Big Bang

Stephen Hawking explored the universe: Were the mysteries of his heart newsworthy?

Stephen Hawking explored the universe: Were the mysteries of his heart newsworthy?

So here is the question of the day: Does it matter that famed physicist Stephen Hawking was -- as best one can tell from his complex and even impish way of expressing himself -- an atheist who still had moments when he could hint at doubts?

Does it matter that the mind that probed the far corners of the universe couldn't handle the mysteries of the human heart and that this pained him? After all, in an empty, random universe, there are no moral laws to explain the physics of love and attachment.

If you pay close attention to the major obituaries, it's also clear that Hawking's giant reputation and celebrity was the black hole that sucked some thoughtful coverage into nothingness.

On one level, I thought that some of the best material on Hawking's faith questions was found in a compact, logical sequence in The New York Times. As always, things begin with the book that made him a global phenomenon:

In “A Brief History of Time,” Dr. Hawking concluded that “if we do discover a complete theory” of the universe, “it should in time be understandable in broad principle by everyone, not just a few scientists.” He added, “Then we shall all, philosophers, scientists and just ordinary people, be able to take part in the discussion of why it is that we and the universe exist.”
“If we find the answer to that,” he continued, “it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason -- for then we would know the mind of God.”

But Hawking kept writing and, as always, his opinions grew more provocative.

Nothing raised as much furor, however, as his increasingly scathing remarks about religion. ...
In “A Brief History of Time,” he had referred to the “mind of God,” but in “The Grand Design,” a 2011 book he wrote with Leonard Mlodinow, he was more bleak about religion. “It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper,” he wrote, referring to the British term for a firecracker fuse, “and set the universe going.”
He went further in an interview that year in The Guardian, saying: “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken-down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”

So what is missing from that version of Hawking? What did the Times skip over in its main obituary?

The answer can be found over at The Washington Post, where the main obituary wrestled -- briefly -- with a faith angle in the other part of Hawking's life that produced headlines.

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Big Bang and Bobby Jindal: Is Louisiana governor's silence on pope's evolution remarks newsworthy?

Big Bang and Bobby Jindal: Is Louisiana governor's silence on pope's evolution remarks newsworthy?

A regular GetReligion reader alerted us to a New Orleans Times-Picayune story on Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal — a potential 2016 Republican presidential contender:

Gov. Bobby Jindal has declined to comment on Pope Francis' position that evolution and the Big Bang are real and whether the pope's beliefs will influence his views on the issue going forward.
The pope said last week that God didn't use a "magic wand" to form the universe. He said evolution explains how God allows his creation to develop.
"The Big Bang, which today we hold to be the origin of the world, does not contradict the intervention of the divine creator but, rather, requires it," the pope said. "Evolution in nature is not inconsistent with the notion of creation, because evolution requires the creation of beings that evolve."

The reader complained about the headline's description of Jindal as "silent" on Francis' remarks:

So are Ted Cruz, Rick Perry, Mark Dayton, Chris Christie and many other politicians. This is one of the dumbest stories I’ve ever read!

My first thought was: Why does an evangelical politician need to respond to the pope? But then I recalled — as the Times-Picayune story notes — that Jindal actually is Catholic. He's an "evangelical Catholic," as media organizations such as the Washington Post have described him.

Given Jindal's religious affiliation, asking him about what the pope said doesn't strike me as terribly offensive. 

In fact, the story explains why the issue might be considered newsworthy,

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Pod people: To the end of the secular universe and beyond!

Imagine that you are caught in the middle of the following puzzle. You are a journalist who works for a mainstream newspaper, broadcast network or wire service. According to decades of tradition about your craft, you are supposed to write news copy that ordinary Americans — some say middle-school level readers — can read and understand.

So you are sent to cover a story that is linked to a very complicated scientific event that, in order to understand it, would require people to grasp bites of scientific data as well as a complex concept or two. Now, the problem is that very, very few of the experts involved in explaining this scientific breakthrough speak ordinary English (or whatever language is spoken in the land in which this event is taking place).

Instead, they keep using terms that are very hard for journalists to quote, without bulking up their stories with lengthy explanations of what those terms mean. This assumes, of course, that the journalists can find qualified scientists who can provide said explanations without blurring the specifics to the point that the core scientists will consider the news report shallow or, even worse, inaccurate.

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