Stephen Hawking, eternal life, and fairy tales

I look for the resurrection of the dead
and the life of the world to come.
–Nicene Creed

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

Ken Ham and Richard Dawkins agree with each other, but they are both wrong

Ken Ham is an Evangelical Christian and is perhaps the world’s most prominent anti-evolutionist and advocate of young-Earth creationism.

Richard Dawkins, author of the best-selling book The God Delusion, is perhaps the world’s most prominent proselytizer for atheism.

The two men are worlds apart on a number of important issues, but they seem to be in complete agreement about one thing: The Bible and evolution—and the accompanying belief that Earth is billions are years old—are completely incompatible with each other. Ham writes:

Last month, famous atheist and evolutionist Richard Dawkins was interviewed by Howard Condor on Revelation TV in the UK. Parts of the interview are disappointing regarding how the interviewer made some of his arguments. However, there was one section of the interview that is really worth publicizing.

At one stage, the interviewer asked, “So, was there a defining moment where you made a decision that you didn’t believe in God?”

Richard Dawkins replied, “Yes . . . I suppose, I switched from Christian theism to some sort of deism about the age of fourteen or fifteen. And then switched to atheism about the age of sixteen—fifteen, sixteen.”

Howard Condor then asks, “And was there a particular point, or something you read, or an experience you had that said, ‘Yes this is it, God does not exist’?”

Now note carefully the following statement by Richard Dawkins:

Oh well, by far the most important was understanding evolution. I think the evangelical Christians have really sort of got it right in a way, in seeing evolution as the enemy. Whereas the more, what shall we say, sophisticated theologians are quite happy to live with evolution, I think they are deluded. I think the evangelicals have got it right, in that there is a deep incompatibility between evolution and Christianity, and I think I realized that about the age of sixteen.

[from Atheist Richard Dawkins: Evangelical Christians Have Really Sort of Got it Right by Ken Ham]

Dawkins is convinced that evolution made the world safe for atheism. Ken Ham is convinced that evolution completely undermines Christianity. They agree with each other on this point, but they are both wrong!

The young-Earth creationist case against biological evolution is based primarily on two Biblical ideas. The first is a weakly-supported interpretation, and the other is simply an over-reading of the text.

  1. The weak interpretation is the idea that there was no animal death before Adam and Eve fell into sin. The truth of the matter is that none of the passages usually cited in support of this position (Genesis 3, Romans 5, Romans 8, 1 Corinthians 15) actually say anything about animals starting to die as a result of Adam’s sin. They all tie human death to sin, but that is all. To the young-Earth creationists, evolution could not have occurred before Adam because evolution requires death. But if death did occur before Adam (I’ve developed the case for this in my post Death before the fall — an old-Earth Biblical perspective) then this part of the Biblical argument against biological evolution crumbles.
  2. The second creationist argument against evolution is based on the verses in Genesis 1 where plants and animals are created to reproduce after their “kinds.” The Bible does not define “kinds” for us, but there is no reason to limit this definition to the modern scientific concept of “species.” The Bible does not say that there can be no variation within populations of the kinds, nor does it say that gene frequencies cannot change from generation to generation, or that mutations cannot occur that will lead to new traits. In fact, if there is a limit to biological change within the kinds, the Bible is silent on the matter. We should be silent too, at least as far as our Biblical exegesis goes. In any case, the young-Earth creationists undermine their argument by advocating hyper-rapid speciation after the flood at a rate that would make most evolutionary biologists blush.

I could take this a step further by saying there are statements in Genesis 1 that imply some sort of process over time. Consider the following two verses:

And God said, “Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.” The earth brought forth vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their own kinds, and trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. (Gen 1:11-12 ESV)

And God said, “Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the heavens.” So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, with which the waters swarm, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. (Gen 1:20-21 ESV)

In both of these passages, God gives a command that initiates a process: “Let the earth sprout vegetation,” “Let the waters swarm with swarms.” In both of these cases, it does not in any way diminish God’s creative power to use a process rather than a fiat creation from nothing.

