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Will space save the race?


Will space save the race?
Physicist Hawking sparks debate on humans' future on Earth.

The always interesting British physicist Stephen Hawking has been especially provocative lately and, at age 64, more than a bit pensive.

In mid-June, Hawking let it drop that Pope John II had told scholars at some unspecified meeting that the beginning of the universe was the work of God and therefore shouldn't be taken up as a scientific question.

A few weeks later, Hawking told journalists in Hong Kong, "It is important for the human species to spread out into space for the survival of the species ... Life on Earth is at the ever-increasing risk of being wiped out by disaster, such as sudden global warming, nuclear war, a genetically engineered virus, or other dangers we have not yet thought of."

He took things further on, posing a question to the public: "How can the human race survive the next hundred years?"

I'm not surprised by the first bit of news; there have always been sources of tension between religion and science. I am surprised by the rest.

Hawking's remark that humans should "spread out into space for the survival of the species" is particularly curious. He's basically saying that we're smart enough to colonize other worlds but not smart enough to solve the problems we face on Earth. I disagree.

At the moment, we can't even "colonize" the International Space Station let alone other worlds. And within Hawking's lifetime, we've seen some seemingly intractable problems ease or virtually disappear.

The end of the Cold War comes to mind. The threat of nuclear war between the United States and Soviet Union was palpable in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It isn't today.

The AIDS pandemic has not crested; close to 40 million people worldwide have HIV, and the disease continues to spread unabated in parts of sub-Saharan Africa. But this is primarily a social and political problem that can be eased, if not solved. Medical researchers have made extraordinary progress treating HIV/AIDS, a disease identified only 25 years ago.

By the end of the year, many people in the U.S. with HIV will be able to fight the disease by taking just one pill a day. I refuse to believe that the world can't muster the political and financial will to make these pills widely available outside the U.S., especially in Third World countries.

As for Hawking's question about whether the human race can survive 100 more years, I believe the answer is yes. Others disagree, as reflected by the disturbingly shallow and ungrammatical debate Hawking's question set off on

One person, identified only as David, posted a message that said, simply: "WE WON'T."

Another reader, using the name XO TJ(heart)78, wrote, "dont matter to me cuz i wont be alive that long. "

Then there was this from YahooGuru2:

"The human race will survive through adaptation. Humans are remarkably resourceful and use their brains to engineer whatever they need to adapt for survival in an ever changing environment. Humans can now live at the bottom of the ocean and in outer space. There is no doubt that we are headed for cataclysmic troubles, but there is also no doubt that what ever it will take to sustain life, we (or at least a few of us) will soldier on.

"Doctor, I think your own life is testament to the will power of humans to adapt in the face of adversity. I am sure that the path your life has taken has not always been what you would choose for yourself, but instead the best possible choice given your unique circumstances.

"I do not think humankind will miraculously change and become an all loving peaceful society. I do however believe our stubborn clinging to life will keep us from becoming extinct within the next 100 years. Society and political systems may indeed crumble, but man as a species will endure. "


Omid Zamani MD, MPH
Health Communication Advisor, eHealth Freelance Researcher
Founder of eCommunity of HIV/AIDS activists in Iran
Founder of eCommunity of Iranian Public Health Professionals


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