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Stephen Hawking may be an atheist, but is he really Darth Vader?

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
January 15th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

A fellow boffin has created a stir in the UK for comparing Stephen Hawking to Darth Vader. Calling him "more machine than man," U.S. scientists Helene Mialet has drawn criticism from disability advocates who say her comparisons are insensitive and harsh.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Pro-life groups have criticized Mialet for trivializing human life, while the MND Association said her comments were "dehumanizing and disrespectful."

Mialet wrote, "On this day it's worth examining just who and what we are really celebrating: the man, the mind or the machines? .Hawking has become a kind of a brain in a vat. Since being afflicted with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis almost 50 years ago, his muscles have stopped working, though his mind and senses remain unaffected."

Stephen Hawking is one of the world's most renowned scientists. His work into cosmology and physics is virtually without equal since Einstein. And despite his lack of religious conviction, he is a likable, humorous fellow who has managed to overcome a crippling disability to become more productive than many who have the full range of their bodily function.

Most people know Stephen Hawking from popular media because he is a well-known public figure. Confined to a wheelchair by a neuromuscular degenerative disease, Hawking can move only his eyes and speaks through a computer. His computerized voice is well known.

Mialet compared Hawking to a "brain in a vat" Mialet says he does not need the use of his body because his work is entirely in his mind. She also said he was more machine than man. This comparison was used in the Star Wars movies to refer to the villain, Darth Vader.

Mialet was complimentary to Hawking, giving him his due and acknowledging his genius, however, that did not keep the ire from pro-lifers and disability advocates at bay.

According to the Daily Mail, Farah Nazeer, director of external affairs at the Motor Neurone Disease Association was quoted as saying.  "Whilst we appreciate that Ms. Mialet is an academic exploring issues of how minds and machine interrelate, Professor Hawking himself has said: 'People with MND are just normal people with an abnormal condition.'"

She continued, "Referring to anyone who relies on assistive technology to overcome the profound disability and socially isolating effects of motor neurone disease as a 'brain in a vat' is dehumanizing and disrespectful - not just to Professor Hawking but to all those doing their utmost to live and contribute to our society with this devastating incurable disease, which kills five people every day in the UK."

In the same article, Chris Whitehouse of Right To Life Charitable trust added, "'I disagree passionately and regularly with many of the views that Prof Stephen Hawkins expresses, but I would die for his right to express them."

He continued, "I have nothing but the greatest respect for this incredible man and what he has achieved. To denigrate him for his disability and to belittle his accomplishments is to denigrate human life itself."

Perhaps adding insult to injury, the article was published on Jan.8, Stephen Hawking's 71st birthday.

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