FOR Greeks, he’s the change they’ve been waiting for. For European leaders, he’s a politician’s worst nightmare
By Stephen C. Webster
Thursday, April 18, 2013
Former Cambridge Professor Stephen Hawking told students at Caltech this week that, contrary to the feelings of many God enthusiasts, the universe did not require a deity to create, nor does it require one to continue existing.
Though his speech was supposed to be free of recording devices, some sly student sneaked in with a digital audio recorder and smuggled Hawking’s speech out for public consumption (embedded below). During his talk, he cited M-Theory — a wide-ranging and as-yet-incomplete explanation of the universe that attempts to unite the factions within String Theory — as the only workable theory going forward that can explain the true nature of the cosmos.
M-Theory suggests that the multi-dimensional “strings” of the universe are bound together by a strange material sometimes called membranes, but also known by other names. It suggests that mater, space, time and every possible history exists simultaneously across dimensional planes that were created out of nothing at the moment of the Big Bang some 13.8 billion years ago. Only in very few of these dimensions can a species like humanity come into being.
“The problem of what happens at the beginning of time is a bit like the question of what happened at the edge of the world when people thought the world was flat,” he said. “If the world’s a flat plate with the sea pouring over the edge — I have tested this experimentally. I have been around the world, and I have not fallen off.”
He added that such a question can pose problems for people who look to imagined deities for the answers they seek. “What was God doing before the divine creation?” Hawking asked. “Was he preparing hell for people who asked such questions?”
In the later portion of his speech, Hawking shifted into advocating for greater public emphasis on space. “Most recent advances in cosmology have been achieved from space, where there are uninterrupted views of our vast and beautiful universe,” he said. “But we must also continue to go into space for the future of humanity. I don’t think we will survive another 1,000 years without escaping beyond our fragile planet. I for one encourage public interest in space, and I’ve been getting my reading in early.”
“It has been a glorious time to be alive and doing research in theoretical physics,” he continued. “Our picture of the universe has changed a great deal in the last 50 years, and I’m happy if I have made a small contribution. The fact that we human beings, who are ourselves mere collections of fundamental particles of nature, have been able to come this close to an understanding of the laws governing us and our universe is a great triumph.”
“So remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet,” Hawking concluded. “Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at.”
Some atheists are looking for the same community connections that Christians, Jews, Muslims and other religious people build and foster when they flock to their respective houses of worship each week. In continuing to borrow from the faith community, it seems non-believers are increasingly launching their own church services, aimed at fellowshipping with their fellow non-theists.
TheBlaze has reported about this phenomenon before. In February, we told you about “The Sunday Assembly,” a church based in England that was launched by two comedians — Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans. The atheist collective describes itself as, “a godless congregation that will meet on the first Sunday of every month to hear great talks, sing songs and generally celebrate the wonder of life.”
And, of course, there’s the Tulsa, Oklahoma, preacher we mentioned last year who is hosting services for humanists and secularists. The Rev. Marlin Lavanhar of All Souls Unitarian Church described the special worship services he was holding for these individuals, saying at the time, “These are people who are not inspired to live their lives a certain way by ideas of God or by Scripture but who have the same human needs for community, compassion, meaning and marking the significant passages of birth, coming of age, marriage and death.”
In a new report by Religion News Service (RNS), the growth of this atheist church phenomenon is further noted. One church in Houston, Texas, called Houston Oasis is profiled — and its similarities to traditional Christian churches are apparently worth noting. The outlet reports that the weekly gathering attracts around 80 attendees who are simply looking for a connection to others like them.
“Just because you don’t believe in God does not mean you do not need to get together in community and draw strength from that,” Mike Aus, founder of the church and a former Lutheran pastor, told RNS. “We are open to any message about life as long as no dogmatic claims are made.”
RNS’s Kimberly Winston highlights the similarities between what’s observed at Houston Oasis and other traditional Christian churches:
Still, inside the conference room in a nondescript office building on the city’s west side, it’s hard to ignore the structural similarities to a Sunday morning church service. There is live music played and performed by members that is intended to spur reflection as well as entertain; a collection is taken up in a passed wicker basket.
A banner taped to a window declared what might be called Houston Oasis’ creed. It pointedly says “we think,” not “we believe” […]
The day’s message, delivered on a recent Sunday by Ray Hill, a former Baptist pastor and a longtime activist for civil and gay rights, would not have been out of place in many churches. All human beings, he said, regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation are of equal worth and deserving of respect.
Some non-believers, though, despite borrowing from religious practice, don’t like the term “atheist church.” Instead, they want to be known more as a support community, bound together by basic human values.
But considering their penchant for summer programs for children (reminiscent of churches’ vacation Bible school programs), blood drives and other similar programs, it’s difficult to tell non-believing and theologically-attuned congregations apart — at least when it comes to general attributes of practice.
Also, let’s keep in mind that many of these groups have begun meeting on Sundays, yet another key indicator that they are following church blueprints. Read Winston’s full report over at RNS and let us know what you think about the growing atheist church phenomenon.