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Hawking pontifications on ‘heaven’

May 18th, 2011 · No Comments

Thus saith Stephen Hawking: Ain’t no heaven

Stephen Hawking, a brilliant though handicapped physicist, has a solid place in history through his discovery of black holes in interstellar space. Unfortunately, he has long since moved outside his own expertise in saying repeatedly that there is no hereafter.

This statement misses the point: it is not a question of expertise. Theologians have none, physicists have none, on metaphysical questions such as these.
As so often scientists pick some questionable idea and then attack on that basis. The idea of heaven is clearly the end result of mythological decline. What was the original idea? In fact, the question is obscure. Nirvana, the very real state beyond states depicted in Buddhism? It is hard to say.

But the point here is that criticisms like this are too easy, too pat, for a person of Hawking’s caliber. Why indulge in this kind of bad critique? I am not an accomodationist, but I understand their fear that this kind of sophmoric behavior betrays Hawking’s intellectual limits. He is clearly in total monofocus on physics and its math and can’t discourse outside of that beyond a few cliches.
The issue of heaven is ‘fold’, I should say, for Xtians. Like everything else they have wiseacred it is beyond serious defense. Which doesn’t really mean that the deep content of the (original) idea has a meaning we have lost.
Let’s show how easy it is to recover the reality behind the idea: consult the literature of Kantian ethics on the question of morality and happiness, and its reserved ambiguity as to an afterlife, in some condition of judgment.
Conclusion: the original ideas of heaven and hell were declines from something not unlike Kant’s question mark. He little wished to dogmatize about the afterlife, but stumbled on a tantalizing clue in his discussions of ethics.
To spell out what is the unspoken: the implication is that life is a test, and giving away the judgmental factor of an afterlife would spoil the test. Your move.
We are given no knowldege of the conditions and outcomes of our actions. The fog of disinformation protects that moral suspense.

Meanwhile, I think Hawkins should shut up, quit while he is ahead. I grant him the frustration he must feel that he made millions letting slip the phrase ‘mind of god’ (from Einstein) in his Brief History of Time. That he should want to write another book scotching that sentiment is enough for me to forgive him here (and I am not a theist hankering after his atheism).
But I think that he is crossing a dangerous line: the new atheists at least merely pontificated about atheism, with some slight wisps of Darwinian backup, but now Hawking is doing something more: he seems to be claiming that physics backs up his views. That is a dangerous thing to do: it will discredit him, and physicists, for good Kantian reasons.
Hawking foolishly attacked philosophy. But he would do well to consider the stance of Kant here.

A study of the Tibetan Book of the Dead would yield ample warning that heaven/hell questions so distorted by Xtians are not so simple to resolve.
The stance of physics is not enough to dogmatize here.

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