On Design: Hawking, Paley & Chopra

Stephen Hawking’s new book, The Grand Design, is generating a fair amount of press because of his claim that the laws of physics explain the Big Bang and remove the need for a Prime Mover.  God in the Gap theists have thus been pushed further back in time to nothingness, which is the non-state that precedes the Big Bang.

This has long been a problem for Christians, whose God becomes responsible for fewer and fewer things with the passing of each century.  William Paley (1743-1805), the natural theologian, provided an elegant solution for this constant God shrinkage: claim that everything in the world (or universe) shows evidence of design, which in turn means there must be a designer.

Hawking was of course aware of this argument and titled his book accordingly.  While there may be a grand design in Hawking’s view of the universe, there is no designer.  Unsurprisingly, the spritualist Deepak Chopra cannot countenance this possibility so he has written an article asking a Paley-like question: “Where is the Design?”  Par for his amorphous course, Chopra equates the universe — which has some kind of order and thus possesses uncertain characteristics of design — with God or the divine.  This may or may not be the case, and we will never know.

But it certainly is not the case, as Chopra asserts, that there are three main ideas on which “all religions” are based:

1. A transcendent reality.

2. The interconnectedness of all that exists.

3. Embedded values of truth, love, compassion, and the other virtues that are experienced by human beings as handed down from a higher domain.

Certainly all supernaturalism and religion is based on the notion there is a transcendent reality — a spiritual, non-physical realm.  But not all religions insist on the connectedness of everything, unless of course it is a monotheist religion which claims that its particular god created all that exists.

Chopra’s final claim is the most ridiculous: prehistorically, historically and currently, there have been many religions that are unconcerned with “truth, love, and compassion,” the all encompassing, make everyone happy buzzwords that flowered in the Sixties and then fluttered across the New Age landscape, undulating to Enya tracks in between yoga sessions.

If there is either divine design (Chopra) or a divine designer (Paley), something has gone really wrong with the whole thing.  How else to explain the theodicy of it all?  Here on earth, biological life is largely a matter of predation (on other living forms — microbial, plant, and animal), reproduction, and death.  More often than not, these biological life cycles are filled with a substantial amount of suffering.

How can we call this divine?  How can one be blind to the Hobbesian fact that the state of nature is bellum omnium contra omnes and in nearly all cases — whether microbial, vegetal or animal, life is “solitary, poore, nastie, brutish, and short.”

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