I won’t go so far as to say that the Bible actually advocates some sort of biological evolution, but the case for God using processes in creation is certainly at least as strong, if not stronger, than the case for the idea that species cannot change over time.

I am not arguing here whether or not biological evolution is true. I happen to believe it is at least mostly true, but my expertise lies elsewhere (I have had a few undergraduate and graduate courses in paleontology and paleoecology). What I am arguing is that both Ken Ham and Richard Dawkins are wrong on this matter. The Bible doesn’t say anything one way or another about whether biological evolution can occur. Because of this, Richard Dawkins (and atheists in general) cannot use evolution as a basis for rejecting God and Christianity. If they wish to continue to reject Christianity they will have to find some other reason. One can be a scientist and be a thoroughly-convinced Christian. One can also be a Christian and accept an old Earth and biological evolution. An example of this would be the great defender of the faith C.S. Lewis.

Grace and Peace

Skepchick

An atheist writer has an entry on her blog today about The GeoChristian (see Skepchick: Genesis and Geology). She obviously has more readers than I do, and she has sent them in droves to click on “Myth” on my Understanding Genesis 1 poll.

Skepchick started her blog entry by saying some nice things about me (she also encourages her readers to not post “mean comments” on my blog, which I appreciate very much):

One of the geoblogs that I have started reading- casually- is a blog called The GeoChristian. The blog is written by a liberal Christian with some science (especially geology) background. In many ways, I admire this blog and the blogger. The author tries to improve the science education of very conservative Christians, including the Young Earthers. This is a noble effort, and I really hope that the blogger is successful. The blogger accepts an old Earth, which I find comforting.

Not everything nice that people say about me is true, and this is no exception. Here are a few clarifications:

  • I am not a liberal Christian (“liberal” meaning one who denies the authority of the Bible and/or core Christian doctrines). I am quite conservative in my theological views, including my view of the Bible.
  • I have a Master of Science degree in geology, which is a bit more than “some science.”

It was good of her to start with nice things (I try to do the same), but obviously as an atheist there are things about The GeoChristian that she doesn’t like.

However, when the author of the GeoChristian blog tries to reconcile events in The Bible with geological science, my blood starts boiling. For instance, I just noticed that the GeoChristian has put up a poll titled Understanding Genesis One. This poll asks “What is your preferred interpretation of Genesis One?” and gives a number of options– including a Young Earth Creationist option (6,000 years) and several options trying to re-interpret the text in The Bible in order to make it compatible with the old age of the Earth.

I’m sorry that I got her blood boiling, but I think that once again she at least somewhat misunderstands what I am getting at on The GeoChristian. I don’t spend a whole lot of time trying to “reconcile events in The Bible with geological science.” I actually spend a lot more time trying to counter the arguments of Christians who stretch science (usually young-Earth creationists) to fit what they think the Bible requires (for example, my Six bad arguments from Answers in Genesis series).

My overall approach to questions of science and Scripture is borrowed from Christian philosopher Francis Schaeffer, who reminded Christians that “all truth is God’s truth.” As a Christian, I believe that if there is a conflict between the Bible and science, then either we don’t understand the Bible correctly, or we don’t understand science correctly (or both). In the end, if we were to correctly understand both, there would be no conflict. When Biblical scholars propose things like the “analogical days interpretation” or “framework hypothesis” (see the poll questions), they are doing one part of that effort: taking a closer look at Genesis and seeing what it really does say, and weeding out what it doesn’t say.

I do believe that there is an overlap between the Bible and Earth history. On one level, I expect that Noah’s flood, which I believe to be a localized event (click here) to have left some sort of geological record (as Skepchick alludes to at the end of her post). On another level, both the Bible and science give an explanation for the origin of the universe, the Earth, and life. Old-Earth creationists of the day-age variety seek correlations between the days of Genesis 1 and the events of Earth history, and they have come up with some interesting insights. They may be correct, but I’m not placing my money on their harmonizations. Some of the other options on the “Understanding Genesis 1” poll don’t require  attempts at harmonization between Genesis and geology.

