Bear with me for a moment. This may change your life. If you can truly take hold of how much this one point affects you and those around you in your life, it will open up your ability to think about all the most important questions in your life in a new way. We all believe we make up our own minds on most things, from the smallest likes and dislikes to the deeper beliefs about science and religion. But let’s be honest. Mullets. Bell bottoms. Parachute pants. Disco. There are choices you just can’t explain without recognizing how influenced we are by the choices of those around us. Okay, so you may be offended by one or more of my examples, but the fact is, fashion, music, even what we eat tends to go in trends.
Trends are when we all start doing something new at once. When that happens with what kind of pants we wear or how we get our hair cut, it’s pretty harmless. But unfortunately the research of social psychology has taught us over and over that we are influenced in deeper ways than that. A person who doesn’t know they’re in an experiment will do what they believe is inflicting pain on another person when those around them are doing it and don’t seem to question the commands they’re given. This is not just true for bad people. It’s true for people who would never have believed themselves capable of cruelty to another person. From tragic real-life events we know that a crowd of people will stand by and watch a horrible act of violence without doing anything to help, even when one person who saw the same thing would rush to call 911. In one study and real-life situation after another we have discovered the terrifying truth that we are very reluctant to accept about ourselves; we are deeply reluctant to risk the disapproval of the world around us, and we are much more willing than we want to think to change the way we act and even what we believe if we think it’s what the world around us does or believes.
Why does all of this matter so much? Because the world of science and religion is made up of human beings who are just as susceptible to trends in thinking as anyone else. The problem is that scientists believe they are objective and uninfluenced by the thinking of their time, and that trends occur in the religious world in the same way that they do everywhere else. We’ll come back to this reality over and over. It’s not just important – it’s truly of life and death importance that we examine the questions of existence and meaning for ourselves and at least attempt to get outside of the “group think” of our time. So what perception is posited right now that makes this so important to consider?
As we’ve discussed, something has always existed. Before there was anything else. Before the universe as we know it. Before time as understand it. Before everything, there was either eternal matter, with no beginning, or there was an eternal God, with no beginning. It’s the absolute foundation of my faith. Of course, you may have heard that Stephen Hawking, so often heralded as one of the smartest people in the modern world, has another theory; that the universe is fully capable of launching itself into existence. Spontaneous existence from nothing, which Stephen Hawking acknowledges goes against all the laws of science in all other circumstances, but claims can happen in the case of an entire universe. The idea he explains in “The Grand Design” is that he does not believe in a personal God who created the universe, but he does believe in a law of science that somehow led to the spontaneous creation from nothing of a universe that would from that point on preclude spontaneous creation. Here’s the thing though, in addition to the general absurdity of the idea itself; what Hawking is essentially saying is that it was the existence of the law of science that led to the spontaneous creation of the universe. He cannot bring himself to consider that a God could always have existed and that this God could have created the universe, but he can bring himself to believe that, independent of any matter existing, an eternal law of science existed and acted independently to create a universe. In the artificial “science versus God” argument, one that has done little to move the discussion forward, Hawking has managed to propose a theory that would be considered laughable if brought up by any other person or at any other point in time. But today, in our current trend of thought, while not necessarily accepted, it’s not being universally rejected either. It’s our mullet. Our parachute pants.
Stephen Hawking does not need my admiration, but in general, I will tell you that he has it. He is a passionately committed seeker of truth. He is squarely in the midst of the quest for answers, for truth, and for understanding of our existence. But I would also say he is blinded by his commitment to the idea not only that science must answer all questions, but that it must at all costs do so without considering the possibility of God. It’s the current worldview, and it’s hard not to be caught up in it, no matter who you are. It’s hard not to see what everyone else sees. But what is true? What makes sense? What fits the evidence? Step-by-step, let’s stay the course and simply look at things for ourselves.