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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. Kevin

    No matter how you answer the cause for the effect, there will always be the question of what gives existence to the original cause (what gives the properties of gravity/energy/mass, what gives the properties of giving the properties to give gravity/energy/mass, so on and so forth). No matter how many times you answer the cause, there will always be the question for what gave the root of the cause's existence & property of interaction in the first place.

    I too like the think of our existence in a computer-type model, and being a programmer, I can tell you it's neccessary to set the attributes of every possible interaction, as any unexpected collision will result in a fatal error. You can't successfully run a program without it being configured properly for the engine (which translates code into visual interactions the client can perceive). Needless to say, the configurations aren't created by the engine itself.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • Max S

      Amen !
      < – Programmer/web designer/computer tech finishing bachelors in comp science.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • John

      You just can't let go that you have been programmed to think it is more rational that some all powerful being invented everything. I don't know why people struggle with the complexity of the universe and then attempt to explain it by saying some even more complex being simply exsisted before and made everything. Well where did god from? And then you explain that with one sentence from a book written by man saying he just always existed.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
  2. Believer

    I wonder why something as he stated "the universe can and will create itself from nothing."
    does not continue to happen. Could it be that God has finished His work?

    May 17, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • ERock

      Who said it doesn't? One modern theory is that multiple universes can and do exist, and are created and destroyed all of the time. They, of course, would exist outside of our own, so they would not be perceptible to us. I always find it funny listening to a religious person trying to use science in their own arguments. It is ALWAYS used incorrectly.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • Kent

      The universe is constantly expanding. New stars are created all the time. Black holes suck everything into nothing. Maybe they create something else entirely on the other side? Who knows? You don't either.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • The Jackdaw

      Who says it does not continue to happen? If a divine being created you within this massive universe, and the entire universe around you, how little thought he must have given to humanity. If you are not blown away by your insignificance, you don’t understand the vastness of existence. If you need to invent a deity to impress upon yourself your own importance, you have a sad life.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • Rick

      (a) who says the creation of this and/or many other universes is finished and (b) if a god has finished his work he's either failed miserably or really really detests his creations.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
  3. Glades2

    Perhaps he should consider that for the past 49 years God – who is in Heaven – is waiting for him to change his thinking before it's too late...

    May 17, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
  4. james

    Mr. Hawking, for someone as intelligent as yourself I'm amazed that you can assume such a thing. As a personal opinion, fine. But it's incredibly arrogant to preach what you are to everyone else. Simply, you don't have the right. Given the nature of the topic, there's not a person on the planet that can either confirm or disprove the existence of God. As if a person can just wave their hand and demand that if God is there he show himself. Seriously, highly doubt it. Also, if you're not looking for something, you'll never find it. The fact remains that all of us, including you, will find out first hand at the end of our days. Hope you continue to dive deep into understanding the wonders of our universe for a long time to come. Just leave the philosophical perspectives to those better skilled.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • Todd (no, not that one)

      "Given the nature of the topic, there's not a person on the planet that can either confirm or disprove the existence of God."

      James, how can you say that? How can you possibly know every person on the planet, what the substance of their enlightenment might be, or who they are and where they came from? You are a mighty arrogant delusionist.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • Rick

      But it's ok to preach the opposite? And not only preach it threaten people who don't believe you with eternal damnation etc? Wow, if you dislike Mr Hawking for expressing his opinion this much you must really HATE organized religion huh?

      May 17, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
  5. The Jackdaw

    The man is absolutely correct. Churchies need to leave the dark ages behind and catch up with the rest of us.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • Alyssa

      If churches ever caught up to the rest of us they would phase themselves out. There would be no point for churches. Hence the reason for maintaining the myth.

      May 18, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
  6. Man In The Moon

    Mr. Hawking has been wrong before (famously in some cases). He will be wrong again. And he is wrong now. Unless he wants us to believe he is an omnipotent being.

    I find it curious that Mr. Hawking could state as fact that God does not exist. There is not one passage of the Bible that indicates that the existence of God is proveable by scientific methods. Not one. In fact, the Bible specifically states that such methods are wholly unsuited to finding God. Yet, that is the method that Hawking wants to use.

    Just because there is not an equation for God or a map to his location does not mean He does not exist. If you were lost and I told you that a certain highway would NOT take you home, would you drive down that highway and be surprised that the highway did not take you home? In the same way, Hawking is simply being deliberately obtuse. Hawking has been told how to find God and he deliberately chooses methods certain to fail.

    Perhaps Mr. Hawking should stick to his equations. He sometimes gets those right....but it has been a while.... I guess I just don't have that much faith in him anymore. I prefer to stick with Einstein and Newton. Both men of more accomplishment AND faith.

