Stephen Hawking declared recently - to the delight of all secularists and atheists - that science now had 'no need of God' (Read it here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-11161493). Of course we had all the standard reaction from both secularist/atheists and people of faith alike. It happened to be around the time of the Papal visit as well, which brought crowds out in hundreds of thousands, as well as millions watching on television. As I've reflected on these two things in particular I've come to some opinions about what these things and our reaction to them might mean for us, both culturally and as Christians
Before I come to that though I want actually confront what he's actually said about the laws of physics and laws of gravity explaining the big bang. I don't know if I'm the only one who noticed this, but if it only took the law of gravity or laws of physics for the big bang to happen, where did they come from?
Who created those rules?
Who dreamt that up?
They seems like obvious questions, but no one seems to be answering them - or even asking them.
I mean that screws up his theory before its even got off the ground, yet some people will of course gravitate towards it and claim it instantly as fact. Incredible.
Now, to the deeper and more cultural implications of what Hawking said, how it connects with the Papal visit and what is says to us about church.
The more time goes on and we make more and more scientific discoveries about the nature of the universe, the more we know essentially, then in a secular consumer society the harder it will inevitably be to be a follower of Jesus. The more of a step of faith it may require to believe that there is a creator and a saviour who died and rose again to save us, because life will be - some will argue - totally explained by science (although they will continue to miss the obvious point that science provides no moral basis for living and that there are many Christian scientists) and we won't need to have as much faith in kind of recognised religion with a God that we can't see or scientifically prove exists.
The more we know, and the longer we live in a consumer/secular society, I believe the more people will simply see that its not enough. This is already beginning to a degree, the response to the Pope's visit alone said to me that with the collapse of the global market, capitalism, consumerism and the myth of secularism have been exposed as a sham. People are losing faith in those ideas. The longer time goes on, the more I believe people will begin to ask themselves this simple question:
'Is this it?'
Then they may start to look at creation with very different eyes, and maybe begin to understand that the scientific explanation of the universe may tell us something, but that there is something bigger going on, a purpose to all this.
One other thing I am convinced of too.
The more knowledge and less what is commonly termed 'faith' (although ultimately we are all people of faith, in one thing or another), that we see in our society, the more the message of Jesus will be communicated not just in words but in the lives of His followers. The more we know about the world, the more people will want to see a faith that results in real life change. People may hunger for an authentic life of discipleship, not just another thing to believe in or another hobby they do once a week. Not only that, but the more that those who teach the gospel will need to communicate creatively, innovatevly, in language & style that we can all understand and connect with.
They will want a church that can deliver. That's authentic.
Churches that are more religious and rule-based, which divide up the spiritual and physical, which practice a religious subculture, with 'Christian' this and that, and its own language - Christianese - will just become more and more disconnected from reality and ultimately will not grow from the outside. Because the gospel they preach, in my opinion, won't actually be the real gospel anyway. People may try them out, but ultimately they may be found wanting because they aren't embracing Jesus as a way of life that's integrated into the everyday, that relates to how we live here & now and the realities we all face, that's more concerned with going somewhere else than here.
In order to grow, the church may ultimately have to start seeking, practicing and pursuing authentic Christian discipleship, and be engaged with a God who wants us to bring heaven to earth now, into our everyday. Churches that will grow will be outward looking and engaged with the reality of the world around them and speaking their language, while staying true to the heart of the gospel. The challenge will always be to keep that message authentic, to be opening people's eyes to the God all around them and encourage true relationship and dialogue with this God, and asking people to carry their crosses daily.
So ultimately, the result of Hawking's discoveries may actually end up being the total opposite of what he thinks.