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Do Stephen Hawking Followers Care About Evidence?

April 20, AD 2013 78 Comments

String Theory

Space.com contributor Rod Pyle reported on a lecture given by the famous Stephen Hawking at the California Institute of Technology last week, “Big Bang Didn’t Need God, Stephen Hawking Says.” The piece was reprinted by NBC News and Huffington Post.

It is nothing new really. 

He [Hawking] noted that many people still seek a divine solution to counter the theories of curious physicists, and at one point, he quipped, “What was God doing before the divine creation? Was he preparing hell for people who asked such questions?”

[...]

In another observation of modern religion, Hawking noted that in the 1980s, around the time he released a paper discussing the moment the universe was born, Pope John Paul II admonished the scientific establishment against studying the moment of creation, as it was holy.

“I was glad not to be thrown into an inquisition,” Hawking joked.

[...]

M-theory posits that multiple universes are created out of nothing, Hawking explained, with many possible histories and many possible states of existence. In only a few of these states would life be possible, and in fewer still could something like humanity exist. Hawking mentioned that he felt fortunate to be living in this state of existence.

Hawking closed the event with a familiar plea for continued exploration of the cosmos: “We must continue to go into space for the future of humanity,” he said, adding, “I don’t think we will survive another thousand years without escaping our fragile planet.”

And there was the usual reaction.

“They [believers] like to hear about science but not the truth that god doesn’t exist.” – Taslima Nasreen, Free Thought Blogs

“Religion is STILL at it.  They continue to attempt to label certain subjects as ‘holy,’ which might as well mean, ‘off-limits,’ ‘sacrosanct’ or verboten – ‘forbidden.’  It’s an attempt, in this case by John Paul II, not just to assert the god-of-the-gaps argument, but to artificially enforce a gap for their god to exist in!” – Loren Miller, Atheist Nexus

“The pope himself picked on Hawking on several occasions for his alleged disdainful claims against god.” – Tibi Puiu, ZME Science

I just want to make three points, and this is aimed at fellow Christians who wonder what to say when people drop these links in front of you.

#1 It’s not about evidence.

The quip about what God was doing before He created the universe is just that, a quip. It is not proof of anything, and he has it backwards. Religion came before physics. No one conjured up a “divine solution” to refute physicists.

Taslima Nasreen seems to call the cumulative pronouncements of Hawking the “truth that [G]od doesn’t exist.” But truth? What truth? Science never proved God doesn’t exist. For all the times atheists say they would believe in God if only there were enough evidence, those atheists ought to also criticize people who believe in a so-called science that can prove there is no God too. When they don’t, it only demonstrates that evidence is not really what they need to believe something. They just need wishful thinking.

#2 See? It’s not about evidence.

I repeat point #1 because of Loren Miller’s and Tibi Puiu’s statements. The truth about what Pope John Paul II said is not a mystery, and they should have checked out Hawking’s accusation before writing about it. Here’s what Pope John Paul II has actually said about researching the beginning of the universe.

Any scientific hypothesis on the origin of the world, such as the hypothesis of a primitive atom from which derived the whole of the physical universe, leaves open the problem concerning the universe’s beginning. Science cannot of itself solve this question: there is needed that human knowledge that rises above physics and astrophysics and which is called metaphysics; there is needed above all the knowledge that comes from God’s revelation. Big H/T to Oka’s Blog

That statement was made to an audience of  the Plenary Session in the Study Week dedicated to “Cosmology and Fundamental Physics.” In this case there is recorded evidence, but they didn’t bother to find it. Because it’s not really about evidence.

Pope John Paul II is only saying that science cannot remark on the unscientific.

Crazy, I know.

#3 “M Theory” is not about evidence either.

Note that Hawking explains “M-theory posits that multiple universes are created out of nothing.” No matter what theories there are about the beginning of the universe, there is no getting away from the idea that someone “created” it out of nothing, which is what the Church teaches.

Scientists whose realm is that of the abstract have actually long left the field of physics and entered the field of metaphysics, beyond physics. They are using powers of deduction and induction for their evidence, just as philosophers and theologians have long practiced, just as the arguments for the proof of God use as well. (And there is plenty of other evidence that God exists for anyone willing to look.)

Fancy language aside, the model-dependent realism of “M Theory” essentially states there are multiple universes and ours just happened to evolve into us. Not only is this theory not based on tangible empirical evidence, some would say (me included) that it’s not even based on sound reasoning (we can debate). This is one thing that frustrates me as a former scientist who worked in a lab where tangible results had to be delivered. You can make up theories all day, but if the final product doesn’t perform, no one cares how awesome your theory sounded. With abstract fields like cosmology, there are never any tangible ways to prove or disprove the theory empirically with evidence. There are only conclusions and audiences.

And what if there are multiple universes? Well, they wouldn’t disprove God. With God all things are possible. Heck, there may even be aliens with green slimy bodies and purple horns for all we know. If we found one, it would not disprove God. It would only prove that creatures exist that we didn’t know about. Happens all the time on planet earth.

One last thing, and this is for the atheists.

Besides evidence, it’s fair to ask about purpose. Can an atheist explain to us why he or she needs to know how the universe began. What is the purpose of this knowledge?

Because we’re just curious. The universe is so cool!

Okay, but that’s not a purpose.

Because it proves that we don’t need a god.

See above.

Because we might need to ‘escape our fragile planet’ as Hawking warns us about!

With a nod and two thumbs up in deference, I slowly back away.

Alrighty then…

Hello, and thank you for reading. I am a wife, mother of seven, and joyful convert to Catholicism. I write from my office in a 100-year-old restored Adirondack mountain lodge. Read more about me here, with pictures. Find me on Facebook or follow me on Twitter. "Like" my Facebook page Science Was Born of Christianity to follow updates about my book. God bless you!

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  • Bobby

    Is M-Theory really a theory or is it an idea proposed that tries to solve the problem of where matter came from that started this whole shebang? If it is indeed a theory should it not be able to be tested? Has a test even been conceived yet to apply to this theory? Not to my knowledge but then again I’ve not kept up with this line of M-Theory.

    One universe or multiple universes doesn’t make any difference for as you said, we still end up with the uncaused cause to deal with and for now it seems science is stuck on where matter came from. As far as my little mind can figure, the only thing that science can tell us about the creation of the universe is what happened AFTER matter came on the scene.

