Archive - Jun 7, 2011

Punching Above His Weight

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Memo to Kirk Cameron: THAT'S NOT WHAT PEER REVIEW MEANS.

You can say a lot of things about Stephen Hawking. Complicated personal life. Lousy at Ultimate Frisbee. Funny voice box. But there's one thing you can say without reservation. He has tiny lobes of his brain that are smarter than Kirk Cameron's entire skull, John Nolte's entire body, and any hypothetical offspring of Cameron and Nolte that science may someday make possible.

Combined.

So when I saw that Nolte, on Big Hollywood, had Cameron's back in the Cameron-Hawking not actually a fight at all over the existence of heaven, I knew I'd be sitting here, writing this column, some day when everything else bored me to tears. Let's go to the tape! First, Hawking, in the Guardian, talking about death:

"I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark."

This is not a shocking statement. Hawking's an atheist. The "off switch", afterlife-free view of death is pretty much all you have open to you as an atheist. It's really straightforward stuff. If you don't believe in mysticism, then death is just death.

Now, when this was reported, much of the first sentence, especially the first two words, got left off. This does not excuse subsequent stupid behavior - I found the full quote in three seconds, which means Cameron or Nolte could have spent the hour or two they needed to find it themselves. But it's key to Cameron's willful misinterpretation and cranky snap-back, both on Facebook, and to TMZ.

By the way, going back to my opening sentence, "peer reviewed science" does not mean that when a scientist says something, you go running to social networking and/or celebrity gossip sites to feebly try and refute it. It wouldn't even work that way if you were Stephen Hawking's peer. Which, I point out here specifically because you are a known, chronic purveyor of ultimate thickness, you're fucking well not. But here's what you said:

"To say anything negative about Stephen Hawking is like bullying a blind man. He has an unfair disadvantage, and that gives him a free pass on some of his absurd ideas..."

Oh, my sweet fucking nonexistent God. I do believe that Kirk Cameron has just attributed Stephen Hawking's entire scientific career to a sort of ADA-style affirmative action where nobody would dare talk shit about him because he's IN A WHEELCHAIR. Which, again, is not how science works. Nobel prizes aren't hugs and cookies you get for trying really hard. And believe me, Kirk, any unfair disadvantage Hawking has from the neck down, you more than make up for in the other direction. But keep talking!

"He says he knows there is no Heaven. John Lennon wasn't sure. He said to pretend there's no Heaven. That's easy if you try. Then he said he hoped that someday we would join him. Such wishful thinking reveals John and Stephen's religious beliefs, not good science."

You know, I'm not the world's biggest John Lennon fan. I don't even like "Imagine" as a song. But you gotta respect the craftsmanship. That line about heaven has been pissing off fundies for 40 years straight. It's like a festering wound that they cannot stop picking at, even in a completely unrelated context.

Of course, John Lennon wasn't a scientist. And while Stephen Hawking is, that doesn't mean that everything he says is intended to be science. He started off with "I regard". And you know Stephen Hawking isn't one to put in unnecessary words. He wasn't making a statement of fact, just a statement of opinion, clearly marked as such. But Cameron, as a young earth creationist, is under CONSTANT THREAT from even the slightest hint of science. And while that's as it should be, it doesn't give him an excuse to lash out at scientists for just talking shit with a British reporter.

But Cameron takes it even farther.

"Professor Hawking is heralded as ‘the genius of Britain,’ yet he believes in the scientific impossibility that nothing created everything and that life sprang from non-life. Why should anyone believe Mr. Hawking’s writings if he cannot provide evidence for his unscientific belief that out of nothing, everything came?"

Well, first of all, dipshit, Hawking's not a biologist. Which means it's not his job to provide evidence that life sprang from non-life. All he has is what you have - the ability to look at the evidence that exists and evaluate it. He's come to a different conclusion than you have, but that's only because he's a lot smarter than you and isn't blinded by a combination of the light of Jesus and Rod Parsley's semen.

As a cosmologist, he actually has provided evidence that out of nothing, everything came. Or at least evidence for a wide variety of complicated theories that Bible-thumping morons reduce to five-word sentences because that's all they can handle. You can say otherwise, and people will listen to you, but that doesn't make it true, and since lying is a sin, you'd better hope Hawking's right and you're not, or else Satan's gonna call you Crispy Kirk once you shuffle off this mortal coil.

Nolte takes Kirk's rhetorical balls and runs with them, of course.

"Cameron’s exactly right. Hawking’s making a scientific statement based on zero evidence. Where’s the scientific recreation of Hawking’s belief? Where’s the creation of life out of matter that isn’t already alive? Where’s the creation of something out of nothing? The Big Bang doesn’t explain what created the Big Bang and no one can truly wrap their mind around the infinity of space. As far as I’m concerned, it requires the summoning of more faith NOT to believe in God than the other way around. Honestly, I don’t know how atheists do it."

Well, I don't know how Hawking comes up with his theories, but I know why he comes up with them and I don't. It's because he's smarter than I am. The atheist thing works the same way, John.

Scientific truths are not validated when stupid people can understand them. They're validated by a system where a bunch of smart people try to prove each other wrong without resorting to oversimplification, Facebook posts, and bitching to gossip columnists. The system Stephen Hawking works under gave us the Moon landing, the iPad, and air conditioning. The system Cameron works under gave us Inquisitions, Crusades, and Willie Aames as Bibleman. I know where I stand.