PROFESSOR Stephen Hawking’s contribution to science has been praised by ordained scientists and the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Professor Hawking, considered one of the world’s most eminent and influential scientists, died in the early hours of Wednesday morning at home in Cambridge. He was 76.
In a statement, his children, Lucy, Robert, and Tim, said: “We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today. He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years. His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humour inspired people across the world.
“He once said: ‘It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.’ We will miss him forever.”
The Principal of St John’s College, Durham, the Revd Professor David Wilkinson, who is the author of God, Time and Stephen Hawking (Monarch, 2002), said on Wednesday: “There is sadness at his death, admiration for a remarkable life story, admiration for his remarkable works of science, and a thankfulness for some of the things he discovered about the universe.”
Professor Hawking had given the world an “optimism that science can deal with all of its own questions about the universe”, he said.
“[Professor Hawking] thought science should be able to give the reason for the start of the universe, which is a very important thing for people of faith.
“He reminded us who are of faith of the weakness of any ‘God in the gaps’ or deistic view of God, and pointed theologians towards a God with the universe in the palm of his hand.”
Professor Hawking “demolished smaller Gods, and left us with the bigger, biblical God”, Professor Wilkinson said.
Professor Hawking was a “person of great humour, fantastic courage, and brilliant mathematical ability”, and the scientific community would be “sad at losing such a public icon.
“We have lost a prophetic voice, with some of the things he had to say about climate change, the search for aliens, and our role in the universe.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury posted on Twitter: “Professor Stephen Hawking’s contribution to science was as limitless as the universe he devoted his life to understanding. His was a life lived with bravery and passion. As we pray for all those who mourn him, may he rest in peace.”
The Revd Dr Rodney Holder, a member of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion at St Edmund’s College, Cambridge, said that Professor Hawking was “a great, towering figure in cosmology, particularly in black holes, which will be his legacy”, and “undoubtedly a great man, battling with a terrible affliction”.
Dr Holder quoted Professor Hawking’s A Brief History of Time (Bantam, 1988), in which he wrote: “What is it that breathes fire into the equations [of the universe]?”. For people of faith, it was God, Dr Holder said.
Professor Hawking “did not challenge theology at all in reality, despite being an atheist”, Dr Holder said.
The Bishop of Hertford, Dr Michael Beasley, whose doctorate is in science, said on Wednesday that Professor Hawking had an “extraordinary ability to use science to understand the deep workings of our universe. Is it not amazing that the human mind can do that?”
In The Grand Design (Bantam Press), co-written with the American physicist Leonard Mlodinow and published in 2010, Professor Hawking contends: “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 touchpaper and set the universe going.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury at that time, Dr Rowan Williams, said in response that belief in God was “the belief that there is an intelligent, living agent on whose activity everything depends for its existence. Physics on its own will not settle the question why there is something rather than nothing.”
Read Andrew Davidson on how Stephen Hawking did theologians a favour
PLUS. From the archive: Hawking is not far from God - his hypothesis is closer to theology’s than he realises, argues Keith Ward