I always enjoyed keeping up with Stephen Hawkins, and I always enjoyed reading his books, particularly whenever he ventured a theory of “everything.” So, I was sad to hear that he had passed away, even though I’m hopeful his soul now resides in heaven, even if he never believed that would be the case. Stephen Hawkins was an atheist, remember. He held no belief in God. People sometimes think this was maybe because he was such a good scientist, which he was. But, sadly, I would say, I think it’s because he was such a bad philosopher, which is also true and right.
Hawkins was notorious for shrugging off philosophy, feeling as if science was the only necessary—really, the only acceptable—way of knowing anything. I feel if he wouldn’t have done this, he wouldn’t have held such scientifically unsubstantiated and scientifically unsubstantiate-able beliefs about God. For one, Hawkins believed that because there’s something like the law of gravity, we know why there’s something rather than nothing. This, essentially, was the thrust of his argument in The Grand Design. But what a sophomoric philosophical error! Because what is the law of gravity, if not precisely something? So—please tell—how did it get there? Did somebody just plop it in? Did it spring out of a multiverse? (If so, why the multiverse?) And why is there this law of gravity and not some other law of gravity, or no law of gravity at all? And while physicists may be able to explain a lot FROM the law of gravity, Hawkins has done nothing to explain why the law of gravity; again, why there is something (which the law of gravity is), rather than nothing. So, this is just one of my gripes with Hawkins. And I wouldn’t be annoyed by it, if he hadn’t made so many swiping remarks at philosophers over the years. I also believe he would have been an even better scientist—and asked even better questions—if he hadn’t so arrogantly assumed such wrong-headed things about philosophy. Certainly, he wouldn’t have so arrogantly rushed to proposing answers to questions he seriously hadn’t figured out, questions from which he hadn’t even understood what the words “something” and “nothing” mean. I hope I’m not being too hard on somebody who just passed away. I have prayed for Stephen Hawkins many times, many times, indeed. And I have many good things to say about him as a person generally, but feel all this needs to be sorted out, because I could only help but notice how many of his atheist follows on Twitter were remarking about how he now knows everything there is and must be “looking down” and shaking his head about how right he was. Hold on… What? Have we forgotten what atheism is, friends? I’m sorry, but you don’t get to slam the on heaven then walk back in whenever you like. Either you deny God and deny the afterlife, or you don’t deny God and you don’t deny the afterlife. You certainly don’t get to deny God and then affirm the afterlife, which, oddly enough, atheists sometimes do. But on a philosophically consistent view of atheism, I assure you, Hawkins has no more to contemplate, because he has nothing from which to contemplate with. He is now literally nothing. I mean, I suppose you could say his particles have been redistributed, or whatever, but the essence of who he was—his consciousness, if you will—is evaporated. So, there is no way (that is, on the atheistic worldview) that this man is figuring out anything more about the universe, at this point. He’s dead. Got it? Done. Never again to be! He’s not “up there”, “looking down.” Because there no “up there” on atheism. There is only extinction. Have a nice day.
This is why I laughed somewhat at Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s tweet. I think it’s a charming tribute and all—and I’m always happy to see thoughtful sentiment, whether I agree with how they’re expressed or not—but what in the heck does it even mean, that Hawkins has become a “vacuum” that isn’t “empty”? Like a quantum vacuum? Because I agree, a quantum vacuum is *technically* something. But I seriously doubt that something is the essence of Stephen Hawking. It just seems to me like Neil’s trying to suggest Stephen hasn’t completely turned to nothing, or that he remains in some way, ethereally? God forbid he just wished the man smooth ride to heaven, and didn’t hold so religiously to his agnosticism or whatever. Even a simple RIP would do, if he wanted to be Mr. Secular about it. I guess I get annoyed with inconsistent atheism, as I get annoyed with inconsistent theism, or inconsistent anything. At least when I was an atheist, I was properly a nihilist. Nietzsche, after all, taught me well.
PS – Our philosophical differences aside, Stephen Hawking seemed a kind and generous, warm-spirited man. He accomplished many things, and I find his story personally inspiring. I sincerely hope he is enjoying a peace and freedom, the likes he never thought he would come to know. I also offer my prayers and condolences to anyone who knew him and loved him, as well.
PPS – That said, I also can’t help but imagine God is walking him around, arm over his shoulder, saying, “Here Stephen, let me show you the true ‘theory of everything.’ You weren’t that far off!”