Making sense of the universe

As you will be aware, it was my intention yesterday to write something about Stephen Hawking’s address to the Google Zeitgeist gathering for 2011.  His talk had been heavily trailed in the global press, and there are plenty of juicy bits to talk about.  As you will also be aware, I lost my nerve and talked instead about Stephen Wragg’s quirky art project which chronicles the spread of unauthorised painted pedestrian figures.

This is often the reaction of preachers to a man with an intellect as finely honed and an argument as aggressively atheist as Hawkings’.  We either avoid it like an open manhole cover in the pavement, or we dismiss it as the realm of the hopelessly cerebral which is of no interest to us lesser mortals. Neither is a particularly worthy response, I believe. It is better, surely, to identify those areas where we agree, and those elements of his argument (insofar as we understand it) where we might wish to challenge him?  Note that there is no reason why we should not challenge him, rather than the other way round.

There were two phrases in the pre-interview with Hawking with which we might find broad agreement.  Challenged on how we should live our lives in a universe where he believes we have found ourselves by chance, his answer was that we should ‘seek the greatest value of our action’. This is not a million miles from Jesus’ teaching.  He also said that ‘science is beautiful’, citing examples like the double helix.  This would fit neatly into a Christian view of a complex and created universe.

However, when he then went on to say that science is beautiful when it ‘makes simple explanations’ and lost me before the rest of the sentence was over I feel he may have undermined his own argument. Can a thing be beautiful when words obscure it from view? I appreciate the elegance of the universe at both a microscopic and an interplanetary level  because I see it as the handiwork of a creative genius. The beauty is in the thing itself, not the explanation of it.

He also suggested that the universe is governed by a degree of logic far greater than I see around me. If you visit the Google Zeitgeist website you will find that their analytics of the year 2010 suggest that human beings are more concerned with networking and Ipads than they are with the beauty of double helices or the possibility of an underlying mathematical formula to the universe!

Stephen Hawking is a courageous and brilliant man whose refusal to be limited by his physical disability is an inspiration. He can be courageous and brilliant without being right, though.

Moldovan Eurovision band Zdob şi Zdub have now become famous for their pointy hats. They told the press that these hats gave them ‘contact with the cosmic spheres’. Presumably this was to no avail, since it did not help them to win the competition when the time came for the votes to be counted! Intellectual genius is a crowning glory to human endeavour, but the point where it’s true worth is seen is yet to come

Image: justwilliam1959