    What did God do before the universe is a nonsensical question in my view since God exists outside time and space where there is no ‘before’ or ‘after’ only the present. Time is is a measurement and constraint on man, not God.

    Hawking’s little comment about JPII and the inquisition was, I believe, just an attempt to disguise his contempt of religion with humor as was his comment above.

    At the event that featured Hawkings he said, “Our universe didn’t need any divine help to burst into being”. Why bother mentioning the divine at all? He could have just proposed his theory/idea and let it go at that. No, mentioning the divine would have had the desired effect of eliciting chuckles and laughter with the added bonus of again rebuffing religion.

    To be sure, Hawkings has a brilliant mind, but it’s too bad ignorant remarks have to mar it.

    • michael

      His comment about the inquisition was less contempt and more that he was glad he was practicing science now instead of 400 years ago when inquiries into such matters in Catholic or Protestant Europe could have had dire consequences.

      • Ace

        The statement even as you re-characterize it still had nothing to do with what Hawkings was there to say. He was simply pandering to his neck bearded constituency.

      • Anonymous

        The Church SUPPORTED science “400 years ago.” Always has, doubtless always will. See the Vatican Observatory, among other initiatives, for confirmation. That whole canard re: Galileo has been (surprise! Surprise!) been thoroughly misrepresented by secular writers.

        • Michael

          The Catholic Church supported some science but did not care for Galileo making claims about the heavens that wen t against the Aristotelian view of the cosmos. Also it was getting a lot of criticism from Protestant denominations who were taking a much more literal interpretation of the scripture.

          Whether it was for scientific or theological reasons Galileo was shown the instruments of torture, forced to recant his discoveries, and and confined to house arrest for the rest of his life.

          The important thing is that science today would not support any such activity on the part of religious advocates for a position and I hope most religious would too.

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  • Bruce

    Father Robert Spitzer has already destroyed Hawking’s argument at Magis Center web page (see his videos, the one at the bottom). M-theory tells us something about our universe and others, but it still does not address how and why our universe exists, or the others for that matter. Hawking keeps pushing the goal posts back, but never answers the question.

    • Stacy Trasancos

      Thanks Bruce! I’m a big fan of Fr. Spitzer.

    • Anonymous

      For certain “logical” minds among the secular world today, it’s turtles, all the way down!

  • michael

    Stephen Hawking practices cutting edge science. As theoretical physicist most of his speculations will probably turn out to unsupported by evidence. Bust some have and that’s why he is famous.

    Most new ideas in physics are wrong because the evidence says otherwise and they are revised or discarded. It’s the way science works and the way it makes progress.

    Underneath all his, and many other current researchers, speculations is a vast body of knowledge that has been verified and tested and when new and better equipment becomes available, tested again. And each time it’s tested the physicist is hoping to find an error and science reserves its greatest rewards to those who overthrow the status quo.

    110 years ago there was a patent clerk, 3rd class, thinking about what happens when you travel near the speed of light. It was all speculation and we would never have heard of that patent clerk if his theories and speculations had not been supported by evidence. Instead his name is perhaps the most famous in modern science.

    • Ace

      The problem is that Hawkings invented M-theory ex nihilo solely to avoid the theistic implications of the Big Bang. You suggest that he is simply “following the evidence wherever it may lead,” but that is not what he is doing at all. The evidence points to a creation event and everything else is neck bearded desparation to avoid that fact.

  • http://aol Jim

    While serving in Vietnam I got into a theological debate about the existence of God. After two hours of dishing up all the logic, all of
    you have proffered, my friend gently took me by the shoulders and said, ” Jim, either you believe, or you don’t believe.”
    This site has started – and relishes – a war on atheists. I was taught
    that ” faith is a gift ” You can wish for it, study about it, even pray for it and still never have it in your life. To flaunt this unearned gift in the faces of people who were not blessed with it is a sin pride.
    One obvious outcome is that you become an occasion of sin by inciting jealousy in those who you have no chance of understanding –
    because they were not given your gift. Jesus never had an argument with an atheist. He preached to the poor in spirit whose faith was at a
    low point. He chided his followers: Oh ye of little faith. He needed
    something to work with, some spirit to save. Those who come to this site to ply faulty (to us) logic do so because of a need to debate. Those who are true atheists, like Carl Sagan, a brilliant scientist who died believing there was no afterlife, fascinated millions with his insight into the universe with the long running Cosmos series. He died a true believer in nothing. All the logic and blogs and pandering on this subject did not make a scratch in his logic. I would hope you would, at some point, quit beating this horse to death and turn to more interesting conjecture.

    • Army Priest

      “This site has started – and relishes – a war on atheists.”

      Actually the war on Christians and those who believe in God was started by the atheists. Dawkins, Hitchens(God rest his soul) and Harris are what we term ‘evangelical atheists.’ They openly mock religion in their NYT best selling books. In my opinion, this site and others like it, are partly a response to them. It’s attempt to give believers an insight into the scientific mind of those who actually believe in God. To show that a love of God and a love of science can and should go hand in hand.

      Regarding your comment about faith:
      Let me just state the following (paraphrasing Dr. Kreeft): God does not give us too much evidence for it would overwhelm our freedom, and He does not give us too little evidence because then many that seek him would not find him, God gives us just enough evidence that all those who seek Him will eventually find Him, while those who don’t will not.
      I believe you were taught incorrectly about faith. I think that holding on to what a friend said in Vietnam is not the end all be all of belief. It sounded like a cop-out. Only two hours?! There is no way a conversation about all the logic regarding this topic could fit into two hours. I’ve had 5hour conversations that barely scratched the surface.
      In reality there is no sound bite response that will satisfy you, and that is a good thing. Belief has to be more than some pithy comment or it doesn’t mean anything.
      Moreover, you used a term ‘occasion of sin,’ a Catholic phrase. I’m not sure if you picked that up trolling these sites or if it’s from your past. Catholics baptize babies and part of the teaching is that they receive at their baptism the seeds of the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. Whether or not they grow to their fullness is dependent on their upbringing and the choices they make.

      By the way, throwing Carl Sagan’s name around as a trump card is not original…talk about beating a dead horse.

