Stephen Hawking: "There is no God. No one directs the universe."

Hawking, who died in March, answers questions like "Is there a God?" and "Is time travel possible?" in his final book, which is available today.

Stephen Hawking: "There is no God. No one directs the universe."
(Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)
  • Hawking's final book is geared toward a popular audience.
  • Each of the book's 10 chapters is posed as a question, such as "How did it all begin?"
  • Hawking claims there is no God, time travel could be possible and intelligent aliens exist.

The final book from Stephen Hawking, the late theoretical physicist and cosmologist, was released Tuesday under the title Brief Answers to the Big Questions.

Hawking, who lived most of his life with the neurodegenerative disorder amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), was still working on the book when he died in March. The work was completed by his family and publishers, who filled in the gaps by drawing on an "enormous personal archive" of essays, interviews and articles from Hawking's half-century career.

Brief Answers to the Big Questions is divided into 10 chapters, each of which is posed as a question: "What is inside a black hole?", "How did it all begin?" and "Is there a God?" Hawking's answer to the God question is a resounding "no."

"There is no God. No one directs the universe," he writes. "For centuries, it was believed that disabled people like me were living under a curse that was inflicted by God. I prefer to think that everything can be explained another way, by the laws of nature."

This sentiment, by the way, is far clearer than what Hawking famously wrote in his 1988 bestseller A Brief History of Time: "If we discover a complete theory, it would be the ultimate triumph of human reason – for then we should know the mind of God."

Hawking touched upon the existence of alien life.

"There are forms of intelligent life out there," he wrote, adding, "we need to be wary of answering back until we have developed a bit further."

He also argued that traveling back in time can't be ruled out, artificial intelligence might someday outsmart humans and "within the next hundred years we will be able to travel to anywhere in the Solar System."

Hawking's parting gift

New Space Exploration Initiative "Breakthrough Starshot" Announcement

(Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images)

Hawking's final book probably won't have a big impact in the scientific world. Still, as Matin Durrani writes for Physics World, there's a good chance the book will strike a chord with a popular audience.

"Brief Answers to the Big Questions will appeal to school students, undergraduates and non-scientists with an appetite for the grand challenges in physics. Those who are more familiar with cosmology, relativity and astronomy will not find much that is new, although it is always interesting to see Hawking's take on affairs. In essence, this book – especially the final chapter "How do we shape the future?" – will stand as Hawking's manifesto. Optimistic, upbeat and visionary, it sees science – and scientific understanding – as vital for the future of humanity."

At a book launch event on Monday in London, organizers played some remarks from Hawking lamenting the changing ways in which scientists are received in the culture.

"With Brexit and Trump now exerting new forces in relation to immigration and the development of education, we are witnessing a global revolt against experts, and that includes scientists," Hawking said.

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Urban foxes self-evolve, exhibiting Darwin’s domestication syndrome

A new study finds surprising evidence of the self-evolution of urban foxes.

A fox at the door of 10 Downing Street on Janurary 13, 2015.

Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • A study from the University of Glasgow finds urban foxes evolved differently compared to rural foxes.
  • The skulls of the urban foxes are adapted to scavenging for food rather than hunting it.
  • The evolutionary changes correspond to Charles Darwin's "domestication syndrome."

How much can living in the city change you? If you were an urban fox, you could be evolving yourself to a whole new stage and becoming more like a dog, according to a fascinating new study.

Researchers compared skulls from rural foxes around London with foxes who lived inside the city and found important variations. Rural foxes showed adaptation for speed and hunting after quick, small prey, while urban fox skulls exhibited changes that made it easier for them to scavenge, looking through human refuse for food, rather than chasing it. Their snouts were shorter and stronger, making it easier to open packages and chew up leftovers. They also have smaller brains, not meant for hunting but for interacting with stationary food sources, reports Science magazine.

Interestingly, there was much similarity found between the male and female skulls of the urban foxes.

The observed changes correspond to what Charles Darwin called the "domestication syndrome," comprised of traits that go along with an animal's transition from being wild, to tamed, to domesticated.

The study was led by Kevin Parsons, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Glasgow.

"What's really fascinating here is that the foxes are doing this to themselves," Parsons told the BBC. "This is the result of foxes that have decided to live near people, showing these traits that make them look more like domesticated animals."

The researchers are not suggesting you should go out and get a fox as a house-pet just yet. But they are seeing the evolutionary process taking place that's moving the urban foxes along the path towards becoming more like dogs and cats, explained the study's co-author Dr. Andrew Kitchener from National Museums Scotland.

A fox beneath a tree in Greenwich park, south east London

A fox beneath a tree in Greenwich park, south east London on May 14, 2020.

Photo by Glyn KIRK / AFP

"Some of the basic environmental aspects that may have occurred during the initial phases of domestication for our current pets, like dogs and cats, were probably similar to the conditions in which our urban foxes and other urban animals are living today," said Kitchener. "So, adapting to life around humans actually primes some animals for domestication."

The specimen came from the National Museum Scotland's collection of around 1,500 fox skulls.

You can read the study in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

fox sleeping beneath stadium seats

A fox at the LV County Championship, Division two match between Surrey and Derbyshire at The Brit Oval on April 9, 2010 in London, England.

Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

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