Late last week, the Science and Technology Minister of India, Dr. Harsh Vardhan, claimed that the late cosmologist Stephen Hawking once said that the Vedas might have a theory which is superior to Einstein’s theory of E=mc2. Vardhan made the claim while speaking at the 105th edition of the Indian Science Congress organized at the Manipur University. In his address Vardhan said:
“We recently lost a renowned scientist, cosmologist Stephen Hawking. He emphatically said on record that our Vedas might have a theory superior to that of Einstein’s E=mc2”.
It’s worth noting that there isn’t any record of Hawking making such a remark and now a founding trustee of the Stephen Hawking Foundation has said that he is certain that the late scientist “did not support the claims” made by the Union Minister.
According to a recent report from The Telegraph, Malcolm Perry, founding trustee of the Stephen Hawking Foundation, who is also a professor of theoretical physics at the University of Cambridge, in an email response said:
“I am not aware of Stephen Hawking making any comment on the Vedas…It is quite possible that he made a reference to the Vedas playfully when discussing creation myths – such as found in the Bible or the Vedas – when comparing them to the now conventional scientific picture of the big band accompanied by a period of inflation, or perhaps when discussing the noboundary proposal for the creation of the universe…I am certain that he did NOT support the claims made by your minister that ‘our Vedas might have a theory which is superior to Einstein’s theory of E=mc2”.
It’s rather shameful how the Union Minister used the name of a recently deceased scientist to ‘saffronize’ science. On top of that, it’s also quite alarming that the man who’s been elected as the representative for the Science and Technology Ministry would make such baseless claims. When questioned about the claim, Vardhan asked the reporters at the event to “work a bit on this” and question him in Delhi ” if they failed in their research”. However, when The Telegraph attempted to approach him regarding the claims he couldn’t be contacted despite repeated attempts.
A number of prominent figures in the field expressed their disappointment regarding the claim. Science writer Simon Singh, who studied physics at the Imperial College London and did his PhD in particle physics from Cambridge, reportedly said:
“It’s sad that a science minister tries to exploit the passing of a genius to falsely promote his own religious agenda. It’s sad that science minister seems to have such a feeble grasp of science. And it’s sad that, instead of writing some words to celebrate Professor Hawking’s life, I have to waste time responding to nonsense comments from a nonsense science minister.”
Shubha Tole, professor in the department of biological sciences at the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research, Mumbai, was quoted saying:
“It is tragic that ministers charged with overseeing the scientific progress of our country do not seem to have access to validated, verified sources they can quote when they want to make impactful statements. We have seen many examples of this; it speaks of a drastically impoverished communication between the government and the scientific community. Each side needs to recognize how such severely limited engagement with the other will be devastating for Indian science”.
However, the most befitting remark came from the president of the Royal Society, Venkatraman Ramakrishnan, who initially refused to comment on Vardhan’s claim but in parting said:
“A better Stephen Hawking quote would be, ‘The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, but the illusion of knowledge’.”