Beliefnet
At the Intersection of Faith and Culture

There can be no question that Stephen Hawking is a brilliant scientist.

But he is a lousy philosopher, and an even worse theologian.

If ever it was in question, Hawking’s speech at Caltech last week established beyond doubt that the world-renowned physicist suffers from Amateur Philosopher Syndrome (APS).

Scientists, particularly popular scientists, like Hawking, are especially prone to APS. All such scientists see the world, not so much scientifically, as scientistically.  That is, they assume that there is but one legitimate tongue in which to speak of reality: the language of science.  All others are dismissed.

Three aspects of Hawking’s lecture reveal his to be a classic textbook case of APS.

First, while referring to this as a “glorious time” in which we have succeeded in coming “this close to an understanding of the laws governing us and our universe,” Hawking referred to human beings as but “mere collections of fundamental particles of nature” (emphasis added)[.]

Second, as The Daily Mail reported on Thursday, Hawking mocked “the religious position” on the origins of the universe by likening it to “the myth of an African tribe whose God vomited the Sun, Moon, and stars.”

Finally, Hawking assured his audience that, thanks to “general relativity” and “quantum theory,” we can now account for the origins of the universe without any appeals to God at all: our universe, like one foamy bubble among countless others, might just be one of an infinite number of other universes.

To the first point, the question must be posed: From whence springs the assumption that we are “mere” combinations of physical particles?  There are at least two problems with a scientist using the word “mere.”

The first is that “mere” is an evaluative, not a descriptive, a philosophical, not a scientific, term.  As Hawking uses it, is likely intended as a metaphysical—not a physical—word. It suggests insignificance.  But, scientifically speaking, it is as inappropriate to speak of the significance or insignificance of the world as it is to speak of its beauty and ugliness, or its sweetness and bitterness.  These are not attributes of the universe; they are attributes of our minds that we project onto the world.

The second problem is that “mere” is exhaustive.  To say that X is “merely” this or that is to say that it is only this or that.  Science—real science, not philosophical or ideological dogma masquerading as science—can’t speak to ultimate questions.  That’s the job of philosophy and theology.  Science can determine that we are bundles of material particles, but it most definitely cannot determine whether we are merely this.

What stuns most of all is just how illiterate in the philosophical and theological traditions of Western civilization Hawking appears.  For millennia, Jews and (later) Christians have found the idea of God “vomiting” the universe to be just as primitive, just as crass, as it strikes Hawking as being.  The reason for this is not hard to grasp: if God puked up the universe, then He didn’t create it.  Rather, the world would then flow out of God, or from some pre-existing stuff.

Jews are unique in world history in being the first to affirm the existence of one supreme God who created the world out of nothing.

This is crucial, for it is this belief that the world is distinct from, yet created in the image of, an all-good and all-wise being from which the scientific enterprise was born.  As long as the world is thought of as a distinct creation of God, it is assumed to be both rational and good, i.e. a proper object of study.

In short, neither science nor the scientist Stephen Hawking ever would have arisen had it not been for this conception of divine creation that Hawking ridicules without having grasped.

There is one last point that bears mentioning.

The notion of a sea of “universes” that Hawking invokes is both logically troublesome and theologically irrelevant.   The word “universe” is a synonym for “everything.”  So, claiming that there is an infinite number of “universes” makes about as much sense as claiming that there is an infinite number of “everythings.”

But even if there is some sense to be had from the idea of multiple universes, and even if these universes have always existed, this doesn’t for a moment circumvent the fundamental question: Why is there something rather than nothing?  This is what we want to know when we ask about the beginning of the universe.

And, contrary to Hawking, explaining the existence of a universe by referring back, and only back, to the universe itself is like accounting for one’s own existence by looking no further than oneself.

The verdict: Hawking hasn’t come close to showing that we can dispense with the God hypothesis in explaining the presence of the universe.

The alleged culprits behind the Boston Marathon bombing have been found.  Yet all along, leftist have wanted for nothing other than for it to be revealed that white men are responsible for the attack.

Only the self-delusional and the deceptive, the ignoramus and the liar, will deny that over the course of the last five decades, our politically correct zeitgeist has demonized white men while idealizing every other group.  The left has been remarkably successful at commandeering the culture with The Script: an anti-white, anti-Christian, and anti-male narrative.

According to The Script, the universe, much like it is depicted in, say, the Star Wars mythos, is a rather simple place.  Like the fictional universe of Star Wars, the fictional universe of the leftist’s imaginings is defined by a perpetual contest between the forces of good and the forces of evil.  Unlike that of Star Wars, though, the epic battle at the heart of the leftist’s fantasy world is essentially racial in character: White Christian (heterosexual) men constitute the evil Empire from which the rebel alliance of non-whites, non-Christians, women, and homosexuals seek emancipation.

The latest script writer is Salon.com writer David Sirota.  His article, “Let’s Hope the Boston Marathon Bomber is a White American,” is instructive for several reasons.  First, Sirota expresses as loudly and clearly as anyone the left’s wish that the culprits behind the Boston bombing are white.  Secondly, trading in such stock leftist ideas as “white privilege,” Sirota supplies us with insight into The Script.  Finally, in bringing The Script to bear upon this one episode, Sirota’s piece discloses a truth that far too many on the right still refuse to acknowledge: virtually every episode in American political life is determined by The Script.

