Donohue vs. Hawking

It’s like Bambi vs. Godzilla, except no one would consider Donohue cute and innocent. In an interview, Hawking talked about gods:

“What could define God [is thinking of God] as the embodiment of the laws of nature. However, this is not what most people would think of that God,” Hawking told Sawyer. “They made a human-like being with whom one can have a personal relationship. When you look at the vast size of the universe and how insignificant an accidental human life is in it, that seems most impossible.”

When Sawyer asked if there was a way to reconcile religion and science, Hawking said, “There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, [and] science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works.”

Straightforward and sensible, that’s a scientist talking. Bill Donohue, who is anything but sensible, took exception to all that.

How any rational person could belittle the pivotal role that human life plays in the universe is a wonder, but it is just as silly to say that all religions are marked by the absence of reason. While there are some religions which are devoid of reason, there are others, such as Roman Catholicism, which have long assigned it a special place.

Human life plays a pivotal role in the universe? How? Is the orbit of Mars influenced by human activities, does the Andromeda galaxy, 2.5 million light years away, care in the slightest about a species so remote that they’re still waiting for the glimmerings of light from the fires they used to roast a mammoth? We could wink out of existence right now and the universe would go on, fundamentally unchanged.

I agree that the Catholic church has assigned reason a special place: apologetics. Rationalizing the irrational. Throwing up a smokescreen of scholarship to hide the fact that deep down, they’re worshipping a jealous bronze age patriarchal myth wedded to a howling crazy Eastern mystery religion. But they aren’t any different than any other religion: for instance, the Baptists found universities and pay lip service to logic, too. As Hawking said, science works, and every charlatan in every church dreams of hitching a ride on its record.

It was the Catholic Church that created the first universities, and it was the Catholic Church that played a central role in the Scientific Revolution; these two historical contributions made possible Mr. Hawking’s career.

Reason, in pursuit of truth, has been reiterated by the Church fathers for nearly two millennia. That is why Hawking posits a false conflict: in the annals of the Catholic Church, there is no inherent conflict between science and religion. Quite the contrary: science and religion, in Catholic thought, are complementary properties. Ergo, nothing is gained by alleging a “victory” of science over religion.

The Catholic Church was a religion laced throughout the substrate of Western culture; everyone was Catholic (or alternatively, after the 16th century, some flavor of Protestant), and being anything else was not tenable because the Catholic Church would set you on fire. After centuries of waging war on every alternative that emerged, the Church does not now get to claim, “Oh, yeah, we did that” when a powerful and better way of thinking does manage to rise up out of the foolishness of superstition.

There is an inherent conflict between science and religion. Mr Donohue believes a cracker turns into a slice of god in his mouth; he thinks there is a magic man in the sky who speaks to the Pope; he believes a series of rituals will allow an invisible ghost in his body go to Disneyland in Space after his meat dies. He also believes that one young species of ape on this planet somehow plays a “pivotal role” in affairs on Jupiter. These are irrational, unscientific beliefs — they are anti-science, because he believes in arriving at conclusions because they are what he wishes to be true, or because the dogma has been repeated to him enough times, or because someone claims a supernatural revelation.

Sure, science arose out of Catholicism…in the same sense that plumbing, sanitation systems, and public health policies arose out of sewage.