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Heaven is 'a fairy story,' scientist Stephen Hawking says
Stephen Hawking at the World Science Festival in New York in 2010.
May 17th, 2011
01:44 PM ET

Heaven is 'a fairy story,' scientist Stephen Hawking says

By Dan Gilgoff, CNN.com Religion Editor

The concept of heaven or any kind of afterlife is a "fairy story," famed British scientist Stephen Hawking said in a newspaper interview this week.

"I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail," the physicist said in an interview published Sunday in Britain's Guardian newspaper. "There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark."

Hawking, who was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis - a terminal and debilitating illness that causes loss of mobility and impairs speech - at age 21 and was not expected to live long after, also talked with The Guardian about his own mortality.

"I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years," said Hawking, 69. "I'm not afraid of death, but I'm in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first."

In a book published last year, Hawking wrote that God did not create the universe, in what he said was an attempt to banish a divine creator from physics.

Hawking says in the book "The Grand Design" that given the existence of gravity, "the universe can and will create itself from nothing."

"Spontaneous creation is the reason why there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist," he wrote in the introduction of the book, which was published in September.

"It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper (fuse) and set the universe going," Hawking wrote.

CNN's Richard Greene contributed to this report.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Britain • Death • Heaven

soundoff (4,469 Responses)
  1. Joachim

    Human bodies are a vessel for information, just as computers are of data, the hardware can not last forever, but the information can! So when computer components fail, their purpose and data will be transferred to a newer component, same as generations of humans have done by passing down knowledge to their next generations. One should really give attention to all factors in this situation and agree that the so mentioned "brain" will not really stop working once the components fail, or am I wrong?

    May 17, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
    • rapture man

      Yes.... you are wrong. Sorry. The knowledge may endure, but the brain is worm food!

      May 17, 2011 at 9:24 pm |
  2. peter

    I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but on December 25th a fat man with a red suit doesn't come down your chimney with gifts.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
  3. Timetraveler

    I can hear the heads of Religious Right wackos exploding all over the country.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
  4. moderatemama

    One thing is for sure, one day each of us will find out who's "right"... Hawking, or us "crazy Jesus freaks".

    I for one would rather be wrong about my belief in Jesus, rather than my disbelief in Him.

    God Bless.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
    • Cedar rapids

      'I for one would rather be wrong about my belief in Jesus, rather than my disbelief in Him.'
      Hope you are following the right deity then else you will be just as hosed as the rest of us.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
    • rapture man

      It doesn't matter for, according to the intelligent christians, the world will end in four days!!!!
      Let's all go out and rob and r@pe..... we won't have to go to jail, because the world will end..... just be sure to ask for forgiveness, so you can still go to heaven!!!!!!

      May 17, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
  5. Nana

    So now we just need the Muslim world to accept this reality. Muslim ignorance is such a dramatic hindering to peace on earth. the abundance of purely uneducated Muslim believers, their oppressive existence in their self created repressive regimes, lifestyles, and governments, their radical inturpitations of their fairy tale book, the fact that their culture and people have contributed less to man kind than any other culture and people of all the earth, their self ritious belief system that empowers them to commit atrocious crimes against humanity, the muslim men prance around in flip flops and linen moo moo's while they lock their woman in their household prisons to be abused slave-wife's, are entirely too ignorant to even build sewer systems and even after thousands of years that other cultures have developed running water toilets, toilet paper, and effective sewerage systems, they still whipe their pood-cracks with one hand (no paper) and eat with the other, and yiddle to the sky just before detonation of their suicide bombs that murder innocent men, woman, children, and babies. It's not hard to see that it is Muslims that are the biggest threat to civilized peace on earth. I can only wish that ET will park the mothership over the entire middle east, open the hatch and say " get over yourselves! we did all of this and you idiots are incapable of having any kind of sanity, so much to the pleasure of the rest of the world, you all must go!" , right before blasting the entire Muslim population with a vaporization ray. They say dreams can come true so nothing wrong with being hopeful.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
    • ferguti

      you call yourself smart? one more thing how would you describe "contribute to humankind" because as far as i know the industrialized nations are the not the good/saint side in terms of humanity, they benefit at the expense of the poor nations and our life style cannot be sustained forever. to make it short we are killing ourselves slowly