      Besides, what’s a more interesting conjecture than God and the Cosmos?

      • http://aol Jim

        Amy, I am a practicing Catholic with 12 years of Catholic education and it was the good Sisters who taught me that faith is a gift. Sagan died with all the evidence that God provides – not too much or little – and he did not budge from his stance. You don’t know if Sagan ever sought God, so don’t assume, like
        you did about my ” trolling ” that he didn’t. Yoou will never convert a true atheist. It is an exercise in futility. The others
        are pretenders looking for a good debate.

        • Anonymous

          Did the good sisters teach you about the need to cooperate with Grace? I have many, many friends and former friends who are plainly resistant to faith not because they can’t grasp it’s hem, but because they won’t. If they did, they would lose status, position and friendship, as I did when I became a believer. I bless and thank God for having made me as I am, unable to turn away from Truth when I have encountered it. But logic and reason took me along the path to Faith bc that is the way my mind is made. As was mentioned elsewhere, each is given the tools he or she needs to comprehend the Truth. Whether to not we chose to face and accept the consequences of that Truth, whether we turn away, as did the rich young man, is all part of that other pesky gift we were give–free will.

      • michael

        “God does not give us too much evidence for it would overwhelm our freedom, and He does not give us too little evidence because then many that seek him would not find him, ” God, if God exists, gives the same amount of evidence that would be present if God didn’t exist. And if God exists, then that’s a shame, because it causes people to embrace myriad wildly different faiths, or none at all, all because the one faculty that most distinguishes us from other life forms on this planet, the faculty of reason, is irrelevant in believing in God and if one does distinguishing the correct faith.

      • Ben

        I could use some help understanding: How would evidence of God’s existence overwhelm our freedom? If God exists, that’s a fact about the world we live in. We don’t normally think of knowledge about facts as limiting our freedoms, though of course it informs how we may choose to exercise them. In fact, certain types of Christians very explicitly claim that atheists DO have knowledge/proof of God’s existence, and make a choice to reject him (see Ray Comfort et al. and Romans 1:20). Do people who DO believe in God (who I assume think that there IS sufficient evidence to think God is real) lack freedom?

        • Ace

          “How would evidence of God’s existence overwhelm our freedom?”
          Because then neck beards like you, who want so desparately to deny His existence, would no longer be able to do so. Also see Adam and Eve.

    • Bobby

      “Go therefore and teach all nations”

      This is the duty and responsibility of all Christians and to think that we are at a point in time where we are now beating a dead horse is inaccurate. As you said, atheists come in here to debate. Debate what? That God does not exist and that the faithful are dabbling in myth and speculation. The horse is far from being dead and in order to teach all nations we need to present our case before atheists that God does indeed exists and to just sit there and not say a word because we would be guilty of ‘flaunting’ our gift is a misunderstanding of what we should be doing with our gift that yes, is unmerited.

      Yes, faith is a gift and as of yet not all have acquired it. I have seen people in my own little circle of existence who refused to even consider there is a God then all of a sudden they did a total turn and changed their life because of something that was said to them that made sense. Someone sowed the seed. What would have happened if someone had not engaged in debate with them for fear of being prideful of an unmerited gift? One can debate without being prideful. I would hope that the faithful would keep humility in their sights as they enter a theological debate with an atheist and not just debate to score points. I’ve been guilty of that until I finally realized I was debating to win instead of convincing others of the love that Christ has for them.

      ” I was taught that ” faith is a gift ” You can wish for it, study about it, even pray for it and still never have it in your life.”

      I agree to a point. What I don’t agree with is that they will never have it in their life. We have no way of knowing that only God does. If you knew that someone will never have this gift would that stop you from teaching them the truth? Wouldn’t that be beating a dead horse knowing that no matter what you said or did, they will never have faith? Since you and I do not know who will perhaps finally accept God’s gift or not for that matter, we continue to sow. That is not being prideful. It is a hope that Christ, through some of us, will touch a person’s heart.

      Though Christ did not seem to have debated with atheists, at least that was ever recorded, does not mean we are not to engage them. The gift of salvation is offered to them as with the rest of us who are poor in spirit. The disciples were told to “shake the dust off your sandles” and move on to the next town if they were not received well by the people, but ONLY after they offered them the Good News and were rejected.

      We read the comments and replies of atheists and many times we feel they will never ‘get’ it. What we do not know however is what happens once they’ve read our own responses. We have no way of knowing if we perhaps put a bug in their spiritual ear and that God is now trying to cultivate it to fruition. Yes there will be some that will never ever accept the gift of faith, but until we know who, our job is to continue to sow and hope that some of that seed falls on fertile soil.

      Peace Jim

      • http://aol Jim

        Peace bobby, God had to knock St Paul off his horse and
        blind him. It is not words that convert but actions. Our
        Pope is going to show the world a new way to convert. They
        will know them by their fruit – not seeds.

        • Bobby

          Paul as well as many others have been knocked off their ‘horses’ Jim. I agree with that. Others have found God in tragedy, in a foxhole or in the actions of another Christian, but to say that converts are made by actions and not words is not accurate.

          Once the Holy Spirit descended upon Peter and the others on Pentecost what did they do? They took to the streets of Jerusalem and preached the Good News. They didn’t knock down anyone in the process but witnessed about Jesus and won thousands over in that day alone. The next few days of preaching to them resulted in more conversions.

          Both actions and the word have their place in conversion. It is never one over another. What may work to convert one may not convert another.

          Again it was Phillips explaining the Word to the Ethiopian in the caravan that brought him to the point of asking to be baptized. And how about he prison guard who was converted when he listened in on Peter? and his companions who had been arrested speaking about the Good News? The guard and his whole family were baptized. Don’t dismiss the Word over actions Jim.

          Peace

          • http://aol Jim

            Bobby, the parable of the sower explains my
            rationale. Some seed fell by the wayside (Luke 8:5).
            “He who has ears to hear let him hear. Jesus spoke
            “to the rest” in parables. So that ” seeing they may not see and hearing they may not understand.”
            You will never convert a true atheist. The rest
            are pretenders looking for a good chew at your expense, getting a rise as you endlessly debate to their satisfaction.
            Steven Hawking has amazing resilence in what cross he has had to carry for decades and it is only
            his bitterness that makes him taunt believers, engaging them into this frivolous argument.
            Pope Francis, washing the feet of women and Muslims, produced more fruit than all the seeds
            he could have scattered in a sermon.

