World-famous theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking says flat-out that he doesn’t believe in God, but he does believe that space travel offers the best hope for our species’ immortality.
Those pronouncements came during the buildup to this week’s Starmus Festival at Tenerife in the Canary Islands, where Hawking and other scientific luminaries have gathered for rounds of talks, tours and elbow-rubbing.
The Spanish newspaper El Mundo engineered an exclusive interview with Hawking, and headlined its report with his views on the origins of the universe.
In the past, there’s been a tiny bit of ambiguity: In “A Brief History of Time,” Hawking writes that the discovery of a unifying set of scientific principles known as the theory of everything would enable scientists to “know the mind of God.” But in a follow-up book about the quest for the theory of everything, titled “The Grand Design,” Hawking said the mechanism behind the origin of the universe was becoming so well known that God was no longer necessary.
El Mundo’s Pablo Jauregui asked about those two references to God in one of the questions he prepared for Hawking to answer, and here’s the scientist’s response:
“Before we understand science, it is natural to believe that God created the universe. But now science offers a more convincing explanation. What I meant by ‘we would know the mind of God’ is, we would know everything that God would know, if there were a God, which there isn’t. I’m an atheist.”
Hawking addressed the issue more delicately several years ago when he told Reuters that he was “not religious in the normal sense,” and said “God does not intervene to break the laws” that He decreed. Since then, however, there’s been a lot more theorizing devoted to the origin of the universe. Hawking now believes that an approach known as M-theory will eventually reveal the grand design of the cosmos.
“In my opinion, there is no aspect of reality beyond the reach of the human mind,” Hawking told El Mundo.
Heaven is a ‘fairy story for people afraid of the dark’, Professor Stephen Hawking suggestd yesterday.
As well as saying there is no heaven or afterlife, the renowned scientist said that our brains switch off like ‘broken down computers’ when we die.
His comments upset some religious groups, already angry at his statement last year that the universe was not created by God.
Professor Hawking’s latest remarks came in an interview in which the theoretical physicist told how he had learnt to live in the shadow of death since being diagnosed with motor neurone disease aged 21.
The disease, which is incurable, was expected to kill him within a few years. Instead, he said, it ultimately led him to enjoy life more.
The 69-year-old Cambridge University academic said: ‘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.’
His remarks are more radical than those laid out in his 2010 book, The Grand Design, where he asserts that the universe is governed by the laws of science and did not need a ‘creator’ to bring it into being.
In the interview Professor Hawking – who will today give a lecture entitled ‘Why are we here?’ at the Google Zeitgeist meeting in London – was asked: ‘Is our existence all down to luck?’
He replied: ‘Science predicts that many different kinds of universe will be spontaneously created out of nothing. It is a matter of chance which we are in.’
In answer to another question, he said people should use their time on Earth to fulfil their potential, saying: ‘We should seek the greatest value of our action.’
His lecture today will focus on M-theory, a broad mathematical framework in which 11 dimensions of the universe are identified and which many physicists say is the best hope yet of developing a ‘theory of everything’.
Last night Professor Hawking, whose 1988 science book A Brief History Of Time has sold nine million copies, was criticised by Stephen Green, director of lobby group Christian Voice.
‘The comparisons to a computer switching off shows a man who is only able to think of things in a materialistic way,’ he said.
‘It is a dim viewpoint of a man who is trying to understand something he is spiritually unable to do.
‘People who believe in the afterlife don’t do so because they are afraid of death, that’s a misunderstanding of religious thinking.
‘Belief in God dispels a fear of the dark, of death. I don’t see why Hawking finds it such a struggle to comprehend the spiritual dimension.
‘Hawking is happy to discuss the M-theory, in which the universe is said to have 11 dimensions. Why then could the universe not have a 12th spiritual dimension?’
Earlier this month Professor Hawking explained how motor neurone disease had ultimately allowed him to be much happier.
He said: ‘I don’t have much positive to say about motor neurone disease.
‘But it taught me not to pity myself because others were worse off, and to get on with what I could still do.
‘I’m happier now than before I developed the condition.’
THE Archbishop of Canterbury has hit back at Stephen Hawking’s claims that God was not involved in the creation of the universe.
Physicist Professor Hawking had previously argued belief in a creator was not incompatible with science.
But in a provocative new book he concludes the “Big Bang” which ignited the universe was an inevitable consequence of the laws of physics and nothing to do with any creator.
Yesterday Rowan William, recently granted the freedom of his home city of Swansea, rejected the controversial claim.
The de facto leader of the worldwide Anglican Church said: “Belief in God is not about plugging a gap in explaining how one thing relates to another within the universe.
