hawkingThe new autobiography from scientist and well-known atheist Stephen Hawking entitled My Brief History is full of many interesting and at times surprising details.

One of the most surprising stories can be found on page 123:

I believe that disabled people should concentrate on things that their handicap doesn’t prevent them from doing and not regret those they can’t do…I visited the Soviet Union seven times. The first time I went with a student party in which one member, a Baptist, wished to distribute Russian-language Bibles and asked us to smuggle them in. We managed this undetected, but by the time we were on our way out the authorities had discovered what we had done and detained us for a while. However, to charge us with smuggling Bibles would have caused an international incident and unfavorable publicity, so they let us go after a few hours.

Stephen Hawking must be the only quadriplegic atheist to ever be detained for Bible smuggling. For nearly 50 years Stephen Hawking has been living with a progressing motor neuron disease related to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). As I read his autobiography I wanted to both spend time joking with him, honor him for all he has been able to accomplish with such a health condition, but then have a very serious adult-level conversation about a God I believe he should take more seriously. More on this a bit later.

In order to write a book Stephen Hawking must twitch his cheek until a computer can recognize what word is in his mind. It takes an average of a minute for him to type just three words. A small 125-page autobiography seems like a long Russian novel when you realize how much work it took to communicate his story.

Hawking spends roughly half his book in the world of his professional passion: theoretical physics, cosmology and mathematics. The other half of My Brief History focuses on his personal life.

Hawking made front-page news in 2011 when he spoke boldly against Christianity. He said, “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.

I wondered if Hawking was on a trajectory from being a pretty friendly atheist to now going on the attack following the lead of men such as Richard Dawkins. I was surprised how his autobiography was free from polemical statements against Christianity.

Hawking only mentions his “run in” with Christianity a few times. A prominent memory of the Bible was having a tutor use the Bible in English class. He writes:

To keep us occupied, he therefore set us to read a chapter of the Bible each day and write a piece on it. The idea was to teach us the beauty of the English language. We got through all of Genesis and part of Exodus before I left. One of the main things I learned from this exercise was not to begin a sentence with “And.” When I pointed out that most sentences in the Bible began with “And,” I was told that English had changed since the time of King James. In that case, I argued, why make us read the Bible?”

I believe, sadly, Stephen Hawking received bad biblical information. I wish I could get in a time machine to provide an alternative response to the inquisitive young Hawking. One of those frustrating moments in history where his English teacher doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

I would have let Hawking (and his English teacher) know about the importance of the conjunction in the Hebrew language. Every first year Hebrew student recognizes the conjunction used all over the place. Since all our modern Bibles are a translation there are always decisions made by the translators between being extremely literal to the text versus sounding like good English. In Greek, for instance, the verb can frequently be the first word in the sentence (Kick, the you, the ball). Only Yoda speaks that way in English.

The King James translators, to honor the importance of the Hebrew text, would bend the laws of English to be faithful to the originals. This can actually help support how vitally important everyone involved views the message of the Bible. Instead of Hawking feeling like the Bible is a book of bad English, I hope he will one day see it as an eternally important collection of Hebrew and Greek writings.

The only other major part of his book devoted to Christianity was related to one of his grad students. He writes on page 81:

While in California, I worked with a research student at Caltech, Don Page. Don had been born and brought up in a village in Alaska where his parents were schoolteachers and the three of them were the only non-intuits. He was an evangelical Christian, and he did his best to convert me when he later came to live with us in Cambridge. He used to read me Bible stories at breakfast, but I told him I knew the Bible well from my time in Majorca, and because my father used to read the Bible to me. (My father was not a believer but thought the King James Bible was culturally important.)

It seems Hawking’s perception of the Bible is “tried it and found it wanting.” I admire a great deal of his perspective on life, his academic contributions, and the great amount he has suffered yet continues to persevere. Many Christians give up on life when lesser things happen while Hawking, without Jesus in his life, has a perseverance which should inspire Christians.

I wish his perspective on the universe would be complimented by the revelation of the One who created the world. I wish Hawking could spend a day learning from men like Thomas Aquinas who were able to beautifully bring together the worlds of faith and science. Maybe if Hawking can crack time-travel that meeting could take place. Unfortunately, however, I think Hawking has given one of the best reasons why we will never figure out time travel.

