I look for the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come.
Stephen Hawking, physicist and author of A Brief History of Time, recently had this to say about the notions of heaven and eternal life:
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.
How is a Christian to respond to this? Is our belief in eternal life a fairy tale? Have we invented a story about everlasting paradise because we are afraid of the darkness of annihilation?
A good starting place is to recognize that Hawking has never died, and so he really doesn’t know one way or the other whether heaven and eternal life exists. Hawking did not come to his conclusions regarding heaven or everlasting life through observation, experience, or anything resembling the scientific method. He did not run an experiment that demonstrated that humans have no eternal soul. Nor did he derive a mathematical equation that somehow eliminated God.
Of course, similar statements could be said about Christians. We have not come to our conclusions about heaven and eternal life through science. But if science were the only way to know anything, then we really could not adequately address questions such as, “What happens after we die?” We could speculate, which is all that Hawking has done, but we really would not have definitive answers.
As a Christian, my belief in heaven is based on my acceptance of the larger package of the Christian faith. I have dozens of reasons why I think Christianity is true; here are two of what I see as the strongest arguments:
1. Christianity has a good answer for the fundamental question, “Why is there something rather than nothing?” I wrote about this last year in my brief post about Hawking’s latest book, The Grand Design:
This goes back to the cosmological argument for the existence of God. Every effect has a cause. What caused the universe? If the answer is, “the multiverse” or “the laws of physics,” then all the authors [Hawking and Mlodinow] have accomplished is to put the question back one step. What caused the multiverse to exist? Has it existed forever? If so, why and how? Did it cause itself to exist? The same questions need to be asked of the laws of physics, or perhaps of the deeper, underlying laws of the multiverse. What is the origin of these laws? …
To propose that “God” is the answer to these questions is certainly at least as rational as to propose that the multiverse has existed forever or that it created itself. I would say that the “God option” is in reality the most rational answer, as the first option—the multiverse has existed forever—doesn’t answer the “Why is there something rather than nothing?” question, and the idea of a self-creating multiverse is inherently illogical.
Even if Hawking were correct about M-theory, strings, and the multiverse spawning baby universes, he has not explained where the multiverse or the laws that govern the universe came from.
2. A strong case can be made for the historical truthfulness of the Gospel accounts of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I gave an outline of the Christian case for Christ’s resurrection in my recent post The reality of the resurrection. Something extraordinary happened on that first Easter in 30 or 33 AD, and each attempt to come up with an alternative to the resurrection has serious problems.
If there is a God who created the universe (point #1), and if he raised at least one person from the dead (point #2), then it is by no means a stretch to accept the idea that we, too, can experience eternal life. This life comes through faith in Christ:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. — John 3:16 ESV
I have great respect for Stephen Hawking for his professional accomplishments and for his perseverance through great suffering. His ventures into philosophy and theology, on the other hand, fall a bit flat.
Grace and Peace
The Guardian: Stephen Hawking: ‘There is no heaven; it’s a fairy story’
Yahoo News: Stephen Hawking says afterlife is a fairy story
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” — Psalm 14:1 ESV