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Science, faith, and the meaning of the universe: what works?

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Jun 09, 2010

Interviewed by Diane Sawyer on ABC television, the noted cosmologist Steven Hawking said: "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."

We've heard the argument before: science "works." But doesn't religion "work" too? It depends on what you're trying to accomplish. If the objective is to put a man on the moon, I'll choose science. If we're trying to get souls into heaven, the smart money (ask Pascal) is on religion.

Notice that Hawking predicts that science will "win." Why does he assume that there is a competition? A scientist who said that chemistry will "win" over physics would not-- or at least should not-- be taken seriously. It would be an unscientific claim.

But if there is a competition between religion and science, what is the ultimate prize? An understanding of the universe? Fair enough. Let's go back to the ABC interview. Sawyer asks Hawking what deep question he would like to have answered, and he replies:

I want to know why the universe exists, why there is something greater than nothing.

Good question, Dr. Hawking. Not a terribly original question, though. You'll find an answer in the Book of Genesis. And although it's not scientifically verifiable, it "works." 

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: - Jun. 15, 2010 3:26 PM ET USA

    Irony! The brilliant Mr. Hawking is receiving an interior question from the Holy Spirit and he doesn't realize that the place to find the answer is in religion, where we communicate with the creator of all things!

  • Posted by: sparch - Jun. 15, 2010 9:46 AM ET USA

    Religion is also based on observation and reason. The diffrence is that science depends on proofing to the world, religion is based on proofing to oneself. Both are valid.

  • Posted by: - Jun. 12, 2010 3:23 PM ET USA

    Hawking is supposed to be an intellectual giant, and yet he sees no irony, he has no "a ha" moment, when he speaks of the beginning of the universe, and notes that it all started with a "singularity." Seems like an appropriate time for an "a ha" to me, don't you think?

  • Posted by: koinonia - Jun. 12, 2010 11:53 AM ET USA

    At least he admits that there is "something greater than nothing." It's a start- perhaps something to build on philosophically. It's a shame he is currently unable to unite his physical suffering to that of Christ crucified. Perhaps our prayers might one day assist him in his search for answers.

  • Posted by: vincent.reed4686 - Jun. 10, 2010 5:38 AM ET USA

    I am a science teacher and worked in science for many years before going into education. Science is full of 'this theory works but there are exceptions for which it does not work' the longer I work in science the more I think we are kids with an ant farm and the more I realise scientists should look at the bible more.

  • Posted by: wolfdavef3415 - Jun. 09, 2010 10:27 PM ET USA

    Also, I would note that science and religion do not even ask the same question. Science asks 'HOW' whereas religion asks 'WHY'. You cannot compare the two answers. For instance, if I ask 'How do you make an omelet?' and you answer 'Because I am hungry.', this makes no sense. In the same vein, if you ask me 'Why are you making that omelet?' and I respond 'Remove two eggs from the shell, add a touch of milk, whisk until foamy, et cetera' this also makes no sense.

  • Posted by: wolfdavef3415 - Jun. 09, 2010 10:12 PM ET USA

    You have no idea how well timed this article was for me. Thank you. As an aside, Dr. Hawking also believes time travel is possible and that aliens are out there and angry at us. I would say that Dr. Hawking holds some pretty fanciful beliefs of his own. Orbiting a black hole isn't exactly a walk in the park.