Chuck Ross

Stephen Hawking Controversy: In New Book He Says Why God Did Not Create the Universe. Hmmm. Dunno About That. But I Can Explain Why God is My Co-Pilot. (Fasten Your Seat Belt: This is Going To Be Your Most Unexpected, Wild Read of the Day)

Sep 9, 2010

Last Friday, Sept. 3, 2010, the Wall Street Journal published an excerpt from the new book, “The Grand Design” by well-known British physicist Stephen Hawking and a colleague of his, physicist Leonard Mlodinow.

The excerpt was titled, “Why God Did Not Create the Universe.” In one concluding paragraph Hawking and Mlodinow write, “Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”

The excerpt has ignited all sorts of controversy about the existence of God.

Some are saying that this represents a new position for Hawking, others disagree. In one piece, titled “Hawking Hasn’t Changed His Mind About God,” Roger Highfield writes, “Hawking’s position on religion has remained unchanged since he wrote his bestseller, ‘A Brief History of Time.’ At the end of that book he famously used God as a metaphor for the laws of nature: ‘If we discover a complete theory, it would be the ultimate triumph of reason – for then we should know the mind of God.’

“This quotation is billed in The [London] Times today as his ‘previous view’ on religion. It was certainly influential – the book sold 6 million copies – but Hawking has always looked at God metaphorically, in much the same way, incidentally, as Einstein. ‘I cannot believe that God plays dice with the cosmos’ was Einstein’s famous quip about his discomfort with quantum mechanics. He also declared, ‘I want to know how God created the world.’”

Later in the piece Highfield says that Hawking told him in 2001 that “If you believe in science, like I do, you believe that there are certain laws that are always obeyed. If you like, you can say the laws are the work of God, but that is more a definition of God than a proof of his existence.”

I do believe in science, but I know next to nothing about theoretical physics. Ask me about quantum mechanics and I’ll say, “Liked Scott Bakula, loved Dean Stockwell.” ‘Nuff said.

Since, demonstrably, my mind travels in much simpler circles than that of Hawking, my thoughts about the existence of God runs much closer to those in “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

Show me the angel and I’m there–I’ll be a believer.

O.K. Here comes the crazy part. I do know such an angel.

I’m here to tell you that it’s an actual fact that every time a bell rings an angel gets his or her wings.

Not only will I tell you, but I’ll prove it to you.

The following actually happened. To me. Almost exactly ten years ago.

At the time I was the editor of this publication, then called “Electronic Media,” better known as EM. Something happened to me to cause me to miss work for almost the entire month of October, 2000. Upon my return, on October 31st, I sent the following email to the staff (which, at the urging of the then publisher of EM, Marc White, we later reprinted in the magazine for our readers).

In retrospect, parts of the email are probably a little too much on the flippant side, but it was my way of making a grim situation more digestible.

What is indisputable is that if I had not met Angel First Class Sohail Shayfer on that fateful—nay, faithful—day ten years ago, and had instead gotten on an airplane to New York, as I was scheduled to, it’s almost certain I wouldn’t be here today.

Here’s the email:

You don’t know about me. Or, more accurately, you don’t know what’s happened to me in the last month. I know our publisher Marc White mentioned to a number of you that I was sick — and the company’s been extraordinarily supportive of me — but Marc didn’t tell you the half of it.

Some conditions are so weird and grotesque and scary that you decide as soon as you hear about them that you’ll never get them. No way, no how. You know, the ones that only could happen to some other poor slob, but not to you.

Inevitably, these are conditions you read about in tabloids. Consider this headline in the London tabloid the Daily Star, circa 1994: "Killer Bug Ate My Face." Oh yeah, no need to read that article.

Based on the headline alone you decide immediately: That’s one baby I ain’t ever gonna get.

America’s No. 1 tabloid, the National Enquirer, speaking of the same affliction four years later, came up with the headline "Enemies too small to be seen inflict agony, brain damage — and death." It might lack the visceral squeamishness of the Brit tabloid, but once again, its repel factor is certainly up there. And you know immediately it’s not something you’re ever gonna get.

Both articles were referring to a particularly virulent and disgusting disease called necrotizing fasciitis. That last is pronounced "fas cee eye tis" — not that far from fascist, and I can’t believe that’s an accident.

