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Blog: Revd Dr Rodney Holder reflects on the life of Stephen Hawking.

April 3, 2018

Stephen Hawking: In Memoriam Blog

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Stephen Hawking: In Memoriam

Blog Post from Theos originally posted on 15 March 2018

Dr Rodney Holder reflects on the life of Stephen Hawking.


 

I was truly sorry to hear of the death of Stephen Hawking. Hawking was a towering figure in physics who made seminal contributions to cosmology. He did this against the backdrop of a terrible physical affliction, having been diagnosed at age 21 with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and given two years to live. His life should be an inspiration to many, showing what a curious mind, strong will and a famous sense of humour can achieve. 

In his early work with Roger Penrose he showed that the universe must have begun at a singularity, a point of infinite density and temperature where the laws of physics break down. He did ground–breaking work on black holes, which are like the inverse of the Big Bang, with matter collapsing to a point rather than expanding from a point. Hawking famously showed that black holes radiate with what has become known as ‘Hawking radiation’. With Jacob Bekenstein he derived a formula for the entropy of a black hole, entropy being a measure of disorder. He said that he wanted this formula to be engraved on his tombstone, in the same way that Austrian physicist Ludwig Boltzmann had his formula for entropy engraved on his tombstone in Vienna. We will see in a few weeks whether this becomes a reality.

Hawking’s work in later years concerned the beginning of the universe, and whether it could have been created out of nothing. He made a number of ingenious and stimulating proposals, especially the “no boundary proposal”, which makes time “imaginary” (in a mathematical sense) near the beginning, and thereby does away with the need for the universe to begin in real time. He also believed that the universe could arise spontaneously from a “quantum vacuum” acted on by gravity. In these ways Hawking thought that he could do away with the need for God to create the universe.

Hawking also believed that the idea of a multiverse would solve the problem of the universe’s astonishing fine tuning. However, none of these ideas are uncontested. In his technical papers, Hawking admits that the no boundary proposal does not do away with the universe having a beginning in time. And, since other universes are unobservable in principle, there is considerable debate as to whether the multiverse idea is scientific at all. In any case, none of these proposals do away with the need for God to create and design the universe. The universe is dependent on God for its existence at all moments of time, including imaginary time – if that makes sense. Creation from the quantum vacuum (certainly something!) is hardly to be equated with the universe creating itself out of nothing; and God can equally well create a multiverse as a single universe.

Hawking’s science was always exhilarating, challenging and worthy of serious engagement, even when, as in the ideas above, it remains controversial. He went to his death leaving us to ponder his tantalising question “what is it that breathes fire into the equations and makes a universe for them to describe?”. He leaves a legacy in physics and cosmology on which much great progress in human understanding, and indeed human flourishing, have been built. He was an iconic figure, who struggled heroically against a terrible degenerative disease to achieve greatness in his chosen field of cosmology. As a scientist and Christian, I honour his legacy today.

The Revd Dr Rodney Holder, Emeritus Course Director, The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, St Edmund’s College, Cambridge; author of Big Bang, Big God: A Universe Designed for Life? (Lion Hudson 2013).

Theos conducts research, publishes reports, and holds debates, seminars and lectures on the relationship between religion, politics and society in the contemporary world. A Christian think tank based in the UK to find out more go to http://www.theosthinktank.co.uk

Stephen Hawking Remembered

March 15, 2018

The Faraday Institute conveys its sincere condolences to the family and friends

The Faraday Institute conveys its sincere condolences to the family and friends of Prof. Stephen Hawking FRS following his death yesterday [14th March 2018].

Prof. Hawking’s academic achievements have undeniably secured his enduring place amongst the intellectual elite. He will also be remembered for his remarkable personality and approach to life . Despite overwhelming odds, he relentlessly pursued not only his own scientific work but also engaged in communicating science beyond the academy. The many quotes currently circulating serve as reminders of his frequent encouragements to wonder at and explore the secrets of the universe. Despite his ostensibly atheist beliefs, he was ready to engage in science-religion discussions, especially when they concerned the topic of cosmology.

