Atheist icon Stephen Hawking has stated his opinion that the universe does not "need" a creator God to explain its existence or complexity. He made sure to blast the Christian belief in heaven, which he said was "a fairy story" He stated:
"I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I'm not afraid of death, but I'm in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first...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."
Man as a Machine?
The interesting thing about Hawking's comment is what it reveals about the way people tend to interpret the human person. Ideally, technological advancement should give us the tools and insight to get a more accurate and objective view of the world around us, including (and especially) the human person. Instead, what happens too often is the reverse - people get enamored of a new technological or scientific advancement and start to see the human person in terms of the technology.
In the Middle Ages, when a spiritual view of the cosmos pervaded society, man was seen as an enfleshed spirit - an organic unity of body and soul. When the Industrial Revolution came along and technology started to change, mankind was seen as a complex machine made up of interworking parts. When atheistic evolution became popular around the turn of the last century, man was seen as another beast (albeit a very advanced one), competing against his beastly competitors in the merciless march of Social Darwinism. Michio Kaku, in his book Future of the Mind, interprets mental activity in terms of modern corporatism and sees man's internal organization as a large company or corporation. Now that we are in the computer age, the human person is viewed as a kind of super-computer, and the brain as a vast and complex Internet. This is how Hawking has apparently allowed the computer to affect his view of the human brain, which he sees fundamentally as "a computer."
But just for the sake of argument, let us grant Hawking's premise that the brain is ultimately a big computer. Even if we grant this, it should be evident that computers can have a sort of "eternal life" after their own nature. First, observe that, while the actual computer hardware is certainly important, what really gives a computer its value is what programs or software it has installed, that is, the data contained on or in the computer. This data could be likened, in our analogy, to the soul of the computer; just like what is most important about a human is the immaterial part of him, so a computer's most important part is the data it contains, the software.
Typically, this data "dies" when the hard drive it is contained on crashes or dies. Even though in this scenario the hard drive and the data are lost simultaneously, we make a logical distinction between the hard drive itself and the data, the stuff "on" the hard drive. In philosophical terms, the hard drive is the occasion of the data. The always appears united to a hard drive, but the data is not itself the hard drive.
Because we understand this distinction, we know that the data contained on a hard drive can go on "living" after the hard drive's demise. This is why we email things to ourselves, make back-up hard drives and put things on a flash drive. When your computer goes the way of all hard ware, you know that the data (the most important stuff) can go on living by transferring them to a new computer, a new "body."
Of course, all hard drives eventually crash, and so in real life data never gets to a "final destination"; it actually kind of gets reincarnated over and over again on different systems. But suppose we posit a theoretical "perfect hard drive" that would never crash; a piece of equipment that could store an infinite amount of data forever without ever suffering from material depreciation, a hard drive where "moth and rust do not destroy" and from where we would never need to remove our files again. If such a thing existed, our files could indeed enjoy a kind of "eternal life" forever in a perfect hard drive. It is theoretically possible.
If we can see the logic of this in the world of computers, than why is it so hard to admit it's theoretical possibility for human beings, who according to Hawking, are nothing but biological super-computers?
A "god of the gaps"?
But back to the common atheist assertion that we no longer "need" God to "explain" the universe. This is kind of a canard - since when have we had any Christians out there seriously asserting that we needed strictly supernatural explanations for any of the biological, physical, chemical or other natural processes that go on in the world? I think the debates about "spontaneous generation" were the last time any Christians seriously asserted that. I suppose some strict, young-earth creationists might fall into this category, but do they really represent the majority of Christians? Our belief in God is not based on any sort of "god of the gaps" mentality where we insert God simply because we don't understand a natural process. I don't understand how Jupiter got its big red storm or why sharks in a tank always swim clockwise, but I bet there are natural explanations for both without having to say "God does it miraculously."
There is one conspicuous place where I do think God is necessary, however, but this is not anything to do with the natural processes within the universe; rather, it has to do with the very existence of the universe. Since nothing comes from nothing, and since nothing that exists generates itself, the only alternative is a Creator who brought forth being out of non-being, and to go from non-being to being, a Creator is necessary - a Being powerful enough to call forth being from nothing, "something that everybody calls 'God.'"
This does not constitute a "god of the gaps" mindset, for here we are not positing God simply because the material causes for something are unknown; rather, we understand the logical necessity of God because material causes can explain everything except the origin of material itself. The ontological source of all existence is outside of the framework of material causes.
The distinctly human "why"
This gives a teleological framework to the universe- it answers the great "why" which man has always asked. It is interesting that, when these atheist scientists say that science has all the answers to the mysteries of the universe, when presented with the question of why the universe or any individual exists at all, their response is to scoff and say that asking "why" about life is a meaningless, useless question. Since all that exists is the product of pure randomness, any questions as to its teleological purpose are baseless and ultimately meaningless, so says the atheist evolutionary.
If that is the case, then why is man, the pinnacle of biological evolutionary seem programed by evolutionary development to ask "why"? If evolutionary developments favor the most helpful traits that give a species an advantage, why did the most advanced species ever to walk the face of this earth evolve with the trait to ask and ponder the meaningless question of "why", and why has this question been so central to man's existence?
I would say the ability to ask "why" is what distinguishes men from beasts. Dogs and other animals can ask "what" in their own way; whenever a dog sniffs a new visitor to the home, he is, in his own way, asking "what is this?" Animals can ask "how". When a rat cleverly finds a way through a lab maze to get to a piece of food, or performs other feats of stunning complexity, his brain is answering the question "how do I get this food?" But no animal can contemplate "why" or surmise a teleological end to his existence. This is reserved to humans alone and sets them apart from the rest of the animal kingdom.
But why should a trait so central to man's existence be at the same time "meaningless" and "useless" and yet be bestowed upon him by the same evolutionary development that supposedly only permits useful and meaningful adaptations to endure? If why is a meaningless question, why did evolution allow for the highest creature (man) to ask this meaningless question? It doesn't make any sense. It sounds like something out of a fairy story.