So, it turns out that world-famous British physicist Stephen Hawking doesn’t believe in a “Heaven” or an afterlife. When we die, our brains shut down and then… nothing.
Death, according to Hawking, is even more of a drag than we thought. No pearly gates, no rebirth, no playing harps on cloud tops. These stories of stuff that happens after death are just that; they’re “fairy tales,” Hawking told the UK’s Guardian in a recent interview.
But is this opinion really such a surprise?
In September last year, I playfully branded Hawking a “troublemaker” after he published his book The Grand Design. In it, he cut “God” out of the universal creation equation. “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,” he wrote.
In this new interview, Hawking drove home his trouble-making ways, saying, “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.”
(At this point, if you’re asking “where do all the calculators go?” you’re not alone.)
Naturally, this statement has caused another stir, angering people who think Hawking shouldn’t be meddling with religious ideas. Stephen Green, director of lobby group Christian Voice, told Cambridge News that “the comparisons to a computer switching off shows a man who is only able to think of things in a materialistic way.”
Rather than debating whether or not Heaven, Hell, God or the Flying Spaghetti Monster exists, why is Hawking (once again) waving a red flag in front of the proverbial religious bull?
For starters, he says he’s not afraid to die, having lived with the threat of this reality for nearly half a century after being diagnosed with a debilitating motor neuron disease when he was 21. “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,” he said. In the face of his life-threatening illness, Hawking doesn’t need the prospect of Heaven to make him feel better.
Hawking, famed for his groundbreaking theoretical physics work, spoke at the Google Zeitgeist meeting in London on Monday to answer the question: “Why are we here?”
In his presentation, Hawking discussed the quantum fluctuations in the very early universe that became the seeds from which everything we see in the Universe grew. For Hawking, no omnipresent “creator” is needed to form the Universe we live in. From the Big Bang to present day, science can explain how we got here. There is no “why”; we are here through chance, nothing more.
“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,” he told the Guardian.
Fundamentally, Hawking bases his argument on M-theory, an extension of string theory, where 11 dimensions are calculated to exist; our 4-dimensional spacetime is therefore only part of the story. The first step in proving the foundations of M-theory could come from the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) where supersymmetry particles may be discovered.
Going head-to-head with religion is nothing new, and Hawking has obviously caused a kerfuffle. However, religion and science are two very different creatures. Faith doesn’t need evidence for the existence of a God, Heaven or Hell; religion is a belief structure, no amount of mathematics can disprove a faith — and no amount of faith can prove a god.
If Hawking can so easily disprove Heaven using those pesky equations, can Heaven simply be shoehorned into the equations to make it exist? Why not! “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?” said Green.
As you can see, science and religion often mixes like oil and water.
Image: Stephen Hawking of the Discovery Channel’s ‘Into The Universe With Stephen Hawking‘ speaks via satellite during the Science Channel portion of the 2010 Television Critics Association Press Tour at the Langham Hotel on January 14, 2010 in Pasadena, California. Credit: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images.