I read this Guardian interview with Stephen Hawking, and decided to address it in my sermon yesterday at Cherry Creek Presbyterian Church. Here's some prominent excerpts from the interview:
You've said there is no reason to invoke God to light the blue touchpaper. Is our existence all down to luck?
Science predicts that many different kinds of universe will be spontaneously created out of nothing. It is a matter of chance which we are in.
So here we are. What should we do?
We should seek the greatest value of our action.
You had a health scare and spent time in hospital in 2009. What, if anything, do you fear about death?
I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I'm not afraid of death, but I'm in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first. I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.
When I ruminated upon Hawking's thoughts, I came to a series of conclusions.
First, I believe Hawking is mostly right about fairy stories. I think most of what humans put their faith and hope in really are fairy stories. Most of the things we use to comfort us are fleeting. But not all of those things.
Second, notice that Hawking is not a careful philosopher. In rapid succession, he says that the universe is created from chance and that we should seek the greatest value of our action. But, in a universe created by chance, in which there is no plan or purpose, there cannot be an eternal, outside-of-time value system that makes one action filled with more or less value than any other. In other words, the idea of chance and value do not go together. Hawking's worldview is internally inconsistent.
Lastly, the charge that Hawking levels against people who believe in an afterlife is a remarkably short-sighted one. Why? Because we all hope in something. Atheistic thought, in which the world is here by accident, truly permits a do-what-you-want kind of lifestyle. It isn't that all atheists are completely selfish people, but atheism permits it. If there is no God, and there is no ultimate moral reckoning, then we can do what we want. In other words, atheism is it's own sort of fairy story, allowing for one's entire hope to be put into sensual desires. We all hope in something.
As a brief aside, despite the fact that many of the new atheists (see here for example) attempt to construct a reasonable universal morality from sociology and brain chemistry, they can only tell us that we have a moral system. They still cannot answer the question why certain things must always be right and certain things must always be wrong. Survival of the fittest and evolutionary biology does not answer for altruism, or completely selfless actions that harm self.
Returning to the matter at hand, I began to muse upon the fact that we really do all hope in something. Even the hopeless hope in a world without pain, or sadly, a world without themselves. But we all place our hope in something beyond ourselves. It's a truly human thing to do.
The trick, then, is to hope in the right thing. Or to hope in the right person.