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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. MERKIE-MERK

    Biblically speaking, "heaven" or "the heavens" were not intended for human life. Also, Jesus him self explained that a person ceases to exsist when he dies; obviously debunking any understanding of an "after-life". Hawking is correct that you do not go to heaven after you die, however heaven does exsist... it is what we today call outer space. Dont believe me?! Pick up any bible translation with the translators full notes and do your own research. Its not rocket science... its just finding out for your self, rather than the good'ol hear-say.

    God bless and peace be with you.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
  2. Mark

    Mr. Hawking, It is so sad to see someone with such scientific background, and in what, physics! and can't recognize his creator from his creations around you! and just says eveything happened on its own? just raise your head 45 degrees into the sky and be stunned from the creator, God, seeing the vast universe around us and how everything is calcuated in a precise way such that the whole universe is sustained. Just look at your self in the mirror and think! Too sad! I pray for you that you can find the clear truth one day

    May 17, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
  3. Colin

    Even if we accept the highly questionable proposition that the Big Bang had to have some intelligent designer behind it, how do we get from there to the Bible, a book written by ignorant men on one planet 13,400,000,000 years after the event?

    Can someone join those dots?

    May 17, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • PACO

      with your tiny little mind, you just don't get it

      May 17, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
  4. metoo

    Hawking is also sure the "Aliens" want to kill us all and take our planet Earth!
    What a joke. They are only here to watch over us and keep us "Seated" until we grow up enough to join the rest of the human race.

    God can NOT BE SEPERATED from physics. All is God, God is All. As above so below. WE ARE GOD.
    When physics just can't cut it we can look to metaphyisics!
    Now go out and make your world a better place for someone!

    May 17, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • Really?

      One can do that without subscribing to the god myth.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
  5. panthersofamerica

    In Hawking's comment about how people there is no afterlife for broken down computer parts comment, how does he explain what people see when they have a near death experience? What about paranormal activity?

    May 17, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
  6. AlecB

    "Spontaneous creation is the reason why there is something..." Steven, are you a creationist?

    May 17, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
  7. Zorua dude

    looks like that illness of his has finally fried his brain. I was hoping that he was actually going to come up with something amazing or neat which he was hinting at before, but instead, he gives up on that supposed scientific theory and arrogantly, and obnoxiously declares that he knows all the mysteries of the universe and everything about existence when he couldn't figure out anything about what happens in a quantum singularity or parallel universes or whatever he was working on. His statements leave me further incredulous at his intentions because he HAS been wrong before. Even his most complex theory which seems to involve matter in the universe disappearing permanently in various places, which he even challenged to his opponents to prove wrong, was pretty much proven wrong by a group of determined scientists. Apparently he wants to milk the media for all its worth before kicking the bucket, which is pretty sad I have to say. Very disappointing that stephen would rather attempt to sow seeds of hatred and division then to actually contribute to the scientific community. This doesn't even come close to science. I'm not learning anything about this other than what I already know. You can't just throw some idea out there and expect people to understand it without properly explaining it. Only thing I'm able to glean from what this guy is saying without having to buy his book is that he apparently is now an arrogant jerk who cares for no one but himself. If this is the way he wants to go, then good riddance.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • Really?

      Reality is really hard to swallow, isn't it? Don't worry, you're not alone. Most of the human race has trouble accepting that we're finite.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
  8. Taylor

    I respect Stephen and his work, but my response to this is: no one really knows for sure, and no one will ever know. I'd rather err on the side of caution and believe that there is one.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
  9. Dave

    I stopped believing in heaven, hell, reincarnation, or any type of immortality a long time ago.
    I've decided that I'll be good and do what is right for the sake of goodness and not because of the fear of eternal damnation or the anticipation of an eternal reward that does not exist.
    I'll live on through my children and the memories of those who are still around after I'm gone.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
  10. EndlessLoop

    The fundamental problem with saying that there is a high power that created everything is that someone then must have created that higher power, and then that higher power. It goes on forever without end. But to counter that the concept of spontaneous creation from nothing is a hard concept for the human brain to accept either. Niether makes much sense based upon our limited understanding and perception. The bottom line is that we just don't have a clue!

