A fascinating human being died March 14 — Stephen Hawking.
Any Christian who desires to lead others to a relationship with Christ needs to be aware of Hawking, his theories, and his influence.
Hawking had the amazing ability to think very deeply and precisely (using math) but also to communicate with a popular audience. He did it with his almost totally dysfunctional body by using computer-synthesized speech, and he did it with a lightness and humor that was winsome.
Hawking, in case you missed it, was an atheist. He was not, however, mean or belligerent about it as are some public atheists, who are as off-putting to many as are mean and belligerent religious fundamentalists.
Some people only read, listen to, and quote people with whom they pretty much agree. In fact, that very act of listening to people who affirm our preconceptions prevents us from understanding and communicating with those who see things differently. Specifically, Christians can really have a hard time understanding and communicating with secularists, whether or not they are atheists.
The Apostle Paul said, “what can be known about God is evident” to ungodly and unrighteous people — everyone. God’s truth is evident because “God has shown it to them” — the ungodly. “For his [God’s] invisible attributes, that is, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen since the creation of the world, being understood through what he has made” (Romans 1:18-20, CSB).
God’s truth is available to everyone. It should be no surprise that an atheist scientist can learn true things about God’s creation even if not acknowledging a divine creator. As a result, we can learn from scientists like Hawking without agreeing with them on every point, even on an essential point.
So, we can learn things about the natural world itself from Hawking and about how our broader culture is viewing reality.
Confession: I have not read any of Hawking’s books. I am a novice when it comes to knowing what he has said, but I can still put my ear to the cultural ground and pick up the reverberations.
If you’re a non-expert like me, here are some basics on Hawking’s beliefs about God. In his 1988 book, A Brief History of Time, Hawking said, “If we discover a complete theory, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason: for then we should know the mind of God.”
Nick Watt, reporting for ABC News in 2010, said “subsequent research and observations [by Hawking] — including that of a planet orbiting a star other than our sun in 1992 — have led Hawking to believe that in the creation of our universe God is unnecessary. “One can’t prove that God doesn’t exist,” Hawking told ABC News. “But science makes God unnecessary.”
Of course, “unnecessary” doesn’t mean there is no God. It means, based on what Hawking understands from his particular perspective, he did not think it necessary for a God to have created the material universe.
Best I can tell, Hawking did not rail against people who believe in God. He said, “I believe the simplest explanation is, there is no God.”
It is just as easy for a God-believer looking at reality from a different perspective to say the opposite, which is what I did years ago when I was an atheist — I believe the simplest explanation is, there is a God. (By the way, I know I’m not as smart as Hawking, but we each work with what we have, and experience has shown that the smartest people are not always right.)
So, what does this have to do with ethics. Everything! If there is a God with expectations for righteousness and justice, then it is the guiding principle of right living. If there is no God, there is no standard beyond humanity. Humans set their own.
We do not need to be afraid of scientists or atheists. Many, many scientists believe God created the universe. And science, in general, helps us understand God’s creation. As for atheists, they don’t need our hate or fear; they need to experience the loving God as revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.