Stephen Hawking to rest in Westminster Abbey, whose Dean touts it to demonstrate the comity of science and faith

The BBC has announced that Stephen Hawking’s ashes will be interred in Westminster Abbey, next to the grave of Sir Isaac Newton. People can argue about whether he deserves such an honor given that other scientists and artists, some of whom were atheists and Nobel Laureates (e.g., Francis Crick) are buried elsewhere—in Crick’s case at sea.  And we can argue whether an atheist should be buried in a church. I don’t much care, as Westminster Abbey is the repository for British greats, and has become more of a tourist attraction than a house of worship. Where else can you go to see the graves of Newton, Darwin, Robert Blake, and so on?

But what I don’t like is what the infernal Dean of the Abbey said (the bit in bold):

The Dean of Westminster, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall, said: “It is entirely fitting that the remains of Professor Stephen Hawking are to be buried in the Abbey, near those of distinguished fellow scientists.

“Sir Isaac Newton was buried in the Abbey in 1727. Charles Darwin was buried beside Isaac Newton in 1882.”

He added: “We believe it to be vital that science and religion work together to seek to answer the great questions of the mystery of life and of the universe.”

Bloody hell! Is he being paid off by Templeton or something? Science and religion don’t work together, as their methods are completely disparate. Further, while science does produce answers, however provisional, to the great questions of the universe, religion doesn’t. Give me one answer about the Great Questions that religion has provided!

What we have here is accommodationist babble, pure and simple. But, as Christopher Hitchens said—though referring to Jerry Falwell in the U.S.)—”You can get away with the most extraordinary offenses to morality and truth in this country if you’ll just get yourself called ‘Reverend’.”  And Hall is the Very Reverend, which gives him even more license to offend.  As reader Jane (who sent me the BBC link) said about the Very Reverend Dr. Hall, “May he be sucked into a big black hole.”


  1. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted March 20, 2018 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    There’s a word for this, I can’t think of it right now.

    The nerve?

    Did Hawking approve that message?

  2. Posted March 20, 2018 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    I suppose he is also a doctor of divinity (superstition)?

  3. Michael Fisher
    Posted March 20, 2018 at 2:52 pm | Permalink


    The west window of Henry VII’s Lady Chapel at Westminster Abbey especially honours Sir John Marks Templeton (1912-2008), a very generous benefactor to the restoration of this chapel. The heraldic stained glass window was devised by Donald Buttress, the Abbey Surveyor, with Herbert Chesshyre and designed by John Lawson. The glass was made by Goddard & Gibbs and the window was unveiled by H.M.The Queen on 19 October 1995 at the completion of the restoration. The coats of arms of the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh are shown in the centre, with those of Prince Charles and the Order of the Bath. The chapel has been associated with the knights of the Bath since 1725 and Prince Charles is Great Master of the Order. Also included are coats of arms, cyphers and initials of major donors or those concerned with fundraising. The inscription reads:

    “Sir John Templeton, benefactor. Lord, I have loved the habitation of thy house”

    Sir John was born in Tennessee USA and educated at Yale university. He went to Oxford as Rhodes Scholar and began his career in Wall Street. He created the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion and founded a college at Oxford. His first wife was Judith Folk and they had three children and his second wife was Irene Butler. In 1987 he was knighted. On 17 May 2009 a memorial service was held for him at the Abbey.

    • Posted March 21, 2018 at 7:42 am | Permalink

      So the answer is yes, he has been paid off by Templeton.

  4. BobTerrace
    Posted March 20, 2018 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    the “Very Reverend” is just looking for kudos by association.

    He was probably thinking that here was a man of great accomplishment and popularity and we can have that rub off on our decrepit, decining institution.

    • Graham Head
      Posted March 20, 2018 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

      Yes, he’s a priest. What else is he going to say?

  5. Posted March 20, 2018 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    “There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, and science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works.” SH

  6. Taz
    Posted March 20, 2018 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    Stephen Hawking and the Reverend Blake together have done a lot to answer the great questions of the universe.

    Just like Hank Aaron and I together have hit 755 home runs.

    • Steve
      Posted March 20, 2018 at 6:58 pm | Permalink

      Well said!

