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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. Joe

    I find it interesting that someone who has proposed so many theories that he has asked us to accept without proof is so quick to condemn something without any of his own.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
  2. john

    How can any man look at the universe from the sheer size to the unseen atom and say "we just happened by chance, from cosmic goo..." That sure takes a lot of faith – to make something from nothing, especially life. And consider that each person is born with a conscience – knows right from wrong – where did that come from Mr. Hawking? Also from the cosmic goo that formed this intricate universe and life itself? No....you know better...The problem is Mr Hawking simply WANTS to believe there is no afterlife because it makes his science more powerful and therefore his life more meaningful. But why care about life being meaningful if you believe there is no afterlife and no creator? Why care at all??? Because again, deep down every man knows there is a creator. You will see him. You should be prepared to answer for how you lived your life. I have my answer – Jesus. I hope you take the time to really investigate and not flame me as a lunatic. Frankly, I don't care. Just consider this: What if I'm wrong – then the worst case for me is I die just like everyone else and never know any better about it. But what if YOU are wrong? Eternity is a long time...

    May 17, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
    • Chris R

      Chance actually explains everything. If the dice rolled and came up snake eyes we just wouldn't be here to question Hawking. The fact that they did come up 7 may be due to a creator but chance also explains it. Especially if you accept the idea that this is part of a cycle or multiverse. Some speculate that there untold number of universes – some of which would be incapable of life or even stellar formation depending on how the dice rolled in the first bang of inception. Anyway, chance explains all of this just as well as God without having to revert to the irrational. I believe in God but I have no problem accepting both the rational and irrational.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
  3. marcia

    Steven Hawking is a fairy tale. I don't believe in him!

    May 17, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
  4. GCV

    I have one question. If the vast universe we find ourselves within was created by an intelligent being, just imagine how intelligent the being that created that being must have been. For God to exist, he must have a creator. Surely that must be true. To not question how he came about, but to argue that we must be part of his grand design is non-sensical. Either we were created out of nothing or he was created out of nothing. Or perhaps his creator was created out of nothing, but somewhere along the way, nothing needed to become something. Unless God is able to present himself a little more convincingly than in some often reinterpreted texts from 2000 years ago, I prefer to accept that the universe we observe is the one and only existance.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
  5. radam82

    Either way, it could be that a God/Gods/Energy-based-beings created a physical universe as a science project, but more importantly–who cares? You can't prove or disprove God/Gods so it's childish to invest much credit into human myth. Throw away dogma, and treat others as you would want to be treated–that's all that really matters.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
  6. EXPEDIAVictim

    on in the first day, He made gravity. ....

    May 17, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
  7. AlienShark

    I have read some of his better known works in the past as I am a huge fan of science, and not to sound disrespectful of Mr. Hawking, but I haven't seen him offer any proof that there is no consciousness after death. Most scientists will no...t utter a single word unless they have definitive evidence to back it up. It would seem that he is saying definitively that his belief is correct without any proof other than his conjecture. I have read statements from his peers in the past saying that there is inconclusive evidence in regards to age old mysteries, and I respect him for standing firm with what he believes, but I would expect someone with such a scientific background to have more than conjecture to back their claims. peace!

    May 17, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
  8. Dr Jeffrey Thompson

    It is possible that the unbelievable intertwined and complex nature of reality could only be a result of a divine hand at work. However, it is not proof, since it is also possible for the universe to have assembled itself by chance...since it has eternity to roll the dice until it happens to create all we experience. The third possibility is that all that we experience is what Nothing looks like.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
  9. comfortinprayer

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    May 17, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
  10. Rajah

    Brilliance is in the eyes of the beholder. He may be smart, but he's also a bitter fool.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
    • TimP

      One thing he isn't is bitter!

      May 17, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
  11. pepito

    Aliens are the creators of life , its just one big experiment

    May 17, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
  12. Wilben

    I don't believe in the Spaghetti Monster

    May 17, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
  13. AtheistIsTheOnlyWay

    CHRISTIANS ANSWER ME THIS:
    Without saying the much too used "god's got a special plan for ________" I want you to tell me why he doesn't heal amputees?

    May 17, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
    • AtheistIsTheOnlyWay

      You claim that he heals the sick... why not someone who lost a leg?

