“There is no God. No one created the universe and no one directs our fate,” celebrated physicist and a known atheist Stephen Hawking writes in his final book, which also covers important existential questions such as creation of the universe, alien intelligence, space colonisation and artificial intelligence.
Published by John Murray (a Hachette company), “Brief Answers to the Big Questions” is a selection of the late cosmologist’s most profound, accessible, and timely reflections from his personal archive. “For centuries, it was believed that disabled people like me were living under a curse that was inflicted by God. Well, I suppose it’s possible that I’ve upset someone up there, but I prefer to think that everything can be explained another way, by the laws of nature,” he wrote in the chapter titled “Is There a God?”
He says he uses the word ‘God’ in an impersonal sense, like Albert Einstein did, for the laws of nature, so knowing the mind of God is knowing the laws of nature. “My prediction is that we will know the mind of God by the end of this century.”
According to Hawking, who died in March, the universe is the ultimate free lunch and if the “universe adds up to nothing, then you don’t need a God to create it”. Did he have faith? He answers, “We are each free to believe what we want, and it’s my view that the simplest explanation is that there is no God. No one created the universe and no one directs our fate.”
He then goes on to write: “This leads me to a profound realisation – there is probably no heaven and afterlife either. I think belief in an afterlife is just wishful thinking. There is no reliable evidence for it, and it flies in the face of everything we know in science.” After Hawking’s death, his Estate decided to go forward with the project of publishing the book. His daughter Lucy says communication was so important to Hawking in his lifetime and “we see this book as part of his legacy, bringing together his thoughts, humour, theories and writing into one beautiful edition”.
Hawking, who is known for his work in cosmology and theoretical physics, notably for Hawking radiation and his work on black holes, was the director of research at the Centre for Theoretical Cosmology and Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at the University of Cambridge. At the age of 20, he was diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease, also known as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease) and was given two years to live. His abilities to move and communicate were increasingly limited, as he was confined to a wheelchair and eventually forced to speak through a voice synthesiser.
When he died in March, at the age of 76, he was the longest living MND survivor. His battle with the disease was featured in the film “The Theory of Everything” for which actor Eddie Redmayne, who played Hawking, received 2015’s Best Actor Oscar.
Hawking has authored “A Brief History of Time”, which has sold over 13 million copies worldwide and shot back to the top of bestseller lists after his death, and many other books. A percentage of the royalties of the new book will go to the Motor Neuron Disease Association and the Stephen Hawking Foundation.