Stephen Hawking, a brilliant though handicapped physicist, has a solid place in history through his discovery of black holes in interstellar space. Unfortunately, he has long since moved outside his own expertise in saying repeatedly that there is no hereafter.
And this time it’s a bit cruder. He tells The Guardian his thoughts about death: "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."
This is an echo of the dustup last September, when Hawking's new book "The Grand Design" was published. In the book, he argues that gravity organized everything else in the universe; no need for a supernatural creator.
As for why the universe -- or at least Earth -- is so friendly to life, Hawking invokes the so-called M-theory, which imagines many universes with many sets of conditions. We're just in the universe that rolled the dice right, he suggests.
Hawking used to talk in terms of God, notes Ian Sample, the writer of the Guardian article. In the 1988 book "A Brief History of Time," Hawking said that confirming the M-Theory "would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we should know the mind of God." But he doesn’t ask Hawking about the apparent contradiction.
Nor did he question Hawking's comment: "Science is beautiful when it makes simple explanations of phenomena or connections between different observations." Beauty? Is that a scientific concept? The M-Theory itself is all numbers and speculation, although the Large Hadron Collider in Europe may be be able to test some of it.
The Atlantic magazine sounds more jaded. Author Adam Clark Estes says Hawking is purposely baiting religious communities. He calls it Hawking's "annual assault on religion." He notes also that Hawking has sounded off on U.S. healthcare and whether women are as good as men at math and physics.
Even back in 2008, The Guardian's Rachel Cook asked Hawking if philosophy and theology were a "waste of time." He said yes, because they don’t use scientific observation.
You see where all this is going. Hawking has a megaphone, and by -- uh, not God, I guess -- he'll use it. But he has no more authority in faith or philosophy than on healthcare or gender differences. Nor does it work to substitute an unproven belief in heaven with an unproven belief in many universes.
That’s my take, anyway. What's yours?