When the world’s most famous physicist weighs in on the question of heaven people surely listen. Unfortunately, when he gets the question wrong, let alone the answer, then he screws a lot of people up in the process. Stephen Hawking, in a recent interview in Britain’s Guardian newspaper, declared that there is no longer any use for believing in the afterlife or heaven (he called it “a fairy tale”), he unwittingly bought into a caricature that many hold of the Christian faith. Of course, Hawking is no theologian (or philosopher as others have noted), so for many of us his words ring hollow.
Thankfully N. T. Wright, one of the world’s leading biblical scholars, has set the record straight. In an article in the Washington Post, Wright corrects the misunderstanding and puts forward a proper Christian view of heaven. Wright is a good source as he has written a definitive study on the resurrection and another on life after death. He’s no theological light-weight. His resume includes stints at Cambridge, Oxford and McGill. He was for a long time the Bishop of Durham and is currently a professor at St. Andrews in Scotland.
Here’s an important quote:
Hawking is working with a very low-grade and sub-biblical view of ‘going to heaven.’ Of course, if faced with the fully Christian two-stage view of what happens after death — first, a time ‘with Christ’ in ‘heaven’ or ‘paradise,’and then, when God renews the whole creation, bodily resurrection — he would no doubt dismiss that as incredible. But I wonder if he has ever even stopped to look properly, with his high-octane intellect, at the evidence for Jesus and the resurrection? I doubt it — most people in England haven’t. Until he has, his opinion about all this is worth about the same as mine on nuclear physics, i.e. not much.