Will Science Win?

Last Sunday I referred to Diane Sawyer’s interview with Stephen Hawking on ABC news. Check it out:

I have a tremendous amount of respect for Stephen Hawking. He is an amazing individual with a brilliant mind. He is passionate and deeply committed to gaining and sharing knowledge about the universe.

One of the challenges of preaching through a book like Genesis in 2011 is that many people agree with Hawking. According to Stephen Hawking,

There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, and science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works.

What he means is that science works without the authority of God. It is possible to explain the universe without belief in God. In fact it often feels like “life works” without God too. We can experience some great times in life without belief in God.

Near the end of the interview Hawking shares some advice that he’s passed on to his children:

First, remember to look up at the stars and not at your feet.

Second, never give up work. Work gives you purpose and meaning and life is empty without it.

Third, if you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is rare, and don’t throw it away.

What’s striking to me is how un-scientific his advice actually is. His advice truly is beautiful because it sounds more like poetry than scientific method.

Earlier in the interview Diane Sawyer’s asked:

If the universe gave you a giant gift tomorrow, an answer, what’s the answer you’d most want?

Hawking answered,

I’d want to understand why the universe exists, why there is something rather than nothing.

Hawking’s advice to his children comes from his belief that there is a reason why we exist; why there is something rather than nothing. According to Hawking, we exist to gaze at the stars, be productive in work, and fall in love. His advice does not come from his scientific discoveries about the origins of the universe; it comes from faith.

As interesting and important as the how questions in life are, it is the why questions that really inspire us, give us hope, and make our lives meaningful. We cannot answer why questions through scientific observation, but only through reasonable faith.

Science will not win over religion because science and religion are not at odds with one another to begin with. To say that Science will win over religion is like saying that the San Francisco Giants will win over the San Francisco 49ers.

The beauty of the book of Genesis is that it is most concerned with answering the question of why we exist. Genesis is ultimately the beginning of God’s story of grace and salvation extended to all people in Jesus Christ. When we understand this, it changes the way we read the book. To really deal with the integrity of Genesis, we need to deal with Jesus.


About David Lee

I am the pastor of New Life Mission Church of Fremont meeting in Newark, CA. I live in Fremont with my wife and three children. In my former life I was a history teacher at Irvington High School in Fremont. I love watching and discussing movies (but not at the same time), playing board games, hiking, visiting local cafes, and watching and complaining about (at the same time) Bay Area sports.
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2 Responses to Will Science Win?

  1. David Lee says:

    Mike, thanks for dropping by and making some insightful points!

    I found your explanation of the difference between religious belief and scientific belief particularly helpful. I agree that scientific method is fundamentally based on substantiating a belief (proving a hypothesis). This is what Hawking means I think when he says that science is based on observation and reason.

    I took Hawking’s problem with religious authority differently than you did here though. You felt that he might have been referring to the social authority religion holds over people “as a club.” I think he’s really pointing to your problem of skipping “the substantiation step.” When Hawking says that religion is based on authority I think he is pointing to what he considers unsubstantiated belief that holds authority based (illegitimately) on an unsubstantiated God. Hawking values science because it works, it substantiates, it is solid. He is uncomfortable with religion (and a little dismissive of it) because it is unsubstantiated, it doesn’t work, it is ephemeral.

    But what if God is self-substantiated? Tim Keller once gave a brilliant illustration about our knowledge of God based on Shakespeare’s relationship with his fictional character Hamlet. He said that it would be impossible for Hamlet to know (substantiate) the existence of Shakespeare unless he wrote himself into the story. This is in effect what God has done in the Bible. The Bible is the story of God in human history, culminating in the historical incarnation of Jesus.

    I have absolutely no problem with the scientific need to substantiate belief. I can think of no better way to understand the natural cosmos. When it comes to God, and the deep questions of life, the “why” questions, I think that science must fail. If there is a God worth worshipping (not just a glorified superhuman or philosophical part of nature but a distinct, personal, and good Creator who makes life meaningful) then God must be self-substantiated.

    Of course the whole point of my post was that it is not a zero-sum game. Science wins when it helps us with the “how” questions which require substantiation. Religion (and I am admittedly biased in my belief that Biblical Christianity does this most faithfully) wins when it helps us with the “why” questions that require faith in a self-substantiated God.

  2. Mike says:

    I think perhaps Hawking was truly talking about what his words said–he was talking about the clash between religion and science. That’s different from discussing belief and science.

    Religion is a club–an organization. Many, in fact. And yes, religion has traditionally “taken on” Science in an adversarial way. We know that organizations typically do this when they feel threatened. And Science is itself a club–a religion–or is approached that way by many, anyway.

    But I agree that science is not intrinsically at odds with belief. Intuition (belief-based) must always lead in scientific pioneering thrusts. Then the rest of science seeks to catch up with it, to prove that the intuition is substantiable.

    Too often leaders from the religious world seek to skip the substantiation step (except through scripture and the communicated beliefs of other former religious leaders). Substantiating through math or measurement is tedious. It’s not jazzy like intuition is. It’s not as powerful at forging ahead. It takes all the fun out of it.

    But substantiating has its place, at least to those who reserve their belief until they have a lot of measurable data. Those people constitute half the human race, and we can’t just write them off. Scientific method is valuable.

    But it always follows the intuitive thrust–the belief, the hunch, the feeling. Yes, Hawking is right, Science will win. But when it does, it is simply proving that the belief which it upholds will win. They’ll both win.

    All the other rival beliefs that contradict the ones upheld by measurement would of course fall into doubt. There are a billion beliefs, and not all of them have much to do with substantiable fact. Those that do not may still have some value–a belief can be good to those who hold it even if it proves to be false, just like a dream does its job whether or not it ever comes true.

    Then there are the beliefs who never get proven but are never disproven either. They remain the stuff of Religion. Humanity is limited and can only prove the most obvious, clumsy of hunches. The rest? Some are no doubt true, others nonsense. On most, we have to accept we’ll never know one way or the other except through feeling.

    I don’t think Hawking was saying Science is at odds with Belief. Merely with certain clubs who reject it’s stodgy methods.

    My humble opinions!

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