Black Holes and the Afterlife: How the work of Stephen Hawking made me think about mortality

Stephen Hawking died last week after living an exceptional life despite overwhelming physical problems. His contributions to issues relating to gravity and the universe will continue to inspire other scientists. No doubt Hawking will also stimulate much more conversation about life, death, heaven, hell and God.

In a nutshell Hawking studied the nature of gravity and the origin of the universe at Cambridge. Black holes were a very important aspect of his prognostications. They are bottomless, gravitational pits so deep and dense that light cannot escape them.

Hawking proclaimed that black holes are not black. They fizzle, leak radiation and particles and finally explode and disappear over eons. They do not destroy matter. Rather, they create matter, and recycle matter that they attract with great gravitational power. Anything that goes into a black hole will return in some other form, per Dr. Hawking.

Over the years Hawking proposed theories about the evolution of our universe and whether a higher authority is controlling our destiny. Interestingly Hawking indicated that his god was the physics of the universe, not the ubiquitous creator depicted in so many religions and art forms.

It’s impossible for humans to fully appreciate a universe with no beginning and no end. Religion encourages us to believe that evolution emanates from a superior being, who sets everything in motion. God planted the seeds that eventually became man.

What about the vast and infinite expanse beyond Earth and the Milky Way? Cosmologists tell us that Earth is only an infinitesimally small part of a larger landscape. To think that there are no other life forms in the universe as advanced as humans is absurd.

These same scientists indicate that civilization began about 7,000 years ago and man began to evolve two to six million years ago. The universe is supposedly 13 billion years old. During all this time, is Earth the only place where living creatures evolved and built a civilization?

Hawking’s work is very esoteric and beyond the comprehension of most people. Yet we can appreciate the more simple concepts. He bases a lot of his research on the existence and role of black holes. Simply, they are spaces or objects that attract other things with gravity.

If Earth had a gravitational pull exponentially greater it could theoretically act as a black hole. Physical elements would be attracted to it, assimilated and converted into other matter.

As a deist, I find it hard to believe that when huge rocks floating around the universe are attracted to each other, the event might somehow result in life. Hawking’s vision of life needs more explanation relating to DNA and other material that can evolve into a life form that can think, love and hate, in my humble opinion.

For this reason I’m standing pat with the current theory of creation. It’s a tidy package that I can get my arms around. Logically every cosmic event needs to be encouraged, and I believe a supreme being is that catalyst.

Most theorists affiliated with the major religions don’t relate to Hawking. Christians believe in a supreme being, and that He sent his son to Earth to save it from original sin committed in the Garden of Eden. It’s all faith-based. Most consider this theory of evolution to be simplistic and easy for everyone to accept, even the most uneducated among us. Jews have no heaven, hell or afterlife. Yet most believe in a supreme being and in creation initiated by God.

Other religions believe that humans will be reincarnated into different living creatures. This is a recycling of consciousness, I suppose. It’s a convenient theory because it essentially supports the afterlife and bridges past life to future life.

The most depressing thing for most humans is the thought of oblivion. We live, we learn and we love for about 80 years, and then all the knowledge we amass is shut down at death. We live in the future only through our legacies and accomplishments.

Personally I think belief in an after life helps humans deal with the eventuality of death. Up to the moment of passing we can hope that we will live on in the afterlife and see God.

The desire to be with God effectively drives many humans to lead noble lives. Some religions (the heaven and hell crowd) live honorably, in great part, to be a part of a happy existence after death. Good guys will see God and bad guys will face eternal damnation with Satan. It’s a simple and effective system.

Atheism and pragmatism have attracted a great following in recent years. This is best personified by well-educated individuals who have examined the evidence and doubted. They concluded that 6,000 years of religion is irrelevant. When atheists pass they are given back to the Earth, and it’s over.

In this regard one cannot help but think about where we were before we were born. Is there an eternity backwards and forward? Somehow atoms, molecules and DNA reacted together and we were born with emotions and free will. But is it all a ruse? We get to find out at the time we die. I think.

In any case thank you Dr. Hawking for your perspectives. Rest in piece. Also thanks to TK for inspiring this essay.

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