This thing is unbelievably sickening. Fortunately, it’s incredibly rare as well. You have a far better chance of winning the next $80 million lottery than you do of contracting necrotizing fasciitis. About two people a day in the entire United States (and what, there are about 280 million of us here in the U.S.?), or about 800 poor slobs a year, come down with this. The bad news is that about 160 of them die from it. And most of the others usually lose a limb or two, at best. (Wait until you find out what necrotizing fasciitis is commonly called. You’ll find out in a few graphs, and it’ll gross you out. I promise. Happy Halloween.)

About a month ago my fasciitis became necrotized. Here’s what happened.

On Sunday night, Oct. 1, as I was about to go to bed, I noticed the area around my left elbow was red. When I touched it, it hurt. Hmm. Well, I think I bumped my elbow earlier in the day. Must be a bruise.

I set the alarm for 5 a.m., since I was planning on catching a 7 a.m. plane to JFK.

3 a.m.: I am awakened with shooting pains in that inflamed area around my elbow. And now it’s more than just a red area — it’s become a little sack, which I assume is full of fluid.

5 a.m.: I decide to go to the emergency room. The doctor there, in his mid-30s, tells me he’s in the 36th hour of a 36-hour shift. I think I see his eyes start to shut even as he tells me this. He tells me he’ll never, ever, do such a shift like this again.

He looks at my elbow. He sticks a syringe in and draws out some fluid. It’s clear. He says he imagines that it may become infected in the next 24 hours and that I’ll probably come back and they’ll drain it. He sends me home.

The pain in my elbow is getting worse. I decide not to go to New York (a decision, incidentally, that saved my life). About three weeks prior to this, I had fallen and bruised my leg. Since I’ve only been in L.A. since May, I called my cousin at that time and got the name of an orthopedist, who I saw.

He’s the only M.D. I know in L.A., so I call his office to try and get him to see my inflamed elbow and me. He’s out, I’m told, but a colleague of his, Dr. Shayfer, another orthopedic surgeon, can see me.

By the time I get to Shayfer’s office, the pain is making me groggy. Soon, I throw up. I’m really beginning to lose it. Shayfer takes me to an emergency room at a hospital next door to his office.

Soon, I become incoherent. I don’t know my name, I don’t know where I am, I don’t know nothin’. I am told later that Shayfer can’t believe how I have deteriorated. The doc in charge of the emergency room (this is a different emergency room than where I ha
d gone earlier that morning) thinks I might have a blood clot in my brain. My temperature is rising, reaching 103. They want to operate, but one of the docs thinks that with my high temperature and my incoherence that I might have a heart attack if they put me under. Shayfer overrides him, and says we’ve got to get into that elbow ASAP.

He has a sneaking suspicion it’s necrotizing fasciitis. The other docs think the elbow is just some badly infected bursitis. Though only 34 years old, Shayfer has seen patients with necrotizing fasciitis twice before, once in Boston and the other time here in L.A.

So they quickly ice me — to bring my temperature down — and operate.

One of the doctors comes out of the operating room to speak to my wife, Susan, who was on pins and needles. It’s very serious, he says. It’s life-threatening. It’s necrotizing fasciitis. "Or," he continues, "as it’s more commonly known, the flesh-eating disease."


Holy shit!

No, Susan didn’t say that. And hell, I was deep in la-la land, in the operating room, so I didn’t say it then either. But had I known at the time that’s what I had, I’m sure that’s what I would’ve said.

Because Dr. Shayfer was able to recognize the disease so quickly, he saved my life. Not only that, he saved my left arm — not only do I still have the arm, I have its full functionality.

The way you treat the FLESH-EATING DISEASE, once you have it — and you don’t want to have it — is very simple. It’s a bacterium that is caused, strangely enough, by the same Group A streptococcus that causes strep throat. But once it gets under the skin, it goes nuts and starts destroying tissue. So it’s treated by having some guy or gal with a scalpel and a (hopefully) steady hand cut the destroyed tissue out of your body. And he or she has to cut enough tissue to make sure the bacteria are cut out as well. And you just have to keep cutting and cutting until you get it all.

Which is why most of us poor slobs who get this sucker lose a limb, at best, and our lives, at worst. Speed is of the essence in limiting the damage here, and I was lucky.