      May 17, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
  6. Wade

    Hey Mike V., how many times are you going to use your idiotic unicorn line? The Big Bang therory is the saddest way to explain the creation of the universe...you'd think you brilliant intellectuals could come up with something better. Just think, if you were half as smart as you think you are, you'd almost be useful in this discussion.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
    • Cedar rapids

      'you'd think you brilliant intellectuals could come up with something better.'
      Thats your problem, you think these 'brilliant intellectuals' just make things up. They do not need to 'come up with anything better', all they can do is report on what they observe and deduce from observations and the results of the data. If new data comes along that means that can refine or change the accepted ideas, then great.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:14 pm |
  7. Nathan

    ya only a non christian would feel fine to use the alias " jesus christ"

    May 17, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
  8. Paola

    Mr. Hawking wins easy battles against uneducated (in science) religious persons, but taking his statement on perspective, He is based on assumptions with serious underlying problems, basically everything from mathematics, to the incompatibility of quantum mechanics and relativity, and the lack of proof and evidence for string theories, he is launching a very aggressive statement, probably his last effort on life to counter the anthropomorphic ideas of God, and this is very common in all scientists. questions such as, why existence, why these laws and no other mechanism, why I am "me" and why I´m not someone else, cannot be explained so easy by just saying "God" was, or were simply the odds. If afterlife even exist, this must take into consideration all life forms, and discard by an elegant explanation why (maybe they also) the non-living things does not take part of it. Answer this if you can: what is the probability for a lifeform to reincarnate (spatial rearrange of the same atoms on a n-future universe(hypothesis: universe expands and collapse)), and therefore, allowing the "same computer components" of your brain to re-exist? no matter how small this probability is, if > 0, eternity is just long enought for you to reborn in seconds of perception.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
  9. blinky

    I think what Hawking's insult, imputing a childish outlook to billions of people he's never met, has brought up is that Hawking himself can be childish, abusive, over-generalizing and unscientific. We're also catching up on the myth of Hawking–he's no longer considered a key figure among physicists. It's very possible he took his swipe just to grab some attention for himself, to get back in the spotlight again, at least for a couple of minutes. When talking about death and making whatever peace you can with it, he's just a man like everyone else. He sounds arrogant and scared to me. If that's so, I hope he can find some satisfying answer for himself. That's all that anyone can do.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:53 pm |
  10. Lifelister

    For years, I was an athiest, then softened to agnostic because I really didn't know anything in science or faith that was conclusive. Certainly, most religious beliefs appeared to be a fairytale, a crutch, a dogma, etc. I could not and cannot comprehend how we humans experience such beauty and wonder as well as such insanity and horror, especially in defense of our respective religions. But finally, I, too, CHOOSE to believe there is something beyond ourselves, something wondrous and powerful. I want a fairytale. I will not use it as a whip however. Hawking is brilliant and amazing, but even he cannot answer all the questions. When my spouse died, I needed to believe he would be "alive" somewhere, somehow. I needed the comfort that faith provided, not the coldness of my intellect. I want to keep my mind open to all possibilities and points of view, but ultimately, each person decides for himself and respects others' right to do the same.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:51 pm |
    • Cedar rapids

      "When my spouse died, I needed to believe he would be "alive" somewhere, somehow. I needed the comfort that faith provided,'
      I am sorry but in other words you needed a crutch. You could not bear the thought of losing your spouse and so you turned to a belief that you would see him again. It does not make it true I am afraid.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
  11. Surprised!

    Heaven is always there. And Sir, Stephen you are there. I am surprised that you can’t see it. It’s all there! Ask everyone around you, they will tell you if they are in heaven or hell.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
  12. ann

    "the universe can and will create itself from nothing." I think that's what Hawkings is using as his evidence.
    Spontaneous Creation. But it does require gravity to do it. I have a hard time believing there isn't some force that has guided all of this spontaneous creation because the way the world works is so logical. Even if creation of the human body has taken 5 billion years to create, the chances that everything happened to make it such an amazing machine is incredible. It is miraculous that it works so well. No one can really prove God exists or if Jesus was really his son, but I think God knows we can't prove it so he will be forgiving to all those who doubt. I admire those who have a lot of faith. But, humans can convince themselves of anything if they put their mind to it. I don't think God really wants us to accept Him without using our brains to think about the whole think critically. If we are to believe in God like a child does than we would maybe feel better, but would not be using our brains. Children believe in Santa Clause, too. It doesn't do any good to take sides on this issue. No one will ever really know. And it is wrong to judge people one way or the other. I was raised Catholic, and my parents think I'm going to hell because I doubt the Eucharist is really Jesus, and not just a symbol. How can they judge me if they claim to be Christian? And Hawkings can believe heaven is a figment of our imagination and try and prove God doesn't exist, but he still has no REAL proof that God didn't guide this spontaneous creation. I think it is great that scientists have something to occupy their time with discovering as much as they can about the universe. Keep trying, but in the end you won't know who really started the whole process even if the process is explained. Best advice, is to love each other and enjoy the precious little time we have existing and don't worry if there is an afterlife. You can still be a good person is you don't believe there is an afterlife.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:50 pm |
  13. evensteven

    There is a heaven Stephen. It's right there inside of you if you want it . . . but that's the only place you'll find it.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
  14. Esther

    Wow!!! What scary, scary things to say! It will take a lot more than Mr. Hawking to convince the world that there is no God. The message has stood through the flood and through the fire. He always was and He always will be.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
    • brian

      I dont believe he is trying to convince anybody. He's just giving his opinion, just like a religion gives it's opinion. There's only one way to prove either right or wrong, so nobody can offer more than just their opinion.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
  15. Kevth

    Heaven is 'a fairy story,' scientist Stephen Hawking says to his nurse as she is wiping his ass.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
    • rapture man

      You'll never get to heaven talking like that, Kevth!!!

      May 17, 2011 at 9:42 pm |
  16. Paul Willson

    I must disagree professor. To abandon all religous facets of human life is to live on the edge of well depression heading for mental collapse. I see the universe as Prof.Hawkings has helped to show us well its one of the best hints that there is a creator behind it.Why ? Because something this complex so inter dependent does not happen by accident. As to there being an heaven &/or hell . I am not sure that is something thats overly important in the end run.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
    • Cedar rapids

      'Because something this complex so inter dependent does not happen by accident.'
      why not?

      May 17, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
    • Brian

      What an elegant example of irony. YOU (as in your brain) cannot conceive of how all things came into being, therefore YOU can deduce that an all-powerful being that no one can demonstrate the existence of must be responsible.

      Think about that for a minute. No, actually, before spouting off, really stop and think about that for a minute.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:31 pm |
  17. Carlton

    Only a FOOL says in his/ her heart that there is no God!!!

    May 17, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
    • Up Your Rear Admiral

      Well,. I'm much smarter than you are, and I say there's no god. So if I'm a "fool", that doesn't say good things about what your mental abilities are.

      Thanks for the kind sentiment, anyway.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:54 pm |
    • Cedar rapids

      says the book that his followers use, its not exactly a unbiased position to start from is it?

      May 17, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
    • rapture man

      Carlton... is it 'opposite day' or did you accidently type 'no' when you meant to type 'a'?

      May 17, 2011 at 9:35 pm |
  18. Larry

    First of all in science energy is neither created nor consumed. Energy can only change states. The energy of our soul cannot die. That energy will also change states. So when we die our energy will still be there. I do not know if we will be cognizant of such a state after we die but that energy will still be there. Heaven is a made up thought by clergy over millinium for the masses to have hope to carry them through the existence of life. Most think of Heaven as being up in the sky. Well we have been there and have not found heaven. Heaven if it exists is not a place. If it exists heaven is a state of where energy might be. Is there a heaven? I do not think Steven Hawking has been there as he is still alive.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
    • Intelligent Earthling

      First of all, Larry, prove you have a soul!!!
      Nothing about god can be proven..... everything in science CAN!!!

