I joined Facebook recently. I did it in a moment of panic because I saw that FranklyCurious was available. So if you are on Facebook, you might friend or like or whatever the hell it is one does on the damnable thing. Here’s my account: FranklyCurious.
A guy named Steve Hall posted the image above. It’s quite well done. At the same time, it made me bristle. The quote is from Stephen Hawking and it reads, “What was God doing before the divine creation? Was he preparing hell for people who asked such questions?” It appears to have been said during a talk at Cal Tech three years ago. And I’m sure he said many smart things during that talk. But these two sentences are stupid.
Although amusing, this kind of statement puts the discussion in the fundamentalists’ frame. In the 13th century, Thomas Aquinas well understood that such a conception of God was both facile and heretical to the Catholic Church. This is a good example of why I find myself a very lonely atheist. How can I be part of the atheist community when the vast majority of people in it think about God and religion with as limited a frame as the most backward fundamentalist? If atheists can’t address eight century old thought, what good are they?
“What was God doing?”!
Really?! That’s what Hawking thinks the nature of religious belief is? Would he ever ask the similarly silly question, “What was the universe doing before it sprang into existence?”?! Yet he seems to have taken spiritual guidance from people who know even less about theology than Pat Robertson.
The only kind of theology that I’ve ever been able to get my head around is negative theology. This is a form of theology where people try to understand God by determining what God cannot be. And the most basic idea in negative theology is that God cannot be a thing in the sense that the Sun is a thing or even the multiverse is a thing. Such a conception of God denigrates the concept. God is simply something powerful. “I am God to my pet rat,” for example.
This is also why atheist proofs are so silly. “Could God create something so heavy he couldn’t lift it?” Such paradoxes are based upon the conception of God as we see it in cartoons: a white bearded man on a throne in the clouds. I understand: this is indeed the way most theists look at God. One of the biggest problems with religion today is that most believers would not see a problem with the question, “What was God doing before divine creation?” But that is their problem, not mine. I am no more interested in arguing with them about such theological caricatures as I am in discussing Bigfoot.
Atheists Need to Learn
But here is a very big problem with the atheist movement. They’ve been pretty good at converting fundamentalists to atheists. But I don’t consider these new “atheists” as believing anything but that their former religious beliefs were silly. What happens when they get a clue? What happens when they learn that there is more to religion that the dogma of a controlling and power hungry church?
One day, atheists will have to sit down with serious theists. As for now, they mostly ignore them. And when they don’t, the atheists are so ignorant of theology that they can’t even understand what the theologians are talking about. And the atheists — with great hubris — take this to mean that the theologians must be wrong. It’s pathetic.
One can’t be an atheist without knowing what it is to be a theist. And most atheists don’t seem to even know what God is supposed to be. What they seem to be against is ignorant people with childish beliefs. If that’s the case, we should call such people areligious. They don’t know or care enough to have an opinion about God, and thus don’t deserve to be called atheists.