Shayfer was speedy.

As I sat in the hospital, with my arm filleted — wrapped and draining, I got a call from a buddy who works in the Industry. I told him what had happened to me.

"Oh, you’ve got the Diller," he said.


"Oh yeah. Years ago, when Barry was at Fox, I heard someone there got this flesh-eating thing. Everyone said she got the Diller."

"You’re putting me on."

At that moment his cellphone went dead, and I haven’t been able to contact him since.

The next night, still in the hospital, I’m watching "Action" on FX. The series lasted about five seconds on Fox, but it’s the funniest send-up of Hollywood TV has ever done. In one scene I’m watching that night, one of the characters goes to the hospital to tell a screenwriter who is almost comatose and in intensive care that much work needs to be done on his screenplay. When she tells him this his vital signs go all haywire, and she’s screaming at him "Stay away from the light! Stay away from the light!" I thought it was hysterical. When, coincidentally, my sister-in-law asks me the next day if I had seen the light, all I could tell her was that I was so out of it at the time that I have no idea.

A few weeks ago the lotto here in California hit $87 million. From my hospital bed I gave my wife a bunch of numbers to play.

God works in mysterious ways. We struck out on the lotto. But I’ve been playing a lot of Candy Land with my 5-year-old son, Schuyler. And for the life of me, I can’t lose. Schuyler would be one or two squares from King Kandy and zap! — he’d draw the card that sent him all the way back to the Peppermint Forest, and I’d win. Or I’d be way behind, and then at the last minute draw the card that sent me way up to Princess Lolly — while he was stuck at Gooey Gumdrops — so I’d win again.

After about a dozen games over a week or so, Schuyler won’t play Candy Land with me anymore.
I’m doing pretty good. Hell, I’m doing great. Shayfer took a chunk of skin outta my left thigh to graft onto my left arm, mostly around the elbow area. In no time both my thigh and arm will heal up, and my bout with the FLESH-EATING DISEASE will be but a memory. OK, a nightmarish one, at that, but I’ll take it.

First thing I’m gonna do this morning when I get back to the office is call a friend of mine I know at Disney. "Hey Sid," I’ll say, "how you been? I’ve been out for awhile. I had the Eisner. Yeah, you heard me …"#


  1. “Because Dr. Shayfer was able to recognize the disease so quickly, he saved my life. Not only that, he saved my left arm — not only do I still have the arm, I have its full functionality.”
    Hi Chuck, I’m glad the DOCTORS and MODERN MEDICINE saved your limbs and life, and that you acknowledged that KNOWABLE FACT in the quote above. Have you hugged and thanked your doctors and nurses lately?

  2. Simple minds need simple answers-what happen to you
    proves nothing but coincidence does happen a lot.

  3. Folks believe in all kinds of weird false things – astrology, ghosts and goblins and gods (of all kinds). The simple fact is that no instance of the supernatural has ever been documented. Science can never say that a supernatural god does not exist (can’t prove a negative) but a supernatural event has NEVER been observed. If you think you know of a miracle of some kind, check the facts and think about it. We don’t know all about the natural universe, but we know enough that we don’t need to create gods to fill in the gaps. How about we toss out these false beliefs, give each other a long hug and then get to work truly solving the world’s problems?

  4. “I decide not to go to New York (a decision, incidentally, that saved my life).”
    That’s where Reason and the use of Logic saved your life. The use of your mind to discover the world as it is and how to extend, enhance, and promote your life on this earth. No Mystic revelations required.
    I’m glad you’re alive Chuck,

  5. God bless you in your recovery — and for sharing your experience. (It seems He already has.)

  6. Wayne said it for me

  7. Yeah, a few others have said it for me as well. But I did not find this cutesy article compelling, and it makes me kind of angry and annoyed that you would use this–an incidence of a really good doctor who was competent enough to recognize this and act quickly–as an argument against Stephen Hawking’s statement.
    Sure, when humans are saved from dire circumstances (from other humans in this case), they praise God. Oh, but he’s not responsible then, for all the bad. It can’t be both.
    Oh and BY THE WAY…maybe you didnt know this, but Mr. Hawking has been through hell and back and has it a lot worse than you. Obviously, it must be his lack of faith.

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