Stephen Hawking’s recent comment that heaven is a fairy tale (see The Guardian) started blogger keystrokes clicking. But one might ask, what does he know about it? Are the opinions of a cosmologist any better than those of a theologian?
Hawking told The Guardian that he considers the brain like a computer that stops working when its components fail. It was timely that PhysOrg just reported that Jian-Jun Shu, an engineer Nanyang Technical University in Singapore, thinks that the next stage of computing should imitate genetics. “For some problems, DNA-based computing could replace silicon-based computing, offering many advantages.” Its potential for parallel processing and fuzzy logic are attractive. Shu is wondering, though, how to plug a monitor into DNA.
Returning to the topic of heaven, the science blogs are focusing not on the evidence for it, but on whether or not belief in heaven is innate, or is useful to human beings. PhysOrg told about 40 studies in 20 countries that indicated belief in an afterlife is “hardwired” into the human brain. “The studies (both analytical and empirical) conclude that humans are predisposed to believe in gods and an afterlife, and that both theology and atheism are reasoned responses to what is a basic impulse of the human mind.”
The 57 researchers were not out to establish the validity of beliefs but to determine whether they are innate or learned. One researcher commented, “Just because we find it easier to think in a particular way does not mean that it is true in fact.” Even so, why would an unguided evolutionary process produce belief in god or heaven that do not exist? Echoes of Anselm’s old Ontological Argument for the existence of God may come to mind. The article did not discuss how evolution would produce belief in heaven, but a lively debate arose in the reader comments….
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