When Christians visit my blog (which normally means about 90% of my readers), my hope is to give them sound Biblical and scientific reasoning in regards to the interface between science and Christian faith. Sometimes this is in regards to questions about origins, such as the age of the Earth or the extent and work of Noah’s flood. I also put a lot of effort into writing about issues surrounding the environment.

When non-Christians visit my blog, my hope and prayer is that they will see that one doesn’t have to commit intellectual suicide in order to be (or become) a Christian. Often these non-Christian visitors have misconceptions about Christianity or the Bible, and I aim to help clear up those misconceptions (some examples: a Bible contradiction, unicorns in the Bible). I am unashamed and unapologetic about my faith in Jesus Christ and my belief that Christianity is true.

Grace and Peace

The origin of human rights, or “Is napalming babies culturally relative?”

Timothy Keller, in chapter nine of The Reason for God, discusses the origin of human rights. Do humans intrinsically have unalienable rights, or are these rights something that we have arbitrarily come up with? Keller outlines three possible answers to this question, following Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz:

  1. Human rights come from God. God has created us and endowed us with certain unalienable rights.
  2. Human rights are based on “natural law.” People have rights because nature dictates that they should.
  3. Human rights are created by us. It is in the interest of societies to grant people rights.

Dershowitz rules out the first answer, but Keller makes a case for it being the only option that gives us a reliable foundation for human freedom and dignity. The natural world is ruled by violence and predation, and doesn’t seem to be the best place to go looking for fundamental laws that protect the weak of society. To say that human rights are created by us is rather frightening, as rights that are granted by the majority can just as easily be taken away.

After outlining the options, Keller makes a case that “the Biblical account of things… explains our moral sense… better than a secular view.” No one has been able to make a convincing case that humans have “unalienable human rights” apart from those rights originating from a Creator. If we believe that humans do indeed have rights that ought not to be trampled upon, then perhaps this itself is evidence for the existence of God. Keller concludes the section with a plea to follow through on our sense that human rights really do exist, outside of ourselves:

If you believe human rights are a reality, then it makes much more sense that God exists than that he does not. If you insist on a secular view of the world and yet you continue to pronounce some things right and some things wrong, then I hope you see the deep disharmony between the world your intellect has devised and the real world (and God) that your heart knows exists. This leads us to a crucial question. If a premise (“There is no God”) leads to a conclusion you know isn’t true (“Napalming babies is culturally relative”) then why not change the premise?

Grace and Peace


P.S. The question of whether or not it should be considered immoral to napalm babies was introduced in the chapter with a quote from Yale law professor Arthur Leff. Leff doesn’t accept the idea that human rights come from God, but he can find no other reliable origin for those rights. Leff writes:

 

As things are now, everything is up for grabs. Nevertheless: napalming babies is bad. Starving the poor is wicked. Buying and selling each other is depraved… There is such a thing as evil. All together now: Sez Who? God help us.

P.P.S. Keller is not saying that secular people (skeptics, atheists, etc.) advocate immoral things like napalming babies. Quite the contrary, he argues that in general these people know that certain things are right and wrong. Why would they think this way if there were no underlying reason for them to do so?

Consider atheism? I don’t think so

The American Humanist Association is launching an ad campaign, urging us all to “Consider Humanism.”

This campaign uses a familiar atheist technique: Focus on the evils done in the name of religion; ignore the evils done by atheists.

The graphics I’ve seen have this format:

  • What some believe — a verse from the Bible or Koran urging some repugnant thing, such as slaughtering, hating, oppressing, and so forth.
  • What humanists think — a quote from some “enlightened” atheist showing how far we’ve come from the barbaric days of the Bible and Koran.

Note that religious people just “believe” something, whereas humanists/atheists “think.”

