Stephen Hawking’s recent statement that the Universe could and would have created itself without the interference of God is interesting, but really not anything new. I think it’s been quite well established that the Universe COULD have come into being without a Creator behind the process. Yes, some people still use that argument, but they tend to be the same ones who think Adam and Eve rode dinosaurs and gay marriage would destroy the world.
And these people are the ones who don’t give a crap about evidence, because they’ll either ignore it or fight against it. According to this article, Rabbi Lord Sacks replied to Hawking’s claims by saying, “The Bible simply isn’t interested in how the Universe came into being.” Obviously this isn’t entirely true, or Genesis 1 wouldn’t be there at all.
I do think, however, that creation myths were traditionally not intended to be taken entirely literally, and the Jewish version is no exception. Fundamentalist Christians, on the other hand, have latched onto the creation as an integral part of their religion, and take Genesis extremely literally. You would kind of think that proving the Creator redundant WOULD be a devastating blow to fundamentalists, but it won’t be because they won’t believe it anyway.
This did get me thinking what WOULD be a major blow for religion, and Christianity in particular. I don’t really think lack of evidence would do it, because religions adapt. As science came up with explanations for wind and lightning that DIDN’T involve gods fighting each other, the gods themselves didn’t die out, but retired into the spiritual realm. The myths then came to be regarded as more metaphorical than literal. So what DOES kill gods? I would have to suspect it’s largely politics. Conquered people would often worship the gods of their conquerors, as they would have been considered more powerful than the local ones. Other times, local gods were incorporated into the pantheons of more powerful nations. Christianity gained prominence in the Roman Empire when Constantine declared it an official state religion. (No matter that the legends have him converting because he felt Jesus helped him win a battle, despite the fact that Jesus was a pacifist.)
Muhammad conquered Mecca in order to make it a holy place for his new faith and no other. And once a religion becomes ingrained in a culture, people will start thinking in terms of it without even realizing it. The many Christian reformers didn’t even stop to question the idea that Jesus died for the sins of humanity, even though it seems to me that this could have been incorrect just as easily as the whole Purgatory thing. Even today, look at how many people who don’t consider themselves religious still talk about bad behavior as “sin,” a concept that I don’t think has any meaning outside the Abrahamic religions. Perhaps it’s reached the point where religion has separated itself enough from politics that the major faiths today would remain in place even if, say, the world were conquered by aliens who attribute the victory to their god Orgrexx. That said, however, it’s apparently still common for people to combine religion and politics in their own minds. This could explain why Americans today are so terrified of the bogus idea that President Obama might be a Muslim, forgetting that even if this were true, instituting a state religion would be well beyond the powers of the president.
Many of these people are still under the impression that the United States is a Christian nation, when it’s actually a secular nation with a largely (but certainly not entirely) Christian culture.