Only a man with the brain the size of Stephen Hawking’s would seriously accept the challenge of answering the question How did the universe begin? in less than 30 minutes, while making it accessible for the population at large. Hawking’s lecture is a masterclass in concision and clear- thinking. He spins through the history of thought on the subject, beginning with the early Biblical view that the world was created by God around 6,000 years ago. And that wasn’t the only cockamanie theory in the succeeding millennia. Up until the 20th century, mainstream thinking viewed the universe as eternal, a static expanse that had no beginning or end, and where, as Hawking supposes, “nothing very exciting ever happened”.
Hawking himself, of course, has been instrumental in overturning many of the fallacious propositions about the origin and development of the universe, disproving (in his PhD thesis, for God’s sake) the “bouncing” theory, which proposed that the universe expanded and contracted infinitely over time. And his work with Gary Gibbons in the 1970s and early 1980s posited a feasible mechanism that explained why the universe is “lumpy” with galaxies, rather than having matter evenly distributed through it. “It was a problem I thought I could answer,” says Hawking. An authority talking about what they know to a mainstream audience?
The Big Question is a five-part science documentary television series broadcast in the United Kingdom on the Five channel, beginning January 2004 and continuing into 2005. In the North American market, it has been re-released on the Discovery Science network. Each half-hour episode is hosted by a renowned authority, and examines the following provocative questions:
* Part 1 - "How Did the Universe Begin?" by Stephen Hawking
* Part 2 - "How Did Life Begin?" by Harry Kroto
* Part 3 - "Why Are We Here?" by Richard Dawkins
* Part 4 - "Why Am I Me?" by Susan Greenfield
* Part 5 - "How Will It All End?" by Ian Stewart
The series has attracted controversy and criticism from creationists, as well as praise from other reviewers.