Saturday, May 28, 2011

So Learned, Yet So Misinformed

In Dale Wasserman's book, "Man Of La Mancha", Dr. Sansón Carrasco attempts to cure Don Alonso Quijana, who believes he is a knight-errant named Don Quixote, of his "madness" by pointing out that there have been no knights for nearly three hundred years. Don Quixote's reply: "So learned, yet so misinformed".

"These are the facts," insists Carrasco.

"Facts are the enemy of truth", counters "Quixote".

Dr. Stephen Hawking, renouned physicist and mathematician, widely acknowledged as one of the world's greatest intellects since Albert Einstein, announced In a recent interview with Britain's Guardian that heaven is a myth; a "fairy story" for people afraid of death.

During his interview, Dr. Hawking made it clear that he does not believe in a god, a heaven or hell, or even the concept of a soul. We are, says Hawking, nothing more than a collection of neurons and synapses firing off in our brains. When our brains die, we cease to exist. The end. That's all she wrote. Thanks for coming out.

Before continuing, let me assure you that this is not going to morph into a rant about the folly of secular pagans who refuse to believe in God and the Holy Bible. Those who know me know that I am not a particularly religious person. I question everything and I don't believe that any one religion or philosophy has a true understanding of the mind of God. I don't even necessarily think of God in the traditional sense; a mystical, all-powerful being who created everything and who manipulates events according to some Divine Plan. On the other hand, unlike Dr. Hawking, I do allow that there are probably things about which I not only have no knowledge, but which my mind may be completely incapable of even imagining or comprehending. I don't assert that Hawking is wrong about there being no heaven, no afterlife and no soul. I do, however, suggest that it's a little arrogant of him to insist that his opinions are unassailably correct.

I do agree with Hawking's suggestion that our time and energy might be better spent improving the world that we live in and the lives of those that live in it, rather than living only for some nebulous promise of eternal bliss once this life has ended. What if Dr. Hawking and his ilk are right, and we really do cease to exist, completely and utterly, once our brains have stopped functioning? That would mean that this life is all that we have. How sad to waste it in the vain hope for something better.

My criticism of Hawking, isn't about his rejection of religious philosophy so much as his refusal to consider that there may be forces and phenomena which he simply does not understand. The fallacy commited by many scientific minds is an adherence to the belief that "If I can't see it, detect it, measure it, quantify it or explain it, it doesn't exist". By insisting that there is an explanation for everything, science does not allow for the notion of miracles.

Ironically, some may argue that Hawking himself is a living, breathing miracle. The motor neurone disease, which has confined him to a wheelchair for most of his life, was expected to kill him within a few years of its original diagnosis. That was over 49 years ago, yet Dr. Hawking still survives.

Certainly, science must get some of the credit for this. Without the advanced medicine and technology that helps him to communicate, to move from place to place and even just to eat and to breath, Dr. Hawking would surely not have lived nearly as long as he has. The trouble with intellects like Hawking is that they give all the credit to science and technology alone, not allowing that there may be something greater, something more intangible and impossible to measure, record or even detect, at work as well.

Most of us are familiar with the old paradoxical riddle that asks, if a tree falls in the middle of a forest with no-one there to hear it, does it make a sound? Dr. Hawking, pondering this question from a purely scientific point of view, might accept this answer; as the falling tree strikes the ground, the impact generates sound waves. The fact that there are no ears present to detect these sound waves is immaterial. From a strictly physical point of view, the tree has indeed made a sound.

If we accept this, let us then change the question slightly. What if a deaf person is in the vicinity of the tree when it falls, and what if that person is not facing the tree? Let's assume that it's a small tree, too small to cause any vibrations that the deaf person might feel when it lands. This person would be completely unaware that a tree has just fallen over, yet the event has surely occurred. The person's inability to detect the sound waves made by the tree does not invalidate their existence.

Scientific minds like Dr. Hawking make the mistake of assuming that they know all that there is to know. They don't allow that there may be phenomena that science is, as yet, unable to detect, record, measure or study.

So learned, yet so misinformed.

1 comment:

Tubes said...

I thought the same thing about arrogance when I also read his statements....