    • cminca

      Jim–

      There is a commenter on Huffington Post who has a bio line that says, simply “Don’t tell me you are a Christian, let me guess”.

      “This site has started – and relishes – a war on atheists.”
      “It is not words that convert but actions.”

      You just said a mouthful.

      Very few people on this post, or other Catholic blogs, will actually ever understand your comments. And I’d say that it is all non-Catholics, not just atheists, that this site, and others, “wars” with.

      Hope you have a good Sunday.

    • Stacy Trasancos

      Jim,

      Thank you. I appreciate your advice. You remind me and everyone else to pray for humility. There is a serious danger when you write/blog/comment/debate to succumb to pride. However, I certainly do not intend to war with atheists or anyone.

      For the most part the other atheists and agnostics know that people here will debate in friendship. My questions to atheists are serious. Challenge them? Sure. People challenged me before I converted, and I appreciated it. It did make me think. Maybe that’s not for everyone, and I get that, but for some of us, debate is an instrument for growth.

      Debates with level-headed and well-informed Catholics helped me find the courage to completely re-order my life and thinking and convert. Those seeds gave me a foundation to trust that reasonable and good people were Catholic, so I did not fear that the Church would ask something unreasonable of me.

      I also am passionate about science. Once I learned the history of it and how the Church had always viewed it, I loved science even more. Writing about it is my way of living my faith.

      • http://aol Jim

        My whole premise is based on the statement
        that you cannot convert to deism, a true atheist.
        The observation, that these debaters are having
        a field day engaging you without results, is valid.
        Preach away.
        I understand the relationship between the two
        sides is somewhat fraternal but the argument of
        God’s existence has taken on the mechanics of a
        perpetual motion machine. And there will be at
        least some whose emotions run from anger to
        envy trying to understand your gift.
        In any case, I do hope that all the verbage produces
        one self proclaimed convert and would expect that
        you have the humilty to celebrate victory even if
        it isn’t Catholicism they end up professing.

        • Bobby

          If they can at least be brought to acknowledge that God does indeed exist, it would be a wonderful first step to the Church no matter WHERE that first step begins.

          • http://aol Jim

            Would it be a wonderful last or only step too ?

        • michael

          Actually even the late Christopher Hitchens was willing to concede deism. ( see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qPlMSkSXxz4 ). But to get from deism to theism you have all your work ahead of you.

        • Bobby

          As I said it would be a wonderful victory as the first step and the discovery of the truth of God’s existence, but if one truly seeks the the fullness of Truth then the goal would naturally be the Catholic Church:

          1 Timothy 3:15
          “if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.

        • Andre

          Jim,

          “My whole premise is based on the statement
          that you cannot convert to deism, a true atheist.”

          Respectfully, your definition of ‘true atheist’ does a disservice to the rest of us. You seem to be putting atheism on par with other religions, with what seems to be a faith-like close-mindedness to the possibility that you’re wrong.

          To me, atheism is founded in skepticism and evidence. While I believe the evidence is weighed against the existence of an interventionist god, at least as described by the Abrahamic faiths, I’d like to think that I would be open to the evidence should it present itself.

          • Michael

            I think the poster may confuse deism with theism. A deistic God is one that starts creation off and then doesn’t interact with creation, a theistic God has an ongoing interaction with creation. To accept a deistic God, you might as well be an atheist because it adds nothing to your life.

            Here’s the late Christopher Hitchens explaining the difference in his unique way ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jFaBbndExzg )

            As to be open to evidence as a non believer, I always am and have always asked for anything, even if not conclusive that would help me understand why people believe.

          • Andre

            Michael,

            He (Jim) may well be confused on the deism/theism distinction, either way the notion that a) there’s such a thing as a ‘true atheist’, and b) that such a person holds incontrovertible beliefs does a disservice to something which is supposed to be rooted in skepticism.

          • Michael

            Andre – I thought Richard Dawkins and his 7 point scale where 1 is total belief and 7 is total disbelief ranks himself at 6.7 to 6.9 depending upon the day. I would feel comfortable in that range too. Whereas on astrology I’m 6.99999…9.

          • Andre

            Michael,

            I’m not sure how useful Dawkins’ 7-pt scale is. Evidence can lead to seemingly air-tight theories that are later dismantled by new evidence, I don’t see the use of mapping out one’s strength of belief or disbelief in god this way. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems like a way of reassuring oneself of being right. Again, that’s just my take.

          • Michael

            If new evidence come to light then you change your level. If for example the Templeton study on the efficacy of prayer had have come back with positive I would have strongly reconsidered my ranking.

            The purpose of the scale is help explain, especially to believers, how unbelief works and to have them wonder where they fit on the scale.

            1) Strong Theist: I do not question the existence of God, I KNOW he exists.
            2) De-facto Theist: I cannot know for certain but I strongly believe in God and I live my life on the assumption that he is there.
            3) Weak Theist: I am very uncertain, but I am inclined to believe in God.
            4) Pure Agnostic: God’s existence and non-existence are exactly equiprobable.
            5) Weak Atheist: I do not know whether God exists but I’m inclined to be skeptical.
            6) De-facto Atheist: I cannot know for certain but I think God is very improbable and I live my life under the assumption that he is not there.
            7) Strong Atheist: I am 100% sure that there is no God.

            from http://bigthink.com/think-tank/atheism-easter-atheister

      • Andre

        Stacy,

        “My questions to atheists are serious.”

        Your questions might be serious, but your faux-dialogue is anything but.

        “What is the purpose of this knowledge?
        - Because we’re just curious. The universe is so cool!
        Okay, but that’s not a purpose.
        - Because it proves that we don’t need a god.
        See above.
        - Because we might need to ‘escape our fragile planet’ as Hawking warns us about!
        With a nod and two thumbs up in deference, I slowly back away.
        - Alrighty then…”

        Is that really all you’ve taken away from your conversations with atheists? Is that the best ‘we’ have been able to do in response to these questions of yours? Given how sincere you are, I can only assume that we are the ones failing you in our answers.

        Atheists, lend me your ears! It’s time to up ‘our’ game and give real, concrete answers to Stacy.

