Stephen Hawking may not believe in God, but without religion as the moral and ethical basis of society would he still be alive?
Recently I was asked by Ben Davies, editor of The New Statesman magazine, to contribute to the online debate surrounding the new book God is Not Great. The book is yet another which preys on the commonly held fear that strongly held religious beliefs inevitably lead to terrorism. Although the book creates a feeble strawman stereotype of religion as anti-intellectual tribalist fundamentalism and proceeds to then knock that strawman over, the author, Christopher Hitchens, fails to recognise what sort of society we would all be living in if, as he suggests, our religious and moral underpinning was done away with in favour of a purely science-based system of ethics.
Srila Prabhupada consistently spoke out against the modern misconceptions of scientists and philosophers when they made speculative pronouncements about God and religion. He knew that the intrinsic faith of people can be eroded by atheism, especially when that atheism is made to appear rational. Vaishnavas are not alone in pointing out logical flaws in the materialistic worldview and I therefore hope my readers won’t mind if I share this piece with them. Its by a Jewish radio show host, a rabbi who lived, and debated, for ten years in Oxford. Voted Preacher of the Year by the Times, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach wrote this piece for the Jerusalem Post a few days ago.
God is greater than Christopher Hitchens
Christopher Hitchens’s rancorous attack against religion, God Is Not Great, is
the number-one book in America. Three years ago he and I debated religion in
New York City . I looked forward to the debate because I had always admired Hitchens’s iconoclastic mind and barbed pen.
In our debate, he did not disappoint. He began with a typically acerbic attack
against religion, saying that Stephen Hawking had more wisdom in his tiny
little finger than all the pages of the Bible combined.
When my turn came, I responded that the great, wheelchair-bound physicist was
fortunate that religion rather than evolution had influenced British morality.
I had hosted Hawking at Oxford for a lecture a few years earlier, and found him
to be a man who loved babies. Our daughter Rochel Leah had just been born, and
Hawking insisted on holding her in his withered arms by having his wife wrap
them around the infant.
He is a very incapacitated man, and some evolutionary biologists maintain that
a life like his should never have been preserved in the first place.
Whereas the Bible establishes the infinite value of every human life, healthy
or diseased, no less an authority than Francis Crick, Nobel laureate and
co-discoverer of DNA, suggested that babies should be considered alive only two
days after birth, during which time they could be examined for defects. If
defects were found that were sufficiently deleterious, the infant could
presumably be eliminated with impunity because it had not yet become alive.
Similarly, Crick proposed redefining death as occurring at a predetermined age
such as 80 or 85, at which time the person would automatically be declared dead
and all his property pass on to his heirs.
THANKFULLY for Prof. Hawking, the society he lived in embraced biblical
morality and rejected the establishment of survival of the fittest as a moral
principle. Prof. Hawking is not the fittest, but that does not mean he should
not have been given the medical care by which he survives.
And for all his own brilliance, this is where Hitchens goes seriously astray.
Without the Bible, how would we even know what good and evil are? Through
science? Like the idea of Prof. Bently Glass, who suggested that the notions of
good and evil be completely divorced from their moral connotations and
redefined as what is good or bad for the development of a species? Would we
then justify the elimination of carriers of disease or the mentally defective,
the interbreeding of which might be “bad” for the health of the species?
Hitler used this very argument as the rationale for his program of euthanasia
for the mentally infirm, saying, “In nature there is no pity for the lesser
creatures when they are destroyed so that the fittest may survive. Going
against nature brings ruin to man… and is a sin against the will of the
eternal Creator. It is only Jewish impudence to demand that we overcome
In his book, Hitchens mocks the Ten Commandments. Didn’t the ancient Israelites
already know that thievery and murder were wrong? Quite right. Mankind would
have easily legislated much of the morality contained in the Bible even without
But then the whole point of the Ten Commandments is the establishment of
absolute, divine morality. These are not laws legislated by man and subject,
therefore, to human tampering. They are the absolute rules that dare never be
changed – at any time, at any place, under any circumstances.
Hitler also believed in “Do not murder.” But it was his law that had been
legislated, and it was therefore he who determined to whom it applied and to
whom it did not. Indeed, Hitchens overlooks that the world’s foremost genocides
have all been committed by secular, atheistic regimes that maintained the right
to determine which lives were worth preserving, and which worth discarding.
Hitler murdered at least 12 million. Stalin, another 30 million. Mao, perhaps
40 million. And Pol Pot killed one third of all Cambodians in the mid 1970s.
The number of people killed by the secular atheist regimes of the 20th century
dwarfs by far those killed in the name of religion since the beginning of
WITH ITS famous pronouncement that all humans are created in the image of God,
the Bible establishes the absolute equality of all humankind, regardless of
race, gender or ethnicity. Charles Darwin, however, thought differently, “The
more civilized so-called Caucasian races have beaten the Turkish hollow in the
struggle for existence. Looking to the world at no very distant date, what an
endless number of the lower races will have been eliminated by the higher
civilized races throughout the world.”
According to Sir Arthur Keith, Britain’s leading evolutionary scientist of the
mid-20th century, Hitler’s ideas of a master race were the direct product of
evolutionary thinking. Keith wrote:
“To see evolutionary measures and tribal morality being applied vigorously to
the affairs of a great modern nation, we must turn again to Germany of 1942. We
see Hitler devoutly convinced that evolution produced the only real basis for a
national policy… The means he adopted to secure the destiny of his race and
people were organized slaughter… The German Fuhrer, as I have consistently
maintained, is an evolutionist; he has consciously sought to make the practice
of Germany conform to the theory of evolution… war is the necessary outcome
of Darwin’s theory.”
Thomas Huxley, the man most responsible for the widespread acceptance of
evolution, remarked, “No rational man, cognizant of the facts, believes that
the average Negro is the equal, still less the superior, of the white man.” In
fact, after evolutionary theory was posited in 1859, questions of whether
blacks were even of the same species as whites changed to questions of whether
or not Africans could survive competition against Europeans.
The momentous answer was a resounding no. The African was the inferior because
he represented the “missing link” between ape and man, according to the
So before Hitchens claims, as he does in his subtitle, that Religion Poisons
Everything, he might stop to consider that the only basis for a belief that all
human life is both equal and of infinite value is the Bible that he treads on
with such glee.
The writer’s latest book is Shalom in the Home. He is also author of Moses of
Oxford, which includes lengthy discussions of his debates on evolution with
Prof. Richard Dawkins at Oxford.