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-Stephen Hawking: Heaven is a ‘fairy story’

by Dr. D ~ May 16th, 2011

LONDON -  (FILE) Professor Stephen Hawking del...

     (Getty Images via @daylife)

British scientist Stephen Hawking who is considered one of the smartest people in the world has come out and called heaven a "fairy story" for people afraid of the dark.

In an interview with The Guardian (UK Newspaper ) on Monday, Hawking said that his views were affected and influenced by his battle with motor neurone disease:

"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 told the newspaper.

"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."

Lately Stephen Hawking has increasingly become vocal in his atheistic stances. In his earlier works he actually allowed for the possibility of a creator. However in his latest book, "The Grand Design", he said that a deity no longer has any place in theories on the creation of the universe from his perspective.

Response: Hawking is a brilliant scientist when it comes to physics. However when it comes to issues of philosophy, metaphysics, and theology he is somewhat lacking.

His statement demonstrates an acceptance of materialistic theory, that everything that is human can be explained and accounted for totally in the physical elements that make up the human body.

However, some of the greatest minds that the world has ever known have believed that not everything that makes up a human can be accounted for materialistically in the physical body. Many believe that a better explanation of human existence includes the possibility of a non-physical element. That living humans are a composite which includes the physical body and something other –a spirit or soul.

The idea of a continued existence after the death of the physical body is rooted in the metaphysical and religious teaching of most of the major world religions, that humans have a spirit or soul that exists independent of the physical body.            *Top

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10 Responses to -Stephen Hawking: Heaven is a ‘fairy story’

  1. redbeard

    “However, some of the greatest minds that the world has ever known have believed that not everything that makes up a human can be accounted for materialistically in the physical body. Many believe that a better explanation of human existence includes the possibility of a non-physical element.”

    Reality does not care about which smart people believe which things. Socrates believed in Zeus, after all. We should accept what the evidence indicates. There is mucho evidence that physical reality exists, but no evidence that a non-physical or supernatural reality exists.

  2. Dr. D

    Good point on smart people. That was exactly what I was getting at. However when you say “but no evidence that a non-physical or supernatural reality exists” -a lot depends upon what one considers as evidence.

    I experience a ‘supernatural’ presence that Christians call the Holy Spirit all of the time so for me there is plenty of evidence.

  3. redbeard

    Sure, evidence has a very broad definition. But there are a few tenets of evidence that science has adopted that I think would be good for the public at large to adopt.

    First, we should seek to weed out bias and misinterpretation in our evidence. A good way to do this is to get independent verification. Since personal religious feelings and experiences cannot be independently verified, then it cannot pass the standard of evidence. If we do not try to avoid bias and misinterpretation, then we would be justified in believing in fairies, bigfoot, Zeus, etc.

    Second tenet: extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. If you claimed that you owned a dog, I would be justified in believing you. If you claimed that you owned a dragon, much more good evidence would be needed before I believed you. Since deity claims and afterlife claims and soul claims are extraordinary (meaning they go against our current understanding of physics and biology), you need lots of good evidence that those claims are true (more than personal anecdotes and ancient texts). If extraordinary claims did not need extraordinary evidence, then we would be justified in believing in fairies, bigfoot, Zeus, etc.

  4. Dr. D

    redbeard,
    Well stated and a real demonstration of my point. One can structure a standard of evidence in such a way as to exclude all possibility of the ‘supernatural’ or non-physical. Doing so does not disprove its existence, it only demonstrates that it doesn’t meet ones pre-conceived standard. A rather circular argument in final analysis but very consistent and supportive of a materialistic worldview.

    But please, redbeard leave ‘bigfoot’ out of this. He’s for real (just kidding). But I’m at least open to the possibility.

  5. redbeard

    Dr. D,
    Haha, yeah maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on Bigfoot.

    Yes, I understand that this is basically a difference in worldviews. I am a materialist because I apply strict standards of evidence to everything. My main question of concern is this: why do believers use strict standards of evidence in some areas, and relax their standards of evidence in other areas? How do you know which areas to relax the standards and which areas to apply strict standards?

    And also, to be clear, I never claimed that my worldview disproved the supernatural (you can’t prove a negative), I would gladly believe in the heaven if there were good reason to.

  6. Dr. D

    redbeard,

    Very good question and astute observation.

    Yes, it is a matter of different worldviews. No, it is not a matter of the scientific standard of evidence being ‘relaxed’ but entirely different standards coming into play when the ‘spiritual’ or metaphysical aspects of life and the universe are being evaluated.

    For Christians there are Biblical standards for understanding supernatural reality and evaluating spiritual experiences.

    I don’t think that there is anything wrong with the scientific standards of evidence as far as it goes when it comes to evaluating the physical world. The scientific method is essential and has served the Western cultures well in achieving technological domination over the rest of the world.

    However if you have a Christian worldview and accept along with the rest of the cultures of the world that there is ‘spiritual’, ‘supernatural’, or metaphysical reality in life and the universe along with the physical than a scientific method that evaluates only the physical is woefully inadequate.

    Those of us in the West have become rather arrogant in our thinking that our way of life and our perceptions of reality are superior to the rest of the world. If you do an even cursory reading of what other cultures say about Westerners and our reliance on technology the most consistent observation that surfaces is our stunted lack of progress ‘spiritually’- that Western society has spent a great deal of time and effort understanding the physical reality while ignoring the spiritual or metaphysical.

  7. redbeard

    Thank you for your thoughtful and reasoned responses. Your mention of other cultures belief in spiritual realities brings up one last question (I hope I am not getting too naggy or off-topic).

    With the premise that different cultures make wildly different and seemingly incompatible claims about the spiritual realm, how are we supposed to differentiate between fact and fantasy? Are we reincarnated, do we go to heaven/hell, do our thetans shoot off to another planet after death? All of these conclusions are arrived at in a similar spiritual way. How can we tell between facts and fantasy?

  8. Hopelina

    Denial due to Physical condition, Up-bringing and various influences have led him here.
    But students admitted to scientific studies are told not to believe in God and forget whatever their religion taught them!

  9. Dr. D

    Redbeard,

    Sorry not to get back to you sooner, it has been a rather busy week.
    You left out ‘Happy Hunting Ground’ and I believe I saw a demonstration of the thetan ‘shoot off’ in a Star Trek episode.

    Actually my point has consistently been that there are realities experienced by humans that can’t be explained by just the material or physical. The issue is crucial. Why bother to talk about how to ‘differentiate between fact and fantasy’ if the only ‘facts’ allowed into the conversation are material? Then ideas about some kind of continued existence after physical death are moot.

    Philosophers have seriously argued over the material/ metaphysical divide for hundreds of years and few consider the question to be resolved.

    Scientists like Stephen Hawking don’t even engage in the conversation but assume a materialistic position. It works well enough for physics but the battle continues in other disciplines including medicine and philosophy. Actually the conversation also continues in the philosophy of science- what can be known and how can it be known or understood by humans.

    I recently wrote on another blog about this issue and how the ‘Scientific method’ didn’t arrive on the scene in a vacuum and doesn’t really stand alone as a discipline plus it contains a link to a very fine short article supporting that view.

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