This week's famous person is Stephen Hawking.
Here's the very first question (as you can see for yourself by going here):
If God doesn't exist, why did the concept of his existence become almost universal? — Basanta Borah, BASEL, SWITZERLAND
Ok, now take a moment to imagine all the bright and insightful things Stephen might have chosen to say in response.
Take a few more moments to think about all the wise and wonderful things YOU might say in response.
(Maybe even take a few moments to scroll down and share those wise and wonderful things with us in a note or two before continuing.)
Now read Stephen's actual response:
I don't claim that God doesn't exist. God is the name people give to the reason we are here. But I think that reason is the laws of physics rather than someone with whom one can have a personal relationship. An impersonal God.
Ahem. Sorry. It's just that that's the sort of thing I expect from goofy Unitarians - not from one of the leading thinkers of our age.
Here's what I wish he would have said instead:
Although I'm a physicist and a cosmologist - not a psychologist or psychiatrist or anthropologist - here's the situation as I understand it. Humans are social creatures. A large portion of our brains is devoted to getting along with other people and trying to figure out what's going on in their heads. When we look at the non-human world, it's natural for us to approach it in the same way and with the same skills. We personify nature. We see faces in the clouds. We think in terms of angry seas and vengeful winds. We come to believe in spirits which inhabit nature - river sprites and sky gods. It's natural for us to come to believe that the universe as a whole is inhabited by a supreme spirit. And just as we try to appease angry parents, bosses, kings, and other humans, we try to appease these spirits. The fear of injury and death and the unknown makes this appeasement very important to us. It wasn't until fairly late in human history that we've realized that these spirits are things we've projected onto nature - not independent entities. Instead of appeasing nature, we've learned to look at it objectively and as it is with the scientific method. Looking at nature from a scientific perspective has proven to be far more insightful and productive than looking at it from a religious perspective ever has. Alas, not everyone has come to accept this yet. Old psychological and cultural patterns die hard.
Yeah, that's wordy, I know. The editors at Time would have had fits trying to edit it down to fit their space requirements. They might well have decided not to use it at all.
And I'm sure there are others out there who could say it better. Michael Shermer comes to mind. So does Massimo Pigliucci. But I don't have instant access to their answers to this question right now.
All I know for sure is that Stephen's answer really sucked.
If you can compose even a marginally better one for him to use in the future, I strongly encourage you to do so!