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Héctor L. Mancini, Professor Emeritus of the department of Physics and Applied Mathematics of the University of Navarra

Stephen William Hawking and the Science-Faith Dialogue

Thu, 15 Mar 2018 12:52:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

Hector L. ManciniIn the early hours of Tuesday morning, at his residency program in Cambridge (Great Britain), the famous scientist and science popularizer Stephen Hawking died at the age of 76. Born in Oxford in 1942, he developed his scientific degree program at Cambridge University and became probably the most popular scientist since Albert Einstein.

Due to the popular reach of his bequest, words such as black holes, Hawking radiation, quantum gravity and others of the like, which are applied to scientific realities or ideas that are far removed from our everyday experience, have spread in the media these days. However, Hawking, in addition to being a scientist, was a brilliant and precise popularizer of science. In this field he left us books that quickly became best-sellers, in which he captured the keys to his thinking. Such as his "A Brief History of Time", which today has sold more than 25 million copies worldwide. Incredible figures for a text on the topics addressed therein.

Beyond the real successes he achieved in physics, today he is also credited with the complete theory of the Big Bang and many other discoveries that make up a very broad and deep work.

Many journalists have reviewed his life since yesterday; his occupations as Lucasian Professor at Cambridge University; his history and his virtues. But in this article I would like to highlight at least one aspect of his personality and his activities that is not usually commented on, nor does it occupy any place in the press. It is his relationship with the Catholic religion.

In this regard, the first thing to note is that Hawking was not a believing scientist. However, he contributed to clarifying scientific questions and helped in the search for truth in the so-called "Science-Faith" dialogue through his participation in congresses of the Vatican Academy of Sciences.

There is widespread ignorance even among Catholics about the Church's position on science and scientists. The Church promotes science, supports and enquiry scientists of the highest level in the world to build and perfect its doctrines. In fact, the Vatican maintains a Pontifical Academy of Sciences (originated in 1602 and refounded by Pius XI in the 19th century), whose main purpose is to advise the Pope.

This Academy is made up of notable scientists. Among others, by winners of Nobel prizes or other international distinctions. This was the case of Hawking, as can be seen on the Vatican website. There, they appear from his biography to his most important contributions and publications in the scientific world, including his last discussion paper at the opening Plenary Session held in Vatican City on November 25-29, 2016.

Hawking was a tireless fighter against a degenerative disease that left him immobile and speechless, but respected that brilliant and sharp mind and iron willpower that he possessed until the end, and that allowed him to maintain his great activity and his contributions to knowledge and to the common good. It is incredible that this discussion paper was presented personally by him, already 74 years old and with his illness on his shoulders.

His scientific and fighting ability is a valuable example for the millions of people who deeply admire him. Stephen William Hawking: thank you very much and rest in peace.