First, Rob Bell told us that hell does not exist. Now, the famed cosmologist Stephen Hawking has told us that heaven does not exist.
The afterlife, it seems, has fallen on hard times.
In an exclusive interview with London’s Guardian newspaper, Hawking unequivocally stated last week that “there is no heaven or afterlife.” His daring claim serves as a tease for his upcoming lecture in which he will attempt to answer the question, “Why are we here?” Bottom line? Hawking says that there is only one rational (?) explanation for why we inhabit our universe: “It is a matter of chance.”
While Hawking cannot see heaven through the lens of his telescope, he does have it in his crosshairs. As if dismissing the afterlife was not enough, Hawking went on the offensive, insulting those who do believe in a world beyond this one. Amid his scientific musings, Hawking added a cheap shot, saying…
“[Heaven is] a fairy tale for people afraid of the dark.”
This most recent theological reflection by Hawking comes on the heels of his 2010, pot-stirring book The Grand Design. In that work, Hawking set out to show that the concept of God is unnecessary for understanding the existence of our universe. “The universe is self-explanatory,” he wrote. Hawking went on to conclude, “It is not necessary to invoke God” to explain our origin. Believing that the theories outlined in his book convincingly explain our beginning, Hawking added “There is now nothing for a Creator to do.” Thus, Hawking has reaffirmed the words of Nietzsche, “God is dead.”
Stephen Hawking’s ideas, no doubt, raise some worthwhile questions. Furthermore, given his level of respectability within the scientific and academic communities, his notions have gained a following. Even he has to admit that you don’t sell 9 million books by “chance.” Such a feat requires a degree of intelligence, and, um…dare I say it, design(?). Still, Hawking’s analysis warrants some biblical reflection.
1. Hawking’s claims reveal the sad, but inevitable, Romans 1 slippery slope.
The universe that Stephen Hawking marvels over is a gift. Sadly, he has embraced the gift while ignoring (even insulting) the Gift-giver.
The one refreshing aspect of Hawking’s statements is the sheer consistency that he has with his worldview. Hawking is a naturalist or materialist. In other words, he believes, simply, that “what you see is what you get.” The only things that exist are those things we can detect with our senses. No matter if it is as large as the Andromeda galaxy or as small and mysterious as a subatomic particle, if it can be weighed, measured, and scientifically examined, then it is feasible and preferable in Hawking’s opinion. This precludes anything invisible like angels, heaven, or God.
To his credit, Hawking’s worldview leads him to appreciate the intricate details and beauty of our world in a way that puts most Christians to shame. He understands the impressive nature of scientific laws and the remarkable order within our world. There is no doubt about it that Hawking values the natural. Unfortunately, he values it so much that he leaves no room for the supernatural. This, however, is not unprecedented. Romans 1 predicts just such a connection.
In essence Hawking has fulfilled the biblical prediction of Romans 1:25. He has
“exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator.”
Romans 1:20 says,
“For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen…”
The order and design that Hawking admits is present in our universe are the very fingerprints of God. Nevertheless, some refuse to accept it. Verse 21 explains,
“For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God.”
As a result,
“They became futile in their speculations and their foolish heart was darkened.”
It is safe to say that Hawking’s latest ideas fall within the category of “futile speculations.”
As the apologist, Ravi Zacharias, has said, “Man’s problem is not a lack of evidence. It is the suppression of evidence.” God has given us plenty of proof in our world that He exists. The problem does not lie around us (our universe), it lies within us (our hearts).
Romans 1:22 provides the appropriate label for those, like Hawking, who slide down this slippery slope,
“Professing to be wise, they became fools.”
2. Hawking’s claims about God and heaven are more rooted in arrogance than science.
Claims about God, heaven and the afterlife are not matters of cosmology. They are matters of theology.
When he starts talking about the existence of God and heaven, Hawking is dabbling in a realm outside of his arena of expertise. In The Grand Design, Hawking even admitted that his statements are “on the borderline between science and religion.”
Granted, everyone is a theologian in some form or fashion. However, that does not mean that everyone’s religious ideas deserve an equal hearing, let alone a following; especially those beliefs that remove the “theos” (God) from theology.
Furthermore, as Al Mohler has pointed out, whatever idea that Hawking has about God “seems to imagine [Him] only in terms of deistic deity.” In other words, God, if He were to exist, should only be embraced as the great First Cause of all causes. If, per chance, God did get the universe started, it seems clear, to individuals like Hawking, that He sure has little, if anything, to do with it today.
While some would like to see this kind of acknowledgement from the scientific community, it may not be quite the breakthrough that some imagine it to be. Such an understanding of God ultimately strips Him of His personhood. Such a view merely sees God as a means to an end.
Deism, while arguably preferable to atheism, is a far cry from Christianity. We must not allow the One true God to be reduced to a mere scientific notion. God is not just the Causer of all things. He is the Sovereign Creator and Providential Sustainer Who gives meaning to our world – both the seen parts as well as the unseen ones. Were Hawking to concede that God does exist, chances are it would ultimately be very little to get excited about.
In the midst of his bold claims about life and death, Hawking does show a bit of honest transparency. He said, “I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first.”
Let’s pray that his to-do list includes a reevaluation of his beliefs about God and the afterlife before it’s too late.