Thursday, September 09, 2010

Is Hawking's disability germane?

I ran across a Christian blogger who made the following observations:

Stephen Hawking has written a new book, The Grand Design, in which he makes statements about God, or at least asserts that God is not necessary to explain the universe.

This isn’t a post about that. James Anderson wrote a helpful reply if you are interested in exploring that issue further.

No, this is a lament: There are ‘Christians’ who seem to think Dr. Hawking’s disability is worth mentioning in their usually-inadequate defense of God or the Bible. And by ‘mentioning’ I mean they use it in ways to make fun of or defame Dr. Hawking.

There were enough negative references to his disability on Twitter that a Washington Post blogger wrote a column on it.

I was hoping this was an over-statement – how could anyone be so rude? Or childish? Or uninformed? Unfortunately, after I read the comments attached to a couple of major newspaper articles, I saw the same thing as that Post blogger. It wasn’t many, but enough to be discouraging.

I expect this new book from Dr. Hawking will be an item for a while. So, even if it is only a few who conduct themselves badly in public, let’s help people in our churches understand two things:

Stephen Hawking is not an idiot; Christians (and everyone else) look foolish when calling him that. He may be an opportunist – there is a reason he writes ‘popular’ works rather than limiting his writings to peer-reviewed journals and seminars – but he is no ‘idiot’ in the sense that most people mean.
Dr. Hawking’s disability is no indicator of his standing before God. God is completely free to do whatever he wants to with his creation, including creating geniuses to live with significant disabilities who will deny him.

I’d just say the following:

i) I agree with him entirely that we shouldn’t make fun of Hawking’s disability. Or make fun of Hawking via his disability. Lev 19:14 comes to mind.

ii) I also agree with him that we shouldn’t call Hawking an “idiot.” He’s clearly very bright.

That said, I’d say a few things:

i) Hawking’s disability isn’t necessarily irrelevant to the quality of his latest book. At this stage of his degenerative illness, I seriously doubt that he’s physically capable of writing (or even dictating) long supporting arguments for his position. So all we’re likely to get from him are witty, zippy, quotable, epigrammatic one-liners.

ii) Indeed, there’s a reason he coauthored the book in the first place. He isn’t up to writing a book by himself, even a book for popular consumption.

iii) On a related note, even if he were in perfect health for his age, he may well be past his prime as a theoretical physicist.

iv) Apropos (ii)-(iii), I remember atheists gleefully discounting Antony Flew as a senile old man because he coauthored his final book.

iv) Although Hawking’s not an “idiot,” he is a “fool” in the Biblical sense of the word.


  1. Well put - I've been following a lot of the meta on the Hawking's book and so many of the comments seem to center around name-calling or his disability. The fact is Hawking is a brilliant physicist but his science is unfortunately underminded by a bitterness towards his creator, and we should continue to pray for his salvation.

  2. Yes, Psalm 14:1 come to mind?:
    'The fool has said in his heart, "There is no God"...