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

    so how is something created from nothing?? the words and spirit of God spoke everything into existence. Faith is believing in something not seen and not trying to explain it away (which hasn't been done and never will be). God is real, heaven is real, hell is real. I will be in Heaven with the Lord Jesus Christ someday. I pray that you will too and are not ignorant enough to believe that we just appeared one day. We were created by an Almighty God.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
  12. Liqmaticus

    1 Corinthians 1:18-31

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

      "All that we are is the result of what we have thought. If a man speaks or acts with an evil thought, pain follows him. If a man speaks or acts with a pure thought, happiness follows him, like a shadow that never leaves him."
      Buddha

      May 17, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  13. aprilfla

    Mr. Hawking has had a very difficult life and I am sure that is a good part of the reason why he chooses not to believe in a "God". He must be wondering if there were a God, why would he have done this to me? It's a valid question and I hope when Mr. Hawking does die, he finds out the answer. As an example, MAYBE if his body hadn't been so impaired, his life would have gone in other directions, AND his mind would not have had the chance to grow and we all would have been denied his intelligence. (NOT being sarcastic here – the man is obviously a genius)

    May 17, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
  14. chgn66

    Every adult knows the Tooth Fairy isn't real because at some point they learned what was causing the mystery. Hawking used his own scientific deduction to do the same thing with God. He's going way beyond just believing in something because it makes you feel good.

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

      are you serious? when did this happen? why was i not told? this is very troubling.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
  15. skeptic

    There is NO God, and that is one thing I am very sure.

    The religious always plays the game of "you can't prove that." Well, we can't prove that; but we aren't using God for our own financial gains like the religious do. Who's got stronger motive to lie?

    The case is clear.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
  16. PACO

    eternity is an awful long time to be separated from GOD ! this man has no faith and will pay later

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

      To be fair, the man has already paid a long time.

      I can understand him believing so. It would seem cruel to have a God exist and put you through that most of your life. So while I don't agree, I understand why he doesn't believe.

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

      not if your god is the kind and loving god that most christians claim it to be....he'll be just fine. then again, if your god doesn't exist, he'll just be dead like everybody else.

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

      Now PACO brings up another, even sillier, aspect of Christian supersti-tions. Non-believers will burn for eternity in hell. Think this through. You don’t have to kill, you don’t have to rob, hell, you don’t even have to litter. All you have to do is be obdurate in rejecting the Christian god and he will inflict a punishment upon you an infinite times worse than the death penalty….and he loves you.

      Dark Ages nonsense.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • Ooops

      Sure hope he saves his money then!

      May 17, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • KO

      Who says having no faith is a bad thing???

      May 17, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
    • Cletus

      One with such strong faith should not be so easily offended. You sound threatened. Have you ever considered that if there is a God and that God is responsible for all creation then God created Hawking to think and be the way he is? You can't have it both ways. Why would God not embrace all his/her creations. If non believers are damned, then proof exists of a fallible God.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • Jared

      You really think "if" there was a God that he would send those who couldn't get it right without any help to eternal damnation! Come on! This is why RELIGION on so many fronts makes me puke. If you do this or that, then your ($*&%, but we'll send you down here to figure it out on your own without any help. Good luck.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • Let me get this straight

      Let me get this straight:

      God creates a paradise afterlife where a requirement to enter is belief in Jesus Christ.
      He makes a world where a majority of humans who have ever lived could not have possibly heard of Jesus Christ no matter what their actions were.
      Consequently, he condemns a majority of humans to hell for something they could not possibly help.

      Yeah, some benevolent God you got there.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
  17. Sal

    I am a nice guy who doesn't believe in religion. However if it helps those that pray feel better about themselves, then it is a good thing. Religion is really a crutch, but if it makes you feel good then you should practice it. I don't believe there is a heaven or a hell, and death is really the end period. 

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

      I'm afraid you're right Sal.. as bleak as it may seem.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
    • PoudBaptistGirl

      I feel sorry for this foolish scientist and for you. You both will, unfortunatly, find out, soon enough, how terribly wrong you are.

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

      Why, Poud, because you believe in a god that rewards those who are evil as long as they believe in him and punishes those who are good just because they don't? Sounds like a big, arbitrary jerk to me. You can have him/her/it. Maybe I'll jump into your religion with the next reboot. Frankly, I liked version 1 better than version 2. Can't wait to see what changes are made with the New New Testament.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
    • TGL

      not too worried – just trying to make the most of my time here on earth with my family.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • virginia

      and who came back to tell you? Miracles happen everyday

      May 17, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  18. JoeJoe9

    And how would you know this Mr. Hawking? Computers have no conscience to know or believe such a thing, yet you are aware of what you are saying to the degree that your camera lense (your brain) physically allows you to. What/who is it that is conscious inside your body/brain, and is perceiving/controlling the light energy signals that your brain receives & sends? Computer don't perceive, they are merely another lense device that allow us to view information, etc., but it is the conscientiousness or perceiver that views & controls what the lense of the brain allows.