He writes, “Even if some different theory is discovered in the future, I don’t think time travel will ever be possible. If it were, we would have been overrun by tourists from the future by now.

It’s a very healthy thing to read books by people with a different view of the world. To be a good ambassador of Christ we need to understand those who don’t yet know Christ. The Apostle Paul certainly read non-Christian poets in order to be able to quote them when speaking on Mars Hill in Athens. This Hawking book is a good read to understand a man who has many reasons to be respected by all.

    21 replies to "Stephen Hawking Detained in Russia for Bible Smuggling"

    • Rob

      This is indeed interesting for Hawkings himself says the sole remaining task for philosophy is the analysis of language- what a great comedown from the great tradition of philosophy from Aristotle to Kant… He goes on to AFFIRM the existence of God saying – if we find the answer to [why we and the universe] exist- then we would know the mind of God. – A Brief History of Time p 175

    • My father (RIP) was a physicist, so I grew-up all around scientists, etc., who would also come around in my father’s hobby of astronomy, and his astronomy club. My father was moderate Irish Roman Catholic, so he was not an atheist or an agnostic. But, I remember plenty of those types also. It is quite amazing to see what even so-called intellectual scientists will do with their unbelief, and quite simply ignorance towards the doctrine and revelation of God. Indeed we all have our “presuppositions”, even those in the depth of intellectual unbelief!

    • Btw, Western Philosophy still rocks on! 😉

    • Peggy

      I understand the point of this article—really—but would someone explain the importance of the conjunction in the Hebrew language and use little words?! 🙂

    • One cannot but wonder if Hawking has ever read a line of Plotinus? For him all nature is sacramental, setting forth in diverse degrees the beauty, wisdom, and goodness of the First Principle, whom he calls indifferently the One and the Good. There are no hard and fast lines anywhere. And of course the philosophy of Plotinus is based on that of Plato. But he is an original thinker, and he deviates from his master more than he realizes. Indeed for Plotinus, the soul is itself, that place of transformed passage, from darkness to light, the Soul is the wanderer of the metaphysical world; at every stage it is what it sees and knows, its destiny is to become Spirit. I think this is somewhat the doctrine of St. Paul also, but raised and elevated, who however uses the word “Pneuma” instead of the Platonic “Nous”. See Paul’s (1 Cor. 2: 10-14). Indeed here is something of the Greco-Roman and Hellenistic.

    • Tim Kimberley

      Hey Peggy,

      Let me try one more time. The Hebrew language is constructed a bit differently than English. They don’t use the same punctuation and words like English speakers. They have a couple letters that can be added to almost any word…the letters are what we translate to be the word “and.” In Hebrew the letter “vav” is the English word “and.” In Hebrew the “vav” can be added anywhere to show these thoughts are all related to each other. Instead of saying all these words in this sentence are related because they’re in between periods, in Hebrew there would be a whole bunch of “vav’s” to show they’re related.

      Hopefully that makes sense. The simplest way I can say it is Hebrew speakers used the word “and” many times more than English speakers. The King James translated them more than many of the English translators today.

      Please let me know if that’s clear as mud.

      – Tim

    • Archdruid Eileen

      Presumably the Marcan habit of apparently starting every sentence with “and” is a similar thing – with Mark writing, in effect, Semitic Greek?

    • Peggy

      Thanks, Tim!

      I’m studying 2 Peter and it seems like “and” is Peter’s favorite word. So, yes, I looked up the word “and.” When I saw your reference to it in your post I got all excited thinking it was a Hebrew thing and there was more to it.

      So then, the prefix waw being added to imperfect and all that—stuff I got bored reading—just shows relationship between words/ideas like English only they used it more…OK I got it. Thanks again! 🙂

      ~Love reading your stuff!


    • Barry Hollis

      It’s possible that Hawking continues to persevere through his difficulties because he believes that this life is all there is. When he dies, he believes that he will simply cease to exist. There would be no comfort of eternity with the Savior. “And” so he continues on because what else is there for him to do?

