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

March 22, 2011

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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Nature Journal regrets its offensive Futures section article

February 1, 2010

I got a reply from Nature correspondence stating their regrets of publishing an article in their Futures section that insults God and the Catholic faith.

Correspondence
From: Corres <correspondence@nature.com>
To: Oka Kurniawan <kurniawano@ihpc.a-star.edu.sg>
Date: Friday 22:39:33

Dear Dr Kurniawan
Thank you for your submission to Correspondence. We regret the
widespread offence caused by the Futures article you mention.
We have received several letters making similar objections to yours, and
we have therefore selected just one representative example for
publication (see this week’s Nature, p425).
Thank you again for writing to us
Yours sincerely
Rosalind Cotter
Correspondence Editor

—–Original Message—–
From: Oka Kurniawan [mailto:kurniawano@ihpc.a-star.edu.sg]
Sent: 28 January 2010 01:42
To: Corres
Subject: Response to “Divine Diseases” on (Nature 462, 1088; 2009)

Response to “Divine Diseases” on (Nature 462, 1088; 2009)
doi:10.1038/4621088a

Science Fiction can be written without offending other religions

I was surprised to see that an article titled “Divine Diseases” in
(Nature 462, 1088; 2009) can be accepted in the Futures section of
Nature. I believe such science fiction can be written without offending
other religions. Such an insulting article only degrades Nature as one
of  the top publishing journals in science. The contents of the articles
involve nothing of science but  jokes on some people’s religious
believe. It is my strong hope that such incidents would not happen again
in the future.

Regards,
Oka Kurniawan, Ph.D