Burke’s Corner has this to say about Hawking’s grand assertions. I very much agree. Click in to see all the comments.
The media’s frenzy over Stephen Hawking’s forthcoming book is an unfortunately predictable episode in the phony war between science and faith. Phony, because the discourse of science explores different questions to the discourse of faith. It is this which Hawking has failed to recognise, as Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has highlighted:
There is a difference between science and religion. Science is about explanation. Religion is about interpretation. The Bible simply isn’t interested in how the universe came into being … But there is more to wisdom than science. It cannot tell us why we are here or how we should live. Science masquerading as religion is as unseemly as religion masquerading as science.
In his failure to exercise modesty in his pursuit of scientific knowledge, Hawking makes a particularly startling claim – that "philosophy is dead". From Plato and Aristotle to Maimonides and Aquinas to Kant and Hegel, Hawking dismisses how the human mind across cultures and millenia has reflected on transcendence and humanity’s place in a vast universe. Hawking’s lack of humility before this endeavour is staggering. In her Absence of Mind, Marilynne Robinson rightly states that this approach to science excludes "the whole enterprise of metaphysical thought", despite metaphysical reflection being a defining characteristic of the human experience.
Amidst the claims for M-theory, however, it has been refreshing to read a restatement of the modesty which should be exercised in the scientific vocation. In the Guardian, mathematician Eric Priest compares Hawking’s claims with the humility that should be at the core of the pursuit of scientific knowledge:
As a scientist, you are continually questioning, rarely coming up with a definitive answer. The limitations of your own knowledge and expertise together with the beauty and mystery of life and the universe often fill you with a sense of profound humility. Thus, unequivocal assertions are not part of a genuine scientific quest.
Hawking’s claims contribute nothing to the dialogue that should occur between science and the world’s great faith traditions – they have the same value as the claims of the fundamentalists who rail against Darwin. It might make for good headlines, but nothing more. Hawking has not just demeaned faith and philosophy. He has also demeaned science.
Indeed, I think so. But that doesn’t mean that Hawking is wrong. But science has become subjective opining. Come to think of it, that is classical philosophy.