Back in the 1970s, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist named William Shockley created quite a stir when he suggested that certain races (i.e., black people) were “genetically inferior” to whites and Asians, and that in order for the human race to have any chance of “improving” itself, people with IQs lower than 100 should submit to voluntary sterilization. Other than that, nothing he said was particularly controversial.
What made Shockley’s pronouncements so outrageous, besides their obvious inflammatory nature, was their source. After all, this wasn’t some hack, ex-Navy science fiction writer like L. Ron Hubbard introducing a new, screwball religion (“Scientology”) to the masses. This was a brilliant scientist talking. Shockley won the 1956 Nobel Prize in physics, and now he was going on record with a profoundly radical and transformative theory.
Of course, what followed was predictable. His fellow scientists pointed out that, while Shockley may have been a “genius” when it came to semiconductors and transistors, he was woefully unprepared and unqualified to speak on the topic of genetics. Indeed, he was so far out of his element, his so-called “findings” were embarrassing. Which brings us to Stephen Hawking, the world’s favorite theoretical physicist.
Fearing that the Earth will one day be destroyed by a colliding asteroid, or by widespread epidemics, or by over-population, or the cumulative effects of climate change, Hawking was recently quoted as saying, “I think the human race has no future if it doesn’t go into space.” Moreover, he insists that we must do it—must accomplish our evacuation—within the next 100 years.
There are at least two problems with this nutty advice. (1) Hawking is talking about stuff he’s not qualified to talk about—stuff that would cause a “lesser mortal” to be laughed off the podium, and (2) by trying to convince the people of Earth that future life on our planet is not worth investing in, he is guilty of the cruelest and most destructive form of defeatism.
When Hawking talks about black holes, or time-travel, or multiple universes, his remarks, while unproven and basically unprovable, are intriguing and fascinating. For one thing, very few people are “smart” enough to dare refute what he says, and for another, all that far-out stuff about worm-holes and six dimensions that Hawking is spouting is very cool—way cooler than garden variety terrestrial science.
But just because Hawking is a genius doesn’t mean everything he says is smart. We don’t automatically listen to a gifted shoemaker talk about making gloves, do we? Consider: What if Hawking argued that the National League should copy the American League and go to the Designated Hitter (DH) rule? Would baseball purists abandon their opposition to the DH simply because a “genius” told them they should do so?
But what Hawking seems to be suggesting is no less bizarre. Instead of focusing our resources on saving and protecting Earth, Hawking wants us to abandon it. Really, Stephen? You honestly think that pulling up stakes is going to improve morale? Surely, he has to know that you can’t do both—that you can’t commit yourself totally to saving the planet while simultaneously putting your resources into finding a new one.
Also, who’s going to break the news to Sudan, Somalia, Bangladesh, Guatemala, et al? Who’s going to tell them that, after giving the matter careful thought, we’ve decided to move to a better neighborhood, all because some weirdo physicist has convinced us it was time to leave.
And of course, it goes without saying that the rich and well-connected will be the first to jump ship, and the poorest and most desolate among us will be condemned to stay. Donald Trump has his own word for those unfortunate individuals who won’t be allowed to make the trip. He calls them “losers.”