What Kind of Man Was Stephen Hawking?

Everyone has heard of Stephen Hawking (1942-2018), the world-renowned theoretical physicist, cosmologist, and published author. His birth date, January 8, marked the 300th anniversary of the Christian astronomer Galileo Galilei‘s death. Hawking passed away a few days ago on March 14. During his lifetime, he made more than one splash in the broad fields of science and entertainment.

Frank Hawking, Stephen’s father and a biologist to boot, began to work at the National Institute for Medical Research. His father’s occupation may have likely had a strong influence on the future physicist. By 1952, the youthful mind was sent to be educated at St. Albans School which was an independent school. Frank Hawking desired for his son to attend Westminster School. However, Stephen, a boy of 13, was sick the very day on which the scholarship exams were held.

So Stephen ended up staying at St. Albans. His fellow classmates nicknamed him “Einstein.” While he was there, he enjoyed a number of his nonscholarly pursuits with his friends such as making fireworks, building model boats and planes, and even discussing Christianity, interestingly enough.

Frank wanted his son Stephen to study medicine in college, while Stephen himself was interested in mathematics. He ended up taking physics due to the subject’s availability at University College, Oxford. In 1965, he attained his PhD. Not too long before this, the man in his early twenties was diagnosed with a motor neurone disease. He was informed that he had two years to live. Also referred to as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the amazingly rare disease attacks the nervous system of the brain and spine which are responsible for sending messages to the body’s muscles. It renders one’s muscles quite weak, often leading them to stiffen.

This is what the young Stephen Hawking was faced with, and despite this daunting handicap he didn’t give up on life or his dream. 1965 was a big year for Hawking. Not only was he awarded the honor of his PhD, but he was also honored to be given the hand of Jane Wilde in marriage. It was perhaps due mostly to this woman’s love and faith in the benevolence of God that kept her young spouse alive.

Wilde is quoted as saying this of their early relationship: “We were in love, in a state of euphoria. We decided to get married, and didn’t really think much about the disease. We were still young enough to feel immortal.” In 1970, Hawking (the man who had been labeled “Einstein” in high school) and his associate Roger Penrose applied Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity to space-time. Together they claimed this supported the concept that space and time would have had their beginning in the Big Bang and an eventual end in black holes.

In fact, eight years later Hawking would be rewarded with the Albert Einstein Award which some have claimed to be equally as honorable as the Nobel. The next award he received was the RAS Gold Medal in 1985, the same year in which he came down with a bad case of pneumonia. In his condition, the situation became a rather grave one.

Jane Wilde Hawking prayed desperately for her husband upon learning that his ailment was life-threatening. At a certain point, she received a call that he was on death’s door and the doctors inquired if he could be taken off life support. Jane Hawking refused. She prayed simply but with faith and hope: “Please Lord, let Stephen live.” And this granted her; he did live despite the odds. Hawking scoffed at such faith, even in the existence of an Author of the universe.

Stephen Hawking went on to win countless awards and be noted for his fantastic achievements in examining the cosmos. He also appeared in shows such as Master of Science Fiction, Star Trek: The Next Generation (in which he plays himself and is situated in close proximity to Albert Einstein), and The Big Bang Theory. He ended up divorcing Jane as well as his next wife. He published a number books and co-authored some others. These works came to include A Brief History of Time, A Briefer History of Time, The Universe in a Nutshell, and The Grand Design.

Several years ago, Catholic Bishop Robert Baron pointed out a few of the flaws in Hawking’s thinking and tone in one of his video chats, especially regarding Hawking’s beliefs on the absence of a Creator. When news came out that Hawking had passed away, Bishop Barron said this of the scientist in a Facebook post:

“I just learned of the passing of Stephen Hawking, one of the greatest scientists of our time. Though he was often critical of religion and skeptical about God, let’s thank the Lord for his many scientific contributions and pray for the repose of his soul.”

Hawking was a fighter, a dreamer, a doer, and yet he seemed to have a disregard for life and faith. According to his children, he himself once said, “It would not be much of a universe if it wasn’t home to the people you love.” This statement shows there was definitely hope for him. He was human; he was quite capable of love. But since he was human, he was also quite capable of error.

Such it is with most lives; there’s always room for improvement, for thinking, for learning. He was a genius in many respects and simultaneously a mind troubled in other matters. Who knows what his last thoughts were of? Like all the stories of our lives, his “final chapter” shall remain blank while he has left behind a legacy of science.


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