In a comment to a recent post Timaeus makes a fantastic point about basing one’s ultimate beliefs on a scientific theory in a state of flux. All that follows is his:
If one were to try to derive knowledge of God from the latest discoveries of science, modern cosmology is not a good science to choose. It changes almost yearly. One cannot read the science news without discovering, several times a year, claims that major aspects of cosmology — quasars, black holes, the big bang, dark matter, dark energy — need to be radically rethought or perhaps even abandoned, due to new measurements which show that X can’t possibly account for what it was supposed to account for. Why would one base one’s theology (or worse, one’s personal faith) on a field as mercurial as this?
By contrast, one doesn’t read science headlines like: “Flash! Science now proves that iron is really a non-metal!” or “Faraday proved wrong about the existence of a relationship between electricity and magnetism,” or “Harvey’s theory of the circulation of the blood debunked by scientists at the Wistar Institute.” A theology based on basic electromagnetic theory, or on the classical modern discoveries in physics, chemistry, physiology, and anatomy, would have some wings to fly with. A theology based on very tentative areas of science, such as cosmology, or evolutionary theory, or string theory, or chaos theory, is going to be as tentative as the science from which it extrapolates.
In short, even if everything Hawking says about the physical universe is true, his theological and philosophical pronouncements are vacuous nonsense; and it is questionable whether the entire field of intellectual endeavor in which this genius has occupied himself is stable enough to provide a secure basis for any extrapolation from science to metaphysics. I certainly would not care to revise any of my religious beliefs or theological formulations on the basis of the speculations of Hawking (any more than I would revise them based on the speculations of Mayr, Dobzhansky, or Dawkins). But if I were to revise my theology based on Hawking’s science, I would make my own extrapolations; I would never rely on his.
It is so amusing. We are told over and over again that scientists should stay out “fields” in which they have no training. We are told that Behe should stay out of evolutionary theory because his “field” is not biology but only biochemistry. We are told Dembski should stay out of evolutionary theory because his “field” is probability theory, not biology. But when Hawking pronounces on matters of theology and philosophy, the entire world of science journalism opens its doors to him, and broadcasts his most casual obiter dicta as if they are profound truths. Yet Hawking is far, far less competent to talk about God than either Behe or Dembski are to talk about evolutionary theory.
The double standard is plain for all to see. If you are against conventional religious belief, if you are against the idea of design in nature, you can say anything you want about fields in which you are ignorant and untrained, and no one will complain about your violation of specialist boundaries. If you hold to the reigning secular humanism practiced by the so-called “elite” scientists, you can get away with spewing any crap that you like. And what Hawking spews about God and creation out of nothingness is sub-academic, sub-intellectual crap, and should be identified as such.
Einstein’s sophomoric ventures into theology were bad enough, but they do not appear to have been animated by hostility to religious belief as such; but Hawking’s apparently more calculated strikes at religious belief, based on a theological understanding even more naive than Einstein’s, is beyond even the most generous tolerance levels that a theologian or philosopher can extend to dilettante materialist scientists. The world needs to be told that Hawking is completely incompetent to speak on the subjects he is addressing.