    All you have to do is look at the world around you and sense the Will behind it. It is right there in front of you.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • Rick

      And just what kind of buffoon do you think would believe in something with can not be proven??? Oh right, religious people, sorry I forgot about them.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
    • Alyssa

      Does it not concern you that your Bible basically says that there's no rational way to prove what it says, or the god it compels you to obey? What if a homeless man came up to you on the street and told you that he was a cardiologist, and that he needs to operate on you immediately to save your life, but you can't question his credentials or that you have a need for a major operation. Would that be a good idea to you?

      May 18, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
  7. Shamrock6

    What we don't know about how the universe works could fill.......a universe. The idea of an afterlife or a state of being called heaven might be foriegn to a scientist but it doesn't mean that it does not exist. For such a seemingly intelligent person he frequently appears so unintelligent.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
  8. rrb333

    "a fairy story for people afraid of the dark" Except that true Christian's are the least afraid. Dietrich Bonhoeffer went back to Nazi Germany where he knew he would die. Maximilian Kolbe gave his life in a death camp for another. The were not afraid. That is an assumption made by a scientist who should know better.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • Kent

      Maybe they weren't afraid but that does not make them very smart either. People tend to do stupid things in the name of courage and faith.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • frink

      And 19 hijackers flew planes into the WTC. They had more faith than you.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
    • joeNYC

      @frink

      NO. They had more _hate_ than most.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
  9. jamesthedog

    Umm, Stephen Hawking is a fairy story, if you know what I mean, so shut up you stupid little twit, and go away. What else would he be expected to say? Beyond being a legend in his own mind. P.S., I, jamesthedog love our lord Yeshua, and his father YHVH, He IS THE GREATEST P.S.S.Stephen Hawking =little man, I wonder why?

    May 17, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • Corey

      How did you manage to offend so many groups of people with one badly worded paragraph?

      May 17, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • Anon

      calling Stephen Hawking stupid is, well, stupid

      May 17, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
  10. Ned

    Steven Hawking is as close to divine as humanity will ever see. Pay attention when he speaks.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • joeNYC

      Yes. The professor gets it. Too bad he represents the upper .00000001 % of humanity. We'd be so much better off as a race if the rest of us could think and reason – even half as well – as he can.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
  11. redragon

    I can't believe that some of you would consider life to be pointless if there is no heaven and no god. The entire POINT of life is the experiences, not the promise that you are saved. Religion gives false hope to people. People think that they can steal, cheat, murder, and then while in jail they will be saved and have an afterlife. We would have a more behaved society if we all learned that hey... this is your one chance here on earth, so enjoy.

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

      Now that is a ridiculous assumption. Would it not be more likely that the criminal would feel they really have nothing to lose no matter what and commit worse crimes and more would do the same? I say there would likely be more anarchy and less peace. More selfishness and more greed.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • Mike V

      Floyd, you're just rehearsing your prejudices. Statistics show that more secular societies have less crime. If we behaved for no other reason than fear of punishment by an invisible being, we'd be in bad shape.

      And personally, I'm much more afraid of the person who believes he can do bad deeds and merely ask for forgiveness and/or blame the devil, etc.

      May 17, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
  12. Corey

    How dare Prof. Hawking disgrace the one true god, the Flying Spaghetti Monster. When you find yourself down on your faith, just ask yourself: WWFSMD?

    May 17, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  13. Beth

    Why does the absence of god mean that man has no hope? I don't need an invisible man to give me hope. I have faith in myself.

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

      Amen to that sister! I live without any fear, loving life completely.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • Man In The Moon

      You may not believe in God. But fortunately He believes in you.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
    • Dan

      faith in yourself to do what?

      May 17, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • joeNYC

      Faith? What is faith? To believe in something that someone says is true, rather than to believe in what one can see.. what is proven to exist?

      Maybe there's a god, maybe there isn't. I'd just like to see some proof, actual physical evidence ... then I'll ball. Till then, it's a nice bedtime story for the weak-minded.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • Joe

      If your faith is in yourself you will be quickly disappointed or you are delusional. We are all weak that is an undisputable fact.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • joeNYC

      >>If your faith is in yourself you will be quickly disappointed or you are delusional. We are all weak that is an undisputable fact

      Undisputed eh? And your proven, peer reviewed evidence that we 'are all weak' is where exactly?

      Maybe you are disappointed in you. But I am not disappointed in me.. not by a long shot. I do my part, and hope to leave all around me a little better than the way I found it. And that comes from me, not some made up sky-god.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • Beth

      Right on, JoeNYC. I would call myself a few negative things, but "weak" isn't one of them. And I'm working to change those negative things becaue I want to, not because someone told me to.

