Interview with Stuart Clark

Stuart Clark has made contributions for newspapers, radio and television and he writes popular science books that have been translated into numerous languages; in the year 2000, The Independent rated him as one of the most important figures of British Physics dissemination, teaching alongside Stephen Hawking and Professor Sir Martin Rees among others.

Lately he has focused ion his writing and is working on in The Copernican Triylogy, in which he dramatizes the lives of Galileo, Kepler, Newton and Einstein; the first book, The Sky’s Dark Labyrinth, was published last spring. The plan is to translate all three parts into different languages.

It was during Campus Party, held at Valencia’s in the City of Arts and Sciences of Valencia, where Doctor Clark gave a lecture on the greatest mysteries of the Universe, tThat Mètode had the chance to talk to him.

Today’s lecture is called “Twenty Big Questions About the Universe”. Only twenty?
(Laughs) I tried to choose the twenty biggest ones, and these are the questions that we have always asked, some of them we think we can answer now, some others we are just starting to investigate and there’s a third kind, which we are just beginning to ask. This talk is about what we think we understand about the Universe, what we know that we don’t understand and where we’re going to be investigating the next few decades. So it’s a bit of the history of where we’ve got to and a manifesto for where Astronomy is going next.

One of the things that you ask yourself is about the cosmological evidence for God. Is the human being trying to find Him through studying the Universe?
That is a very interesting question, if you go all the way back to the 17th XVII Century, you’ll find that Isaac Newton began studying science because he wanted to find God. He said that if you took The Bible away you could, by studying the Universe, find God; that’s how he began the scientific method. My conclusion is, however, that science will never be able to answer the question about the existence of God. Religion relies upon faith, and science relies upon evidence; the individuals person must decide whether they want to believe in one or the other, but science will never be able to prove or disprove the existence of God.

There are so many questions without an answer and so many theories. Isn’t actually science a mix of faith and evidence?
A scientist must have a level of faith in science,science; he must believe that looking for evidence is the best way to understand the Universe. Rationalism and observation are the best routes to knowledge. Other People do that by finding places where they’re comfortable morally and ethically.

What do you think about creationism?
I believe that everything in the Universe is natural, that it somehow was created by the laws of Physics; how those came about, we don’t know, but I think the Universe is 15 billion years old, that the Earth was created 4.500 billion years ago and that life has evolved slowly. Those are my beliefs, because I trust more in evidence than in the hand of God; I think that any religious person who tries to subvert science to proof that God exists is doing a very bad thing; I also think that any scientist that tries to claim that has disproved God is also doing something wrong. Each of us has to decide what we believe respecting the point of view of others and establishing ways of communication with one another.

 © F. Morant

In the Study of the Universe there are lots of questions and so few answers. Are there really answers or just more questions all the time?
Every now and then you get an answer that transforms the way you think about the Universe. There was a moment when Isaac Newton understood how to describe gravity, and this was a great moment, because it described how planets moved through space, why objects fell to the floor on the Earth, and there was a feeling that that was a very big answer because it solved one of the big mysteries, but he didn’t say what gravity was, just how it worked.
In the 19th XIX Century, studies of the orbit of Mercury showed that Newton’s theory couldn’t explain the way it moved around the Sun. Einstein came along and gave us a new understanding of gravity with relativity, which did explain the movement of Mercury; it also allowed us to understand that the whole Universe is expanding and that there was once a Big Bang., It showed, as well, that there could be intense strong gravitating bodies that are the black holes. What is inside a black hole and what happened at the Big Bang, we don’t know, so again, you have an answer that gives you a lot more questions; and that may always be the way with science, that every time we think we understand something, it just gives us more questions. That’s one of the most fascinating things about science,science; there might just always be more questions.

Do you think there might be living beings on other planets?
I think that the possibilities of life developing by chance is so improbable that there must be something that’s helping us; this may simply be a physical law that would make with time more complex structures and molecules; then is when amazing things happen, like DNA for instance. I don’t think that it is just random chance what happened on Earth, I think that there is a sort of increasing complexity law in the Universe which makes the kind of molecules that give you life, likely ion many other places. How you then get to intelligence from single celled life, I think is a very difficult question, and we don’t understand enough about the process yet to answer that, it’s one of those questions that we are beginning to scratch the surface of. Hopefully, we’ll be able to look at some planets’ atmospheres in fifteen years or so and see if there are gases that give evidence of life.

As large as the Universe is, it would be such a big coincidence to find life on a close planet.
In fact there’s a very interesting calculation proposed by biologist A. G. Kenneth Smith that says that to get a DNA molecule by chance is like throwing a dice and getting a six 140 times in a row. That’s incredibly improbable, if you take an estimate of all the atoms and time in the Universe, and the chances of those atoms reacting with one another, there’s not enough time for a molecule of DNA to happen by purely random chance; however, you need more than just DNA, you need the whole protein structures of the body as well, that makes it almost impossible to happen by chance., which is why I think that there must exist the law of increasing complexity that we were talking about earlier, that would load the dice so it’s much more likely that you get a six when you throw it. In conclusion; I think that life is common in the Universe although Intelligence might be odd.

Multiverse Theory, which talks about the existence of parallel universes where different realities are given, isn’t it too fantastic to be true?
We have no evidence of those multiverses, they come from string theories which say that there are many different dimensions, but at the moment we don’t know whether string theories are correct or not; we don’t even know if they’re the right way to be going. They try to understand gravity in a different way. But maybe it is too fantastic to actually be true.

Edgar Baño de Murcia. Journalism student, Universitat de València.
© Mètode 2011.


© F. Morant

© F. Morant

«Science will never be able to prove or disprove the existence of God»



© F. Morant










«I think that life is common in the Universe although Intelligence might be odd»








© F. Morant

«A calculation proposed by biologist A. G. Kenneth Smith says that to get a DNA molecule by chance is like throwing a dice and getting a six 140 times in a row»


© Mètode 2011

Journalism student, University of Valencia.