Thursday, June 15, 2006

Stephen Hawking Spreading Lecture-Room Fables?

World-renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking said Thursday that the late Pope John Paul II once told scientists they should not study the beginning of the universe because it was the work of God.

Hawking, author of the best-seller "A Brief History of Time," said John Paul made the comments at a cosmology conference at the Vatican. He did not say when the meeting was held.

Hawking quoted the pope as saying, "It's OK to study the universe and where it began. But we should not inquire into the beginning itself because that was the moment of creation and the work of God.", via Mark Shea

I'm glad the journalist was alert enough to note that Hawking's story was unsourced. Hawking has been pushing this story for a while. I believe it appeared in A Brief History of Time. At least one web denizen has attempted to verify the story, without success:
A more serious question is whether the pope even made the statement. I've had a few people throw Hawking's version of it in my face as an example of Catholic obscurantism, but none were able to come up with the original statement. The Holy Father's 1981 Address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences evidences nothing like what Hawking claims. The Newman Center at Cal Tech has a list of the pope's messages regarding Faith and Science. He speaks about the urgent need for science and faith to benefit from each other, but at no point does he tell scientists there is something they should not inquire into. No "work of God" should be off limits and any one of them (particularly the big bang) points to the Creator.

It would be tragic if this prominent physicist is just spreading another academic urban legend.

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