      May 17, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
    • techguy

      Intelligent Earthling,
      You have got to be kidding me??? Evolution cannot be proven. The "big bang theory" cannot be proven. It's a "theory":
      (T-H -E-O-R-Y in case you missed it...). P.S. you need to change your name. It obviously does not apply.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:16 pm |
  19. TracyK

    I believe in science. I also believe that what is taught in science (you can't get something from nothing). Somehow, scientist want to throw this away when it comes to how this universe and all that is in it got created. Everything has a design. I'm sure we all can agree on this: 1. The house/apartment you live in started out as a thought. 2. A plan was drawn up. 3. Someone built it. 4. Now you live in it. Do you think your house just magically came out of nothing? This universe has a design. God made this design. Man with science can do all sorts of wonderful things for our good. Science would do good to explain what they understand, and continue to research what they don't understand.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:43 pm |
    • Adam

      The questions is whether or not people are willing to see God as an old man in a robe with who creates essence out of nothing, or if people are willing to see God as the "creative" event that occured, a so-called actual essence of energy that was the over-all reason why we are here now.

      If they see it as a man in a robe, then people see it as fairy tale. If they see it as an energy that started what we are now, then people see it as science.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
    • Cedar rapids

      'Everything has a design.'
      Not sure I agree with that statement in the first place so your house analogy becomes fairly moot after that.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
    • dont worry

      Christians should not take offense to this. Atheists have been around since the beginning of man, they aren't going anywhere. Nor will either side be able to prove this question either way. Soemthing does happen when we die, but whether or not the end result is life or nothingness, we will never know until it happens! If it is nothing, we still won't know... so don't worry.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
    • Nathan

      I think that sounds enlightened but to me it sounds kind of impotent. Forget the man in the robe, (i have no idea why but as a child i always thought God had a robe and a turban). Add to the energy a set of character traits of Jesus and then your getting somewhere. Insisting you owe something to good instead of evil might sound arrogant but i'm willing to cop flack by attributing that as a divine quality.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
    • Yutaka Uno

      Your logic doesn't make sense. A house is a house. A house is not the universe. The universe doesn't have a design nor God. God is necessary for those who are afraid of the dark just like Stephen Hawkings says. They are afraid of an existence with no ultimate meaning. But that's the case. The universe doesn't care who we are or how we live or whether there's God or not. It's doesn't care about anything. God is an illusion many people can't get over until they die.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:15 pm |
    • Intelligent Earthling

      Tracy.... you talk in circles just like Sara Palin.... you really are her, aren't you?

      May 17, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
    • Eric

      You bring up more of a problem than you solve. Like you say, if everything comes from something, what did god come from? You talk about infinity, and also say that the earth is only 8,000 years old. In the infinity before the earth was here and god supposedly created everything, what was god doing?? Just kicking back and playing playstation for eternity?? God himself provokes an even bigger riddle than evolution, only evolution can be explained and has science, reason, and logic to back it up. Who created god??

      May 17, 2011 at 8:35 pm |
  20. paul

    God doesn't exist, get over it.

    I wonder how many of those who do believe were raised in a religious family by religious parents and thus had religion forced upon them from birth.

    They have been brainwashed by their own parents.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:42 pm |
    • techguy

      Like Duh, the same can be said for the opposite. Doesn't prove a thing...

      God DOES exist, accept it.

      I wonder how many of those who do NOT believe were raised in a non religious family by non religious parents and thus had an intollerance for religion forced upon them from birth.

      They have been brainwashed by their own parents.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
    • Wade

      Seems like your brain could use a good washing.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:56 pm |
    • Nathan

      It doesnt necessarily negates one ability to be objective. You would have to assess which churches employ brainwashing/manipulation. People have crazy-many experiences in the spirit realm. Qualitatively this is proof of other forms of existence.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
    • Summer

      Touche! That was a very witty retort!

      May 17, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
    • eballenger917@triad.rr.com

      I believe in God. Where He is, according to the Bible , is everywhere. I am so sorry that Stephen Hawkin has not found Him but it is not unbelievable. Einstien said that it was impossible to look at atoms and not believe in God. God is everywhere if you seek to find Him; He is nowhere if you look to not find Him. If you seek to find Him, you will: if you seek to prove He does not exist, you will find that.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
    • dont worry

      You don't know this for sure. This is all opinion, but you are right, it's nothing to worry about!

