Some of you no doubt find South Park to be a bit crude and maybe even offensive. But I am constantly amazed at how often their satires run so true to real life. Case in point: Stephen Hawking. In a recent interview with the Guardian Stephen Hawking had this to say:
The universe is governed by science. But science tells us that we can’t solve the equations, directly in the abstract. We need to use the effective theory of Darwinian natural selection of those societies most likely to survive. We assign them higher value.
This caused Carl Olson to quip that Hawking “does, in fact, believe in and worship a god—the name of which is ‘Science'”.
That brought to mind the two-part episode from season ten where Cartman travels into the future and discovers an Earth where everyone is now an atheist (content warning). Exclamations of “Science help us!” escape from everyone’s lips in times of trouble.
I’m not going to read too much into the South Park episodes, but they hint at a larger truth. Even atheists cannot escape religion. Near our house is something called the Washington Ethical Society. We used to drive by this place when we went to Mass in the city, and they hold weekly meetings every Sunday. Yes, it is essentially a Church for atheists. Frankly, one would think that one of the “benefits” of being an atheist is not having to go to Church on Sunday, but for these atheists they can’t escape the Sunday obligation. I don’t know if they sing hymns to science but I’m sure their gatherings are something to behold.
At any rate, there’s more from Olson as well as Msgr. Charles Pope on Hawking’s philosophy. Msgr. Pope is troubled by where Hawking’s philosophy trends (the part in bold is from the article, the rest is Msgr. Pope):
When asked what is the value of knowing why are we here, Hawking replied, “The universe is governed by science. But science tells us that we can’t solve the equations, directly in the abstract. We need to use the effective theory of Darwinian natural selection of those societies most likely to survive. We assign them higher value.” This is so limiting. It is also philosophy, not science to say this. Mr Hawking is entitled to have a philosophy, but when he says the world is “governed by science” and then goes on to philosophize, that looks pretty silly and contradictory. Further, Mr. Hawking, if you ask me, is edging dangerously close to eugenics in what he says here. What exactly assigning a “higher value” to certain societies looks like as a practical matter is uncertain in what he says, but I sense a growing darkness here, not light. Margaret Sanger and Adolph Hitler may well be smiling as he says this. BEWARE!
The first commenter objected to Msgr. Pope’s anaology*, but it happens to be spot on. Readings Hawking it is tough not to draw another cultural analogy, this time to C.S. Lewis’s That Hideous Strength. That novel is the third part of Lewis’s space trilogy, and the plot revolves around the British Government’s new scientific institute, the National Institute for Coordinated Experiments (NICE). The institute does some awful stuff in the name of science and progress, and the novel itself serves as a warning against the utopian promises of over-eager rationalists.
Hawking might be a brilliant physicist, but he should leave theology to the grownups.
* On a tangential note, I find myself getting more agitated by a trend in comments sections. Why do people feel that they can completely discard the rules of grammar, capitalization and punctuation when they write comments on blogs? The commenter on Msgr. Pope’s blog – the inaptly named Sophia – decided to take the opportunity to insinuate that atheists were smarter than religious people, all the while failing to capitalize a single word in her screed. Why should I take anyone seriously when they can’t even obey the simple rules of the English language? No, we’re not writing dissertations here, but if you can’t even be bothered to hit the shift key before typing the first letter of the first word of your sentences, then I will automatically discount anything you have to say. I can understand typos as I’m sure there might be one or two above, and I’m not a perfect grammar student. But can you at least make an effort to write properly on a discussion forum?