As announced in the Daily Mail, the renowned Stephen Hawking died peacefully at his home on Wednesday. Since I work for an Christian organization that talks about science-faith issues, I thought quite a bit about what I would say if asked about his passing. Given that Hawking did not believe in God, could I give Stephen Hawking a eulogy—a speech that would praise him highly? Yes, I could.
I would commend Hawking for his indomitable spirit in light of a debilitating disease. His ALS diagnosis came during the prime years of college and graduate school. Although he apparently became depressed upon receiving the diagnosis, he worked through the depression and produced remarkable scientific results for the next five decades! When so many people seem to want the ability to opt out of life in difficult times, Hawking’s mindset lends a refreshing spirit:
And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at. It matters that you don’t just give up.
Hawking’s passion for physics inspired many people to pursue careers in physics and astronomy, and probably other scientific disciplines as well. He provided seminal contributions to our understanding of space-time singularities, how black holes operate (particularly that they should radiate mass away over time), the early universe, the black hole information paradox, and many others.
No one undertakes research in physics with the intention of winning a prize. It is the joy of discovering something no one knew before.
Additionally, Hawking’s eloquence in communicating complex ideas enabled thousands, if not millions, to understand this spectacular universe better. He first published A Brief History of Time in 1988. The book addressed extremely technical topics like big bang cosmology, black holes, general relativity, and quantum mechanics, but at a nontechnical level. Over 20 years, this book sold more than 10 million copies!
Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist. Be curious.
Clearly, Hawking and I disagreed on the existence and character of God. He looked at the cosmos and concluded that God was unnecessary.
God is the name people give to the reason we are here. But I think that reason is the laws of physics rather than someone with whom one can have a personal relationship. An impersonal God.
I look at the universe and see God’s handiwork. Not having discussed the matter with Hawking, I cannot presume to know what caused the difference in our views, but I am saddened that Hawking never experienced the joy I personally have in knowing Jesus Christ as my Savior. Though he and I came to different conclusions as to the reason why we’re here, I’m genuinely grateful for Stephen Hawking’s contributions to science.