So, the media has exploded today with the news that Stephen Hawking believes heaven, God, and all that jazz is just a fairytale, and we’re all just computers that will eventually break down and cease to exist.
Just a few years ago, I would have taken an agnostic position on the existence of an afterlife. We don’t have enough information to know either way. We have no tangible proof of it, so really, we humans don’t have any way of knowing for sure with our five senses and our minds that rely on real, touchable evidence of, well, everything.
As Catholics, our faith tells us otherwise. We pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven.” Jesus ascended not into the sky or outer space, but into heaven, and He told us himself (am I right?) he would be seated at the right hand of the Father. Our Blessed Mother was assumed into heaven. The entire book of Revelation paints a vivid, fantastic picture of what happens in heaven at the end of days, and depending on who you talk to, that could be next weekend, next year, or whenever the next big earthquake hits.
So where does science fit into this problem of heaven’s existence?
One perspective of God that I’ve become familiar with is the idea that we, as the faithful, are not always expected to understand him and his ways – at least not right now. But we are expected to trust that he knows what he’s doing, and to be obedient to him when we are asked to do something we don’t fully understand in that moment. What plays out as a result of our obedience, I’d like to think, strengthens our faith. We see this in the gospel when the disciples cast out their nets again despite not catching anything the last time, but when Jesus tells them to, they obey…and catch so many fish their nets almost break. I can think of several occasions when the Lord has asked me to trust what he asks of me, and I have no doubt that happens to this day. God’s just got a different perspective on eternity than we do.
Another really big, ground-shaking idea that I love is intelligent design. Intelligent design, on a biological and scientific scale, boils the creation/evolution problem down to one word: probability. Intelligent design takes the sheer odds of what had to have taken place for, let’s say, the evolution of the biological mechanism that makes human eyesight possible — which involves six crazy steps that have to work perfectly together or sight doesn’t happen — and says that the odds are insane for that process and all its components to have evolved and formed a perfect sequence that works without some type of intelligence involved its development in some way. ID doesn’t argue that God snapped his fingers and we could see, but rather that He ultimately has the master plan and created, through whatever evolutionary means necessary, the process that allows your eyes to see this right now. (Don’t even get me started on cognition. Or embryology.)
So, through our own experiences, through the Bible, and through the sheer craziness of how the human body works – and even the best and brightest of our generation still don’t fully understand everything the body does – it’s no secret that God is up to something. Huge. Mind-blowingly so.
Stop for a minute and think about the scope of that.
Hawking is quoted as saying, “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.”
Hawking also assumes that humans are the authors of science. That what we have discovered, tested, observed, and proven defines the limits of science. If we haven’t proven it, it doesn’t exist. Let me remind you that once upon a time, by this assumption, the cell didn’t exist either.
I would like to argue that God not only authored science, but He speaks the language way, way more fluently than we could ever imagine being able to comprehend.
Does heaven exist? I can’t touch it. I can’t see it with a telescope. I can’t find it on a star chart.
But if the same God who created me, saved me, and loves me has anything to do with it, I’m pretty sure it does.
On another mind-blowing side note – this may be old news by now – there is a protein in the body called laminin. Laminins are critical to the structure and functioning of almost every cell in your body and work with everything from cell differentiation to phenotyping. The color of your eyes, how tall or short you are, and how many moles you have may come down to a laminin protein doing its job. If laminin doesn’t work right, your muscles don’t work and your kidneys fail.
Laminin looks something like this.
Go on. Tell me that’s an evolutionary accident.