Thursday, 19 May 2011

"Fools rush in...

... where angels fear to tread." I seem to recall that's Alexander Pope. But it's certainly something I've been waking up feeling, especially after the article was headlined: "I'd stake my life that Stephen Hawking is wrong about heaven"!  
It all started on Monday morning listening to the Today programme in my semi-somnolent state, when I thought I heard about an interview with superstar physicist, Stephen Hawking, in The Guardian, in which he said that heaven is a fairy story for those afraid of the dark. As I say, I was half asleep, but the idea must have lodged in my mind. "Half a mo," I thought. "That's not why I believe in life after death. Whatever happens, I imagine it'll be quite a relief for me when I get to dying. Well, he's just another chap with MND like me. Perhaps I can write an answer."

And so after breakfast I read the interview which was part of a long article. It went like this:

What is the value in knowing "Why are we here?"
The universe is governed by science. But science tells us that we can't solve the equations, directly in the abstract. We need to use the effective theory of Darwinian natural selection of those societies most likely to survive. We assign them higher value.
You've said there is no reason to invoke God to light the blue touchpaper. Is our existence all down to luck?
Science predicts that many different kinds of universe will be spontaneously created out of nothing. It is a matter of chance which we are in.
So here we are. What should we do?
We should seek the greatest value of our action.
You had a health scare and spent time in hospital in 2009. What, if anything, do you fear about death?
I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I'm not afraid of death, but I'm in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first. I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.
What are the things you find most beautiful in science?
Science is beautiful when it makes simple explanations of phenomena or connections between different observations. Examples include the double helix in biology, and the fundamental equations of physics."
So I wrote an answer and sent it to the Guardian's Comment is free editor, and was not a little surprised to receive an enthusiastic reply accepting it. It went up on the website on Tuesday, and proved the most viewed Comment is free article of the day and far the most commented on (1500+) - not that the latter's much comfort as normally most comments on the internet are negative. I refrained from reading them, having better things to do with my life. But I also received enough personal emails saying thank you to keep my pecker up.
Patrick Joyce's portrait in the Incurable Optimists series
I did think I'd been a bit rash to contradict Professor Hawking, but then I reflected that he's just such a man as I am. As Shylock observed to his Christian adversaries: "If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die?" We are both frail human beings. We both wrestle with the same frustrations and the same big questions. We can both learn from each other, admittedly me rather more from him! And one day we'll both be facing the same big doorway.
By the way, my visit to the dentist again today was just as satisfactory as the last one - a longer procedure but excellently performed.
And one by-product of this week is that I'm now featured on  The Spiritual Bookclub blog...!

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