Stephen Hawking is a brilliant man. He is admired by scientists all over the globe, myself included. In a nutshell, his research has revolutionized astrophysics, and his popularization of science has earned him a celebrity status not achieved by any scientist since Albert Einstein.
Unfortunately, Dr. Hawking is at it again. And by "it," I mean bestowing upon us his rather bizarre thoughts on everything under (or above) the sun. His latest installment comes in an interview with TIME magazine, in which he provides yet more thoughts on God, death, and consciousness--three subjects of which he has absolutely no expertise.
My problem with Dr. Hawking is not that he speaks about subjects outside his area of research. As a scientist-turned-editor, whose job it is to read and comment upon multiple scientific fields, that would be a hypocritical stance. However, I do have a rule: When commenting on fields outside one's area of expertise, scientists should be as "conservative" as possible; that is, their comments should shy away from "extremist" positions.
So that is why I find Dr. Hawking's public comments so puzzling. Let us take a look at three statements he has made over the past several months:
(1) In regard to the future of humanity, which Dr. Hawking must believe is quite bleak, he said, "It will be difficult enough to avoid disaster on planet Earth in the next hundred years." He cited the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 as an example of how our "survival has been a question of touch and go." His solution is to colonize other planets.
(2) In regard to alien contact, he believes "the outcome would be much as when Columbus landed in America, which didn't turn out well for the Native Americans." Then, striking a tone eerily similar to the plot of the movie Independence Day, he commented, "I imagine they might exist in massive ships, having used up all the resources from their home planet. Such advanced aliens would perhaps become nomads, looking to conquer and colonize whatever planets they can reach."
(3) Most recently, Dr. Hawking contends that God is not necessary to create the universe. "Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing. Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist."