Reflections on the Influence of Stephen Hawking

Lets all go to Mars, sculpture by Stephen Hawking (Depositphotos Photography ID: 169212920 Copyright: irisphoto11 Editorial use only)

Stephen Hawking recently passed away after living a remarkably full life in spite of being stricken by Lou Gehrig’s Disease at an early age. He was one of the most influential people of his time, not because of his condition, but because of his mind. He was brilliant and pioneered new understandings of the universe through applied mathematics in the field of cosmology.

Hawking is a voice that people listened to, not only in science, but in the application of science to such things as philosophy and the origin of the universe. Hawking may have toyed once with the idea of God, but he became an atheist. He chose, as have many a modern scientist has chosen since the 19th century, to view the world without reference to God.

In this article, I explore some comments made by Hawking’s colleague, John Lennox, who begins a recent interview by extolling the brilliance of Stephen Hawking and his scientific achievements. The subject is the existence of God. I will also introduce two very young geniuses who have different takes on the subject of God at the end.

The subtext of the article is this: when Hawking went beyond the science that he knew so well, and entered into the arena of philosophy, he stumbled. Hawking, the great scientist and intellect, wasn’t a philosopher, though he sought to wield his influence in that area. We can, and should, remember Hawking as one of the greatest scientists of our time, but scientific acumen doesn’t necessarily extend to other areas of study, especially when he spent no significant time in them.

John Lennox quoting Martin Rees, a cosmologist, astrophysicist and 40-year colleague of Stephen Hawking, points out in the segment of an interview that follows that Hawking was not well read in the areas of philosophy and theology:

This unfamiliarity with sophisticated philosophy and theology led Hawking to make some very unsophisticated statements. For instance, his pronouncement that “philosophy is dead” is at best ironic. The statement, itself, is philosophical. If the statement is true, it undermines the very assertion being made.

However, since Hawking was a such a giant in his own scientific fields with which he was intimately familiar, we tend to let statements, like the one above, go by unchallenged. The danger in that is to allow some questionable philosophy into our view of the world. Without diminishing Stephen Hawkins’ contributions to science, we need to view his philosophical comments for what they are worth.

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