In other words, every political issue is determined by the left’s obsession to effectively eradicate every last vestige of the culture invented by whites generally, and white men in particular.

Far from unveiling some idiosyncratic wish on his part, Barack Obama represented his fellow travelers on the left when he pledged to “fundamentally transform” the country, for to transform anything is to destroy it.  Take, for instance, a seed.  A seed must first die before the new life, the plant or the crop, can spring from it.  Or consider a caterpillar.  A caterpillar must essentially die, must cease being a caterpillar, before it can come to life as a butterfly.  Jesus, too, references the need for “fundamental transformation” when He instructs His disciples that lest they be “born again,” they will not be able to partake of eternal life.

Transformation necessarily demands the extinction of its subject.  Hence, when Obama promised to transform America, he basically promised to perfect the old leftist program of a sort of cultural or symbolic genocide.

More accurately, the culture upon which Obama and the left set their sights, the universe that is center stage in The Script, is what we may call John Wayne’s World. Indeed, The Script itself may as well be called, Kill the Duke.

From the leftist’s vantage point, the traditional or historical face of America is basically that of John Wayne’s—and the Duke signifies everything that is wrong in the world.  A particularly masculine white Christian man, the persona that Wayne brilliantly succeeded in crafting epitomized the rugged, but law-revering, individualism that leftists detest.  “God, Guns, and Guts made America Free,” may be the saying plastered on the memorabilia of many an American patriot, but the Duke is its incarnation.

Whether battling the Japanese in one of his World War II films, American Indians in one of John Ford’s Western classics, or dragging Maureen O’Hara miles across Ireland before doing battle with her bully of a brother, Wayne was unapologetically, even pathologically, un-politically correct.  He resolutely defied The Script.  Moreover, he did so without dropping a sweat.

When leftists look back on America, it is John Wayne’s America—Wayne’s World—that they see.  And while they have made awesome strides in relegating this America to the dustbin of history, whenever The Script is resisted or thwarted, it is due, as far as they are concerned, to the ghost of the Duke rising again.

From immigration to “gay marriage”; abortion to capital punishment; Obamacare to allowing open homosexuals in the military and women in combat; “gun-control” to “affirmative action,” there is scarcely a conceivable issue over which they fight that the left doesn’t regard as a battle in the war to kill the Duke.  It is crucial that we grasp this.

It is also crucial that we realize that this is why the left wants to find a new white villain responsible for the Boston Marathon bombing.

 

 

On Tuesday, April 9th, a man with a knife went on a rampage at Lone Star College near Houston, Texas.

Fourteen people were stabbed.

On Wednesday, April 10th, USA Today covered the attack, reassuring readers that knife attacks like these “are rare.”

Is it a stretch to think that USA Today, along with the left-leaning bane-stream media that it represents, has an interest invested in marginalizing this episode?

The question, clearly, is rhetorical.  The bane-stream media, as everyone well knows, consists overwhelmingly of liberal partisans who have repeatedly revealed their commitment to advancing the Democratic Party’s agenda generally and so-called “gun control” specifically. These media partisans are well aware of the fact that stories like that coming out of Texas threaten to expose weaknesses in the narrative that they’ve co-authored with their fellow ideologues in Washington D.C.

According to this narrative, gun shootings of the kind that occurred in Newtown, Connecticut back in December are all too common in our gun-obsessed culture.  Thus, at all costs, “we” must do what “we” can to insure that Newtown isn’t repeated.  Translation: politicians must impose ever more stringent restrictions upon the Second Amendment.

Second translation: the federal government must assume even more power to wield over the citizenry (if that’s possible to imagine) as it gradually, through toddler steps, repeals Americans’ right to bear arms.

This is the truth of the matter.  Yet the Second Amendment deniers are not interested in truth, for if they were, they wouldn’t be so intent upon concealing their inconsistencies.

For example, while it is indeed the case that mass knife attacks are rare, it is equally true that mass gun shootings are rare—a point that Second Amendment defenders have been making ad infinitum.  The implications are obvious to all who would make the most meager of mental efforts.

The Second Amendment denier argues that anti-knife legislation to prevent mass knife attacks is unnecessary because such attacks are rare.  But if this is so, then it follows that neither is anymore anti-gun legislation necessary, for mass gun attacks are no less rare than mass knife attacks.

If, as he is sure to do, the Second Amendment Denier maintains course, then consistency requires his support for “knife control.”

Both knives and guns are potentially dangerous.  Both are used by the wicked and the deranged in mass attacks, however rare these may be.  If it is true that guns kill, it is no less true that knives (to say nothing of all sorts of other things) kill as well.

So, why are the Second Amendment deniers not calling for knife-control?  Why is this mass knife attack one crisis that they will let go to waste?

