He was an atheist…. a non-believer. Once, he said that those, who are afraid of death, think about ‘life after death’. However, he never said anything about the funeral. He only wanted his famous equation would be written on his grave. So, the decision to inter Stephen Hawking’s ashes at Westminster Abbey has surprised everyone.
According to sources close to the scientist’s family, the professor’s funeral would take place at the Great St Mary’s Church near the University of Cambridge on Easter Saturday (March 31). The church is situated near the Gonville and Caius College in which Professor Hawking was a fellow for more than 52 years. Then, his ashes will be interred at Westminster Abbey. Dr Hawking will be in good company there, as Sir Isaac Newton was buried in the Abbey in 1727. Charles Darwin, too, was buried beside him in 1882. Even physicists Ernest Rutherford (in 1937) and Joseph John Thomson (in 1940) have been interred there.
The Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall believes that it’s the best place for Professor Stephen Hawking. “It is entirely fitting that the remains of Professor Stephen Hawking are to be buried in the Abbey, near those of distinguished fellow scientists,” said Dr Hall. He continued: “We believe it to be vital that science and religion work together to seek to answer the great questions of the mystery of life and of the universe.”
It’s also a fact that ‘atheist’ Hawking explained ‘the existence of God’ in a different way. In his world-famous publication ‘A Brief History of Time’ (p 1988), the scientist wrote: “We may now be near the end of the end of the search for the ultimate laws of nature. Should we achieve this goal, the next step will be the discussion of why it is that we and the universe exist. If we find the answer to that, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we would know the mind of God.”
A Brief History of Time
However, he changed his position on the existence of God later. In 2007, Dr Hawking told Reuters: “I believe the universe is governed by the laws of science. The laws may have been decreed by God, but God does not intervene to break the laws.” And in 2010, the scientist stated that the laws of physics offer enough to explain the origin of the universe and the idea of God was “not necessary”. (The Great Design; Stephen Hawking & Leonard Mlodinow; Bantam Books, 2010)
Professor Hawking had a clear idea about the difference between religion and science. He stressed: “There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, (and) science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works.” (Religion and Political Views; Hollowverse)
Hawking with the Pope Francis
In 2008, then Pope Benedict XVI invited a delegation of scientists to visit the Vatican and Professor Hawking was one of the members of the delegation. Pope Benedict’s successor Pope Francis, too, invited Professor Hawking to visit the Vatican in 2016 and the latter met the former as a member of a Papal Scientific Committee. The influential Catholic figure described his November 28 (2016) meeting with the eminent physicist-atheist as ‘the religion’s attempt to understand the science’.
Perhaps, that ‘attempt’ has prompted the Abbey to bury Professor Hawking there. It’s the religion’s ultimate tribute to science……to a scientist.
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