I am not a Muslim, obviously, so I’ll leave it to Muslims to defend themselves against the humanists.

There is a good, well-thought-out answer—yes, we Christians know how to think—for each of the accusations that the humanist ad campaign levels against Christianity. Consider the following ad:

This one is rather silly. Does any Christian really think that Jesus, in this passage, was telling us to hate anyone? Jesus was clearly using hyperbole, as we are told over and over to love one another, and even to love our enemies. Jesus wants our love for him to be so great that all other loves—including our love for ourselves—pales in comparison.

I’ll take Katharine Hepburn’s word for it, that she believes (that must have been a typo on the humanists’ part) that we should be kind to one another. I have to wonder, however, whether that belief comes from the Anglo-Saxon side of her cultural heritage, or from the Christian side.

Here’s another:

The Bible paints things as they really are. The people of Samaria (the northern ten tribes of Israel) had adopted a religious system (Baal worship) that included ritual prostitution (probably involuntary for many of the prostitutes), human sacrifice, mutilation, and incest. The humanists seem to think that God was being rather harsh in sending judgment on all of this, but most of us can discern that something is horribly wrong in a religious system that encourages ritual sacrifice of children.

Albert Einstein may have been guilty of exactly what he said he opposed. He could not imagine a God who punishes, saying this is “but a reflection of human frailty.” I suppose he would have an easier time imagining a God who didn’t punish sin, but then wouldn’t he just be projecting his own personal or cultural biases on that deity?

It wouldn’t be fair for me to pick out the easiest ads (and I think the first two I mentioned were incredibly easy to answer), so I’ll go for what I think is the most difficult:

I’ll start with the atheist/humanist solution that is proposed, and then get to a Christian response.

First, I applaud those who work towards peace, whether they be humanist, Buddhist, Hindu, Moslem, or Christian. I am not opposed to international efforts to prevent genocide.

Having said this, I wouldn’t trust atheists (whether they call themselves “atheists” or “humanists”) to run an international organization that would “adjudicate and enforce measures to punish acts of genocide.” The atheist track record in the past century is one of massive genocide (Stalin, Mao, etc.), and it would be easy for them (or any other group) to start favoring one side over the other in a conflict. Human nature has embedded within it characteristics such as greed, fear, and aggression, and too much power in the hands of one group always ends up in disaster. Christianity recognizes this. Most humanists, on the other hand, put too much trust in the ever-elusive perfectibility of the human species.

Genocide is most certainly wrong. I believe that the atheists/humanists ultimately have no absolute reason for saying it is wrong, but I take them at their word that they really do believe (there’s that word again) it is wrong.

Genocide certainly goes against all of the ethical teachings in the New Testament, and most of the ethical teachings of the Old Testament. But what about instances in the Old Testament where God told his people to fight wars, and to wipe out every man, woman, and child? This is a legitimate issue to raise, as mass extermination of humans—the holocaust, and the genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, and Bosnia—is a great evil.  From a Christian perspective, it is good to keep the following in mind:

  1. God is the maker and ruler of all. He has the absolute right of ownership over all peoples. If he judges an individual or a whole tribe ahead of time, he is within his rights to do so.
  2. The Canaanites were exceedingly wicked: human sacrifice and so forth. God could have judged them by sending a plague or famine, but in this case he used an army.
  3. All are sinners and deserving of God’s judgment. This goes for everyone from Adolf Hitler to Mother Theresa. The judgment on the Canaanites is therefore a brief picture of what we all deserve.
  4. The commands given in the Old Testament for military campaigns were extremely limited in their scope. These commands were for the conquest of Canaan, and never applied elsewhere.
  5. God is just. The same severe penalty given to the Canaanites (destruction) was later mandated for Israelites who followed false Gods (see what I wrote about the judgment on the Israelites in Samaria up above).
  6. Grace was shown to repentant Canaanites, such as Rahab and her family.
  7. We now advance the Kingdom of God through acts of love and proclamation of Christ.