        • Stacy Trasancos

          I was quoting Hawking. You don’t find the motive that we might need to escape our fragile planet to be just a little bit silly?

          He has also said that science could remove the need to invoke God as the cause of anything.

          • Michael

            Prof. Hawkings does tend to over reach at times.

            But since he used the adverb “could”, he may have merit. If he said can, the answer is no. But science over the last few hundred years has slowly but inexorably eliminated the areas of experience where invoking a God is required. I would bet against could in the short term, but not the long term.

          • Andre

            Stacy,

            “I was quoting Hawking. You don’t find the motive that we might need to escape our fragile planet to be just a little bit silly?”

            I think the notion that the planet itself is fragile is slightly silly, at least barring massive collisions, and in the relatively conceivable future (ie. before the Sun asplodes). However, and I believe this was the point, human life on Earth is quite fragile. Consider that 70% of the surface is water, and largely unsuited for permanent human habitation in the near future. Of the remaining 30%, which is land, we’re restricted to a somewhat narrow band of suitably warm climates. Now factor in terrain. Now factor in our track record with sustainable use of not only the suitable land, but the world’s oceans. Now consider that the world’s population has more than tripled in living memory: since 1927 – from 2 billion to over 7 billion today. It would be nice to have a plan-B should the damage to the Earth’s ecosystems prove too much for human survival, or in the event that some object(s) headed for Earth evade(s) detection too long (or entirely) for us to do anything about it. Perhaps the topic of the environment or the perpetual survival of the species doesn’t interest the religious. I can understand the latter, though given that many traditions hold that man is to be a caretaker of Earth, I’m not sure why the former is of so little interest so so many religious.

            “He has also said that science could remove the need to invoke God as the cause of anything.”

            It could, but I suspect there will always be unanswered questions. The answers provided by the current monotheistic religions might become less and less compelling, but I believe that anyone would be mistaken (Hawking included) if they thought the question of why we’re here will ever be decided (for or against) by science.

            As to your question and answer of why seek knowledge, are you still citing Hawking’s answers (if so I’m not seeing from where)? If so, I’m surprised to here such a shallow response from Prof. Hawking. If not, it seems like the answers you gave were well below the level of discourse I’ve seen on your sites, let alone other sources.

  • michael

    Up until recently atheists were one of the most reviled people in society. A Pew research poll showed that people were less likely to vote for atheists for President than any other category including gays and Muslims (and that was after 911). Despite the fact the American Academy of science in a 1998 poll was 93 % non believer the last US Congress had only one openly non believing member of Congress, This congress doesn’t have any. Seven states in the US have articles in their constitution baring atheists from public office, a recent US president said he didn’t consider atheists citizens and child custody cases often use religious belief to decide custody.

    All this is happening when non belief is by far the fasted growing segment of society, especially among the young.

    For years atheists put up with being quiet or if not, treated as second class citizens. But for now we are speaking up and questioning religious claims, just like society has always done for economics, politics, foreign affairs, art, music, etc. Religion is not any more immune from criticism,

    While I admit the late Christopher Hitchens did sometimes go out of his way o mock religion and religious figures but Prof. Dawkins truly doesn’t, Look up his fascinating discussions with Fr. George Coyne, S.J, the former Vatican astronomer, or Archbishop Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury. These are both very intelligent, thoughtful and civil discussions. And if you’ve never read his books (my favourite is The Ancestor’s Tale) read the first chapter of The God Delusion ( http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/22/books/chapters/1022-1st-dawk.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 ). I don’t expect it to change your mind on God, but it might enlightened you to the person of Prof. Dawkins.

    • Howard

      Michael, as I have told you before, I think you do not know this man at all!

      Last year a father complained to me that his son was an atheist and that Dawkins declared that he should mock believers. As I remember the story, this father was speaking of a son who was unsure about turning on his father agressivly. Would you teach others to ridicule your son if he became a believer?

      “Mock them, Ridicule them.”

      This is the beginning of the text when you click ‘more’ in the video.

      “In an interview with Thomas Bass, which was published in the book Reinventing the Future: Conversations With the World’s Leading Scientists, New Atheist leader Richard Dawkins stated that he held fast to the ideology of militant atheism, stating: “I am a fairly militant atheist, with a fair degree of active hostility toward religion. I certainly was hostile toward it at school, from the age of about sixteen onwards. I mellowed a bit in my twenties and thirties. But I’m getting more militant again now.”

      • michael

        While not exactly my approach, all you have to do to make many religious people uncomfortable and to be accused of mocking is to list their beliefs. I’m not saying that this would necessarily be true for Catholics but in the last election why would it be unfair to list the beliefs of the Republican candidate, Jesus came from a planet/star called, the mark of Cain still exists in our world, when we die we get our own planet to rule, etc. It’s perhaps unfair to pick on this one religion, but at some point one needs to ask, it it rational to believe this?

        And why does listing a religions beliefs as honestly as one can be considered mocking. Once again, I would do it in general. Only the Mormon view that that mark of Cain turned skin black caused me great concern (I have Mormons in my family and I can’t understand why they persist in that,)

        • Howard

          “While I admit the late Christopher Hitchens did sometimes go out of his way o mock religion and religious figures but Prof. Dawkins truly doesn’t,…”

          “And why does listing a religions beliefs as honestly as one can be considered mocking.”

          MICHAEL, you have been asking for material evidence from me as proof of a proposition. Follow TRUTH, it is your friend, not your enemy.

          For an insightful followup with Ravi Zacharias at 1:15 -

          • michael

            I have only asked for evidence, you keep adding the word material. Do you have any?

          • Howard

            What Is Your Epistemology? April 19, 2013 at 7:45 pm

            “There is no objective evidence for the supernatural that science can accept.”

            Objective in science means what is gathered from observable, empirical, and measurable evidence.

            I have asked for clarifications and discussion on evidence itself, and Stacy has asked, but, this is the only clue you have given me as to the actual evidence you will accept on any question. I am left guessing and wondering how you can try and avoid all other forms of evidence.

            Just as you do not acknowledge the dangerous anger in Dawkins behavior and call it “approach”, you continue to make excuses for yourself.

            Not much progress is there?

        • michael

          “There is no objective evidence for the supernatural that science can accept.”

