A brief history of Stephen Hawking’s atheism

Religion News Service | 7/21/1999 | Kimberly Winston
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(RNS) — Say the words “British,” “scientist” and “atheist” and the first person to come to mind probably isn’t Stephen Hawking.

But while Hawking, the theoretical physicist who died Wednesday (March 14) at age 76, was certainly overshadowed in the atheist department by his countryman, the evolutionary biologist and atheist activist Richard Dawkins, Hawking’s atheism was more of a slow simmer than Dawkins’ explosive ire.

God - God - Embodiment - Laws - Nature

“What could define God (is thinking of God) as the embodiment of the laws of nature. However, this is not what most people would think of that God,” Hawking told Diane Sawyer in 2010. “They made a human-like being with whom one can have a personal relationship. When you look at the vast size of the universe and how insignificant an accidental human life is in it, that seems most impossible.”

One reason Hawking’s atheism was less well-known was he seemed to fudge the question of God’s existence for years. In his 1988 seminal best-seller, “A Brief History of Time,” he wrote, “The whole history of science has been the gradual realization that events do not happen in an arbitrary manner, but that they reflect a certain underlying order, which may or may not be divinely inspired.”

Book - Quest - Theory - Triumph - Reason

Later in the book, he writes of the quest for a unifying theory of the universe: “It would be the ultimate triumph of human reason — for then we should know the mind of God.”

Some saw those statements as proof that Hawking held private religious beliefs. He fed that idea with a few statements over the years — “The laws may have been decreed by God,” he told Reuters in 2007, “but God does not intervene to break the laws” — and even titled a...
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