This is an answer that I find satisfactory. Genocide is evil, and there is nothing in the Bible to justify it or even to suggest that it is an acceptable action for us to engage in.

If you are a Christian, do not be duped by the “logic” and “reason” of the atheists in their ad campaign. Their arguments are not as reasonable and logical as they make them out to be.

If you are a humanist/atheist, I urge you to consider Christianity as a better explanation for the world and human nature, and as a source, through Christ, of hope for the future. I am not asking you to throw out reason or logic, but to find in Christ both the ground and the fulfillment of all true reason and logic.

Grace and Peace

Stephen Hawking’s mistake

When Stephen Hawking writes a book, people pay attention. His latest volume, The Grand Design, coauthored by Leonard Mlodinow, has made a media splash because Hawking, who used “god language” in his earlier works, has come to the conclusion that there is no need for any sort of god to explain the origin of the universe.

As far as I can tell, there is nothing new or groundbreaking in this book. Instead, it is a very readable explanation of how the laws of physics—especially quantum mechanics and general relativity, which is the theory of gravitation—can explain how we got here with no need for divine intervention.

Basically, from the reviews I have read (I confess I have not read the book), Hawking argues that our universe, with its hundreds of billions of galaxies, is just one of a huge multitude of universes that have been spawned within the larger multiverse, which we cannot see. Each of these baby universes has its own laws of physics; ours just happens to be one that has laws that work well for forming heavier atoms, stars, planets, and life.

Let’s say the basic outline of the author’s story is all true, that there is a larger multiverse that contains or creates baby universes. Think of the Wood between the Worlds in The Magician’s Nephew in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia series. Let’s even say that this multiverse really did create the universe we live in. This still doesn’t solve the basic questions that Hawking and Mlodinow are seeking to answer: Why is there something rather than nothing? Is God Necessary?

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 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 go back to the Chronicles of Narnia: Where did the “Deeper Magic from Before the Dawn of Time” come from?

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.

The Washington Post review of The Grand Design is here.

Grace and Peace

The Reason for God — the open-mindedness of Christians

A common misconception among skeptics is that Christians are narrow-minded and ignorant, and that skeptics and atheists are open-minded “free thinkers.” Perhaps these generalizations are true in some cases, but it was my pleasure Sunday morning to spend an hour with a group of fifteen Christians who certainly don’t fit the narrow-minded stereotype.

Yesterday at my church was the first session of a three-month adult Sunday School class in which we will be going through the book The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy Keller. The chapters in this excellent book include:

  • There Can’t Be Just One True Religion
  • How Could a Good God Allow Suffering?
  • The Church Is Responsible for So Much Injustice
  • Science Has Disproved Christianity
  • The Knowledge of God
  • The (True) Story of the Cross
  • The Reality of the Resurrection

Many skeptics I have met haven’t investigated both sides of these issues. They “know” that science has disproved Christianity, or that religion is the root of most evil in the world, or that the resurrection didn’t happen. So why bother to dig any deeper? Case closed, and mind closed too.

On the other hand, many Christians, including those in this class I am teaching, have had to face the skepticism of the world towards Christianity. They have themselves asked the tough questions, and come through with their faith intact. Or perhaps for some, they are still asking the tough questions (that’s OK) and still seeking answers. In our discussion, I asked them to come up with a list of objections to Christianity, and they had no problems coming up with a rather comprehensive list. I also had them write down a list of evidences for the validity of Christianity, and they came up with a pretty good list there too.

Too many free-thinking, open-minded skeptics are content with a “Christians are ignorant morons” approach, and wouldn’t be able to come up with a comprehensive list of the reasons to believe.

I had a blast leading the discussion on Sunday, and I’m looking forward to going through the book with this group of people. My objectives are to build up the faith of the believers, and to equip them to give good answers to a world that has been misled into believing that there is something irrational about the Christian faith.

thereasonforgod.com

Grace and Peace