…heady stuff. Are you ready? This post is as good as any other to mention the book The Unobservable Universe by Scott M. Tyson, a “visionary” physicist, engineer, scientist, and researcher.
I first heard about through a press release, subtitled “Award-Winning Physicist Chastises Scientist For Decrying Religion.” In a interview with The Guardian, Stephen Hawking dismissed the concept of life after death, and Tyson explained how these “comments deepen the rift between the scientific and religious communities.” It sounded fascinating to me, a theologian and lover of science, and from what I read of the release (excerpted below), I agreed with Tyson.
“I think that people in general believe that scientists don’t believe in God, and that’s just not true,” said Tyson, author of The Unobservable Universe. “History is filled with scientists who were also men of faith, from Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton to Einstein. Now, I do also believe that there are other scientists who would like to prove that God doesn’t exist. These scientists might want to rain on everyone else’s parades with respect to God really, really badly. The problem is that one of the limitations of science is that science simply cannot prove the non-existence of objects and phenomena over the full spectrum of possibilities. So, while scientists may be able to prove in a scientific framework that there is no life after death, they cannot, nor should they even attempt to, prove it in a theological framework, which is the territory of faith. To do so creates unnecessary divisiveness that can serve no beneficial purpose. And that’s the line Dr. Hawking crossed – he essentially discounted the idea in both frameworks, and nothing good could come of that.”
Tyson’s concern is that Hawking’s comments deepen the rift between the scientific and religious communities, erecting hurdles that only diminish the prospects for potential good that science could do for humanity.
“Dr. Hawking is probably one of only a handful of scientists in the world who is a household name,” he added. “In many ways, he’s the captain of the team, he’s the quarterback, so when he speaks, millions of people believe he is speaking for scientists everywhere. That’s part of the weight of his celebrity on the scientific community as a whole. His comments are out of line and further complicate complex issues like stem cell research, in which faith effectively blocks the use of scientific discoveries that could heal people and ease their suffering – a concept not inconsistent with the tenets of most organized religions,” Tyson added. “But science oftentimes becomes blocked politically and socially not because the science contradicts religion, but because the argument is framed in an ‘us versus them’ context. We inadvertently challenge people to either believe in science or to believe in God, at the exclusion of the other. It’s an unreasonable and unnecessary position in which to place anyone.”
What’s worse, according to Tyson, is that people who believe in both science and faith get left out or, worse, placed into the difficult situation of needlessly choosing sides.
“Millions of people practice their faith but then also believe in the veracity of Darwin’s evolution,” he said. “Many in the scientific community view science through their faith, rather than in spite of it. When scientists discount theology in a wholesale fashion, they not only insult the faithful who discount science, but also the faithful who embrace it. It discourages and further polarizes the dialogue between the two disciplines and increases the challenges that science must overcome in its quest to better comprehend the nature of our world for the betterment of society, goals that I and many other scientists will continue to embrace.”
May 15, 2011 – News and Experts
This sparked some dialogue with me and a friend, so I decided to request a copy of the book for review.
What I received was an esoteric, high-level approach to some of the foundational questions of human existence. This was not written for laymen; rather, the language is obviously intended for someone with a solid foundation in cosmology—definitely not me. I’m sure I would have liked it if I could understand it!
The book makes extraordinary claims of taking readers on “an exciting 2,500-year journey through which they can comprehend all the phenomena in the universe” and “drastically alter[ing] the direction of human civilization in a very positive way.” If you’re interested in reading a pared-down outline of the theories and ideas presented in The Unobservable Universe, click over to Tyson’s blog.
However, the press release proved much more digestible to me. I believe that there is an afterlife—either Heaven or Hell, no in-between—and I believe that because of salvation through Jesus Christ, I am headed for Heaven.
To reject the afterlife would suck the marrow out of the foundation of my actions. My time on Earth is not pointless; it even extends beyond alleviating the temporal suffering of others. I believe many agnostics/atheists want to improve the world and help others, but without faith, actions mean little. (There is also the hedonist type, living to please themselves.) Yes, I believe that I should live for something beyond this life—I should live to alleviate eternal suffering by expanding God’s Kingdom.
There is the issue of morals: not to defend atheism/agnosticism or the “afterlife is a fairy story” camp (see links below or interview link above), but these theologies don’t correlate to an abandonment of morals; after all, “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts.” Hebrews 8:10. That is to say, God’s Law is written on the hearts of man.
Even pagan cultures in the deep jungle have basic social rules such as, no murder; adultery; theft—this is what I heard from Marilyn Laszlo, missionary to Papua New Guinea, when she spoke at The Lord’s Boot Camp. It seems to me that people know at some level what is right and what is wrong. Of course, many times the lines are blurred on ‘minor’ sins—things that wouldn’t get you jailed—but my point is that even though religion clearly outlines moral code, everybody has a conscience.
Official book website: www.theunobservableuniverse.com
- Hawking on Heaven (theness.com)
- Heroes sometimes fail: Why Stephen Hawking is wrong (sixdayscience.wordpress.com)