  7. Dave137
    Posted March 20, 2018 at 3:14 pm | Permalink


    Hawking’s ashes should be included on the James Webb space telescope, or some other interplanetary satellite: much like Clyde Tombaugh, whose ashes went past Pluto.

    There are plenty of metaphoric gestures better in line with Hawking’s research and consistent with his explicit atheism.

    And of course the Abbey wants to house Hawking: it’s part of religion’s goal to usurp science more generally.

    • Graham Head
      Posted March 20, 2018 at 3:18 pm | Permalink

      I would assume this wouldn’t be happening without Hawking’s approval. Even if he didn’t agree to it his family must be happy that he would have approved.

      • Dave137
        Posted March 20, 2018 at 3:29 pm | Permalink

        I hope Hawking himself approved this, in spite of what anyone (myself included) thinks.

        If he didn’t, it’s just myopic. Proximity to Newton isn’t enough, especially with grander metaphors available.

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted March 24, 2018 at 6:01 am | Permalink

        When you’re dead, you don’t exist any more. Even the law understands that – if not ministers of religiosity). Therefore you don’t have any say in what happens to the body you used to live in. It belongs to your next of kin. If you carried a donor card – it’s their decision. If you wanted to be burned on a pyre in a Viking ship-burial work of experimental archaeology, it’s your NoK’s choice if they allow that.
        You can write all the advance directives you want, but the decision is not yours to make. You can hire jazz bands to improvise rude songs as they follow your NoK down the street protesting about them ignoring your wishes – and the NoK can ignore it. I don’t know who Hawking’s NoK is/ are, but they’rer not obliged to pay the blindest bit of attention to his wishes.
        Personally, I suspect it’s a double-bluff. Hawking agreed to put his ashes alongside another Lucasian Professor – but with a revolution counter mounted on the floor tile above and a bet with someone like Daedalus (David Jones – long time columnist for New Scientist and master of cunningly hard-to-fathom fake perpetual-motion machines) to explain what powers the counter.

    • KD33
      Posted March 20, 2018 at 5:48 pm | Permalink

      Westminster does have quite a stable of great writers and scientists. At least Hawking get to lie near Newton and Maxwell.

    • Helen Hollis
      Posted March 20, 2018 at 8:54 pm | Permalink

      That sounds an awful lot like Relics in the Catholic Churches..

      • gravelinspector-Aidan
        Posted March 24, 2018 at 6:07 am | Permalink

        Sounds an awful lot like a kist burial in the middle of a stone circle. Hardly novel to the cogs.

  8. Posted March 20, 2018 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    I respectfully suggest that this is one you should let pass. After all, he is a religious guy. It would be unreasonable for him not to speak and equally unreasonable for him not to work religion into it.

    It could easily have been much, much worse. He could have attributed Hawkings’ work or longevity to God. Under the circumstances, it is hard to imagine him doing much better than he did without mentioning the irony of burying an atheist scientist in Westminster Abbey.

    • Marou
      Posted March 21, 2018 at 3:25 am | Permalink

      Quite. This concern about dead peopl and their remwins is a bit at odds with the usual no-nonsense approach found here.

      • Marou
        Posted March 21, 2018 at 3:26 am | Permalink

        Or even ‘remains’

  9. Posted March 20, 2018 at 4:04 pm | Permalink

    If Dr. Hawking had a will or other legal document giving instructions for dealing with his remains after death, that’s what should be done regardless of others wanting to honor him with burial in Westminster Abby next to Sir Isaac Newton.

    • Posted March 20, 2018 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

      Absolutely! Let it be recorded that, if offered, I would love to be buried in Westminster Abbey next to Newton, Darwin, and Hawking. Although I have lived in the US most of my life, I was born in England. Just saying. 😉

      • Posted March 21, 2018 at 7:45 am | Permalink

        I don’t think I would: the only way I could be aware of being buried next to Newton is by being alive at the time.

  10. glen1davidson
    Posted March 20, 2018 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    He added: “We believe it to be vital that science and religion work together to seek to answer the great questions of the mystery of life and of the universe.”

    Good thing Hawking didin’t think so.

