The tragic death of a flawed genius
Two days ago I received a shock when I went to see an old friend and his wife in Wales. His wife had been suffering from a terminal illness and I wanted to see her one last time. I arrived with flowers in hand, only to be told she had passed away early that morning.
She had died around the same time Professor Stephen Hawking had died that same day. I had heard about Hawking’s death on the early morning news and had been deeply saddened, as I always am when someone I’ve lived with (so to speak) all my life dies.
I couldn’t help reflecting on the two tragedies: Hawking, the brilliant but disable genius who had lost his physical faculties to motor-neurone disease in his early twenties and Irene, until recently had been in possession of her physical and mental faculties but had suddenly deteriorated rapidly. Hawking the atheist and Irene the full-of-faith follower of Jesus Christ.
Though her ability to think and communicate had deteriorate rapidly in a matter of weeks, to the end she remained acutely aware spiritually. She knew she was going to see Jesus but was sad that her husband was not going with her.
Stephen Hawking had no spiritual hope. ‘Physics,’ he says in the movie A Theory of Everything, ‘is religion for atheists.’
In his best-known book, A Brief History of Time, he enthused that if we could find out why the universe exists, we would know ‘the mind of God.’ He was, as he later explained, using the term ‘God’ in a figurative sense.
And that’s what was so sad about the death of this man with a brain the size of a small asteroid. Hawking had wanted to arrive at a complete understanding of the universe. He died without achieving his grand ambition (as if there was ever the possibility of him doing so) but Irene knew for most of her life why the universe exists and why it is the way it is. She knew that because she knew God and knew that ‘in the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.’
As the book of Proverbs says: 'The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.'
I grieve the loss of Irene but not as much as I grieve for Stephen Hawking. I will see Irene again but I seriously doubt I’ll ever meet Professor Hawking. I admire Irene more than I do Stephen Hawking because she accomplished far more through her faith, prayers and service for others than Stephen Hawking's equations ever did.
That is not to diminish Hawking’s remarkable mind. But it seems to me that theoretical physicists like Professor Hawking seek to prove to the impossible. For more than half a century, remarkably gifted scientists have grappled to formulate an equation to prove that everything that exists came into being from Nothing, without the aid of a Creator. Or, as Irene’s son put it to me, these intelligent scientists run super-fast, artificially intelligent computer programmes for the purpose of proving that intelligence had nothing to do with the creation of the universe!
I’m reluctant to criticise Stephen Hawking because he was, by any stretch of the imagination, a brilliant and courageous man. But I said many times when he was alive, that as well as being a genious, he was an unwise man. There is vast difference between being learned and being wise.
Hawking was insistent that the universe could be understood because it operated according to rational laws. And he was correct. That conviction is the bedrock of modern science. Sir Isaac Newton and the other Christans who laid the founding priniples of modern science believed rational laws could not exist without a rational Law Giver. Rational laws can't appear out of chaos any more than rivers can run upstream.
In his final book, The Grand Design, Hawking challenged Newton's belief that a finely tuned universe must have been designed by God, as it could not have been created out of chaos. In effect, Hawking believed in a Grand Design without a Grand Designer!
‘Because there is a law such as gravity,’ Professor Hawking argued, ‘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.’
Stephen Hawking has been extolled as a great communicator of scientific ideas; a great simplifier of complex concepts thoughts. But what is scientific in claiming that anything – let alone the universe – can create itself? That is non-science!
The universe is not Wonderland, where we can believe six impossible things before breakfast.
Irene is in the presence of her Saviour and Redeemer, the Creator of the all things, where all suffering and sorrow have passed away. How if dearly wish I could also say the same about Professor Hawking.