          To the best of my knowledge I didn’t type that and if I did I would have meant no objective evidence for the supernatural that has been presented to science that science can accept currently, not permanently.

          Let’s try a different approach. What would it take to convince to to become a Mormon? (If you are one, then choose Catholic). What type of evidence would convince you?

          • Howard

            Michael, Michael, Michael.

            I gave you the reference, and to tell you how concerned I am with the truth of things I actually confirmed my own observation when you denied having typed that sentence.

            People can disagree and make mistakes and explain or qualify and even squirm about facts, but what is VERY DANGEROUS is to deny them with conviction. In denying reality or promoting the false, is a danger that Christ teaches us will destroy us now and for eternity. If you don’t believe that, use empirical evidence and follow the life of anyone who embraces lies.

            I am all for discussion, but I cannot discuss anything and expect a fruitful outcome using the method of historical fact replacement. Qualify and/or retract is the usual method.

            Sorry.

          • Michael

            Here’s my quote.

            “As to a belief in materialism, it’s less that, and more that there’s no evidence to support any non material content to this universe. There is no objective evidence for the supernatural that science can accept.”

            And I certainly stand behind it. There is as much subjective evidence to support your view (what ever denomiation you are) to support many other religions/denominations.

            You can see why external evidence is critical. We see it all the time in medicine. People swear by certain procedures that work for them (from homeopathy, to accuputure, to crystals, etc.) but outside their subjective evidence there is nothing else.

            Francis Collins, the head of NIH and a Christian, said that the evidence that convinced him to be a Christian was seeing a frozen waterfall. Can you state what convinced you in your faith, be it objective or subjective?

          • Michael

            “There is no objective evidence for the supernatural that science can accept.” Again to clarify. This quote, in the context of the paragraph meant that no evidence has been offered yet that science can accept, not that science is unable to accept evidence offered by believers.

            Here’s evidence that would give me pause to reconsider. Fossils out of order in the geological record indicating special creation, scientific scriptural content displaying a knowledge of the world unknown to the bronze age writers, or a uniformity of beliefs and practices among believers in all times and cultures. That would make me stop and pay attention. Instead, an not to disparage Francis Collins and he knows more about science than I ever will, we get a frozen waterfall or no evidence at all.

          • Howard

            Well then to clarify, I presume that you mean that no definitive conclusion has been reached about any material object suspected to be modified or created by supernatural means. No consensus among scientists in the same field that would overwhelm the lay person so no intelligent objection could be made.

            Is this what you mean by proof or evidence?

            I would refer you to Jeff’s comment in the Epistemology post.

          • Michael

            It’s not just that no definitive conclusion has been reached, we’re no where near that, No tentative conclusion has been reached. Take the efficacy of prayer, no study has shown that prayer has any measurable benefit to praying for the sick ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Studies_on_intercessory_prayer ). In particulater the largest study by the Templeton Foundation found a significant negative effect on those who knew they were being prayed for,

          • Howard

            The question you keep evading is;

            What is the degree of certainty and nature of the evidence that you consider acceptable in order to say – I believe it?

            You only provide a study that you reject. I am not asking for the negative, I am asking for the positive. Not a particular, but a statement that defines how you (Michael) determine what you believe.

          • Michael

            And you won’t give any evidence of a God or Gods. This is what every believer I ever asked does. I don’t ask for definitive evidence, just an indication of why you or anyone believes in God. I never get an answer to that question but this is the first time I’ve had someone demand that I spell it my criteria for evidence in detail before giving their evidence for a God. Did Jesus say “Preach to the nations but only after they document their epistomological premises?”

            I’ll tell you why I previously believed in God. I was born and raised in a very Catholic family, studied my religion carefully and thoroughly (even took some theology courses in university), prayed, attended mass daily, read papal encyclicals, etc. It was a social thing, and I felt very comfortable in the church, had a nice social experience, liked the music, the liturgy, the sense of mystery, etc. That’s why I believed.

            Now, if you want, you give me your reasons why you believe now.

          • Howard

            “Whoever is called “to teach Christ” must first seek “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus”; he must suffer “the loss of all things…” in order to “gain Christ and be found in him,” and “to know him and the power of his resurrection, and [to] share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible [he] may attain the resurrection from the dead.”1

            “From this loving knowledge of Christ springs the desire to proclaim him, to “evangelize,” and to lead others to the “yes” of faith in Jesus Christ. But at the same time the need to know this faith better makes itself felt.”

            (CCC 428-9)

            If my method falls short of this direction, then it is up to my Church to correct me.

            You have already been (apparently) baptized and confirmed. You have already received the Good News and have rejected it. Now you ask for proof from me!

            I am conversationally walking down the steep side of a sand dune. We started out talking about epistemology, evidence, proof, and God’s existence. The sand is shifting now to my reasons for faith.

            If I did not believe that the only direction our conversation could go would be an insistence on justifying my beliefs via a scientific study, I would be more interested in telling you why I believe what I do, and tell you about my agnostic/atheistic past. But the sands keep shifting, and you have such a rigidly narrow world view. I will not be restricted to your presuppositions. In order to free you from being not absolutely sure of anything, you must free your thinking.

          • Michael

            Again, you say I have demanded absolutely sure, I have asked for any indication of a justification for faith. Francis Collins gave his frozen waterfall, you give your walking on a sand dune, Okay thanks.

          • Howard

            So, do you believe that Collins saw a frozen waterfall and therefore you now believe in God? You don’t need me then do you?

        • Ace

          “Fossils out of order in the geological record indicating special creation,”
          This actually has been discovered, look it up.

          “scientific scriptural content displaying a knowledge of the world unknown to the bronze age writers,”
          Genesis describes a creation event thousands of years before the Big Bang. “God spread out the heaven” = inflationary universe. Adam and Eve is consistent with genomic evidence of the common ancestry of man.

          “or a uniformity of beliefs and practices among believers in all times and cultures.”
          So if there was only one world religion that would convince you? Or would you just rebel against it even harder?

  • http://www.2catholicmen.blogspot.com Ben @ 2CM

    Bishop Sheen once said that we all have “a philosophy”. We ALL believe things we can’t prove (empirically). Spend time exploring the premises for your beliefs. What assumptions are you making? How complex are they? Always ask “why?” Are you using true reason or reason based only on the premises & assumptions you like best?

