Weekly Buzz: 8/11/14

Stephen Hawking

Young Stephen Hawking with Jane Hawking, his first wife.

This week’s buzz features a Stephen Hawking movie trailer that will move you to tears, advice from Neil deGrasse Tyson on how long you’d last on each planet in our solar system, and a Christian Big Bang Theory. (No, not a new sitcom starring Kirk Cameron.) 

New Stephen Hawking Movie Trailer

The Theory of Everything, the new movie about English physicist Stephen Hawking, hits theaters November 7th. The film chronicles Hawking’s life before, during, and after his crippling medical diagnosis. If you can spare a few minutes, watch the trailer. It’s stunning.

In case you missed it, check out John Oliver’s recent interview of Hawking. The interview might also make you cry—since it’s so funny.

Neil deGrasse Tyson on Surviving in the Rest of our Solar System

Neil deGrasse Tyson and Richard Dawkins

Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, with Richard Dawkins in the background. (Photo by BDEngler, via Wikimedia Commons.)

Have you ever wondered how long you could survive on Venus or Mars, without a spacesuit? Tyson tells you just how long you’d last on every planet in the solar system.

I take issue with his advice about Mars, though. I guess Neil has never seen Total Recall, or Arnold’s brilliant commentary on it.

(Also, if you haven’t seen “drunk” Neil deGrasse Tyson yet, drop everything you’re doing and watch a hilarious video.)

  “A Christian Big Bang Theory?”

M. Anthony Mills, a doctoral candidate in philosophy of science at Notre Dame, asks an interesting question about Christian fear of evolution:

[I]s it any more degrading to the dignity of man to accept that he evolved from the primate than that he evolved from stardust? Primates, at any rate, can use tools.

If Christians have no problem accepting the Big Bang Theory, and stellar evolution, why does biological evolution make them antsy? Mills claims the reason is that biological evolution, much more so than the Big Bang, raises a thorny question: Do natural explanations of the world invalidate divine action in it?

This question forces some Christians into a false dichotomy:

  1. God is the grand watchmaker, and we can detect God’s tinkering within biology.
  2. Natural explanations account—entirely—for biological life, making God unnecessary.

Rejecting this contrast, Mills cites an 18th century dispute between Samuel Clarke, an English philosopher and clergyman, and Gottfried Leibniz, a German philosopher and mathematician. Clarke argued that God needed to intervene in the universe to tinker with, and uphold, gravity.

As Mills notes, Leibniz thought this view did God a disservice:

According to Leibniz, God, the most perfect being, creates the most perfect universe possible. If God were needed to intervene constantly in the natural order, then creation would be lacking — imperfect. The most perfect universe possible is one in which natural, created, things are governed by natural, knowable, causes. . . . The Christian God, Leibniz reminded the English clergyman, is not a natural cause of things, but rather the cause of all natural things. God is . . . the transcendent source of being.

Leibniz rejected the concept of God as a watchmaker, preferring a better doctrine of creation. Mills closes his article by asking Christians to reject watchmaker theology and accept evolution:

But why assume that a universe requiring constant direct divine intervention is more perfect than one in which natural things are governed by complex, even random — if knowable — natural causes? Many Christians accept the latter notion when it comes to physical nature. Why not accept it when it comes to life?

“Why You Should Stop Believing in Evolution”

Keith Blanchard, chief digital officer of World Science Festival, authored a provocative piece with the above title. Spoiler alert: Blanchard doesn’t deny evolution. He just wants to change the way evolution discourse is framed:

So if someone asks, “Do you believe in evolution,” they are framing it wrong. That’s like asking, “Do you believe in blue?”

Evolution is nothing more than a fairly simple way of understanding what is unquestionably happening. You don’t believe in it — you either understand it or you don’t.

Blanchard’s short article is worth reading.

Speaking of framing dialogue about evolution differently, this piece made me think about a book from conservative Christian scholar Denis LamoureuxI Love Jesus & I Accept Evolution. Note Lamoureux’s title. It says that he “accepts” evolution, not that he “believes” in it.

Have any thoughts about this week’s buzz?

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