Clarifying Pope John’s Paul Remark Misquoted by Prof Stephen Hawking on the Origin of the Universe

I was watching a video on Youtube on Prof Stephen Hawking’s lecture on the origin of the universe. And in one section, he quoted (or actually misquoted) Pope John Paul II address at Vatican during Cosmologist conference that science should not inquire into the beginning of the universe. The Fox news reported it this way:

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.”

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,199673,00.html#ixzz1HJr0WvAe

Unfortunately, it might be a misrepresentation of what the Pope said. I was googling and searching of where this address could be, and I found one article that details the full text of an address of Pope John Paul II. I did not claim this is the event that Prof Hawking mentioned. But it is very likely. And since Prof Hawking did not mention the detail of the quotation, the burden of proof lies on him 🙂 I will provide why I suspect it is the same meeting at the Appendix 🙂 But now, let’s get to clarify it.

You can read the full text address (which I suspect is the one quoted by Prof Hawking) at this link:

http://www.ewtn.com/library/PAPALDOC/JP2COSM.HTM

Let me go to the part that speaks about the origin of the universe:

Any scientific hypothesis on the origin of the world, such as the hypothesis of a primitive atom from which derived the whole of the physical universe, leaves open the problem concerning the universe’s beginning. Science cannot of itself solve this question: there is needed that human knowledge that rises above physics and astrophysics and which is called metaphysics; there is needed above all the knowledge that comes from God’s revelation.

As read above. There is no indication that the Pope said “You should not inquire into the beginning of the Universe”. In fact, he was stating a fact at that time that any hypothesis on the beginning of the universe still leaves us with many questions.  A more accurate representation of what he said would be “Science alone cannot answer all the questions on the beginning of the Universe”. What are all these questions, the Pope did not mention it in the address. But we all can guess as a human being.

Science can explain “HOW” it began. But science will not be able to explain the “WHY” it began. Prof Hawking tried to answer that by saying what is needed for Universe to begin is the Law of Physics, which is the General theory of relativity and the quantum theory. But in itself it does not, and cannot, explain why it should begin in the first place with its law of Physics.  Who created the law of Physics? Why the Law of Physics is the way it is? Science simply describes how nature works. Now this is where the Pope’s statement comes in. Our questions in the beginning of the Universe goes beyond on the “HOW” it begins. We as human being asks why are we created, and we ask the “meaning” of all this creation. This question will not be able to be solved by science alone. It must go beyond Physics. And by the way, the Greek word for “beyond” is Meta. That’s the part when he mentioned about meta-physics.

For the Pope, why you are created must have much more meaning than just a fluctuation of quantum theory. In Christianity, it is because creation is willed, and each of us is “will”ed. We do not come out by chance and hence live is meaningless. In fact, life is full of meaning because our existence is  willed.

I hope this clarifies what the Pope says.

Appendix

How do I suspect that the address of Pope in 1981 is the one quoted by Prof Hawking?

  • First it was written that the address is given to the participants in the study week dedicated to “Cosmology and Fundamental Physics”. And of course, Prof Hawking is the expert in Cosmology.
  • Second, the link on the address of the Pope stated it was given at October 1981.
  • If you do a little of googling, “stephen hawking 1981 cosmology vatican”, you will find some google books on Prof Stephen’s biography. One that I found is titled “Stephen Hawking: a biography” By Kristine Larsen. On page xvi, TIMELINE, it was mentioned that in 1981, Prof Stephen Hawking attended a conference at Vatican, in SEPTEMBER!
  • And this is more precise: In a book called “Stephen Hawking: a life in science” by Michael White, John R. Gribbin. The author quoted exactly the quotation that I gave above. This is the screenshot from the Google Books. As many, the quote was misquoted as if the Pope said science should not study how universe begin. The Pope only states a fact that science simply cannot study things beyond what it can studies.

 

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3 Responses to Clarifying Pope John’s Paul Remark Misquoted by Prof Stephen Hawking on the Origin of the Universe

  1. […] Any scientific hypothesis on the origin of the world, such as the hypothesis of a primitive atom from which derived the whole of the physical universe, leaves open the problem concerning the universe’s beginning. Science cannot of itself solve this question: there is needed that human knowledge that rises above physics and astrophysics and which is called metaphysics; there is needed above all the knowledge that comes from God’s revelation. Big H/T to Oka’s Blog […]

  2. Hi – I like your analysis of this quotation. It’s always important to clarify things. I believe your takeaway might be a little slanted, at least as far as the “how vs. why” comparison is concerned. It’s not a question as to “why” – the part the pope left out in his FULL address, which you suspect to be the one to which Hawking was paraphrasing, was this part (in brackets): “… leaves open the problem concerning the universe’s beginning [currently[. Science cannot of itself solve this question… [yet].” I believe that is all this comes down to – not a how or why issue, but simply a “how” with a “matter of time” addendum attached to that. I do appreciate the pope’s illustration of metaphysics, as if some means of measurement that arises above and beyond our roles as components of the universe itself, must be implemented in order to measure that which possible lies BEYOND the universe (whether in time or dimensional-space), but that is still not a WHY question – it’s just a matter of time.

    • kurniawano says:

      Hi, Thanks for the comment. I think the pope’s word for “beginning” is not about a matter of time. If he is talking in metaphysics, he may refer to the universe’s beginning as a metaphysics question of “why there is something rather than nothing”. This asks about the beginning of everything (or universe, that includes time, and space). Why there must be a beginning of something? I don’t think he is interested in knowing how it begins as he is not a physcists. And we can know this from another evident, i.e. because his answers links to revelation. Now, God’s revelation is not about how the universe begin. God’s revelation is about why the universe is created. The bible does not concern about the how, but the why of creation. So I think it is safe to say he is talking about the why. I do understand the problem is in the choice of words. The physicists and the philosophers may use the same word differently and at a different context or framework. So the post is to help scientist (like me :p) to understand the language of philosophy and its context. Another person has also comment on this problem of science limitation, and if you notice, he use the question of “why there is something rather than nothing”.

      http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/2012/04/23/science-will-never-explain-why-theres-something-rather-than-nothing/

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