Stephen Hawking, RIP

Stephen Hawking, RIP March 14, 2018


The grave monument of Matthew Stanford Robison (1988-1999) in the Salt Lake City Cemetery


Stephen Hawking, one of the foremost scientists of the past half century — and almost certainly the most prominent of them in the public mind — has died.


Astonishingly, and against all odds and most medical predictions, he made it to the respectable age of 76.


I trust that, by now, Professor Hawking has been pleasantly, joyously, surprised to discover that he was wrong about the afterlife — and that he can now move and talk freely and think and reason more clearly than ever even he did in this life.  Even from his confinement in a wheelchair, his mind roamed the universe.  Think what he can do now!


Back in 2013, I was moved by the obituary notice for Matthew Stanford Robison that appeared in the Deseret News:


I saw it at just about the time that a national atheist organization — in what was plainly intended as an in-your-face gesture to the benighted Mormons — was ostentatiously planning to hold its national convention in Salt Lake City, and I commented on it in a blog post, as follows:


I know the arguments against theism reasonably well, and I don’t discount their force.  By natural temperament, as it happens, I’m more inclined to skepticism than to faith.  There are legitimate reasons for disbelief, though I ultimately find the reasons for belief more persuasive and find belief itself far more  satisfying.  What I’ve never understood, though, is how some people can seriously claim that atheism represents good news.  I can understand coming sadly to the conclusion that life is purposeless, that the cosmos doesn’t care, and that, at death, we and our loved ones cease to exist.  I simply can’t grasp why anybody would find this a message to be enthusiastic about.

I simply cannot imagine a more glorious, joyous message than the one that is implicit in the grave monument shown above.  Certainly the message that we’re here briefly, pointlessly, and then rot, that all human relationships end in death if they haven’t already ended before, doesn’t quite compare.  And almost every other message or fact seems trivial nonsense by contrast.


I close with a very different way of looking at nature than that offered by physicalism or naturalism or materialism, offered by the great Gerard Manley Hopkins:


The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
    It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
    It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
    And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
    And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
    Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.



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