I watched “The Theory of Everything” today. (I know, it’s been out for awhile, but we’re cheap and I don’t usually see things until they’re out on DVD). In the opening scene Stephen Hawking is shown introducing himself to his future wife as a cosmologist, which he explains is sort of religion for intelligent atheists. In this well-made film, Hawking is presented as the intellectually gifted individual I believe him in actuality to be. Brilliant. Born with an intelligence most of us would give half our earthly possessions to acquire. And explaining early on that “a physicist can’t allow his calculations to be muddled by a belief in a supernatural creator.” We see him developing a theory as well as mathematical equations designed to lead back to the very first moment in space and time, and we all, scientists and theologians, cheer him on as we watch, because we all share the same fascination with that very first moment of existence. “In the beginning…” something happened, and we are all utterly drawn to understanding what that was, because we all want to understand just exactly how it came to be that we are here. And in understanding how it came to be, to understand something of what it means for us to be here.
Of course the movie is about more than Stephen Hawking’s quest for answers. It’s about his quest for life in the face of a crippling disease that was expected to end his life within two years of his initial diagnosis. Spoiler alert: it didn’t. He’s still alive at this writing, so the movie isn’t much of a cliffhanger in this regard, but it does pull you into the unimaginable struggle he must have faced. And in the midst of that, his quest to prove with one mathematical equation that time had a beginning, and “with one eloquent equation, to explain everything.” That’s all. To live in the face of death, to find a way to communicate in the face of his body’s utter collapse… and to explain everything.
Unfortunately, and I know it’s just a movie, the story-line highlights the biases and assumptions that are a part of the picture, simply because all scientists are in fact also humans. His Ph.D. thesis explained there was a beginning to the universe. His continued work was to disprove it. “God must die,” and “physics is back in business” are the successive quotes at this point in the film, not because he had somehow proven the absence of God, but because he believed he had to set aside the idea of God in order to pursue his science. So there’s the question. Does God have to die for scientific pursuit to continue? If science is truly an objective method of following the evidence in search of truth, then the answer is obviously no. In fact, for any premise to be excluded up front would mean that science isn’t science at all – it’s what would more accurately be termed a religion. On the other hand, does science have to die for us to believe in God? Sometimes we act like it. At times the scientific community has railed against the idea of God. At times it’s sought to disprove His existence. But for the most part, it’s sought answers. For the religious community to mistrust the motives of some scientists and scientific authors is understandable. On the other hand, to reject actual science rather than to seek to be part of its quest for understanding is essentially to fear that what we believe may not be true and that someday this will be proven to be the case. Whatever the truth is, we should face it head on. With both sides simply assuming the other is wrong and not examining the evidence, it’s hard to see how we move any closer to a clear understanding.