Legendary British theoretical physicist and intellectual giant Stephen Hawking is dead. He died peacefully at his home in Cambridge, England, at age 76.
In a statement, his family confirmed the great man’s death:
We are deeply saddened that our beloved father passed away today. He was a great scientist and an extraordinary man whose work and legacy will live on for many years.
His courage and persistence with his brilliance and humor inspired people across the world. He once said, “It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.” We will miss him forever.
The acclaimed British theoretical physicist, cosmologist and author was not only a great scientist who revolutionized our scientific understanding of black holes and the nature of the universe, he was also a great science communicator who achieved a global celebrity. Appearing in numerous popular TV shows, Hawking, with his unique synthesised voice, became a fixture of popular culture, a living symbol for advanced theoretical work in the sciences.
In addition to, or because of his work in science, Hawking was also an outspoken atheist.
Speaking at the 2014 Starmus Festival at Tenerife in the Canary Islands, Hawking clarified some previous statements he had made about God. In so doing Hawking clearly stated, for the record:
I’m an atheist.
In the past, there had been some ambiguity concerning Hawking’s attitude towards God. In his landmark work “A Brief History of Time,” Hawking wrote that the discovery of a unifying set of scientific principles known as the theory of everything would enable scientists to “know the mind of God.”
However, in his follow-up book about the quest for the theory of everything, titled “The Grand Design,” Hawking said the mechanism behind the origin of the universe was becoming so well known that God was no longer necessary.
When asked about his previous references to God, Hawking responded:
Before we understand science, it is natural to believe that God created the universe. But now science offers a more convincing explanation. What I meant by ‘we would know the mind of God’ is, we would know everything that God would know, if there were a God, which there isn’t. I’m an atheist.
This wasn’t the first time Hawking discussed his religious belief, or lack thereof. In 2007, Hawking told Reuters:
I believe the universe is governed by the laws of science. The laws may have been decreed by God, but God does not intervene to break the laws.
And in a 2011 interview with The Guardian, Stephen Hawking said that heaven and the afterlife is a “fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”
Also in 2011, during an episode of the Discovery Channel program Curiosity entitled “Did God Create the Universe?” Hawking declared:
We are each free to believe what we want and it is my view that the simplest explanation is there is no God. No one created the universe and no one directs our fate. This leads me to a profound realization. There is probably no heaven, and no afterlife either. We have this one life to appreciate the grand design of the universe, and for that, I am extremely grateful.
Speaking with the Spanish-language paper El Mundo during the 2014 Starmus Festival Stephen Hawking said he believes that humans are not alone in the universe, and that meeting extraterrestrial life could be like Christopher Columbus coming to the Americas: “Which didn’t turn out very well for the Native Americans,” Hawking warned.
Hawking also told the paper:
The idea that we are alone in the universe seems to me completely implausible and arrogant. Considering the number of planets and stars that we know exist, it’s extremely unlikely that we are the only form of evolved life.
An advocate for the exploration of space, Hawking said he believed that space travel offers the best hope for our species’ immortality, noting:
It (space travel) could prevent the disappearance of humanity by colonizing other planets.
Concerning evolution and the Big Bang theory, Hawking declared that God is not a necessary condition for the creation of the universe. Instead, Hawking argued the Big Bang was an inevitable consequence of the laws of physics.
Hawking’s claim is a direct challenge to traditional religious beliefs that claim a creator is necessary for existence. In his book, “The Grand Design,” Hawking argues:
The universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason why there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to set the universe going.
…Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing.
In short, physics was the reason for the Big Bang, not God.
Hawking, always the advocate for science, took a very public stand against Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign. Prior to November’s election, Hawking and 374 other scientists warned Americans that Donald Trump was unfit to serve as president because of his controversial and profoundly mistaken position on climate change.
The letter, published on ResponsibleScientists.org prior to the election, and signed by 375 members of the National Academy of Scientists, including Hawking, opens by declaring:
Human-caused climate change is not a belief, a hoax, or a conspiracy. It is a physical reality.
The letter goes on to explain that human health, food production and even national security are at stake, and describes the matter as “basic science.”
No more religious exemptions, Montreal is taxing churches: For the first time churches in Montreal are being forced to pay taxes, and some church leaders are very unhappy.
CTV Montreal reports that churches and church space not being used explicitly for the purpose of worship is now taxable property, and is to be treated as any other property as far as taxes are concerned.
As one might expect, those benefitting from the tax exempt status enjoyed by churches are not happy. Again, CTV Montreal reports:
Joel Coppetiers, the Minister at the Cote des Neiges Presbyterian church, was shocked when his institution first received a municipal tax bill…
“The indication is there’s not an exemption for the church as a whole, there’s only an exemption for those areas used for public worship and things directly related to it,” said Coppetiers.
And while some of those that benefit from the tax exempt status previously enjoyed by churches in Montreal are unhappy with the changes, others are celebrating the small step towards a more just and fair tax structure.
For example, a recent report from the Secular Policy Institute shows that tax exempt churches cost U.S. taxpayers $71 billion every year.
Among the report’s findings: Each year religious groups receive $35.3 billion in federal income tax subsidies and $26.2 billion property tax subsidies. In addition, religious organizations also enjoyed approximately $6.1 billion in state income tax subsidies, along with $1.2 billion of parsonage, and $2.2 billion in the faith-based initiatives subsidy.
