What Hawking Actually Meant

I recently posted a message on the God’s Not Dead IMDb message board here, in which I clarified what Stephen Hawking actually meant when he writes that “philosophy is dead.” My clarification resulted in me being accused of being an agent of Satan. Below, you’ll find the contents of my original post.

I remember reading The Grand Design back in 2010. One of the things that surprised me most about the book was Hawking’s regular use of dry humor—often by means of hyperbole.

I’m reminded of this because Hawking recently joined Facebook. His sense of humor remains present, as reflected in one of his most recent posts:

I greatly enjoyed the STARMUS festival. It is a combination of science and rock music, both of which I love. I was interested in the talks by the astronauts and why the Soviet Union didn’t beat Neil Armstrong to the Moon. I will have to read the transcript, because I didn’t understand the translation. I enjoyed hearing how Bob Wilson eliminated pigeons, they thought the microwave background was caused by pigeon droppings, and Richard Dawkins on alien life. Some people say I’m an alien myself, with my robot voice.

In God’s Not Dead, Josh Wheaton smugly announces to a classroom full of students, “Hawking insists that philosophy is dead!” This statement goes completely unquestioned by his audience. However, for those of who actually read Hawking’s book, this line is facepalm-inducingly stupid as someone who might read the above Facebook post and smugly declare, “Hawking insists that he’s an alien robot!!”

In context, Hawking writes:

Traditionally these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead. Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics. Scientists have become the bearers of the torch of discovery in our quest for knowledge. The purpose of this book is to give the answers that are suggested by recent discoveries and theoretical advances. They lead us to a new picture of the universe and our place in it that is very different from the traditional one, and different even from the picture we might have painted just a decade or two ago. Still, the first sketches of the new concept can be traced back almost a century.

Hawking spends the next few chapters outlining the history of the philosophy of science, and he argues that model-dependent realism is the culmination of that history of scientific inquiry. The remainder of the book explores the physics behind M-theory with that framework in mind.

Obviously, the writers of God’s Not Dead did not read Hawking’s book. My hunch is that they skimmed a Christian blog’s misinterpretation of it and incorporated that misinterpretation of it into their movie. That’s frustrating enough in itself, but when you’re sitting in a theater full of people who are chuckling at how “clever” the aforementioned line about Stephen Hawking is (none of whom have read Hawking’s book, either), you begin to lose all hope for humanity.

All that I can do at this point is continue to tell the truth as much as possible and as loudly as possible. And maybe—just maybe—a few of you out there will take a step back and say, “Hey, those people who told me that the book with the talking donkey is ‘the word of God’ might not have been completely honest with me. And maybe that guy in the wheelchair has a point.”

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