Regarding the afterlife, Hawking declared in 2011, “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”
Famed British astrophysicist Stephen Hawking died today. Interestingly, Albert Einstein was born on the same date in 1879. Furthermore, both men died shortly after their 76th birthdays. These facts wouldn’t be remarkable if their work and writings were not so intimately related.
At a relatively young age, Einstein developed the theory of general relativity, which for a century has been the dominant theory of space, time, and gravity. Not only was Hawking brilliant, he had good timing. When Hawking was in his 20s, most astrophysicists came to embrace the existence of black holes and the big bang cosmology. General relativity is the mathematical model used to understand both. Using general relativity, Hawking contributed more to the understanding of black holes and the naturalistic big bang model than any other person.
Hawking’s 1988 popular-level book A Brief History of Time was a huge success. It was well written, and it received rave reviews. The book sold very well, for it offered the hope to millions that they, at last, could understand black holes and cosmology. Alas, a quote attributed to Einstein is that “everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler” (though there is no evidence Einstein said this). This is complicated stuff, so many people who so enthusiastically began reading the book soon found that parts of it were very difficult. A Brief History of Time has been described as the “least-read best-selling book of all time.” Hawking also authored the more-recent The Grand Design. Many of the views he presented in his books have been critiqued by AiG in articles such as “Stephen Hawking’s Emphasis on Universe Without God.”
While Hawking is famous for his contributions to astrophysics, his work may have escaped public notice if it weren’t for the diagnosis that he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) more than a half-century ago while he was in graduate school. This condition, often called Lou Gehrig’s disease in the United States for one of its more prominent victims, robs a person of bodily motor control.
Initially, physicians gave Hawking only a couple of years to live, but, obviously, this prognosis proved to be wrong. While he had early onset of ALS, it proved to progress more slowly than usual in his case. Hawking’s speech soon suffered, and as his control of his body continued to slip away, he was confined to a wheel chair. Again, Hawking’s timing was good, because advances in medical care extended his life far beyond what was possible only a few years before. And advances in computer technology made it possible for him to continue communicating his work with others via voice synthesizers that were controlled by what few motor controls he retained. The picture of Hawking in a wheel chair with a synthesized voice transformed him into an icon and folk hero.