July 6, 2011

Stephan Hawking really?

A few weeks ago Stephen Hawking, arguably one of the most brilliant scientists of our time, said in an interview there is “no heaven or afterlife” and that such a belief was a “fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”  I believe that all individuals are absolutely entitled to their own beliefs and ideas.  However, I take issue with the fact that this exceptional thinker, and public personality, felt the need to essentially insult many of his fellow human beings while expressing his personal opinions on creation and the afterlife.

By doing that, he showed a disregard and almost a disdain for others and their own, often deeply held, personal beliefs and thoughts.  After hearing of his remarks, I have wondered when this was going to be publicly discussed, though aside from a few relatively brief articles that mainly reiterated quotes from the original interview, his comments went essentially unchallenged.  I am not sure when western society changed and it became acceptable to insult people rather than discuss issues, but I have noticed the trend for a while now.  When this is done by famous and very educated people, in a public forum, it takes away from the content of the discourse and needlessly makes others feel bad, while not adding any value whatsoever to the discussion.  This is unfortunate because this same type of behavior is what has led to some of the worst social outcomes in history.  Freedom of thought and speech are the cornerstones of modern western civilization but belittling people while doing it definitely is not!

Science is simply a method to assist us in trying to discover how nature works—nothing more.  We apply it through observation using our senses, measure and record data with our tools, and analyze our findings using our reasoning.  The conclusions are crafted into theories, or revisions, that seek to make sense of it all.  These are then discussed and debated with the whole process continually building upon the work of predecessors.  Unless I missed something while in my chemistry, physics, biology or psychology classes, science does not offer us a means to ultimately explain “why” we or anything in the universe exists.

Even if you believe there is no heaven or afterlife that does not give any person, no matter how intelligent or famous, the right to belittle anyone for believing otherwise!  Regardless as to why we are here, we are social animals that are interconnected and dependent upon each other for life and, as such, we must be open to honest debate always, but should do so in constructive not destructive ways.  To do anything less, in my opinion, seriously detracts from even the grandest of contributions to society and leaves a legacy devoid of true appreciation of the many mysteries in life!


  1. How is expressing his beliefs an insult to others?

    “fairy story for people afraid of the dark.” In my understanding, I think “the dark” means “the unknowable”. The things we cannot understand…. that most humans fear. It’s a metaphor. Haven’t we all been afraid of “the dark” at some point?

    Also it’s a generalization to say that “Western society” finds ANY type of behavior acceptable. I’m an American living in France and find that the way the French argue is very different from Americans, or Germans for that matter. Even from one region to the next people hold and defend their beliefs differently.

    To be honest, I just don’t find his remarks destructive or offensive.

    Comment by Kesha Bruce — July 7, 2011 @ 5:34 pm | Reply

    • I agree, Stephen Hawking is a scientist and has expressed an opinion. It is up to individuals to determine for themselves what they believe. If I express an opinion that there is no afterlife, I have this right, as much as a person has the right to say that there is. In my experience those people that believe in an afterlife tend to follow a religion and when I have tried to debate the fact, I often come up against the counter argument that each individual has a right to believe in whatever they wish. This attitude stifles debate on this subject and unfortunately in most countries the law of the land is enshrined in religion. For me, and it is only my opinion, there is something far greater than we can comprehend at work in the universe and whether it is related to life after death remains to be seen. I do not however believe that “heaven” exists, in the context of Christian belief. As my Father used to say, “Can a billion Chinese people be wrong.” Or a billion Indians for that matter.

      Comment by Martin Noye — July 14, 2011 @ 3:09 pm | Reply

  2. We cannot expect an individual who has demonstrated himself to be not a very highly advanced soul to understand the true nature of God, could we?
    Stephen does not represent himself very well in relation to what is truely most important. Despite his vast knowledge, he really has learned nothing.

    Comment by Dave — July 11, 2011 @ 11:49 am | Reply

  3. I totally agree with you and I’m glad you blogged this. 🙂 Thanks

    Comment by Tina Winterlik — July 13, 2011 @ 12:47 am | Reply

  4. Dear Dr. Anthony,

    Everyone has his or her own opinion. While Mr. Hawkings does not believe in heaven and afterlife; it does not mean he can’t express it. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe in God, Jesus, heaven, resurrection, but I have learned to listen (if I want to) to other’s opinion. Whatever Mr. Hawkings says it will not deter my believes. Nothing will change my mind and heart and my love for God. Mr. Hawkings can say whatever he wants; we don’t have to listen to him. Thanks.

    Comment by Paula Grove, RPLU — July 17, 2011 @ 11:35 am | Reply

  5. Nice comments to hear, especially after listening to last night’s pep rally on TeaNN (not the debate on CNN, I was expecting to hear). I’ve been very concerned, of late, as to what children are being exposed to when there is only yelling and belittling, and no discussion among politicians. Frankly, this is the worst I’ve ever heard. You are so right, Hawking could have just kept his thoughts to himself, on something so important. Now, more than ever, people need something to believe in. Paula (#4) seems to be well-grounded in her beliefs, and who I am or anyone else to try and knock down those beliefs? If she believed in something that was directly harmful to other beings, then it would be my duty. I think that Hawking must be getting old and tired; actually, I thought he was already dead. He may be just disengaging, which would be too bad. Not a pretty way to exit…

    Comment by Susan Klopfer (@sklopfer) — September 13, 2011 @ 10:31 pm | Reply

  6. Great post, and points. I must confess, back in college, fresh from neuroscience classes and a belief in determinism, I used to be a condescending little jerk toward religious views. Then later, I learned that I wasn’t as smart as I thought. I also learned that science– namely, quantum physics and recent advances in neuroscience– leave plenty of room for mystery and God. (I just posted a link to a TED video here, for example, that just blew my mind in that regard: http://alturl.com/9awgd).