      May 17, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
    • concernedparent

      I don't know why He doesn't heal amputees sometimes. Did your parents do everything you wanted them to do? Did your parents ever do or say anything to you that you didn't understand? Was their ever anything your parents did that you didn't understand that had a greater meaning down the road from the there and then? Faith, sweet friend, that's what it's all about for me.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
    • virginia

      there are more important things in life than a leg.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
    • Grondahl

      Why should he?

      May 17, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • Joe

      I've thought about this and here's what I think. To make this argument you are assuming the existence of God, but that God doesn't intervene to heal injuries. If there was going to be Divine intervention, why not before something happened in the first place? And if in the case of amputees, why not the crippled? And then those afflicted with disease? It's our individual lives and trials that make us unique and who we are, and some believe this is why we were created, to learn and grow. If the worst thing in life was catching a cold, and God protected us from everything else, then the human mind would ask "Why does God let people get colds?". I think in the end the question is unanswerable, as God is by definition beyond human understanding, and therefore can't be held to the motivations or judgments we apply to ourselves. Just my 2 cents.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • Chris R

      God, by definition is transcendental. As such it is best described as an unknowable force that acts in a manner which defies logic. Why? Because being required to act in a logical manner would necessarily limit the power of this transcendent being. You cannot reconcile reality as we know it and something that exists outside of our conception of reality. The rule sets just don't match up. So asking "Well if such and such is so wonderful why doesn't it do this and that?" asks the wrong question. All you are doing is refuting a claim based on a limited conception of the unknowable. You are refuting the *human* side of the equation but not the *divine* side. You, as a human being, cannot prove or disprove the existence of something that is transcendent. It's just not possible. What you can do is point out inconsistencies in someone's stated understanding of the given transcendent being. Personally, I really think the major problem is that adherents try to argue that God is 'good'. But good and evil are human interpretations of actions and events. These definitions cannot bind a being that exists above the plane of human understanding – its like the circle in Flatland trying to understand a sphere. It can't be done. I don't think God is good of evil. God is just God and while I believe in God I do admit that is an irrational point of view to have.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • Chris R

      Joe, I agree with you. I've my own pet theory – we suffer because if we didn't we'd never learn. A parent that keeps a child from all pain is simply raising a crippled child – something little better than a well cared for pet. A parent wants a child that can grow into a strong adult. I don't want to stretch the analogy too far but I think we, as individuals and as a species, are here to grow into something different – something more adult and perhaps godlike. If God kept us safe from all harm (cf garden of eden) we'd be blissful and dumb and immature forever – and without any free will at all. I don't like pain but I have come to think it's an unavoidable part of the process of maturing.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
  14. unnamed

    "Farewell Steven Hawking"

    May 17, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
  15. Brian

    Some religions don't believe in a personal immortality. It's basically just narcissism.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
  16. tomn8r

    hopefully steven is smart enough to figure out a way to tell us he was wrong while he stanss b4 god who is asking, "why did you tell all those people i don't exist?"

    there is a god. absolutely. to ponder is okay, but to outright deny without proof? silly. you're being silly steven. i knew there was a god when a was a young teen, what's taking you so long to figure it out?

    May 17, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
    • Maya

      What is your proof that God exists? Probability is on the side of no such being existing. The Christian God is a logical impossibility. Where's YOUR evidence?

      May 17, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
    • Uh huh...

      Sounds like you're afraid of the dark..

      May 17, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
    • TimP

      The very reason to deny is the absence of proof! tut. The irony is you seem happy to believe without a shred of evidence.... seems like a mental weakness humans have tht's lost it's evolutionary benefit and now is an evolutionary detriment

      May 17, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • dxn

      how can you be so sure with no proof?

      May 17, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • Joe

      Maya, your statement is only as valid as the strength of your logic. Some day, sit around with others and keep asking each other, "What happened before that?" Logic says you can't have infinite time, so where did it start? "No" to whatever your answer is, because, "What happened before that?"

      Logic points to a Creator outside of the time paradigm.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
    • Jettle

      awww.... you think funny. YOU are talking about Stephen being wrong due to lack of proof .... I seriously have comeback overload. Glad you got 'proof' of his existence while you were young. When the holicost was happening and millions of children were asking for proof in the way of "Can I live another day or two?" Gp ahead and beleive what makes you feel safe, but please dont stand behind a book that says the dino bones Im looking at are a fake and talk about lack of proof ... you have got to be kidding. Im going to go worship UFO's now ... we actually have pics of those!

