Why did the Vatican host a meeting with Stephen Hawking?
Professor Stephen Hawking died on March 14, 2018, after a long battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Renowned British theoretical physicist, Hawking claimed to have proven that God does not exist. And yet the pope met with him and recognized his studies; why would the pope do that and celebrate an atheist?
He once told ABC News, “One can’t prove that God doesn’t exist. But science makes God unnecessary. … The laws of physics can explain the universe without the need for a creator.” The origin of the universe, in Hawking’s mind, lay billions of years ago in the Big Bang theory — and since whatever may have occurred before that could not be observed by science, it was irrelevant to him.
Over the years, Hawking met with four different popes, the last being Pope Francis in November 2016. In 1986, Hawking had been named by Pope John Paul II to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences.
That group, which includes scholars from several religions and none, exists to foster dialogue between science and faith, and its members are chosen primarily for their academic credentials.
In the past, the academy has discussed such topics as the potential perils of nuclear war; the focus of its 2016 gathering was ecology — the impact of technology on the planet — and Pope Francis spoke to them of the profound need for an “ecological conversion” in which people recognize their responsibility for caring for creation and its resources.
Stephen Hawking always respected the church’s contribution to this dialogue, and upon his death, the Vatican Observatory said, “We value the enormous scientific contribution he has made to quantum cosmology and the courage he had in facing illness.”
Though Hawking professed no belief in an afterlife (once telling the British journal The Guardian, “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail”), the Vatican prayed at his death that the Lord would now “welcome him into his glory.”