Stephen Hawking’s, posthumous book Brief Answers to the Big Questions categorically denies the existence of god and afterlife. So, what’s new about this proclamation made by Hawking who never believed in god nor entertained any belief?
To understand the gravity of his denial of any supernatural power, one must peek into the rational brain (not mind; ‘mind’ is a psycho-theolingual concoction of modern psychology which has no tangibility) of the great scientist.
He didn’t deny the existence of god just because he himself had no faith in this man-made entity. To comprehend the totality of non-existence of god according to Hawking, it’s better to understand the stand of Hawking’s friend and at times, rival Roger Penrose’s idea of god.
Both the great minds may have had theoretical differences, but they were unanimous on one count that there’s no god. The Oxford-based mathematical physicist Roger Penrose believes that it was the ontological repetitions and refrains of sceptics, agnostics, believers, atheists, and nonbelievers which further consolidated Hawking’s belief in the nonexistence of any god.
Sigmund Freud categorised human cognitive de-layering as conscious/ subconscious/unconscious and wrote in his seminal essay on god, religion and ethics that ‘Even if our conscious level believes in god, our subconscious always has a lurking doubt about the very existence of it (god).’
To quote Charvaka, ‘Prashnatam charabhootam sanshayat adyapi prachyet even to be assured of god’s existence is to be unsure of his presence. Uttar Mimansa, one of the six schools of Indian philosophy, states: The doubt about god begins, the moment a spark of belief germinates —Ya saadhyam janmati sanshyam yatha devasya pranati vritten.
Hawking was well aware of this ironic god-belief or unbelief of oriental Nyaya Shastra and Sankhya Darshana. Sankhya doesn’t believe that the world was created by a creator sitting in heaven. Western rationalism of the 20th century also believed that ‘one per cent faith begins with a hundred per cent doubt’ as Jean Paul Sartre put it.
Hawking believed with Richard Dawkins that despite thousands of years of believing in god and religion, the idea or unquestioning faith in a supernatural power hasn’t been internalised in the human psyche and this is encouraging, because our subconscious collectively doubts that there’s a god. The same thought was shared by Sam Harris in his Cosmic Humbug.
Hawking could deny the existence of god because he knew that the subconscious and unconscious levels of human cognitive process would sooner or later militate against the false notion of god. To quote a Guardian editorial, just after the departure of Hawking in March 2018,‘ Hawking’s god-denial poses a challenge to people’s belief system, whether or not they believe in something up there.’
‘Since our evolution is an ongoing process and is still far from being complete, a belief in god will remain. The day evolution processes will end, god will also disappear from the collective human consciousness,’ says Pascal Boyer in Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origin of Religious Thought. Hawking often quoted this passage to buttress his point while denying the existence of god.>