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Stephen Hawking Quotes: On God, Aliens And The Nature Of Space And Time

January 18, 2013
Image Credit: NASA

Jedidiah Becker for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online

Over the years, the British cosmologist and theoretical physicist extraordinaire Stephen Hawking has become as well known for his ability to translate mind-boggling research about the universe into language that´s accessible to the layman as he is for his groundbreaking theoretical work in gravitational singularities and black hole radiation.

This month, Cambridge´s wheelchair-bound conqueror of the cosmos turns 71. In honor of a life dedicated to the advance of science — both in the theoretical realm as well as in public discourse — redOrbit sifted through some 30 years of  books, magazine articles, interviews and speeches to bring you the choicest selection of Stephen Hawking quotes on topics as diverse as God, aliens, philosophy and the nature of space and time.

Stephen Hawking Quotes On God and Religion

“I’m not religious in the normal sense. 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.” (Quoted in “Stephen Hawking prepares for weightless flight”, New Scientist [April 26, 2007])

“There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, and science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works.” (From an interview with Diane Sawyer in ABC World News (June 7, 2010))

“So Einstein was wrong when he said, ℠God does not play dice.´ Consideration of black holes suggests, not only that God does play dice, but that he sometimes confuses us by throwing them where they can’t be seen.” “To confine our attention to terrestrial matters would be to limit the human spirit.” (The Nature of Space and Time [1996] by Stephen Hawking and Roger Penrose, p. 121)

“The idea that space and time may form a closed surface without boundary also has profound implications for the role of God in the affairs of the universe. “¦ So long as the universe had a beginning, we could suppose it had a creator. But if the universe is really completely self-contained, having no boundary or edge, it would have neither beginning nor end: it would simply be. What place, then, for a creator?”  (From A Brief History of Time [1988])

“[T]he concept of time has no meaning before the beginning of the universe. This was first pointed out by St. Augustine. When asked: What did God do before he created the universe? Augustine didn’t reply: He was preparing Hell for people who asked such questions.” (From A Brief History of Time [1988])

“What I have done is to show that it is possible for the way the universe began to be determined by the laws of science. In that case, it would not be necessary to appeal to God to decide how the universe began. This doesn’t prove that there is no God, only that God is not necessary.” (From an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel [October 17, 1988]

“I regard the afterlife to be a fairy story for people that are afraid of the dark” (From an interview with Charlie Rose)

“We shouldn’t be surprised that conditions in the universe are suitable for life, but this is not evidence that the universe was designed to allow for life. We could call order by the name of God, but it would be an impersonal God. There’s not much personal about the laws of physics.” (Quoted in “Leaping the Abyss” [April 2002] by Gregory Benford, in Reason Magazine)

Stephen Hawking Quotes On Life and Humanity

“I don’t think the human race will survive the next thousand years, unless we spread into space.” (From “Colonies in space may be only hope, says Hawking” by Roger Highfield in Daily Telegraph [October 16, 2001])

“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Never give up work. Work gives you meaning and purpose and life is empty without it. If you are lucky enough to find love, remember it is there and don’t throw it away.” (From a 2010 interview with ABC´s Diane Sawyer)

“We only have to look at ourselves to see how intelligent life might develop into something we wouldn´t want to meet.” (From “Stephen Hawking warns over making contact with aliens” at BBC News [April 25, 2010])

“We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.” (From the German magazine Der Spiegel [October 17, 1988])

“I have noticed even people who claim everything is predestined, and that we can do nothing to change it, look before they cross the road.” (Tweeted from StephenHawking@StephenHawking on April 5, 2008)

“Life would be tragic if it weren’t funny.” (From “The Science of Second-Guessing”, The New York Times [December 12, 2004])

“I think computer viruses should count as life. I think it says something about human nature that the only form of life we have created so far is purely destructive. We’ve created life in our own image.” (From a speech at Macworld Expo in Boston, quoted in The Daily News [August 4, 1994)])

“The victim should have the right to end his life, if he wants. But I think it would be a great mistake. However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. While there’s life, there is hope.” (From People’s Daily Online [June 14, 2006])

“The downside of my celebrity is that I cannot go anywhere in the world without being recognized. It is not enough for me to wear dark sunglasses and a wig. The wheelchair gives me away.” (Quoted in “Happy 65th Birthday to Prof. Stephen Hawking!” at StarTrek.com [January 8, 2007])

Stephen Hawking Quotes On Aliens and Space

“The life we have on Earth must have spontaneously generated itself. It must therefore be possible for life to generate spontaneously elsewhere in the universe.”  (From the Discovery Channel program Alien Planet [May 14, 2005])

“I’m sorry to disappoint science fiction fans, but if information is preserved, there is no possibility of using black holes to travel to other universes. If you jump into a black hole, your mass energy will be returned to our universe but in a mangled form which contains the information about what you were like but in a state where it can not be easily recognized. It is like burning an encyclopedia. Information is not lost, if one keeps the smoke and the ashes. But it is difficult to read. In practice, it would be too difficult to re-build a macroscopic object like an encyclopedia that fell inside a black hole from information in the radiation, but the information preserving result is important for microscopic processes involving virtual black holes.” (“Information Loss in Black Holes” [July 2005])

“Time and space are finite in extent, but they don’t have any boundary or edge. They would be like the surface of the earth, but with two more dimensions.” (From Black Holes and Baby Universes [1994])

“I think [contacting an alien civilization] would be a disaster. The extraterrestrials would probably be far in advance of us. The history of advanced races meeting more primitive people on this planet is not very happy, and they were the same species. I think we should keep our heads low.” (From the National Geographic Channel program Naked Science: Alien Contact, as quoted in The New York Times (24 November 24, 2004)

“I am discounting reports of UFOs. Why would they appear only to cranks and weirdos?”  (Quoted in the TED talk, “Asking big questions about the universe”)

Stephen Hawking Quotes on Science and Philosophy

“Even if there is only one possible unified theory, it is just a set of rules and equations. What is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe? The usual approach of science of constructing a mathematical model cannot answer the questions of why there should be a universe for the model to describe. Why does the universe go to all the bother of existing?” (From A Brief History of Time [1988])

“It surprises me how disinterested we are today about things like physics, space, the universe and philosophy of our existence, our purpose, our final destination. It´s a crazy world out there. Be curious.”

“My goal is simple. It is a complete understanding of the universe, why it is as it is and why it exists at all.” (Quoted in Stephen Hawking’s Universe [1985] by John Boslough)

“Ever since the dawn of civilization, people have not been content to see events as unconnected and inexplicable. They have craved an understanding of the underlying order in the world. Today we still yearn to know why we are here and where we came from. Humanity’s deepest desire for knowledge is justification enough for our continuing quest. And our goal is nothing less than a complete description of the universe we live in.” (From A Brief History of Time [1988])

“If we do discover a complete theory, it should be in time understandable in broad principle by everyone. Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists, and just ordinary people be able to take part in the discussion of why we and the universe exist.”  (From Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays [1993])

“One might think this means that imaginary numbers are just a mathematical game having nothing to do with the real world. From the viewpoint of positivist philosophy, however, one cannot determine what is real. All one can do is find which mathematical models describe the universe we live in. It turns out that a mathematical model involving imaginary time predicts not only effects we have already observed but also effects we have not been able to measure yet nevertheless believe in for other reasons. So what is real and what is imaginary? Is the distinction just in our minds?” (From The Universe In A Nutshell [2001])

“I think that it’s important for scientists to explain their work, particularly in cosmology. This now answers many questions once asked of religion.” (Quoted in “Return of the time lord” in The Guardian [September 27, 2005])


Source: Jedidiah Becker for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online