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Brief Answers to the Big Questions

Hawking's final thoughts on the biggest questions facing humankind

By Stephen Hawking
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  • Contains 9 key ideas
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Brief Answers to the Big Questions by Stephen Hawking

Brief Answers to the Big Questions (2018) addresses some of our universe’s most fundamental questions from a uniquely humanist perspective. By merging scientific history with humanity’s future, the book dashes from the origins of the universe and the inside of black holes, to human space exploration and the dangers of artificial intelligence in a grand and sweeping narrative.

Key idea 1 of 9

Forces govern our universe – but a divine creator probably isn’t among them.

Why are we here? Where did we come from? Why are things this way?

Science and religion both offer answers to these fundamental questions, but come to radically different conclusions. One argues there is inherent meaning in human life, the other that our existence is little more than accidental. It’s no wonder they’re viewed as two conflicting creeds. 

These questions come from a natural human tendency to understand and explain our universe – to search for answers and meaning. At first, these explanations came from religion. Gods were seen as causes of lightning, storms and eclipses. But now we have a more rational, consistent and verifiable explanation: our universe is a giant machine, governed by a set of unbreakable natural laws. 

Just think about a simple game of tennis. Here, the ball always ends up exactly where these natural laws – like gravity and motion – predict. No anomalies. No exceptions. There are variables, of course, like the player’s muscle power or the wind speed, but these act as mere data points, processed by these natural laws in an unchanging way to calculate the outcome. 

These laws aren’t just unchanging – they’re also universal.

This means that what applies to our tennis ball also applies to the largest celestial beings. The revolutions of our planet obey these laws, as does an icy meteor hurtling through interstellar space. What’s more, natural laws can’t be broken: even God would be subject to them, which is contrary to theology’s insistence of divine omnipotence. 

Yet there might be a way to reconcile modern science with the idea of God. 

This involves defining God as these fundamental laws of nature rather than a conscious being who created them. This is how Einstein referred to God – as a reference term for the observable, unbreakable rules of the cosmos. 

This explanation is going to be unsatisfactory to many people. That’s because many of us are used to thinking about God as a human-like, sentient being – one with which we can have a personal relationship. But when you look at the universe in all its terrifying magnitude and compare it to how small and accidental human life is, the chance of a divine creator is minuscule.

So if our traditional explanation for the creation of the universe is flawed, how did the universe begin?

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