In 1981 Stephen Hawking had a nervous experience at the Vatican. He was among several cosmologists to be invited by the Jesuits to report their latest findings on the origin of the universe.
He remembered what had happened to Galileo at the hands of the Catholic establishment, threatened with the stake and sentenced to house arrest merely for insisting that the Earth goes round the Sun. Now Hawking was going to propose something infinitely more bizarre.
At the end of the conference, he writes:
[we] were granted an audience with the Pope. He told us that it was all right to study the evolution of the universe after the Big Bang, but we should not enquire into the Big Bang itself because that was the moment of Creation and therefore the work of God. I was glad that he did not know the subject of the talk I had just given at the conference – the possibility that space-time was finite but had no boundary, which means that it had no beginning, no moment of Creation. I had no desire to share the fate of Galileo, with whom I feel a strong sense of identity, partly because of the coincidence of having been born exactly 300 years after his death.’
It is hard to know if the Pope would have been pleased or angry to learn of Professor Hawking’s true beliefs. Hawking, one of the world’s half dozen leading cosmologists, is the first in recent times to proclaim that the Big Bang did not mark the beginning of the universe,