  • Ela

    Re: Your question of purpose.

    The purpose of discovering how the universe began is to answer one of man’s great questions (The how part of the how and why). While you think answering why is good enough, much of humanity also wants to know “how.” If we know how the universe was created, we have a better understanding of how our universe works and what it is. The implications are pretty astounding. Aside from the origin of life, there is the discovery of energy, matter and physics unknown to us. Maybe we’d learn the secrets of space travel, how to manipulate and use the universe around us for clean energy, health, longevity, etc. Maybe we’d discover the cure for disease in the process. Basically we would understand ourselves and the environment around us on a vastly deeper level. That is the purpose. To understand.

    Besides, I think you’re looking at it all wrong. Why are you afraid of physicists looking for the answer to this question? what if they find God’s fingerprint? What if they find YOUR proof? Would you question the purpose then?

    • Ace

      “Why are you afraid of physicists looking for the answer to this question?”
      We are not afraid of anything. But we are very concerned about scientists like Hawkins who start with the answer – God cannot exist – and create things like M-Theory in order to justify that answer. He is not practicing science at that point.

      “what if they find God’s fingerprint? What if they find YOUR proof?”
      In a way, “they” did, its called Big Bang Cosmology. Hawkings’ entire discussion is about something he created ex nihilo solely to avoid the theistic implications of the Big Bang.

      • Ela

        How does big bang cosmology prove there is a God? I must’ve missed a step.

        Again, the point is to understand, not to prove, and that is where I feel both extremes of the issue fail. Theories must have some backing, but the more we delve into one, we discover if it is wrong, or if it has merit, or perhaps it leads us in a new direction where we find another level of answers. That is what science is about. You don’t like the assumption there is no God and Dawkins & Hawking don’t like your assumption that there is. So what? The world won’t stop spinning (for awhile). The only way to settle this is by exploring, experimenting, studying and … well, science.

    • Michael

      Ace – Maybe scientists like Prof Hawkings can learn from the example of theologians who start out saying. We don’t know who created the universe, but we will start with an open mind on the subject. :->

      I’m not a fan of M-theory, but then science doesn’t require I accept it. But creation ex-nihilo is a staple of modem quantum physics. (see virtual particles)

      Science doesn’t presume no God, it just looks, and for hundreds of years, has found naturalistic explanations for the natural world around us.

  • MarylandBill

    Hawking has been talking about how we don’t need God to explain the creation of the Universe, but there is a caveat included, even implicitly or explicitly. He essentially depends on the existence of gravity and the pre-existing laws of physics. Now I am not a cosmologist, but I had always thought that gravity and the laws of physics were intrinsic properties of our Universe… So we essentially have given ourselves a chicken or egg situation.

    In any case, at its root, Hawking’s argument reflect a flawed understanding of God’s role as creator vs. Natural Science. Natural Science documents how God creates. Even if science can document absolutely every natural process before and after the creation of the Universe, it still does not ultimately answer the question of Why?

    • Michael

      Science doesn’t know whether the laws of physics we experience are the only ones possible in a universe or are variable. Yes, they appear to be instrinsic, but it’s not known if they are the only ones.

      The equivalent theological question is “Are actions moral because they are moral in themselves or because God made those actions moral?”

      Finally, not all why questions have an answer. I understand the need for an answer but would rather live without one than create an answer that is unsupported by evidence.

  • Ace

    To the extent that commenters here call for evidence, in my experience the atheistic/agnostic mantra of “there is no evidence” is typically premised upon an arbitrary and subjective definition of evidence. Because evidence is a legal term, and this discipline has written the most about the concept, it would make sense to consider the legal definition of evidence before declaring that there is none. “[E]vidence is defined as ‘all the means by which any alleged matter of fact, the truth of which is submitted to investigation, is established or disproved.’” Forshey v. Principi, 284 F.3d 1335, 1358 (Fed. Cir. 2002). “[E]vidence includes all the means by which any alleged matter of fact is established or disproved, and is further defined as any species of proof legally presented at trial through the medium of witnesses, records, documents, exhibits, concrete objects, etc., for the purpose of inducing belief in the minds of the court or jury.” People v. Victors, 353 Ill. App. 3d 801, 811-812; 819 N.E.2d 311 (2004).

    Notice the use of the terms “any” and “all” in these definitions. A whole lot of things count as “evidence.” Testimony is included within the definition of evidence, although it is “not synonymous with evidence” because evidence “is a more comprehensive term.” People v. Victors, supra at 811-812. In other words, personal religious experiences, COUNT AS EVIDENCE as that term has been legally defined, something atheists find hard to accept. This also means that the Gospels, for example – as “records, documents” – fall within the definition of “evidence” as well. Atheists and skeptics may say that these are not reliable forms evidence, but to say there is NO evidence is simply false.

    Also, the philosophical evidence for God’s existence (First cause, argument from contingency, argument from reason, moral argument, apparent fine tuning) might not strictly meet the definition of evidence, but the philosophical evidence does – coupled with the existence of the universe and consciousness itself – give rise to a “presumption.” A “presumption” comes about when the “finding of a basic fact gives rise to existence of presumed fact, until [the] presumption is rebutted.” Wilner v. United States, 24 F.3d 1397, 1411 (Fed. Cir. 1994). “Although not evidence, a presumption can be a substitute for evidence if it is not rebutted.” Id. Most atheists will freely admit that they have no evidence disproving God – they usually fall back on the fact that it is not their burden. However, if there is a presumption of God’s existence (and at least 4 1/2 billion people would say there is), then atheists do in fact carry the burden of rebuttal.

    Most atheists/skeptics confuse “evidence” with “conclusive evidence,” sometimes termed “conclusive proof,” which is defined as “evidence so strong as to overbear any other evidence to the contrary.” Black’s Law Dictionary 636 (9th ed. 2009). It is also defined as “[e]vidence that so preponderates as to oblige a fact-finder to come to a certain conclusion.” Id. There may not be, in the atheists/skeptics view, evidence that “obliges” them to accept God’s existence. But this does not mean there is no evidence at all, only that he has not seen what he considers to be “conclusive evidence.” Also, note again the first part of Black’s definition – “evidence so strong as to overbear any other evidence to the contrary.” Atheists admittedly have no “evidence to the contrary,” so ANY EVIDENCE AT ALL(i.e., personal religious experience) becomes “conclusive proof” by courtroom standards.