    I also came to notice that many atheists (but certainly not the majority or all) are, as I formerly was, angry and/or motivated primarily by the need to put others down rather than by a true desire to convincing them.

    If Mr. Hawking’s true objective were to convince people to see it his way, the way to do that is not to call those people stupid, or afraid of the dark, etc. At the end of the day, we have to show each other empathy. Obviously, me and most everyday folks aren’t going to win any academic debates with Mr. Hawking, or Sam Harris or other brilliant academics. So maybe on their part they can avoid lording their own intelligence over religious people, and try to find a non-offensive way to try to win them over, again if that’s really the goal.

    Comment by stevenspielbergpleasereadthis — October 31, 2011 @ 10:46 pm | Reply

  7. Truly enjoyed this post…good point!

    Anyway, thank you for following my Blogg @ http://jennysserendipity.wordpress.com/

    Comment by jennysserendipity — February 18, 2012 @ 5:15 pm | Reply

  8. Oh, this is so intriguing! I recently watched a movie based on something like this. Richard Dawkins’ film The Root of All Evil, he too is an atheist who is arrogant in his beliefs and thinks he is absolutely correct. Dawkins interview religious extremist and how do I say this in a nice way… disagrees with their faith. I think you might be interested in this film and it really stirred me up! Like many others said here, we are all entitled to our own opinions. I think that the way we deliver our opinion is what matters, religion or not, we are neither right or wrong. Hawkings and Dawkins (funny how they sound similar), both deliver their opinion in such a way that many get ‘turned off’, if you know what I mean? Well, according to the Dalai Lama, with or without religion, we all control ourselves and need to have an ‘open heart’ and no one is going to teach you that as no one can change you but yourself.

    Comment by RemarkablySimple_ — February 19, 2012 @ 3:46 pm | Reply

  9. I’m Atheist and I don’t accept anyone insult my “non believes” and on the other hand I don’t agree when atheists insult other religions. Everyone is free to believe and not believe, at the end we may discuss and argue but should never disrespect individuals. Personally if someone does not respect Atheism that is fine to me as long that does not reflect their disrespect to me also because I may not respect some religions but that does not mean I disrespect people believes.

    Comment by Raed Al-Jawad — February 24, 2012 @ 9:10 pm | Reply

  10. Reblogged this on Lies Hurt my Sanity and commented:
    While I agree in essence with Mr. Hawking, I do also think that our personal beliefs help us through our days. Like a nightlight for those who are afraid of the dark, spirituality is there as an aid and a guide. It lets you see that the dark isn’t so bad. It broadens your mind.
    I have a problem with religion. It’s there to control people. Personal spirituality can be freeing. I know for a fact that there are many deeply spiritual scientists who do good, clean scientific research.

    Comment by LiesHurtMySanity — March 3, 2012 @ 12:10 pm | Reply

  11. I’m insulted when I’m lied to. “I know that my redeemer liveth” and “in the sure and certain knowledge of everlasting life” are two whoppers I find particularly galling. Why are christian beliefs worthy of respect, protection and censorship but atheistic beliefs not?

    Comment by wobsy — March 3, 2012 @ 12:38 pm | Reply

  12. I think his comments went unchallenged because they were just that, his comments. I happen to agree with him, but no one listens to me. All my life no one has listened to me. lol

    Comment by Russel Ray Photos — May 7, 2012 @ 5:15 pm | Reply

  13. @DrAnthoney

    Very interesting post. I’m not religious myself but I respect everyone’s right to believe in whatever religion they wish to, so long as they don’t go on a crusade forcing others to follow them.
    I’m also very impressed by your open-minded approach and willingness to engage in discussion.

    What particularly caught my eye was your statement:

    “Unless I missed something while in my chemistry, physics, biology or psychology classes, science does not offer us a means to ultimately explain “why” we or anything in the universe exists.”

    You are spot on!
    As you stated earlier yourself, scienece is nothing more than a study of the phenomena we find around ourselves. It therefore does not concern itself with philosophical interpretaions and finding a “meaning” or a “purpose”.
    That has traditionally been the job of philosophers and intellectual thinkers.

    One also needs to realize that ascribing “meaning” and finding “purpose” are both, by their very nature, subjective endeavours!
    The meaning and prupose one person finds in a concept may not be the same as another person finds, and that is most often the case.

    The question you are asking, nevertheless, is an important one and I absolutely agree with you that humanity has most probably reached a point where this should be openly and publicly discussed, without being considered a personal attack on any personality and religion.

    Kind regards from Estonia!

    Comment by jav3d — October 24, 2012 @ 8:56 am | Reply

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