British physicist and mathematician Stephen Hawking has published a new book, The Grand Design. In it this brilliant scientist explains that, “to understand the universe at the deepest level, we need to know not only how the universe behaves, but why.” He’s absolutely right.
I’m not a scientist. I am a religious person. But, as I’ve written here before, I do not believe faith to be fact. I value and admire science and all it does to enhance our lives and our understanding of life. I also cherish the Torah’s mythic description of God’s design for human life and the world, as we will read this coming Shabbat in the first chapter of Genesis.
It’s a classic divide. Religion asks why. Science learns how. Or to rephrase in light of Dr. Hawking’s statement, religion seeks meaning. Science seeks method. Stephen Hawking asks three questions in his book. “Why is there something rather than nothing? Why do we exist? Why this particular set of laws and not some other?” The first two of those questions are for religion to ask and answer, as well.
This is something I want to think about out loud on October 2nd during our Shabbat Morning Service. I’ll discuss how the Torah establishes meaning and purpose for human existence while science helps us to understand how life came to be. I seek belief firm enough to root me in Jewish tradition and elastic enough to assimilate whatever new facts science discovers.
That said, respectfully, I find Professor Hawking’s answer to the questions he asks disappointing. He displays the faith of a scientist. A faith limited by its assumptions no differently than religious faith for someone who believes in God. I seek to merge scientific knowledge with religious wisdom.
Stephen Hawking’s faith, a scientist’s observation, is simply this. The laws of nature exist, and therefore, so do we. My faith is rooted in a different claim. God’s reality is found in the mystery and wonder that we exist at all!