Sixty-nine-year-old physicist Stephen Hawking is regarded as one of the most brilliant people on the planet, so when he speaks, we listen. Last year, in his book, The Grand Design, he said there's no need for a creator to explain the existence of the universe. Of course that enraged people. Now, he's at it again, talking about religion in an interview with The Guardian. He commented on the afterlife, stating ...
I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broke down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.
Surely, there will be a backlash about this, too, likely from religious people who hate being told that their beliefs are pretty much based on fear.
Personally, on a scientific level, I tend to think Hawking's right. Once we're dead, that's it. But on a spiritual level, I buy into the "fairy story." Maybe I am afraid of the dark, but I own it.
Like most people, I guess I fall somewhere between the two extremes of religious zealot vs. vehement atheist. I question religion all the time, but at the end of the day, I identify with certain (reform Jewish) beliefs. And yes, I am afraid of death! Not like a Woody Allen extreme fear of dying, but I don't even like to think of death, because I'm too concerned with living a long, fulfilling life. I'd like to make an impression on the world. Do something worth remembering.
After I've done that, well, sure, I can imagine, hopefully a long, long time from now, I'll be okay with it. And sure, blame fear or egomania, but I'll still hope that I can "live on." Maybe not by actually going to a place called Heaven. But I've always considered the fact that maybe our spirits live on in other ways ... perhaps just through our relatives' memories of us, or hey, what about reincarnation?
All I'm saying is it's okay to be afraid of death, and believing in something that comes after life -- be that Heaven or something else -- is a comfort to many of us. So what? If it helps us cope more with the inevitable, why shouldn't we have that? There's nothing shameful about spirituality, and furthermore, it's more than possible to believe in science without shrugging off religion. Another brilliant scientist knew this -- Albert Einstein.
In fact, it seems Stephen Hawking could stand to consider something Einstein once said ...
The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead: his eyes are closed.
What do you think -- is the afterlife "a fairy story" or not? Even if it is, how do you feel about leaning on it as a comfort?
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