The great psychologist William James…observed that most of us arrive at our opinions — whether on religion, politics or science — based not on a judicious weighing of evidence, but rather on the prestige of the ideas in question. That is, the prestige they confer on us. Even Vatican officials aren’t immune from such human tendencies, and the fact is that, the merits of his theories aside, Stephen Hawking is a very prestigious scientist. As I have come to realize from countless frustrating personal interactions, lots of religious folks feel a social need to affirm certain ideas, including scientific ones, outside the realm of their expertise. With their personal prestige at stake, they will not be dissuaded.
As an admirer of the Catholic Church, I’m disappointed to say that, in the Vatican’s strange embrace of Hawking, we can observe that same depressing dynamic at work.