George Ellis – Hawking’s Religious Colleague!

Augustine Pamplany CST

George Francis Rayner Ellis, born in 1939, is a renowned cosmologist hailing from South Africa. He co-authored The Large Scale Structure of Space-Time with Stephen Hawking in 1973. He is the emeritus distinguished professor of complex systems in the department of mathematics at the University of Cape Town in South Africa.He has also served as the President of the International Society on General Relativity and Gravitation from 1989 to 1992. As a recognition to his vocal opposition to the apartheid in South Africa, Nelson Mandela awarded him the Order of the Star of South Africa. In 2007, he was elected a fellow of the British Royal Society.

He is a recipient of the prestigious Templeton Award for Progress in Religion in 2003. He was a President of the International Society for Science and Religion, based in Cambridge. Ellis, is an active Quaker, (member of the Religious Society of Friends began in 1650).

Ellis advocates the synthesis of the rationality of evidence-based science and faith and hope. For him, history is a “confounding of the calculus of reality” resulting from forces beyond science. His pioneering work written with Nancy Murphy, On the Moral Nature of the Universe, covers the intersection between the origin of the universe and working of the human mind. The Far-Future of the Universe is a volume edited by him that explores the cosmological, biological and theological aspects of the future, following a symposium organised by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in Vatican.

He challenges the social origin theory of ethics and holds that ethics and morality are integral part of the universe. “Ethics is causally effective,….I believe that we discover the true nature of ethics rather than invent it…. Indeed it is only if ethics is of this nature that it has a truly moral character, that is, it represents a guiding light that we ought to obey.” As regards self-emptying and kenotic love, he says that it is “deeply imbedded in the universe, both in ethics and in other aspects of our lives.” He regards kenotic motivation as the way to achieve the ““rationally impossible” things in a world of war and insecurity.

Apart from ethics, there are many areas that cannot be explained by physics. “Even hard-headed physicists have to acknowledge a number of different kinds of existence.” He holds science to be limited and thinks that even today the most sophisticated physics is at a loss to explain the factors shaping the physical world, the human thoughts, emotions or let alone the factors that shape the laws of chess.

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