      May 17, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • Chris R

      The thing is that extraordinary claims – like that there is a transcendental being who created the universe as we know it – requires extraordinary proof. Oral history, myths, and unwitnessed miracles don't really qualify as proof. Personally, I believe in God because it helps get me through the day. Maybe this makes me weak – I honestly don't care. However, someone claiming that there is no God *has* the benefit of logic and rationality on their side. It doesn't mean that they are right *but* it does mean that they have a more realistic (qua reality) view of things. You have to be willing to accept the illogical and irrational if you want to believe in God – it's a definitional requirement of belief in the transcendent.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  17. TOM KENNEY

    I WAS TEN YRS OLD, LYING IN MY BED READY FOR SLEEP, THINKING ABOUT DEATH, WHEN THE COLD REALITY HIT ME. I DO NOT HAVE CONTROL AND I WILL DIE. IN A STATE OF PANICK I WENT DOWN STAIRS WHERE MY DAD WAS SITTING ON THE COUCH. I SAID, DAD, IS THERE A HEAVEN? HE, SAID "I WOULD LIKE TO THINK SO". HE COULD HAVE NOT BEEN MORE TRUTHFUL. NO ONE KNOWS, AND THATS WHAT MAKES LIFE SO PRECIOUS. THE ENEMY IS NOT OURSELVES BUT IT IS DESEASE AND DEATH AND SOMEDAY WE WILL CONQUER BOTH. THAT IS MY HOPE.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
    • TOM KENNEY

      THE GREAT ILLUSION, FREE CHOICE.
      THATS RIGHT, THERE IS NO FREE WILL. WE ARE BORN WITH A CHARACTER THAT WAS NO CHOICE OF OURS. THAT CHARACTER IN COMBINATION WITH LIFE'S EXPERIENCES MAKE US WHAT WE ARE AT ANY GIVEN MOMENT. THE CHOICES WE MAKE ARE CHOCIES THAT WE MUST MAKE BASED ON THOSE TWO FACTERS. YOUR THOUGHT AS WELL AS YOUR CHOICES ARE LIFE'S THOUGHTS AND CHOICES. AND ALL OF THIS IS GOD, THE GOOD, THE BAD, EVERYTHING AND NOTHING. SO THE NEXT TIME YOU WANT TO SEE GOD, JUST LOOK AROUND, LOOK AT YOURSELVES. GOD IS ALWAYS DYING AND ALWAYS BEING BORN, THATS HOW IT IS ON THIS PLANET OF LIFE.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
  18. Reality

    Beyond the Christian heaven and hell!!

    The Apostles' Creed 2011: (updated by yours truly based on the studies of NT historians and theologians during the past 200 years)

    I might believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven.

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
    Jerusalem.

    Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
    many semi-fiction writers. A bodily resurrection and
    ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    Amen
    ----------------------------------------–

    May 17, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
  19. Anon

    Like, duh! Obviously.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
  20. Johnny

    Thank you for waking people up to reality Mr. Hawking. This man has changed our view of the universe and life itself. Keep fighting Mr. Hawking!

    May 17, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • REALITY CHECK

      Johny, and Mr. Hawking–About 25 years ago Time Magazine ran articles about religion and the general concensus was, "If GOD did not exist, people would create one to explain the mysteries none of us understand". I fully believe our ancestors created one in their minds and hearts. There is no God, Heaven, or Hell (except for Rap Music), there is just our lives on Planet Earth. Live in peace, my friends.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
    • Mark

      Just the other day I threw a bunch of nuts and bolts in my drive way and came back 30 minutes later and a Wrist watch was there!!! It just happened and it all came from the act of me throwing those bolts and nuts on the groung! LOL There had to be some force to put the things in motion to create our universe! Whether you are arrogant or ignorant, Gnostic or Atheist, it simply doesnt matter! Chance doesnt give me the capacity to love ! Chance doesnt give me taste buds so that I can enjoy my food or give me eyes that see in color so I can enjoy the leaves changing colors! Chance doesnt give me the ability to PRO-CREATE and have offspring! Chance doesnt take protostars and protoplanets and Infinite matter with infinite density and boom there is a universe and a planet in it that can sustain life! Wisdom in this world is foolishness if it can wale up to the reality of chance in creation!

      May 17, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • saganhill

      @Mark...you have a complete lack of any insight regarding how you came to be and how the universe came to be. You stick to childlike fairytales to explain the most basic explainations of human existance. Its incredible the simplistic idea of a god to explain everything. And its very lazy on your part also.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
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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.