Stephen Hawking, Heaven and The Wright Brothers. .

May 19, 2011

    Stephen Hawking got a lot of attention this week when he declared that there is no heaven. Thank goodness we cleared that up. I can only assume – since he did not elaborate – that the world-renowned physicist believes that physics precludes the likelihood of an afterlife. I guess I’m glad I’m not as smart as Stephen Hawking, because I tend to trip over my own intellect as it is.

There's faith involved whether you believe in heaven or believe there's no such thing.

    The funny thing is, physics told us at one time that man would never fly. Not in the dark ages, mind you. In 1902. I don’t presume to know much about physics, beyond the observable phenomena around me. But I know that physics has laws. And laws are something I do understand; they’re my stock-in-trade. One thing I know for certain when I come across a law: someone wrote it. The laws of physics are immutable, permanent, and probably unified in a way we don’t yet understand. I suspect they have an author.

    Einstein, as most physicists since, believed that the universe was governed by a unified field theory that explained all the forces of nature in a unified way. We’ve barely scratched the surface of understanding unified field theory. Another 100 years and we probably still won’t. Because it’s frankly all too big for us.

    It strikes me as a little ridiculous to suggest that physics disproves heaven, much in a way that it would strike me as ridiculous for an ant, with its limited understanding of the material world, to argue that an internal combustion engine is a conceptual impossibility. What we humans have been able to do so far, with all our alleged understanding, is to describe the universe. We can’t yet explain it. Given that fact, is it a leap to suggest that our understanding of the universe might be as far from the whole truth as the ant’s understanding of the internal combustion engine? I’m probably not even giving enough credit to the ant. After all, not that long ago, we used physics to prove that man would never fly.

    For me God shows up in the very big and the very small. The universe: big. Twenty-four-hour increments of sobriety: small. Both are miracles in their own way. So with all due respect to Stephen Hawking (I am an admirer of his, incidentally), I prefer the Wright Brothers’ approach. It took faith to believe that man could fly. It frankly took faith to believe man couldn’t fly, too. But the former approach started with the premise that we don’t know what we don’t know until we know. And I don’t think we’re anywhere near knowing what we don’t know. You may believe that there is no heaven. But you don’t know it any more than an ant knows that –  not only is there such a thing as an internal combustion engine – but space travel  is possible.

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