Ever since he told a Guardian reporter last weekend that the idea of an afterlife is a “fairy story for people afraid of the dark,” Stephen Hawking has been in the religion news. Aside from making him a Twitter trending topic, Hawking’s remarks have led to renewed commentary on the relationship between faith and science in the blogosphere—and to a snide comment from Growing Pains/Left Behind star Kirk Cameron. The interview follows a longstanding history of remarks on religion by Hawking, as well as his declaration of the death of philosophy in a book published last year.
The author of A Brief History of Time isn’t the only physicist making religion headlines. Not long ago, a paper presented at the American Physical Society’s annual meeting led the BBC to report: “Religion may become extinct in nine nations, study says.” The paper, “A Mathematical Model of Social Group Competition with Application to the Growth of Religious Non-affiliation,” written by Richard Wiener and two colleagues, identifies nine countries—Australia, Austria, Canada, the Czech Republic, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand and Switzerland—in which religion may be extinct in a few generations because the utility of religious non-adherence is greater than the utility to be expected from religious adherence. In the latest installment of the Martin Marty Center’s Sightings, David Gottlieb critiques a central premise of the study by Wiener et al.:
they may have failed to consider the possibility that at least some of these societies may be post-secular: that is, ones in which the “religious” and “irreligious” interact and overlap, coexisting in a competitive but mutually beneficial tension.