    The question is, where does the perceiver/consciousness exist once it can no longer reside in the body? We are just moved movers, as is everything from the big bang, but what holds all existence since forever is the unmoved mover (AKA God) which is what started the big bang, along with the infinite amount of big bangs before the current universe ... or possibly all universes at all dimensions.

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

      Mr. Hawkings may very well be correct that there is no God. Howevever, if there is, he is neither concerned nor pays attention to the physical universe that has been set in motion. The laws of the universe cannot be broken, but these laws themselves were observed and recorded by man to understand and predict the behavior of matter. Einstein's E=MC2'd equation defines that matter is energy, and energy is matter. Therefore, the universe itself by definition is pure energy, just residing in one form or another. All matter is just a compilation of either one or more fundamental form of pure energy. When we die, our conciousness that resides in our minds leaves this physical plane and disperses. There is no medium for recording information after death, therefore, no information cannot be retained ambiently after death. Death is as relational to your level of conciousness before you were born. There is no comprehension of it, because there is nothing to comprehend. Enjoy your lives.. live in harmony with the planet you were born on, and try to treat others with respect. That's all the people on this planet need to do to make this a place worth living in.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
  19. Bill

    I know this is an old argument, but where did the "something" come from. On a related note, where is his proof/evidence that there is none? Since he is a scientist, where is his proof? Mind you, I'm not going to entertain the "where is YOUR proof there IS" because I'm not the one making the statements.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
    • geoff

      He offered his opinion on the topic and did not make the claim that the lack of a heaven is a scientific fact. Stating ones opinion doesn't necessarily require backing up the statement with evidence.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
    • Really?

      Wow. You're confused. You are the one claiming that there is some mysterious being for which there is no proof. The burden of proof is on you, who claim there is something simply because you believe in it, regardless of evidence to the contrary.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
    • max86234

      hawking's argument (i think) is that the proof lies in the fact that matter can come from nothing. i haven't read (nor can i claim to understand) his proof, but his position is that spontaneous generation is possible.

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

      It's the very nature of the universe to exist. Something out of nothing is how physics works. There are a bunch of books by physicists like Hawking or Lawrence Krauss that explain this phenomena.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
    • Tevii

      Whats interesting is, believers iin God always ask "Where did everything come from then?" I counter back "Where did god come from then?" The idea of the universe JUST being there is just as likely as a god just being there. But the universe would have to predate god otherwise goid is nowhere.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
    • PG13

      Agreed, the general public is unaware and ignorant of the vast amount of literature that is available under the section 'Physics' on the bookshelf, it is rather juvenile to ask for "proof" (as if it is a single, simple mathematical formula that takes half a page to work out) while we have our head stuck under a boulder.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
  20. Joe

    The plain and simple issue is that matter is neither created nor destroyed. So, where did it come from?

    The fullness of God is unexplainable and there can be no other answer at the end of the "and, before that was..." question chain. Logic points to a Creator outside of time and space and there is no other logical answer.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
    • Colin

      By that logic, where does your "creator" come from?

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

      there is no logical path that one can take that would lead one to the conclusion that an all powerful creator existed outside of space and time....that claim is nothing more than a god of the gaps argument.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • PG13

      That doesn't apply to singularities. In the Universe the law of conservation of energy/mass applies.

      The question then becomes, "Where did God come from?"

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

      Actually, at the quantum level, matter is in fact spontaneously created and destroyed billions of times each second. I may not support Mr. Hawking's conclusion, but I can't deny the method by which he could be right.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
    • Lem

      Oh lawd, then who made this creature called "God"?

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

      Perhaps you would be right in saying there is no other logical answer that we are aware of based on our very limited understand of the universe. Perhaps. But, as we are not an all-knowing race, we cannot conclude that God is the only answer when we lack signifcant information that could reasonably offer an alternative, or even better, explanation. Speaking in absolutes when you are absolutely short on information is generally foolish (see how I added that "generally"?).

      May 17, 2011 at 3:19 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.