An open letter to Professor Stephen Hawking in response to his latest comments on the existence of heaven…
Dear. Professor Hawking-
In light of your recent comments that “heaven or afterlife” is “a fairy story for people afraid of the dark” I would like to a make a wonderful deal with you. This deal will add integrity both of our fields, science and theology. Truth be told, it’s a deal that needed to be struck back in 1632. But I digress…
Here is my deal proposal: You stick to science and I’ll stick to theology. So from now on, if you promise to keep your work focused on science and steer your scientific observations clear from faith and theology, then I promise I’ll keep my work focused on theology and keep my theological observations clear from scientific knowledge, discovery, and inquiry while encouraging others to do the same. (As a token of good faith, Kirk Cameron, this also applies to you.)
Science and theology could carry on side by side quite civilly, don’t you think? After all, theological discussion has no business making or evaluating scientific theories of physics, biology, geology, and cosmology. By the same token, science has no business informing theology, specifically the existence of God, heaven, and philosophical questions of existentialism, i.e. Why are we here? What is our purpose? What is our role? What happens when we die?
Professor Hawking, I have always had a deep degree of respect for you and your work, and I still do. Your theories in physics and cosmology have been an invaluable gift not just to science but to all of humanity. And your courage to face and live through the painful ordeal of ALS has encouraged and inspired generations of people, especially those with disabilities and their families. All told, your life’s work will reverberate through the annals of scientific research and knowledge for many years to come.
However, just as it surely irks you to no end when religion meddles with science, people of faith become equally irked when science meddles with religious belief. I neither need or desire a scientist to tell me whether or not God or heaven exists. Yet this kind of thing happens when the roles of science and religion get mixed up and cross over into answering questions that neither is properly tasked or equipped to answer.
We each have our separate but complementary fields of inquiry, Professor Hawking.
Science best answers the empirical questions of “what”, “where” and “how.” I look to you and others within the field of science to explain the physical make up and mechanics of the world and the universe. According to all we know of mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology, how did our world and the universe come to be as it is? What is it made of? What does it do and how does it do it? According to what we know of mathematics, physics, chemistry, and biology, what will it become in the future?
Faith and theology, on the other hand, best answer the philosophical questions of “who” and “why” and the non-empirical, metaphysical questions of “what” and “how”. Who are we? What is the purpose of the world and universe? Of what value are we and to whom? Is there a Reality (God, heaven) beyond the world I can empirically see, touch, hear, and taste? What is that Reality? How and where does that Reality intersect the physical/empirical world? What is the end? What happens when I reach my end?
So as you can see, professor Hawking, we both operate together, side by side, responding to vastly different questions and inquiries which together provide a full-color lens through which we can begin to understand the make-up and nature of us human beings, our world, and the whole cosmos. Since the days of Galileo up until now, we’ve had a hard time learning to mutually respect and accept one another. We’ve made some steps towards peacefully co-existing as separate sides of the same human ontological coin. Obviously we still have a long way to go.
Yet, you as a scientist and I as a pastor can make a deal today. We can sign a pact with which we can encourage others within our respective fields. You and your colleagues can agree to stick to science. And religious teachers, preachers, leaders, and I can agree to stick to faith and theology. I can teach and preach that ” The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands” (Psalm 19:1) and you can write and teach the theoretical cosmology and quantum gravitational properties of that same universe. Together, we paint one gloriously beautiful picture on the same canvas. How about if we agree to paint from our own pallets?
Rev. Christopher D. Owens