Considering that the leftist has always styled himself its champion extraordinaire, it may come as a shock to hear that part of the answer to this question lies in the Second Amendment denier’s resentment toward equality.  At any rate, there is a certain kind of equality that the Second Amendment encourages—but which he despises.

In all of world history there is no weapon ever conceived that has done more to put the most powerful and the weakest on an equal footing.  The gun is the great equalizer.  With a pistol in her hand, and without breaking a sweat, a frail, 90 year-old woman can send with lightning speed the strongest, most merciless young punk to the morgue.

Where there is this kind of equality in one’s ability to defend oneself, there is an equality of power.  But when power is equally distributed, then no one is utterly dependent upon anyone else.  Do you see where this is going?  As the First Amendment prevents government—the biggest bully on the block—from attaining a monopoly on speech, so does the Second Amendment prevent it from attaining a monopoly on self-defensive force.

To put it succinctly, because guns supply everyone, the weak no less than the strong, with easy means to defend themselves, an armed citizenry remains the largest obstacle to the formation of a tyrannical government.

This is why there won’t be any calls for knife-control.

And it is this that explains why calls for “gun-control” will continue.

 

 

The name of “Russell Kirk” is heard seldom, if ever, in conservative circles today.  This is tragic, and maybe even a bit scandalous, for as William F. Buckley—a person whose name is well known—once said, it “is inconceivable even to imagine, let alone hope for, a dominant conservative movement in America without [Kirks’] labor.”

Given all of the current talk over the need for a reawakening to conservative “principles,” we are in need of Kirk’s guidance today more than ever.

The author of 32 books and legions of essays, this World War II veteran was a college educator, novelist, intellectual historian, and political theorist.  At Buckley’s request, Kirk helped to found National Review, a publication to which he contributed for many years.  He also founded his own magazine, Modern Age.  Kirk gave over 60 lectures to the Heritage Foundation, where he was a Distinguished Fellow, and was very much involved with the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.  In 1989, five years before his illustrious life came to a close, Kirk was granted the Presidential Citizens Medal by President Ronald Reagan.

Conservatism, Kirk explained, is neither a doctrine nor a dogma, but “a way of looking at the civil social order.”  Still, from looking at the “leading conservative writers and public men” from “the past two centuries,” Kirk gathered ten principles that distinguish conservatism as the intellectual tradition that it is.

First, there is “an enduring moral order” of both “the soul” and “the commonwealth.”  It is at our peril, conservatives insist, that we ignore this order.

Second, “custom, convention, and continuity” constitute the glue that keeps us together.

Custom “enables people to live together peaceably,” convention helps us “to avoid perpetual disputes about rights and duties,” and continuity “is the means of linking generation to generation.”

Third, prescription—“things established by immemorial usage”—is the stuff of which a flourishing civil society is made.

Since we are not likely “to make any brave new discoveries in morals or politics,” since we are “dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, able to see farther than [our] ancestors only because of the great stature of those who have preceded us in time,” we are best served by following the prescriptions of thousands of generations.

Fourth, prudence is a cardinal virtue.

Change is needed if society is to preserve itself, but prudence demands that we attend to it cautiously, and only after considerable reflection. “Sudden and slashing reforms are as perilous as sudden and slashing surgery.”

Fifth, variety is both necessary and desirable.

Conservatives “feel affection for the proliferating intricacy of long-established social institutions and modes of life [.]” On the other hand, they abhor “the narrowing uniformity and deadening egalitarianism of radical systems.”

The sixth principle is that of human imperfectability.

Because human beings suffer “irremediably from certain grave faults,” the best “that we reasonably can expect is a tolerably ordered, just, and free society, in which some evils, maladjustments, and suffering will continue to lurk.”

Seventh, freedom and property are indissolubly linked.

“Upon the foundation of private property, great civilizations are built,” Kirk writes.  He adds:  “Separate property from private possession, and Leviathan [the government] becomes master of all.”

Eighth, “voluntary community” is as essential to the civil order as “involuntary collectivism” is destructive of it.

Duty and virtue are learned within our local communities—our “little platoons,” as “the patron saint” of modern conservatism, Edmund Burke, famously called them.  But when, “in the name of an abstract Democracy, the functions of community are transferred to distant political direction,” this centralization of authority and power proves “hostile to freedom and human dignity.”

Ninth, there must be “prudent restraints upon power and upon human passions.”

Kirk notes that “political power” must be “balanced” so as to prevent both “anarchy” and “tyranny,” both the unbounded will of the individual and that of any group.  To this end, “constitutional restrictions, political checks and balances, adequate enforcement of the laws,” and “the old intricate web of restraints upon will and appetite” are indispensable.

The tenth and final principle of the conservative attitude concerns the affirmation and harmonizing of “permanence and change” in “a vigorous society.”

Kirk succinctly summarizes this principle when he writes: “The conservative takes care that nothing in a society should ever be wholly old, and that nothing should ever be wholly new.  This is the means of the conservation of a nation, quite as it is the means of conservation of a living organism.”

If today’s conservatives are serious about wanting to return to “the roots” of their tradition, then they have no option but to familiarize themselves with Russell Kirk.