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16 March 2018

Stephen Hawking and hope for the future

Abi Jarvis is Public Leadership coordinator at the Evangelical Alliance. 

This week brought the sad news of the death of Professor Stephen Hawking. Among the many articles posted in the wake of the news was an article from the BBC outlining some of Hawking’s predictions for the future.  

They aren’t optimistic. Hawking’s view of the future included expecting the development of full artificial intelligence which “could spell the end of the human race”, global warming that would make the earth “like Venus, with a temperature of 250 degrees, and raining sulphuric acid”, the “near certainty in the next thousand or 10,000 years” of a large asteroid hitting the earth, and an alien visitation which “would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn't turn out well for the Native Americans. 

If I believed that this life is all there is, and that Hawking had painted an accurate vision of the future, I wouldn’t hold out much hope. If the world is so doomed, why bother with anything? 

Thankfully – and with all due respect to Professor Hawking – I neither believe that the earth’s destruction is inevitable, or that our present existence is the only one there is. For, as it says in Romans: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” (Romans 8:22-25). 

Calvin Samuel, principal of the London School of Theologyrecently wrote in idea magazine about how the hope of Jesus’ return influences our lives in the present. Christian hope, he says, is a deeply faithful expectant hope in the day that Jesus returns, the day when there will be an end to injusticeBut it is not a passive exercise: “Our hope for the future requires active engagement with issues of justice in the present wherever they be found, whether in Zimbabwe or Myanmar, London or Newcastle. Why? Because we work towards, in the present, that for which we hope in the future.” 

The demonstration of this active hope will be different for all of us. I’m not a scientist or philosopher so I don’t think I’ll be preventing an asteroid collision or engaging with the development of sentient artificial intelligence any time soon. But I can take smaller actions – signing petitions or recycling better – and I can actively encourage Christians I know who are working in fields relating to these big issues, including those Christians working in the scientific fields. I can pray for politicians and diplomats seeking to prevent the escalation of conflict across the world. 

My faith tells me not only that there is a life beyond this one, but that God has gifted people – in history, in the present and in the future - to stand against injustice, to develop life-changing medicines, and perhaps even to one day create colonies on other planets. 

And I can do my part in telling others about the hope I have in Jesus, a hope that they too can share. 

Professor Hawking’s statements on his own faith indicate that over time he became more atheistic in his outlook. All the same, I thank God for giving him the skills, curiosity and perseverance to develop his scientific theories, and I thank Hawking for sharing his discoveries with the world. 

I pray I am doing my bit to share my hope in Christ with the world. I pray that you are too, whether that means inviting your friends on a course to explore Christianity or considering how your faith influences your work. I’m not convinced that aliens exist but if I am one day proved wrong, I hope that there will be Christians in the welcome party.