    Glen Davidson

  11. Ken Kukec
    Posted March 20, 2018 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    Where else can you go to see the graves of Newton, Darwin, Robert Blake, and so on?

    Baretta? Didn’t know he was dead. 🙂

  12. grasshopper
    Posted March 20, 2018 at 5:14 pm | Permalink

    Someone thinks it a Great Idea to posit Great Questions and pretend to have Great Answers. Is that loading the dice, or what?

  13. Jon Gallant
    Posted March 20, 2018 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

    Since Dr. Hall is a VERY reverend, may he be sucked into a very black hole.

    The last time I visited Westminster Abbey, in around 2004, I observed two things. (1) There was a very hefty admission charge, and (2) a group of Russians were trying to muscle their way in without paying, no doubt in the belief that everything in Swinging London should be free to Russians.

    The current entry charges at the Abbey, at St. Paul’s Cathedral, and at York Minster presumably come under the heading of Pay to Pray—the revenue perhaps used by the C of E in its program of helping science. On the other hand, I believe that entry into Durham and Ripon Cathedrals is still free. Maybe this means that these cathedrals are not helping science with those great questions.

    • Posted March 21, 2018 at 5:22 am | Permalink

      Actually, having worked at St.Paul’s, I have to defend the cathedral on this. The building costs a HUGE amount to run & keep open, a large staff is required including masons (as I was), electricians, etc, plus the choir & the choir school, & state aid is limited to request for grants for repairs etc, not for the church side of things. Then there are pensions etc – including one day mine!

      Most visitors treat the building as a museum, & for attending services there is no charge. Also there is a chapel open for ‘quiet reflection’ or whatever nonsense it is.
      Before they started charging in the 90s they really were at such a financial crisis that they were seriously considering closing to all visitors. Donations at the time were frankly feeble, so they had to start charging.

      • Richard C
        Posted March 21, 2018 at 8:49 am | Permalink

        I hope the families of those interred there can get in for free.

        • Wayne Robinson
          Posted March 21, 2018 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

          I personally don’t like like the very steep entry fees at Westminster Abbey. And you’re also not allowed to take any photos (I visited a few years ago, and wanted to take just one photo of the stone for Handel)which has him born on February 23, 1684 instead of 1685 (there’s a reason for that), and I asked, politely, if I could – the answer was no – I could buy a poor photo for £3 though.

          My favourite cathedral is Salisbury. Not only are you allowed to take photos, but you’re also allowed to bring dogs (cats are probably banned though – one must have standards). Entry is also free, but they suggest a set donation to cover the costs – which I was more than pleased to pay.

          They also have an extra tour lasting around two hours which goes to the very top, including a discussion of its building, which cost £5, and was a bargain.

  14. Posted March 20, 2018 at 7:23 pm | Permalink

    “We believe it to be vital that science and religion work together to seek to answer the great questions of the mystery of life and of the universe.”

    Tell me again what such questions religion has ever answered.

    • Helen Hollis
      Posted March 20, 2018 at 9:15 pm | Permalink

      Religion has answered the question for many that have no one to give their wealth to and no idea who to give it to. Check any bulletin given to you at any Catholic Church. There will be some instructions given on how you can leave it all to them. They will handle all those pesky details for you.

  15. Posted March 20, 2018 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

    Please tell me his gravestone will be engraved with his quote about rendering God useless.

  16. Timothy Travis
    Posted March 20, 2018 at 11:03 pm | Permalink

    I will not recognize nor use the title of Reverend for anyone because I do not revere them. -Quite the opposite.

  17. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted March 21, 2018 at 4:05 am | Permalink

    He’s a dean, what would you expect?

    And, even if we totally discount the religious association, Westminster Abbey is a historic institution and traditional burial place for great Britons – so, IMO, quite appropriate. What’s good enough for Darwin…


  18. Posted March 21, 2018 at 5:12 am | Permalink

    I wonder whether he had expressed any wish regarding this, or whether his religious ex-wife is behind it. Also, it represents the CoE as the ruddy hypocrites they are – accepting an atheist!

  19. Posted March 21, 2018 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

    IIRC, Faraday was *not* buried in WA because his religious beliefs (Sandemanian) forbid it. So there is some precedent both ways.

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