Over at Cosmic Variance, Sean Carroll describes a panel discussion he had with two accommodationist scholars (Paul Davies and John Haught) following a broadcast of a new show on cosmology starring Stephen Hawking, “Is there a creator?”. That show and the discussion will air on the Discovery Channel this Sunday at 8 p.m. ET.
Carroll makes it clear that despite certain ambiguous statements by Hawking, the man is certainly an atheist, and the answer to the question posed by his show’s title is an unambiguous “no.” This is also clear in an interview conducted with Hawking by USA Today.
Carroll is understandably peevish that a show about cosmology is so easily hijacked into questions of religion, but was happy to get in his licks.
The more I thought about it, the more appropriate I thought the episode really was. I can’t speak for Hawking, but I presume his interest in the topic stems from similar sources as my own. It’s not just a coincidence that we are theoretical cosmologists who happen to go around arguing that God doesn’t exist. The question of God and the questions of cosmology arise from a common impulse — to understand how the world works at its most fundamental level. These issues naturally go hand-in-hand. Pretending otherwise, I believe, probably stems from a desire on the part of religious believers to insulate their worldview from scientific critique.
Besides, people find it interesting, and rightfully so. Professional scientists are sometimes irritated by the tendency of the public to dwell on what scientists think are the “wrong” questions. Most people are fascinated by questions about God, life after death, life on other worlds, and other issues that touch on what it means to be human. These might not be fruitful research projects for most professional scientists, but part of our job should be to occasionally step back and look at the bigger picture. That’s exactly what Hawking is doing here, and more power to him. (In terms of his actual argument, I’m sympathetic to the general idea, but would take issue with some of the particulars.)
And if you watch the Hawking show, and the post-show debate, weigh in here with your take (I’m the only living American who doesn’t get cable television). I’ll be “debating” Haught in October (not a debate really, but two back-to-back talks on faith and science), and try to follow his views.