By MIN LEE Associated Press Writer
HONG KONG (AP) – Famous astrophysicist Stephen Hawking said Thursday that the late Pope John Paul II once told scientists they should not study the beginning of the universe because it was the work of God.
The British author _ who wrote the best-seller “A Brief History of Time” _ said that the pope made the comments at a cosmology conference at the Vatican.
Hawking, who didn’t say when the meeting was held, quoted the pope as saying, “It’s OK to study the universe and where it began. But we should not enquire into the beginning itelf because that was the moment of creation and the work of God.”
The scientist then joked during a lecture in Hong Kong, “I was glad he didn’t realize I had presented a paper at the conference suggesting how the universe began. I didn’t fancy the thought of being handed over to the Inquisition like Galileo.”
The church condemned Galileo in the 17th century for supporting Nicholas Copernicus’ discovery that Earth revolved around the sun. Church teaching at the time placed Earth at the center of the universe.
But in 1992, Pope John Paul II issued a declaration saying that the church’s denunciation of Galileo was an error resulting from “tragic mutual incomprehension.”
Hawking is one of the best-known theoretical physicists of his generation. He has done groundbreaking research on black holes and the origins of the universe. He proposes that space and time have no beginning and no end.
His hourlong lecture to a sold-out audience at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology was highly theoretical and technical. During the question-and-answer session, Hawking was asked where constants like gravity come from and whether gravity can distort light.
But there were several light, humorous moments.
Hawking _ who must communicate with an electronic speech synthesizer _ said he once considered using a machine that gave him a French accent but he couldn’t use it because his wife would divorce him.
The astrophysicist is wheelchair-bound and uses an electronic voice because he has the neurological disorder called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS.
Hawking was asked why his computerized voice has an American accent.
“The voice I use is a very old hardware speech synthesizer made in 1986,” he said. “I keep it because I have not heard a voice I like better and because I have identified with it.”
But Hawking said he’s shopping for a new system because the hardware he uses is large and fragile. He also said it uses components that are no longer made.
“I have been trying to get a software version, but it seems very difficult,” he said.
He urged people with physical disabilities not to give up on their ambitions.
“You can’t afford to be disabled in spirit as well as physically,” he said. “People won’t have time for you.”
The moderator at the lecture told the audience that at a recent dinner, she asked Hawking what his ambitions were. He said he wanted to know how the universe began, what happens inside black holes and how can humans survive the next 100 years, she said.
But she added he had one more great ambition: “I would also like to understand women.”
Hawking ended his lecture saying, “We are getting closer to answering the age-old questions: Why are we here? Where did we come from?”