Stephen Hawking and the Big Question
Stephen Hawking’s brilliant mind revolutionized the world of theoretical physics—but did he ever find an answer to “the big question” that drove him?
For Stephen Hawking, there was only ever one big question.
During his university years, everything came easy. He rarely studied or took notes because, in his words, “Nothing seemed worth making an effort for.” The exception was cosmology. He was drawn to the subject because it involved “the big question: Where did the universe come from?” (Kitty Ferguson, Stephen Hawking: An Unfettered Mind, 2013, p. 31).
He spent his career in pursuit of answering that question, even as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease) slowly destroyed his ability to move his own body. Over time, he lost all muscle control with the exception of the ability to flex a finger, twitch his cheek muscles and move his eyes.
But that was enough. Those few muscle movements were all he needed to turn the world of physics on its head and make a lasting impact on how we look at the universe itself.
A theory of everything
In 1973 Dr. Hawking spent months trying to decipher how quantum mechanics interacted with the forces of gravity. Since he was unable to write or even turn pages, “friends turned the pages of quantum theory textbooks as Dr. Hawking sat motionless staring at them for months. They wondered if he was finally in over his head” (“Stephen Hawking Dies at 76; His Mind Roamed the Cosmos”).
But he wasn’t.
He succeeded not only in performing an astronomically complicated calculation entirely in his own mind, but also in making an astronomically important discovery. The result was a completely new way of looking at black holes—those supermassive collapsed stars so dense that even light itself can’t escape their pull—and the discovery of Hawking radiation.
That discovery, in turn, prompted a thousand other debates in the world of theoretical physics. When black holes explode (which, it turns out, they eventually do), is it possible to retrieve information about what they sucked in? Is the universe actually just one big hologram? Is it built of microscopic vibrating strings?
The world of science has long been in pursuit of a “theory of everything”—one cohesive model that can explain and predict anything and everything that happens in our expanding universe. On that subject, Dr. Hawking wrote, “If we do discover a complete theory, it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists, and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of the question of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason—for then we would know the mind of God.”
For Dr. Hawking, the answer to “the big question” was in the Big Bang. We know our universe is expanding—rewind the clock, and it seems plausible that the whole thing exploded out of a singularity, a pinprick of time and space containing every atom in the universe. According to that theory, beyond the boundaries of that pinprick there was nothing. Not emptiness, but nothingness—no time, no space, no reality.
Dr. Hawking looked at that model of the universe and decided, “It is not necessary to invoke God to … set the universe going.” In his eyes, an entire universe exploding from nothingness could be chalked up to a fundamental quirk of quantum mechanics.
As for the afterlife, Dr. Hawking explained, “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.” It was Dr. Hawking’s belief that the end of his physical life would be the final and complete end of his consciousness.
When Dr. Hawking opens his eyes again—free from his wheelchair—he and billions of others will, at long last, find the answer to the big question.But Dr. Hawking was wrong. What he didn’t know—what he couldn’t possibly know—was that God has a plan for him. In fact, God has a plan for every human being who has lived and died without ever knowing or believing in Him—and it’s not the plan most people think it is.
The Bible reveals that the majority of the world’s population has lived and died without truly knowing God—and that it’s all part of the plan. One day, “the dead, small and great,” will stand “before God” (Revelation 20:12), and all of God’s truth will be revealed to them.
Think about that: They will all stand. All of them. That includes Dr. Hawking.
One day, he is going to open his eyes again—but this time, things will be different. He will stand up and lift his hands in front of his face and wiggle his fingers. His neurons will be healed, and his muscle strength restored. He will no longer be a brilliant mind trapped in an unmoving prison.
In a prophecy about this future time, God promises, “I will put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you shall live. Then you shall know that I am the LORD” (Ezekiel 37:6).
More than that, for the first time in their lives, they’ll have the opportunity to know and understand their Creator—to have a relationship with Him and to join His family.
God hasn’t discarded all the “broken-down computers” that the human race has left behind over the years. In prophecies like these, He promises to restore them to working order and breathe new life into them.
Beyond a theory
All his life, Dr. Hawking was focused on “the big question.” He spent decades looking to the stars, deciphering and decoding some of the most brain-bending mysteries of the universe, furthering our understanding of the world we live in. But in all that time, he never understood that the collapsed stars and quantum particles he spent years studying were set in motion by the hands that set everything in motion.
When Dr. Hawking opens his eyes again—free from his wheelchair, free from the debilitating scourge of ALS—he and billions of others will, at long last, find the answer to the big question.
Where did the universe come from?
It came from a loving God who created it with a plan. “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:20-21).
Mankind might be searching for a theory of everything, but God is one step ahead.
He has a plan for everything.