A Catholic scientist reflects on the life of Stephen Hawking
FREE Catholic Classes
The death of Stephen Hawking this week prompted a leading Catholic scientist to reflect on the life of the famed physicist, including his "astonishing" contributions to physics and his lifelong atheism.
Cambridge, England (CNA/EWTN News) - "He was of course a very great physicist and one of the greatest physicists of his generation," Stephen M. Barr, a particle physics and cosmology researcher who is a professor at the University of Delaware, told CNA. "He made several major contributions to the understanding of gravity and the big bang and the black holes that will be remembered as long as physics is known."
Hawking, a Cambridge University physicist, passed away Wednesday morning at the age of 76. Author of the bestselling 1988 book "A Brief History of Time," he became a symbol of science in pop culture, appearing on shows like "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and "The Simpsons."
In 1963, as a 21-year-old graduate student, Hawking he learned that he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, a neuromuscular disease known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Doctors expected him to live only a few years.
Hawking far outlived his prognosis, though over decades the disease gradually limited his ability to move, eventually to the point where he could only flex one finger and make eye movements. By the 1980s, computer technology had progressed to the point where he could communicate through a computer and voice synthesizer -- though with an American accent.
Barr reflected on Hawking's success despite his poor health.
"It's amazing that he was able to do physics at such a high level when for example, most of us write on blackboards and do calculations on pieces of paper. We can hardly imagine being able to do our work when we can't do those basic things," he said. "It's astonishing. It's simply astonishing. A lot of what he did, he did in his head."
Hawking's work developed several key insights, including calculations which appear to show that black holes, the densest objects in the known universe, do in fact emit energy -- energy now known as Hawking radiation. Previously nothing was believed to escape the black hole's intense gravity. Hawking's intellectual process involved an unprecedented application of quantum mechanics to gravity.
"The most important thing about Hawking radiation is that it shows that the black hole is not cut off from the rest of the universe," Hawking said.
Barr, the current president of the Society of Catholics Scientists, reflected on what Hawking's role as a scientist means for beliefs about the origin of the universe.
In "A Brief History of Time," Hawking "made some rather perceptive remarks to the effect that physics cannot even in principle explain why there is an actually existing universe," Barr said.
"In other words, he understood and said rather pithily in that book why physics can never substitute for a Creator, though he didn't phrase it quite that way, that was the import."
Barr was critical of a later work of Hawking, "The Grand Design," co-authored with theoretical physicist Leonard Mlodinow.
"He seems to have forgotten his earlier insights," said Barr. "He was arguing, in effect, that physics can explain why there is a universe at all and why there is an actually existing universe. I find this very puzzling. He actually understood the issue in the earlier book and got confused in the later book."
Barr suggested that Hawking's lifelong atheism might have had an effect on those who overrate scientists' ability to speak on non-scientific topics. He countered that many great scientists have also been religious.
Hawking himself found recognition from the Catholic Church, being named a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. This academy includes 80 global leaders in science from a variety of backgrounds and beliefs. He attended the group's annual meeting in 2016 and gave a talk on "The Origin of the Universe." He credited Catholic priest and physicist Msgr. Georges Lemaitre, a past president of the Pontifical Academy of the Sciences, as the true father of the "Big Bang" theory of the universe -- a theory sometimes credited to another physicist.
"Georges Lemaitre was the first who proposed a model according to which the universe had a very dense beginning. He, and not George Gamow, is the father of Big Bang," Hawking said.
Hawking also took part in an academic session marking the 50th anniversary of the death of Lemaitre, which closed with remarks by Cardinal Gerhard Ludwig Mueller, then-prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Copyright 2019 - Distributed by THE CALIFORNIA NETWORK
Next month, the United Kingdom will roll out new online restrictions in an attempt to protect children under the age of 18 from accessing ... continue reading
Facebook stock plunged yesterday on a poor report to Wall Street. The company's stock fell almost 20 percent, wiping out almost $150 ... continue reading
Someone in China has just used blockchain technology to evade censorship, and the implications are staggering. Just as the printing press ... continue reading
The longest eclipse of the 21st century will occur on the night of July 28, 2018. The eclipse will last for a minute shy of 4 hours, and ... continue reading
Rich people stay rich by figuring out before the rest of us what will happen next. This is why futurists often look at what rich people are ... continue reading
by Catholic Online
- Influencers in a Pro-life Vocation
- Daily Reading for Tuesday, July 23rd, 2019 HD Video
- South Asia floods: 'Everything is coming to a complete standstill'
- Daily Reading for Monday, July 22nd, 2019 HD Video
- St. Mary Magdalene: Saint of the Day for Monday, July 22, 2019
- Making a Difference: Lessons for Earth 50 years after first moon landing
- Daily Readings for Monday, July 22, 2019
- Prayer Requests Live for Friday, July 19th 2019 HD
- Mary, the Blessed Virgin HD
- Daily Reading for Sunday, July 21st, 2019 HD
- Prayer Requests Live for Thursday, July 18th 2019 HD
Learn about Catholic world
Inform - Inspire - Ignite
Catholic Online Saints
Your saints explained
Catholic Online Prayers
Prayers for every need
Catholic Online Bible
Complete bible online
Catholic Online News
Your news Catholic eye
Today's bible reading
Products and services we offer
Catholic Online Shopping
Catholic medals, gifts & books
Advertise on Catholic Online
Your ads on catholic.org
Catholic Online Email
Email with Catholic feel
Learn the Catholic way
Catholic Online School
Free Catholic education for all
K-12 & Adult Education Classes
Support Free Education
Tax deductible support Free education
Copyright 2019 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2019 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.
Catholic Online is a Project of Your Catholic Voice Foundation, a Not-for-Profit Corporation. Your Catholic Voice Foundation has been granted a recognition of tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Federal Tax Identification Number: 81-0596847. Your gift is tax-deductible as allowed by law.