“It is the belief that there is an intelligent, living agent on whose activity everything ultimately depends for its existence.”
The Archbishop, who was born in the Swansea Valley and grew up in Mumbles, said scientists could never answer the question of how the Big Bang apparently came from nothing.
He said: “Physics on its own will not settle the question of why there is something rather than nothing.”
In his new book The Grand Design, co-written by US physicist Leonard Mlodinow, Prof Hawking contests Sir Isaac Newton’s belief that the universe must have been designed by God as it could not have sprung out of chaos.
Hawking says: “Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.
“Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.
“It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”
It is a departure from the earlier beliefs of Britain’s foremost physicist. In A Brief History of Time, in 1988 he wrote: “If we discover a complete theory, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we should know the mind of God.”
Prof Hawking said a form of complex theoretical physics known as M-theory, a type of so-called “string theory”, could provide the answer that would explain everything in the known universe.
He also believes in the possibility of the “multiverse”; that there could be many other universes outside our own.
Scientists have long sought a universal theory that unites quantum theory (matter at the sub-atomic level) with gravity which explains how objects interact.
Prof Hawking said: ”M-theory is the unified theory Einstein was hoping to find.
“The fact that we human beings – who are ourselves mere collections of fundamental particles of nature – have been able to come this close to an understanding of the laws governing us and our universe is a triumph.”
Prof Hawking has been outspoken this year over a number of issues, arguing it is perfectly rational to assume intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe.
He even said Earth might be at risk from what he imagines to be “massive ships” which could try to colonise our planet and plunder our resources.
Professor John Lennox, who describes himself as a scientist and a Christian and teaches maths as Oxford University, said he believed Prof Hawking was wrong.
He said: “It always amuses me that atheists often argue for the existence of extra-terrestrial intelligence beyond Earth.
“Yet they are only too eager to denounce the possibility that we already have a vast, intelligent being out there: God.
“Much of the rationale behind Hawking’s argument lies in the idea there is a deep-seated conflict between science and religion.
“But this is not a discord I recognise. For me, as a Christian believer, the beauty of the scientific laws only reinforces my faith in an intelligent, divine creative force at work.
“The more I understand science, the more I believe in God because of my wonder at the breadth, sophistication and integrity of his creation.”
Archbishop Williams’ attack on Hawking’s claim has been joined by several clerics.
Britain’s Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks said: “Science is about explanation. Religion is about interpretation – the Bible simply isn’t interested in how the universe came into being.”
The Rt Rev Lee Stephen Rayfield, Bishop of Swindon, said: “Professor Hawking is not saying that it is impossible to believe in God because of what he now understands about the physics of the Big Bang.
“His conclusion does not change the remarkable coherence between the nature of our universe and the understanding Christians have about the nature and character of God.”
God did not create the universe and the “Big Bang” was an inevitable consequence of the laws of physics, the eminent British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking argues in a new book.
In “The Grand Design,” co-authored with U.S. physicist Leonard Mlodinow, Hawking says a new series of theories made a creator of the universe redundant, according to the Times newspaper which published extracts on Thursday.
“Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist,” Hawking writes.
“It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”
Hawking, 68, who won global recognition with his 1988 book “A Brief History of Time,” an account of the origins of the universe, is renowned for his work on black holes, cosmology and quantum gravity.
Since 1974, the scientist has worked on marrying the two cornerstones of modern physics — Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, which concerns gravity and large-scale phenomena, and quantum theory, which covers subatomic particles.
His latest comments suggest he has broken away from previous views he has expressed on religion. Previously, he wrote that the laws of physics meant it was simply not necessary to believe that God had intervened in the Big Bang.
He wrote in A Brief History … “If we discover a complete theory, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason — for then we should know the mind of God.”
In his latest book, he said the 1992 discovery of a planet orbiting another star other than the Sun helped deconstruct the view of the father of physics Isaac Newton that the universe could not have arisen out of chaos but was created by God.
“That makes the coincidences of our planetary conditions — the single Sun, the lucky combination of Earth-Sun distance and solar mass, far less remarkable, and far less compelling evidence that the Earth was carefully designed just to please us human beings,” he writes.
Hawking, who is only able to speak through a computer-generated voice synthesizer, has a neuro muscular dystrophy that has progressed over the years and left him almost completely paralyzed.
He began suffering the disease in his early 20s but went on to establish himself as one of the world’s leading scientific authorities, and has also made guest appearances in “Star Trek” and the cartoons “Futurama” and “The Simpsons.”
Last year he announced he was stepping down as Cambridge University’s Lucasian Professor of Mathematics, a position once held by Newton and one he had held since 1979.
“The Grand Design” is due to go on sale next week.