Renowned English cosmologist Stephen Hawking has made his name through his work in theoretical physics as a bestselling author. His life – his pioneering research, his troubled relationship with his wife, and the challenges imposed by his disability – is the subject of a poignant biopic, The Theory of Everything. Directed by James Marsh, the film stars Eddie Redmayne, who has garnered widespread critical acclaim for his moving portrayal: Redmayne has already won the Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Drama and the BAFTA prize for Leading Actor, and is tipped to take home the Best Actor Oscar at the Academy Awards in Hollywood on Sunday.
In recognition of the phenomenal success of The Theory of Everything and the subsequent resurgence of interest in Hawking’s work, we’ve compiled a list of free resources from leading academics across the spectrum of cosmology, which demonstrate the lively debate that Hawking’s theory has stimulated and his enduring influence in the fields of philosophy, mathematics, and physics.
“‘What place, then, for a creator?’: Hawking on God and Creation” by William Lane Craig, published in The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science
“Scientists working in the field of cosmology seem to be irresistibly drawn by the lure of philosophy.” So begins William Lane Craig’s seminal paper in which he explains how Hawking has followed the lead of Carl Sagan in speculating on the philosophical implications of current cosmological models. Craig attempts to understand Hawking’s view of God’s role in the creation of the universe.
“On Hawking’s A Brief History of Time and the Present State of Physics” by Mendel Sachs, published in The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science
In the 1990s, there was a healthy resurgence of interest in the development of contemporary theoretical physics and cosmology, not only within the scientific community, but also among philosophers and historians of science. Hawking’s bestselling book, A Brief History of Time (1988), helped increase the popularity of such ideas. In this paper, Mendel Sachs evaluates the present state of physics by deconstructing Hawking’s unification of quantum theory and the theory of relativity, “two conflicting revolutions in science that form a basis of all modern physics and allied research areas”.
“Stephen Hawking’s cosmology and theism” by Quentin Smith, published in Analysis
Does God exist? Or is Hawking’s wave-function law inconsistent with classical theism? In this paper, American philosopher Quentin Smith reflects on that perennial and divisive subject – the existence of God – implicit in Hawking’s theory, arguing that quantum cosmology and the classical theistic hypothesis are incompatible.
“Hartle-Hawking cosmology and unconditional probabilities” by Robert J. Deltete and Reed A. Guy, published in Analysis
In this provocative paper, Deltete and Guy question whether the quantum wave-function model of the universe, formulated by Hawking and fellow physicist James Hartle, provides an “unconditional probability for the universe to arise from literally nothing”. Masterfully weaving issues of physics, philosophy, and theism into their argument, Deltete and Guy debunk Quentin Smith’s interpretation of Hartle-Hawking cosmology.
“Time Travel and Time Machines” by Chris Smeenk and Christian Wüthrich, from The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Time (ed. Craig Callender)
Have researchers figured out the missing link to human time travel? And, according to Stephen Hawking, what are the necessary conditions to create a time machine? In this chapter, Smeenk and Wüthrich dare to illuminate the metaphysics behind the physical possibility of time travel and offer an overview of recent literature on “so-called time machines.”
“Philosophy of Cosmology” by Chris Smeenk, from The Oxford Handbook of Philosophy of Physics (ed. Robert Batterman)
How does philosophy inform the research of contemporary cosmologists? Certain scientific limitations, such as the nature of physical laws, provide fertile ground for philosophical inquiry, particularly regarding the science of our universe: “Due to the uniqueness of the universe and its inaccessibility, cosmology has often been characterized as ‘unscientific’ or inherently more speculative than other parts of physics. How can one formulate a scientific theory of the ‘universe as a whole’?” In one section of this chapter, Smeenk cites Stephen Hawking’s and others’ “Expanding Universe Models” as those that have effectively applied this philosophical inquiry to provide practical answers to some of the universe’s biggest questions.
Studied by Roger Penrose and Stephen Hawking, visible naked singularities and black holes are considered two possible final fates of a collapsing star. This book describes one of the most fascinating intellectual adventures of recent decades, understanding and exploring the final fate of massive collapsing stars in the universe.
Introduction to Black Hole Physics by Valeri P. Frolov and Andrei Zelnikov
A journey into one of the most fascinating topics in modern theoretical physics and astrophysics, this comprehensive introduction to black holes physics will take you into the mind of Stephen Hawking and many other scientists, including what they found so intriguing about black holes.
“Reading the Mind of God: Stephen Hawking” from Oracles of Science: Celebrity Scientists versus God and Religion by Karl Giberson and Mariano Artigas
Undeniably, Hawking’s work on black holes and the beginnings of the universe is one of the most important contributions to the scientific canon in the modern era. Yet how has this impacted Christianity’s traditional cosmogony beliefs? The Catholic Church and the Papacy have often found the science of the beginning of the universe problematic. This delicate boundary is this chapter’s primary focus. While it’s true that science and religion are often conceived as antithetical, they both share, at their heart, the same grand purpose: to understand and comprehend the world around us and humanity’s place in it.
Would you like to know more about Stephen Hawking? Using Hawking’s Who’s Who article entry, discover the details of his life including his education, career, and publications.
Image Credit: “A Monster Galaxy in Perseus Cluster.” Photo by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight. CC BY-NC 2.0 via Flickr.