    • What a difference that word “and” is for the believer, verses the unbelieving! (2 John 3)

    • James-the-lesser

      “And,” I say, “right on, Fr. Robert! It’s all about ‘and’, isn’t it?”

    • James-the-lesser

      Poor Hawkins. The futility of his existence. Yet, exist he does and will live to see the day of his folly. Brilliant physicist, he is; theologian he is not. Unfortunately, he chose the deadend of philosophy and human reason; whereas, God had a better way. In the words of a great churchman, he would have been far better off had he chosen to believe in order that he may understand. The way of the Cross is foolishness to an unbeliever like Hawkins but it is life to those of us that have chosen to believe. I say this in sadness. What a loss!

    • James-the-lesser

      Yes, Fr. Robert, Plotinus was brilliant (and like you, I believe, on his own) and certainly clarified much that he had learned from his mentors; he, however, also reached a dead end. Call it “The One” if you wish, but thank God St. John, et al, including our dearly beloved St. Augustine (Bishop of Hippo) theologically fleshed ‘The One” out.

    • John Sobieski

      God often uses unbelievers to accomplish his work. While smuggling Bibles into Saudi Arabia 20 years ago, God touched the heart of an atheist working inside the country to help me.

    • […] topic in his autobiography My Brief History: Biblical Hebrew’s waw-consecutive. The blog Parchment and Pen sets up, tells and reflects on the excerpted […]

    • lampos logos

      What’s the reason for all this hawking stuff. What is so great about him????
      What value is it to bla blah blog about this stupid junk? Sorry I wasted your time and mine with the comment

    • M

      Implications presented in Comments:
      1. Hawking will suffer because he doesn’t believe in a god.
      2. Hawking is only an atheist because of his debilitating disease and not because of the knowledge he’s gleaned as a world-renowned physicist.
      3. Hawking is a deist but doesn’t realize it
      4. Hawking is not important enough to even talk about.

      I wish you all the best in life but if anyone will have regrets on their death-bed, it’ll be folks like you who think that fear is a virtue and that knowledge is a heretical delusion.

    • M

      Wow such an intelligent man in such a narrow field he doesn’t have the common sense to look outside his little box and see that there is a God who sent His son Jesus to die in Stephen’s place so that if he accepted him as his saviour he would go to heaven and live for eternity a glorious life with the saints. But no he will live an eternity in a living hell. How can anyone not understand that they are a spirit stuck in a fleshy body and that one day we all leave this shell of a body to spend eternity where we choose….Heaven or hell…its the simple people of this would who will confound the “wise in their own eyes”…wake up people…time is running out!!!!

    • Alex

      I am devastated by the human race to reject a creator. We on earth as humans are always trying to discover and to bring about informative science from research. We created our world under a creator. God has exposed all good and bad properties in this universe only for humans to free willingly make choices for the good and /or the bad of our existence. I believe the bible explained how to get closer, how to discover , how to absorb God’s love in a very spiritual and intimate way. You and only you can absorb what God wants you to understand from the bible. Don’t misunderstand, God has set fourth teachers to those who have a hard time understanding the book of prophets. I ask all believers and non believers to pickup the bible and listen to what our creator wants us to learn from the bible. If Stephen Hawkins thinks we’re computers then God is the cloud. We only use 10% of our brains……..think about that!

    • Brigido

      It’s sad that the fact of one man who’s made a commitment to society can have such a deep anti-faith in God who does exist and this is important that I tell you but it may sound weird but there is no such thing as time because it is used only for work such as God created for 6 days and rested on the seventh no he didn’t he created for a long time and rested time was used for servants and slaves by kings to have there statues and pyramids built basically there is no beginning and no end because this is all a cycle starting with God making man who populated the earth then man made us then we live and live and there is no age it is just the way our body looks cause we’ve taken damage over years and then our body finally says that’s it and we die then we go to judgement and we stay wherever for eternity hence eternity meaning with no end but that is why hawking will never get his answer because there is no time our mind body and spirit are powered but conscious and that’s how it’s always been but we are lied to so we don’t know if you would like to know more my email is [email protected]

    • Brigido

      Or maybe he hates God cause he thinks God put him in his chair??possible??

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