Stephen Hawking, C.S. Lewis, and the Saracen’s Head

First of all, I would like to state up front that what I am about to say is not meant as a mockery of Dr. Hawking or of his condition. While many of his ideas deserve to be mocked, he has proven himself to be a brilliant mathematician and cosmologist. I have appreciated his writings over the years and it was Hawking’s A Brief History of Time that instilled in me a passion for theoretical physics nearly 20 years ago. In addition, the disease with which he suffers is horrendous and I would not wish ALS or Dr. Hawking’s debilitated physical condition on any. Though I strongly disagree with his Atheism, I grieve the fact that he is having to suffer as he does and would wish that his body were healed and he released from his bondage to the wheelchair. Though some of what I say below might be misconstrued as a knock on the man’s condition, please know that they are not and that I would welcome the opportunity to meet this man who has so profoundly influenced my interest in science, something for which I am quite grateful.

Having said that, I want to begin my reflection with a nod also to C.S. Lewis. While not a scientist, Lewis has also profoundly influenced my life and view of the world. In Lewis’ case, through philosophy and apologetics (as well as through his fiction). It also strikes me that Lewis, at times, can be quite prophetic as to the situations that we face as fallen humans. Many of the things that he wrote against back in the 1940’s are still as relevant and applicable today as they were during the rise of the Socialist party in Germany and elsewhere.

One of my favorite novels by Lewis is That Hideous Strength. This is the third novel in his Space Trilogy and he sets it in a kind of dystopian England. There, everything is being decided upon by science. Morality is a measure of what is pragmatic and the goal is to remake society according to the empirical models favored by the National Institute for Coordinated Experiments (N.I.C.E). At the head of the NICE is the head — a severed head of a criminal being inhumanly kept “alive” by equipment, pumps, and machines to be a voice for what the people believe to be a superior race of beings from the dark side of the moon, though in realty, they are demons. “The Head” becomes a kind of symbol for a people who have thrown off religion and philosophy and who have embraced nothing but pure science…an idea made prominent in our world by Auguste Comte.

Enter Dr. Hawking. In his book, The Grand Design, he begins with the notion that philosophy is dead because it has not kept up with scientific progress. He then puts forth the notion that metaphysics is now the realm of the scientist and no longer in the realm of religion or philosophy. This would represent a transition from the second to the third stage of knowledge, at least according to Comte. He argues that when mankind looks at the world and cannot answer questions, he first looks to theology for the answers, then to philosophy, and finally to science. In the strictest sense, each of the previous stages become irrelevant when the new stage of knowledge is embraced. This is exactly what Hawking is suggesting has taken place.

Interestingly enough, Hawking goes on to suggest that science, then, can answer not only the question, “how,” but also the question “why” it was created. Of course, even this language is self-defeating, because he essentially argues that laws exist apart from matter and that matter is created out of nothing because the laws of physics dictate it happen. Since science simply describes what does take place, to say that the laws created out of nothing is more than counter-intuitive, it is self-refuting. A description apart from what it describes only makes sense if there is an eternal intelligence who develops those laws that describe and then creates in a way consistent with said laws…such would be the position of Augustine, for example.

My point, though, is not to critique his book. Others have done that and I would commend their works to you. My point is to raise a question of similarity. Much like the Saracen’s head, Dr. Hawking’s life is being maintained by some marvelous science. Indeed, while not separated physically from his body, his body is largely separated from him by function. And those for whom Hawking speaks seem to have the same level of commitment to Comte’s positivism as did the N.I.C.E.

I am not a conspiracy theorist by any measure, but I have wondered, “what if?” What if what Dr. Hawking teaches and writes is being manipulated by others? Given Dr. Hawking’s lifetime commitment to science and what was once called, “The Grand Unified Theories” and is now being presented as “M-theory,” I don’t think that anyone is manipulating his words, but we must recognize just how easy that would be were the right people to be involved. Scripts could be programmed into his speech synthesizer and there would be nothing that Dr. Hawking could do about it…he would be as trapped as the Saracen in Lewis’ novel and could do nothing to stop it.

So, the question that has been rolling about the back of my head is, “Did Lewis, in seeking to fictionally describe the “men without chests” as is found in The Abolition of Man, anticipate Hawking? Did what was meant as a tongue and cheek illustration of the arrogance of scientific man become a reality in Dr. Hawking’s life? And, perhaps, does Dr. Hawking’s wheelchair stand as a reminder of the danger of taking science to the point where the mystery of the human body is sacrificed for scientific understanding? With apologies to a man I admire, I think it may.

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