Twenty years ago I read A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking. I was in seminary and taking an elective class titled Religion and Science in Dialog. It was a seminar format class, meaning there were twelve students and professor, and we spent the class discussing the various assigned readings from scientists and theologians. The class was rigorous. It was also exhilarating.
Stephen Hawking died this last week. He was 76 years old. He had ALS, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. His death reminded me of that seminary class I took in 1998, and the current debates about the role of science in our lives. There are Christians who want to debunk science. For some reason they think science is primarily a vehicle used to discount religion, especially Christianity. I can see where they might get that idea.
Hawking questioned the need for God. Initially supporting the theory of a “Big Bang” that brought the universe into existence, he later reversed his position to claim that the universe was a self contained entity that, like the Earth’s surface, has no edge or boundary, no beginning or end.
“The universe would not be created, not be destroyed; it would simply be. What place, then, for a creator?”
His ultimate quest was to discover a theory for everything, a grand unification theory. Hawking referred to this discovery as knowing the mind of God. He never got to complete his work on this.
So maybe there is good reason to debunk science.
I’m just kidding.
One of the conclusions that came from my seminary class was that, more and more, scientists use a language of faith in their discourse while religious people use a language of science. That is, scientists speak theoretically while many religions folks speak factually. Yes, scientists speak in facts, but those facts lead to the realization that some things will always be just beyond facts. Hawking’s ironic theoretical reversal about the universe didn’t account for the eternal creativity taking place in the universe.
Isn’t that what creators do? They create. Of course if you believe in God as anthropomorphic (think old man with white beard sitting on a throne somewhere) you might miss the Biblical claim that God is Love. Love isn’t a noun, it’s a verb, an action. Creativity. Then it might make sense to say that knowing the mind of God is already available when we love.
Or as Stephen Hawking put it, “Science is not only a disciple of reason but, also, one of romance and passion.” Or, “While physics and mathematics may tell us how the universe began, they are not much use in predicting human behavior because there are far to many equations to solve. I’m no better at understanding what makes people tick, especially women.”
The other word that comes to mind in this conversation is mystery. What would life be like without mystery?
I’m grateful for mystery, for wonderment and questioning. Can you imagine what it would be like if everything was so set, so laid out that we knew the outcomes of everything? There are those who believe we are all predestined, that our lives are set. If that were true, why bother to look both ways before crossing a street? I’m grateful that I don’t have to have proof of God’s existence, or the resurrection of Jesus or that we will live forever.
Claiming proof of such things eliminates the need for faith. In my observation, claiming something to be absolutely true, to claim ownership of the absolute truth can lead to exclusivity, judgmentalism and hypocrisy. And the absence of doubt which can lead to faith.
So instead of trying to prove God’s existence I choose every day to celebrate God’s power of love.