 

Prof. Hawking engaged in a friendly and positive fashion with the activities of The Faraday Institute on several occasions. A notable example was his introductory welcome to a play entitled ‘Let Newton Be!’, a celebration of the life, work and faith of Isaac Newton, which was commissioned in 2009 by the Institute as a contribution to the 800th Birthday celebrations of Cambridge University.   Amongst the many accolades which Prof. Hawking can be said to have shared with Newton was the esteemed position of the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics at Cambridge. It was therefore particularly fitting that the gala performance of a play about the second holder of that chair was introduced by the seventeenth. A recording of Prof. Hawking’s witty and entertaining introduction can be heard here

Prof. Hawking’s own work and engagement with the science and religion field typifies the University’s 809-year history, during which time countless scientists, or natural philosophers as they were known in previous centuries, have contributed to a wide-ranging interdisciplinary exploration of the universe. Many consider that this enhances  our understanding of the wisdom of God in creation. He will be fondly remembered and sorely missed.

Faraday Papers in multiple languages - the latest addition.

February 28, 2018

Faraday Papers continue to appear in 13 different languages. We are delighted that Faraday Paper No.4:The Anthropic Principle and the

Faraday Papers continue to appear in 13 different languages. We are delighted that Faraday Paper No.4:The Anthropic Principle and the Science and Religion Debate by Revd Dr John Polkinghorne is now available in Arabic at http://bit.ly/2BZ3QUW 

We are constatntly updating our resources in various ways, watch this space for more additions. Do not hesitate to contact us if you think there is a language or resource we have missed and we can let you know if it is in progress or arrange for it to be considered. 

Places on Reading is Believing? colloquium available now

January 25, 2018

Registration is now open for our 2-day academic colloquium, 'Reading is Believing? Sacred Texts in a Scientific Age', which

Registration is now open for our 2-day academic colloquium, 'Reading is Believing? Sacred Texts in a Scientific Age', which will be held at Clare College, Cambridge from 26-28 March 2018. A limited number of early bird discounts are available until 31 January. For more info go to https://readingisbelieving.eventbrite.co.uk/

Professor White is awarded the Gold Medal for a lifetime of distinguished achievement in solid Earth geophysics.

January 15, 2018

Professor White is awarded the Gold Medal for a lifetime of distinguished achievement in solid Earth geophysics.   We are delighted that our

Professor White is awarded the Gold Medal for a lifetime of distinguished achievement in solid Earth geophysics.
 
We are delighted that our Director Prof. Bob White has been awarded the
“Gold Medal for a lifetime of distinguished achievement in solid Earth
geophysics from the Royal Astronomical Society.
 
Announcement taken from the RAS official website. 
 
The Royal Astronomical Society is pleased to announce the 2018 winners
of its awards, medals and prizes. Each year the RAS recognises
significant achievement in the fields of astronomy and geophysics
through these awards.
 
The announcements were made at the Ordinary Meeting of the society held
on Friday 12 January 2018. The winners will be invited to collect their
awards at the European Week of Astronomy and Space Science in Liverpool
in April.
 
The Society's highest honour is its Gold Medal, which can be awarded for
any reason but usually recognises lifetime achievement. Past winners
include Albert Einstein, Edwin Hubble, Arthur Eddington and Stephen
Hawking. It was first awarded in 1824; since 1964 two have been awarded
each year: one for astronomy, and one for geophysics.
 
This year the winners of the Gold Medals are Professor James Hough,
emeritus holder of the Kelvin Chair of Natural Philosophy at the
University of Glasgow, and Robert White, Professor of Geophysics,
Geodynamics and Tectonics at the University of Cambridge.
 
Professor White is awarded the Gold Medal for a lifetime
of distinguished achievement in solid Earth geophysics.
 
Professor Robert White, winner of the Gold Medal in geophysics. He has
made fundamental, transformative contributions in five different areas
of Earth science: mid-ocean ridges, mantle plumes and flood basalts,
continental rifting, convergent margins, and dyke injection, seismicity
and volcanism. Alongside his work in Cambridge, since 2010 he has also
been an adjunct professor at the University of Iceland, where he studies
volcanic rift processes and maps movement of magma beneath the surface.
He has trained more than 50 students and post-doctoral researchers, many
of whom have taken up senior faculty positions in academia and industry.
Professor White’s early research career was in marine geophysics, where
his work on magmatism associated with the early stages of rifting is
probably the best known, most influential and most cited in his career
so far. More recently, he has worked extensively and fruitfully in
Iceland on the elevated Mid-Ocean Ridge where, in 2014-15, his group
used an array of 75 broad-band seismometers to study a 46-kilometre-long
dyke culminating in a surface eruption. His 250 peer reviewed
publications on geodynamics and geophysics have been cited more than
5,500 times and are a testament to the huge impact he has had on our
understanding of the solid Earth.
 
To read the full announcements of all the awards and details go to http://bit.ly/2AUDtLk

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