Science and Meaning of Life


Salman Ahmed Shaikh

Stephen Hawking has recently died after living a difficult life physically, but one which was highly productive in terms of intellectual journey and contributions. While acknowledging the tremendous value of the contribution of Stephen Hawking in Cosmological Physics, an attempt is made to clarify the limitations of science in exploring the meaning of life.

Stephen Hawking explains:

“Any physical theory is always provisional, in the sense that it is only a hypothesis: you can never prove it. No matter how many times the results of experiments agree with some theory, you can never be sure that the next time the result will not contradict the theory.”

Nonetheless, Stephen Hawking did not believe in God the way religious people do and he had also raised some critical questions and passed some remarks which are respectfully answered below.

Stephen Hawking once said: “I believe the universe is governed by the laws of science. The laws may have been decreed by God, but God does not intervene to break the laws.” What we do not often do is to think over the meaning of our own lives. We would do research in distant galaxies, distant past of the universe and in the smallest particles of matter, but are ignorant about meaning and purpose of existence. One Scientist aptly summed up “Natures does not explain, it is in need of an explanation”.

Stephen Hawking once said: “God may exist, but science can explain the universe without the need for a creator.” He also said: “Science is increasingly answering questions that used to be the province of religion.” It must be understood that rediscovering regularity in physical realities is not the end-objective of existence. How we develop as adults from birth as an individual or how and when humans as a whole came to exist in this form physically is all beside the point from the basic premise of religion. As per religious worldview, humans are created for a test. Their success in this test depends on moral excellence in matters involving free will. Science can never be an arbiter in moral matters.

Stephen Hawking once said: “We are the product of quantum fluctuations in the very early universe.” The physical appearance of life can be studied as biological and chemical processes, but is life just all that? Why should good and evil matter? Warlords died as outlaws. So how our aspiration to see the establishment of justice actualize if it ever can be? Belief in afterlife accountability actualizes the cause and effect in moral matters.

Stephen Hawking once said: “Before we understand science, it is natural to believe that God created the universe.” As a matter of fact, the faithful people have lived in the most primitive civilizations as well as in the most recent times. Despite racism, bias, discrimination, genocide and decimation of their native lands, the faithful population would almost reach 86.2% of the global population by 2050 as per Pew Research Center.

Stephen Hawking once said: “I have noticed even people who claim everything is predestined, and that we can do nothing to change it, look before they cross the road.” In answering this comment, it is important to understand that religious faith does not mean that after accepting faith, one can walk on water, fly in the air or defy physical limits in any other sense. Religion concerns moral content in choices made with free will. Repeatedly, Quran asks for people to strive for knowledge, discovery and virtuous livelihood.

Stephen Hawking once said: “Time didn’t exist before the Big Bang, so there is no time for God to make the universe in.” The universe exists as an act of Creation in which there exist living and non-living creatures. The Ultimate Creator has to be independent of the universe, physical laws and time and space. Even when the humans had not explored the World at large and crossed continents, the Quranic description of God is beyond human imagination and is what it should be of an Ultimate Creator. In Ayat-ul-Kursi, Allah introduces Himself “…the Ever Living, the One Who sustains and protects all that exists. Neither slumber, nor sleep overtakes Him. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on earth …” (2: 255).

However, Science is useful to understand physical phenomena, physical processes, behaviour of matters and to make use of matter and natural processes for developing creative and comfortable ways of living, transportation, obtaining food, communication, cures to diseases and performing tasks efficiently with programmed hardware and software. Nonetheless, values, morality and meaningfulness in life matter in all ages and require a worldview which can explain the deeper questions. It is pertinent to ask what Stephen Hawking also finds perplexing:

“We find ourselves in a bewildering world. We want to make sense of what we see around us and to ask: What is the nature of the universe? What is our place in it and where did it and we come from? Why is it the way it is?”

Even Stephen Hawking admits:

“Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe? The usual approach of science of constructing a mathematical model cannot answer the questions of why there should be a universe for the model to describe.”

About Salman Ahmed Shaikh

PhD Economics, National University of Malaysia. Assistant Professor of Economics and Finance. Author, Researcher, Teacher and Consultant. He can be contacted at: salman@siswa.ukm.edu.my
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