    The real issue that needs to be addressed is, what is Mike and his ilk doing here. There is an increasing level of desperation that is reflected in this practice of coming onto to explicitly Christian websites and trying to evangelize. It is one thing to put your view out there as a philosophical perspective, but if reason and progress is truly on your side, what need is there to go on the offensive? Why troll the writings of particular authors or websites that no one is forcing you to read? Won’t the “truth” lead people to your side eventually, if what you believe is true? The real reason, I suspect, for this militancy is that atheism is, when carried to its logical conclusion, incoherent:
    http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/higher-things/2011/nov/19/atheism-why-it-logically-incoherent
    http://www.catholicthinker.net/the-incoherence-of-atheism/
    http://www.peterkreeft.com/topics-more/4-arguments-transcendence.htm
    http://www.reasonsforgod.org/the-best-reasons/the-argument-from-reason/

  • Michael

    First of all, most scientists could care less about a legalistic view of evidence (unless they get caught up in a trial). Legalistic evidence doesn’t belong in the lab and certainly not in an informal blog posting.

    Secondly, atheists are not demanding conclusive evidence, or absolute evidence or proof before considering a God. (Only math can prove, science can’t) I’ve however asked repeatedly for anything that might hint of evidence for a deity. I gave the example of why I believed when I was younger and gave the example of Francis Collins.

    I certainly have no evidence to disprove God but I have no evidence to disprove astrology or homeopathy. But in all three cases I have no evidence in support of them except that millions of people find each one a positive and fulfilling aspect of their lives.

    What am I, Michael, doing here? Trying, patiently, and I hope civilly to clear up what I view as misconceptions of why non believers are not believers.

    If the owner of this web asks that I stop posting or if she feels I have overstepped proper posting decorum, I will comply, as it’s her blog.

    • Ace

      “First of all, most scientists could care less about a legalistic view of evidence (unless they get caught up in a trial). Legalistic evidence doesn’t belong in the lab and certainly not in an informal blog posting.”
      Ah, but when scientists step out of the lab, practice philosophy, and declare that there is “no evidence,” and lay people mindlessly repeat that mantra, it would would do some good to explore what the word “evidence” really means.
      Also, you have created an entirely new term, “Legalistic evidence.” What exactly does this mean? Is there non-legalistic “evidence.”

      “I’ve however asked repeatedly for anything that might hint of evidence for a deity”
      First, the definition of “evidence” that you have supposedly “asked for repeatedly” is fuzzy at best, arbitrary and circular at worst (how many proofs for God’s existence have you rejected because they point to the “absurdity” of God’s existence? this seems to be the primary objection to the Kalaam Cosmological Argument, for example). Now, you have been provided with a legal definition of “evidence” under which, proof of God’s existence is all around you. You know assert that definition “doesn’t belong” here. What exactly do you claim to be looking for? Or perhaps more appropriately, what are you trying to evade with these mental gymnastics?

      “Trying, patiently, and I hope civilly to clear up what I view as misconceptions of why non believers are not believers.”
      What you have cleared up is that atheism is just as dogmatic, fundamentalist, and irrational as the worst theism has to offer.

    • Michael

      So now we’re getting somewhere. You’ve advocating the Islamic Kalaam Cosmological Argument currently advocated by Dr. Craig, is that correct? An argument from design approach. It’s probably the best one going.

      But why when scientist say they have no evidence, does one have to assume legalism. Next we’ll be holding Church liable under contract law when they promise their believers eternal life. :->

      I have not asked for proofs of God’s existence (although I am very well familiar with the philosophical proofs), Science can’t prove anything, it only asks for evidence. That’s what I was asking for.

      Here’s an example. I have a friend who is a fundamentalist and he has countess accounts of God answering his prayers, healing this, finding that, solving something else. Great, that’s a start. One can then start to examine it carefully, looking at the success, looking at the failures. The there a any efficacy in his prayers? Do I care if it’s a legal evidence? No, careful, objective, evidence under controlled circumstances is sufficient.

      “What you have cleared up is that atheism is just as dogmatic, fundamentalist, and irrational as the worst theism has to offer.”

      What have I said that was fundamental. I have said I would consider examining any evidence that was offered that counters my viewpoint and have listed several situations that would cause me to strongly reconsider my beliefs. How is that dogmatic?

      Would you change your beliefs if presented with contrary evidence? Can you give an example?

    • Stacy Trasancos

      “I certainly have no evidence to disprove God but I have no evidence to disprove astrology or homeopathy. But in all three cases I have no evidence in support of them except that millions of people find each one a positive and fulfilling aspect of their lives.”

      How many astrological or homeopathological marytrs and saints are there though? ;-)

      “If the owner of this web asks that I stop posting or if she feels I have overstepped proper posting decorum, I will comply, as it’s her blog.”

      Oh no. I really appreciate your discussion and your concern for decorum. You’re way good, Michael! Way good.

      Sorry I haven’t participated much, I’ll jump in later. This weekend and this crazy Monday got away from me…

    • Ela

      There is a lot of evidence disproving astrology & homeopathy ;)

      • michael

        Alas, no. There is no evidence to disprove them, only no evidence to support them and as a consequence no serious person should accept them. Again, I’m not saying that belief in a God is equivalent to these, only using these as examples of what evidence can be used to validate. I can no more disprove astrology than I can disprove that God exists.

      • michael

        Correction – I can no more prove astrology is false than I can prove that God doesn’t exist.

  • http://aol Jim

    As I said: Ad nauseam

    • Michael

      When I was in the Canadian army reserve and working on an Air Force base we would change the RCAF motto of Per ardua ad astra to Per ardua ad nauseam.

  • Dust

    After grinding my way through this comment thread, a quote by God only knows as I can’t recall came to mind: “For those who believe no explanation is necessary. For those who don’t no explanation is possible.
    Btw, I’ll take a Cure d’Ars over these hundred pound head atheists any day.

    Greetings Stacy, been a few months. Best-

  • Joseph O Polanco

    Ask and you shall receive: Proof of God’s existence – http://bit.ly/1197U6R

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