Stephen Hawking has a mighty mind imprisoned in a helpless body.
Almost everything he does has to be done with the aid of human technology. He speaks with an artificial voice, moves about in artificial conveyances, writes with the aid of high-tech devices.
His god-given voice, his mobility, and most of his motor functions have been lost since 1963, when he was diagnosed, at age 21, with motor neurone disease. Deprived of normal interaction with the outside world, he began exploring the universe with his remarkable mind. Using that versatile conveyance, he discovered black holes and waded through dark energy and dark matter, while examining the Higgs boson.
I use the expression “god-given voice” advisedly, knowing that Hawking and I have different understandings of the concept. In fact, he might well object to my using it all. It was he who wrote, “The universe can create itself out of nothing, and God is no longer necessary.”
I could, with greater confidence, observe that Stephen Hawking was never necessary. The universe had already existed for eons untold before his mind began to explore it.
Yet I can understand why he would put more stock in human knowledge than in divine revelation, or even divine existence.
Until his debilitating disease struck, Hawking was an active student at England’s Oxford University, with a lively interest in classical music and science fiction. As the cox of his rowing team, he was known as something of a daredevil.
His physics tutor observed of him:
“It was only necessary for him to know that something could be done, and he could do it without looking to see how other people did it.”
So Hawking figured it was possible to learn how the universe was created without asking God. If he couldn’t create it himself, he could at least tell us how it was created. And he apparently believes he has a handle on the answer: The universe created itself out of nothing.
“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 great triumph,” he declared.
Like almost all other inhabitants of this planet, I am poorly qualified to take on Stephen Hawking in a contest of logic, just as he is unqualified to take on Adam Scott in a round of golf.
Moreover, he is a man I profoundly admire. He can’t take a hike, go swimming, row a boat, play tennis or golf, or embrace those he loves. Yet, he can get around the virtually limitless universe with an ease that I can only marvel at.
If I needed to understand how the Higgs boson imbues matter with the quality of mass, I would address the question to Hawking.
If I wanted to find out how God fits into the overall picture, I would have to inquire elsewhere.
For whether God is the designer and builder of the universe or an irrelevant concept invented by the ancients to explain the unexplainable, he is not Stephen Hawking.
And if I were suddenly and unexpectedly confronted with irrefutable evidence that God did not exist, I would be left with a profound feeling of depression.
For if there is no God, then it follows that the human mind is the greatest repository of knowledge and wisdom in the known universe. And the truth is, the smarter we get, the more advanced our technology becomes, the more we botch things up.
The greatest minds have been playing a guessing game over the origin of the universe. The once-promising “steady state” theory has been debunked. It held that the universe, though expanding, still looks the same, has had no beginning, and will have no end.
The Big Bang theory is now the narrative of choice. It postulates that the universe began as a singularity — an object that was infinitely small but with a mass that was infinitely great. It proceeded to “explode,” and we and everything that exists are all fragments of that singularity.
Ordinary minds have trouble wrapping themselves around these concepts. We tend to find authorities we admire who are much better versed than we, and accept their versions of reality.
It reminds me of a long-time Virginia congressman I once interviewed, who told me how he made up his mind on complex issues involving the economy.
He would check to find out what Wilbur Mills thought about it. Mills was the Arkansas congressman who chaired the Ways and Means committee. What Mills thought, his Virginia colleague thought.
Mills may have been infallible when it came to budgetary matters, but he was eventually dethroned when he ended up drunk in the wee hours with an Argentine stripper who had left his car and jumped into Washington’s Tidal Basin.
I place Stephen Hawking on a much higher moral and intellectual plane than I do Wilbur Mills. But I’m not yet ready to accept him as the ultimate authority on God and the universe.
Galileo once referred to the universe as “this grand book, which stands continually open to our gaze, but it cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and interpret the characters in which it is written. It is written in the language of mathematics, and its characters are triangles, circles and other geometrical figures, without which it is humanly impossible to understand a single word of it ...”
Just wondering what the scientific formula is for consciousness. Or for love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faith, mildness, and self-control.
Maybe we should ask God.
Readers may email Gene Owens at WadesDixieco@aol.com. Look for other writing by Gene at www.wadesdixieco.com.
Gene Owens is a retired newspaper editor and columnist who graduated from Graniteville High School and now lives in Anderson.