Today in “On the Square” we offer two articles, R. R. Reno’s regular column and physicist and editorial board member Stephen M. Barr’s response to Stephen Hawking’s belief that the universe could come into being without God.
In Progressive Catholicism’s Simplistic Thesis, R. R. Reno examines the history of the Second Vatican Council as told by a Jesuit historian, and finds that it undervalues history precisely in its claim to truly accept it. Mark S. Massa’s thesis
is simplistic in the extreme. On one side are those who believe in timeless truths, on the other side those who embrace “historical consciousness.” By this reading, the history of Catholicism in the decade of and after the Council is best understood as the clash between a-historical martinets who wanted to keep the Church frozen in the past and historically sensitive intellectuals who were comfortable with pluralism, change, and the “messiness of history.”
In Much Ado About Nothing, Stephen M. Barr examines Stephen Hawking’s now famous declaration that the universe created itself, and finds that it fails as a statement about physics, never mind philosophy. the “scenarios and theories” physics offers “are merely mathematical stories,” he writes.
They may be fictional or describe some reality. And just as the words of a book by themselves can’t tell you whether it’s fact or fiction—let alone have the power to make the world they describe real—so with the equations of a physics scenario. As Hawking once understood, equations may turn out to be an accurate description of some reality, but cannot not confer reality on the things they describe.