Discussing the problem with tax exempt churches, Bill Maher makes a powerful case for ending tax exempt status for religious institutions, noting:
Why, in heaven’s name, don’t we tax religion? A sexist, homophobic magic act that’s been used to justify everything from genital mutilation to genocide. You want to raise the tax on tobacco so kids don’t get cancer, OK. But let’s put one on Sunday school so they don’t get stupid.
Maher’s right. We should tax the church. There is no reason why the non-religious should subsidize religious superstition.
Perhaps more important, tax exemptions for churches violate the separation of church and state enshrined in the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
Bottom line: Montreal is getting it right. Taxpayers should not be in the business of subsidizing religious superstition. It’s time to tax the church.
In an interview with CNN’s Van Jones last night, comedian Bill Maher answered a question about “radical Islamic terrorism” by saying he thinks all religions are “stupid and dangerous.”
Maher made clear that different religions are problems in different eras:
I am an atheist… but, you know, all religions in my view are stupid and dangerous. But in different eras, they take the lead…
That’s my point of view. It’s the point of view, by the way, of millions and millions of people in the world. And in this country. Religions are down all over. Why? I’d like to think I had something to do with it…
When asked if it was wise to alienate all religious people — including the overwhelmingly religious black community that is so important for Democrats at election time — Maher said his criticism was reserved for the ideas themselves, not all the people who believe them.
… I didn’t say all religious people are stupid. I said all religions are stupid… My only loyalty, always, is to the truth. It’s not to a group of people, or it’s not to ratings. It’s the truth. That’s the truth as I see it.
He then elaborated on why Islam was a unique problem today, just as Christianity used to be a bigger problem in the past. But the way Donald Trump and Steve Bannon were responding to the threat, Maher added, was the wrong way to do it.
… In the 16th century, it would be Christianity that I would be going after for being way too intolerant and way too violent, ’cause that’s the age of the Inquisition. And they were. Now, that really is more Islam than Christianity.
… I think they’re both dumb, and religions are all dangerous, but at this time in history, one is just more violent, more intolerant, and more dangerous.
… The counterweight to radical Islam is secularism…
… [The Trump administration wants] to make this a battle between the two religions, who, by the way, have been going at each over for over a thousand years. This does go back to the Crusades. I mean, it ebbed and flowed in history. But that’s the one thing we do not want. And, of course, it’s the dumbest thing [so] Trump’s gonna do it.
You know, for all the abuse CNN gets from the White House, it has its bright spots. Bringing on Maher, who has no problem criticizing religion, is a good move. Not all beliefs deserve respect, and some truths are difficult to hear. All the more reason to hear even more of them.
The Calabash Nebula, pictured here is a spectacular example of the death of a low-mass star like the sun.
The Calabash Nebula, pictured here — which has the technical name OH 231.8+04.2 — is a spectacular example of the death of a low-mass star like the sun. This image taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope shows the star going through a rapid transformation from a red giant to a planetary nebula, during which it blows its outer layers of gas and dust out into the surrounding space. The recently ejected material is spat out in opposite directions with immense speed — the gas shown in yellow is moving close to one million kilometers per hour (621,371 miles per hour).
Astronomers rarely capture a star in this phase of its evolution because it occurs within the blink of an eye — in astronomical terms. Over the next thousand years the nebula is expected to evolve into a fully-fledged planetary nebula.
The nebula is also known as the Rotten Egg Nebula because it contains a lot of sulphur, an element that, when combined with other elements, smells like a rotten egg — but luckily, it resides over 5,000 light-years away in the constellation of Puppis.
Somehow, the words “Go back while you can!” were not part of his answer.
You can imagine the culture shock someone would have if they disappeared from Earth for a few decades only to return and see what we’ve done to the place.
This week, at a premiere of the movie The Space Between Us (all about a boy raised on Mars who comes back to Earth for a girl), Neil deGrasse Tyson was asked by Vulturewhat he would say to someone like that.
His answer was all about the different types of truths we have floating around right now.
The first, he said, is “an objective truth that can be established outside of your own mental state,” such as by the methods and tools of science. This is the kind of truth that is true “whether or not you believe in [it],” he said, “so I would recommend that if you base policy on any kind of truth, it should be that truth.”
The second truth involved someone that’s true just for you (like religion), even if you can’t objectively prove it.
The third category was reserved for someone like Donald Trump.
The third kind of truth, he said, is what he calls “political truth.” “That’s what’s true simply because you repeat it so often that everyone thinks that it’s true, even if it’s not the truth,” Tyson said.
Sadly, we’re living in a country where this kind of alternative truth — a.k.a. A lie — is spreading faster than we can contain it. We have to be vigilant and vocal if we want our society governed by objective truths.
Remember last week when a Rwandan soccer league banned witchcraft after a player was accused of (literally) cursing a goalpost so that his team could score — which they later did?
A couple of NBA players may have gotten the same idea.
On Wednesday night, in the fourth quarter of a close game, an Atlanta Hawks player missed a free throw that would have extended his team’s lead. When the ball bounced to the Orlando Magic’s Serge Ibaka, he said something to the ball — perhaps trying to put a hex on it, hoping the player would miss again.
Atlanta’s Dwight Howard immediately grabbed the ball from Ibaka and issued a counter-hex before handing it back to the ref. It looked like he was telling the ball, “Don’t listen to that guy.”
Howard’s teammate made the next free throw — so much for Ibaka’s curse — and the team ultimately won the game.