster defines faith as "unquestioning belief that does not require proof or evidence." This can be seen in all systems of faith that are of the worldly brand. When you take every other system into consideration, they all end with this definition of faith. There is an unquestioning faith in the existence of brute facts for the empiricist. There is an unquestioning faith in human experience for the existentialist. And there is an unquestioning faith in human consciousness for the mystic. At bottom, such thinking is unavoidable to maintain these positions. It goes without saying that I am not dealing with agnosticism.
The Greek word for faith used in Scripture is PISTIS or PISTEUO. It means "to believe to the extent of complete trust and reliance—‘to believe in, to have confidence in, to have faith in, to trust, faith, trust." Biblical faith is grounded in the metaphysical reality of God. It does not come as a result of human reasoning, research, investigation or any other means of human ingenuity. It is a gift of God. (Eph. 2:8-10) Men do not believe in Christ, not because they simply choose not to believe. They refuse to believe because they are evil. They are not evil because they do not believe. They do not believe because they are evil. (John 8:42-47; 10:26) Faith is a gift from God. Faith is more than mere mental assenting to the fact of God's existence. It goes far beyond human predication. It works itself out in the deepest corners of our heart and soul and can be seen in our behavior. Biblical faith is an unwavering, unshackable commitment to craft our lifestyles after Christ. Biblical faith produces a burning desire to please God in EVERYTHING we do! Biblical faith, the kind of faith imparted by God through Christ results in a complete surrender of self do the things God has said in Scripture He finds pleasing. Biblical faith is the strongest of all human convictions because it is anchored in the love of God. There is nothing stronger than biblical faith.

Stephen Hawking exercises a great deal of faith when he says there is no God and that heaven is a "fairy tale." He came to this conclusion before he did an ounce of scientific investigation. His presupposition was "no God" and every interpretation he makes regarding what he finds in natural phenomenon is interpreted through that grid. In short, Hawking has incredible faith. It is just misplaced.


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