Sunday, July 03, 2011

Hawking No Heaven

Thoughts on The Washington Post's Stephen Hawking 'There is no Heaven...'

I haven't read Hawking's book, The Grand Design. I did read this book:
"The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief" by Francis Collins

I don't really recommend it, mostly it made me more annoyed than ever at C.S. Lewis, whom the author quotes liberally. It was full of faulty arguments about how animals aren't altruistic, so people are special (there have been psychology experiments indicating the opposite) and other such propaganda.

The only one of these Washington Post essays that I've read so far is the one by Ramdas Lamb, the ex-Hindu monk. He's also got some weak arguments. (Always a red flag when an assertion includes the word "clearly": referring to the possibility of 'spontaneous creation': "but it is clearly not something that has been proven." It's either been proven or not, adding clearly is just like raising your voice, it's a threat action, not an elucidation.)

But worse is later when he tries to combine the first law of thermodynamics (preservation of energy) with the eternal identity of a soul. This is one of those kinds of arguments that only takes one counter example to invalidate: a clay vase can be shattered, and it's components all still exist as fragments of pottery, but the vase, as an entity, is gone.

If Mr. Lamb had simply started and ended with his final paragraph he would have been a winner: "... I do not care what people choose to believe, whether they are atheist or theist, whether they believe in a soul or not. What is far more important is how we treat each other. Some of the most giving and decent people I know are atheist and some of the most vile claim to believe in a God. ..."

That's the important stuff. Not as much fun as pondering about whether a Creator-God is necessary. So on that topic I'm inclined to trust Hawking that one isn't necessary. I also think that adding one only begs the question of who, then, created God? When it was a giant turtle that was said to hold up the (flat) earth, and a wise man was asked what the turtle stands on, the reply was "another turtle, and it's turtles all the way down". Gods and meta-gods all the way up, then?

These days I'm less interested in the Big Bang and more interested in the little ones. My favorite example of "magic in the small" -- sleight of hand type stuff, not disappearing the Statue of Liberty scale spectacles -- is magnets. Magnets just can't work. They can neither attract nor repel each other, there's nothing connecting them, no solid substance to push the force across. Yet they do work, they repel (or attract) across air (or space, if you can find a vacuum). Just not something that our minds can grasp, at least not mine.

And if little pieces of rock are possessed of magic such as this, then a brain and body, with it's manifold wrinkles and sinews and purposes, can surely act across distance and connect with other beings that may be unseen but are not unfelt.

So there may not be a Creator, but there is mystery aplenty.

My thoughts at 3:00 AM, somewhere in a police headquarters basement, a little north of the Hamptons, NY.

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