      May 17, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
    • SSampson

      And because others have also been brainwashed into beleiving another version of said imaginary story... We must HATE and KILL them...

      If we can't get them to beleive OUR way is the RIGHT way, we must sanction them.... Evn if it does lead to retaliation – then we get an excuse to do what we want...

      All religions are terrorist organizations – some hide it by camoflaging their prejudices with acts of decency... some followers are blinded by the outward trappings and are actually good people (the camoflage).... but beneath the skin lies pure evil...

      May 17, 2011 at 8:03 pm |
    • EdgarX

      @techguy: prove it. Show absolute, undeniable evidence.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
    • Riel

      The only reason the majority of people believe in a god is because they were brainwashed by their parents into believing such fairy tales. I have no idea how the universe was created but to believe it was part of a "master plan" by a "divine creator" is just plain crazy.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
    • Southern Celt

      Forced? As I recall Madelyn Murray O'Hair was a widely publicized Atheist, raised her son that way, yet he rejected her non-belief and became a (Protestant) Christian. Believing in Christianity is a personal choice that can not be forced. Those of us that truly believe will never be dissuaded, those of you that don't will never be convinced so this discussion is a waste of time.
      Hawing knows a lot about physics, but I doubt he knows much about theology or philosophy. His personal experience no doubt includes prayers that weren't answered so he is mad at God and all He represents.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
    • techguy

      EdgarX, 2000 years of consecutive history sure beats xbillion years of complete speculation. Prove it you say... Open your eyes and look around. nothing makes itself. Who made the human body? Who decides a gender of a baby? Where does the wind come from, and where does it stop? and on, and on, and on. How much more proove do you want? If you can't see that, I certainly can't help you.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
    • Intelligent Earthling

      Techguy.... you are Palin, too, aren't you? You sure sound stupid enough to be!!!

      May 17, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
    • Eric

      All of you religious apologists would do well to read The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:39 pm |
    • Hemant Gupta

      Wish Dr. Hawking were able to experience the JOY from DEEP Within. The heaven is within us not anywhere out there. He also needs to trek the Road to Digital Divine to understand "what is the meaning of divinity" in the context of quantum information. I think he is lost in deciphering the nature of reality—it is not limited to material or energetic reality. http://www.drhemantgupta.com
      http://www.roadtodigitaldivine.com
      http://www.joyfromdeepwithin.com

      May 17, 2011 at 8:43 pm |
    • techguy

      Intelligent Earthling,
      Hmmm... Yes, rrrrrright!?!?!? Wow, some sort of hidden joke i guess... Must be a valid argument somewhere. I guess insults will give you a good pat on your back from somebody...

      May 17, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
    • Intelligent Earthling

      techguy.....OHHHHH you don't understand???
      fell off the learning curve, did you?
      Guess you just proved MY point!

      May 17, 2011 at 9:49 pm |
    • TJ

      Science says no but history says yes. Fact is numerous texts talk of jesus performing insane miracles and thats enough for me

      May 17, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
    • techguy

      TJ,
      Well said...

      May 17, 2011 at 10:46 pm |
    • BDC

      @techguy

      Nothing makes itself? Then what makes god? The human body is first made in the womb of said person's mother. Then, the baby comes out, and grows up.
      Now, to answer your second question, what determines the gender of a baby is whether dad's x-chromosome makes it into the egg, or if his y-chromosome makes it into the egg. See, the mom provides the other x. If its xx, it's a girl. If it's xy, it's a boy! Mazel tov!
      And your third and final question, which I could've given to you as a third grader, is that wind comes from hotter air rising above cooler air, thereby making a current. The air moves from high pressure to low pressure, on and on. That's where the wind goes.
      Seriously, why don't you use the internet, get your head out of your ass, look these things up for yourself, and stop following god so blindly.

      May 17, 2011 at 11:28 pm |
    • paul

      Also it's funny how the only books about Jesus being a miracle worker happen to be 2000+ years old.

      How about some decent proof?

      May 18, 2011 at 6:15 am |
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The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.