Stephen Hawking may be an extraordinary theoretical physicist and cosmologist, but he is a misguided futurist. The Earth is not going to be destroyed in 100 — or even a 1,000 — years as he predicts. Instead, it is going to be remade into a new creation.
In November of 2016, Stephen Hawking declared to an audience at the Oxford Union: "I don't think we will survive another 1,000 years without escaping our fragile planet."
Previously, he had referred to shorter times scales of 100-200 years. Most recently, in a new documentary called Expedition New Earth, Hawking has shortened the timeline of his doomsday prediction stating that humanity needs to become a multi-planetary species within the next 100 years in order to avoid extinction. Put bluntly, his claim is absurd.
Such absurdity seems to frequently arise from all persons who forecast dystopian futures for humanity and the world because of the potential rise of new technologies. These public portrayals of inevitable doomsday scenarios are absurd because they are neither scientifically deduced nor based in reality. It is a position that radically underestimates the creative spirit of humanity to identify and overcome the challenges we face in using technology.
In December of 2016, Hawking explained his fear clearly as he wrote an Op-Ed piece in The Guardian stating, "We now have the technology to destroy the planet on which we live but have not yet developed the ability to escape it."
Such an escapist mentality by Hawking all together misses any element of community accountability for the positive stewardship of technology. Beyond that, it reeks of the poor theological construct posed by modern Christianity that shirks formational responsibility in exchange for an "escape" to heaven — leaving our world behind raped and ravaged.
Humanity is not called to technological cowardice or irresponsibility. Instead, our vocation as human beings is to live into our creative selves, guiding and caring for all of creation. This is a mutual goal of both science/technology and theology.
From a scientific and technological standpoint, humanity needs to band together in humility, overcoming our differences, to resource and develop the transformational tech. that will renew and recreate our world. From a theological standpoint, humanity need not fear developing technologies — instead we need to shepherd with principles of virtue until our new reality is actualized "on Earth as it is in Heaven."
But instead of leading with an instructional optimism, Hawking has repeatedly taken a page out of the American political playbook by making public comments based in fear.
For instance, in a September 26, 2016 Op-Ed article in The Guardian he wrote, "I believe that life on Earth is at an ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by a disaster, such as a sudden nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus, or other dangers. I think the human race has no future if it doesn't go to space."
While certainly it is fair to note that humanity will face technological challenges in the future, I would contend that it does no one any good — least of all scientists and technologists — to promote an irrational, unsubstantiated fear that humanity has only one technological option moving forward. For someone as brilliant as professor Hawking, that is an absolutely ludicrous and unacademic statement. Quite the contrary, humanity is presently entering an unparalleled season in its history when the positive possibilities of emerging technology have the potential to bring about redemptive change unlike any that has ever been witnessed. Instead of seeking to flee in cowardice to another place, either in this reality or another, we should be courageously, and in humility, charging ahead to assist in bringing about the awe-inspired new creation that emerging technology promises.
So sure, let's venture off to new planets! But may we not do so from a motivation of fear as we irresponsibly leave a devastated Earth. Instead, may we set off on our cosmic expeditions as an extension of our scientific, technological, and theological desires to care for the rest of the universe with the same love that we are charged to care for the planet that we will, one day, technologically steward to be heavenly.