      "Faith to do what?" To do whatever I want. Like any other person, I have goals in my life and changes I would like to see happen. I am working at those things to make them a reality.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
  14. Adriana Birmingham, Al

    Duh.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
  15. mecatfish

    Annunaki made us and all life on earth. Who made Annunaki? God, I suppose.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:24 pm |
  16. ObjectiveThinker

    So, it sounds like he is assuming that if the computer stops, the electricity that powered it wasn't real. If we are just biological machines, then we need to account for the power source. That is what I call life. And life to me, is not the machine itself, but sustains the machine with the power to function.

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

      The "Power Source" is more generally known as food, and you can buy it at most supermarkets.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • Stuart

      @ ObjectiveThinker, The energy source you talk about is called food not some sort of magical "life".

      May 17, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
    • Floyd

      Exactly.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • minnesotan

      You may want to try objectively thinking about this next time.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  17. Je ne sais pas

    I forsee a future, maybe a thousand, maybe a million years in the future where the scientists, priests, imams, rabbis and all the other people who consume all their time wondering about how the universe works and whether there is a God or not and whether there's an afterlife finally come together at some summit and agree that they DON'T. KNOW. That they don't know and never will know, until death, at least. And then, with luck, everyone can just get on with their lives and stop worrying about the ephemeral.

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

      And then they should also agree, as all people with common sense would, that it falls upon those who insist that a unproven being exists in which we are all supposed to believe and worship, to prove the existence of said made up being and until they do so said being should be considered non-existent.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  18. Huat Liaw

    Mr. Hawking,
    "There is no heaven", it doesn't implies there is no hell, think carefully, this is not your area, the terrible thing in life is too late to repent.!!!!!

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

      There is no hell either. This is it so stop living in fear.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • Rick

      A brain is a terrible thing to waste.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
    • Kent

      Implying that there is no heaven easily implies that there is no hell. They were both born of the same religion. One can't exist without the other unless you are starting another religion based on there being only a hell. I don't think you will attract many followers with that line of thought.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • Barnacle Bill

      Rick, you assume that it has a brain.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  19. Nico

    Insisting there is NO heaven is just as ignorant as insisting there IS a heaven. When will humans learn ego & opinion does not equal fact?

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

      Not exactly true. Insisting something exists despite there being no evidence to support your claim is far more foolish than stating something doesn't exist because there's no evidence to suggest it does.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
    • joeNYC

      @Mohammed – you write the truth of it.

      Myself, I love watching people stare and blink when I use the same logic in a discussion... LOL.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • Dave

      Smartest post yet.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • minnesotan

      Heaven is a concept made up by humans. So is Hell. For those of you who think stating there is no heaven is the same as stating there is a heaven, if I state there's a Flying Spaghetti Monster orbiting Pluto right now, then that must mean it is possible because we don't know if there is or isn't a FSM orbiting Pluto. The ONLY reason we have Atheists is because fools defined themselves as Theists. Its not that Atheists don't believe in God as much as they don't believe in the Theist's god. Everything started from something, but as God is defined by mankind, Atheists know its a bunch of horse pucky.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • Luigi

      @Mo – I think the problem here is with the word "insist." Insist implies "must be true." That's a problem unless you are insisting something like 1+1 = 2. Insisting that hydrogen exists, IMHO, is an error. I do, however, have extremely high confidence in the existence of hydrogen.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  20. Don

    To all of you who state that the universe could not exist without being created by God as nothing can exist from nothing, then please explain to me where God came from. If you apply your theory of the universe to your God, then he had to come from somewhere. Are you going to try to convince me he just exists from nothing, has been there since time beyond. Sorry folks, in this case, you can not have your cake and eat it too. Religion was born from man's primal fears, mainly the fear of the unknown and his desire to live forever. If you take away your Heaven, your immortal soul, most of you would collapse into depression. Our thoughts, our soul if you wish, is nothing more than neurons and electrical impulses within our brain. Once those cease, thats when we as a sentient being, cease.

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

      You refer to God as "he". Who says God has a gender? You? Maybe thats why people look at your concept of God and claim it is false, because it appears to be born of human identification, an anthromorphic explanation of existence rather than the unknowable truth.

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

      God is, always was, and always will be. So there is no reason to think of where God came from, because God has always been.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
    • Todd (no, not that one)

      "God is, always was, and always will be. So there is no reason to think of where God came from, because God has always been."

      What a load of horse feces! You idiots always break out the magical nonsense when logic fails you.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • Colin

      So Johnny, whay not simply say the Universe has always existed?

      May 17, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • Josh

      ... The idea of God is relative, My god will never equal your god even if it is the same god. God is only a name for your beliefs, nothing more, nothing less. You must remember the bible was put together by man and scripts were hand-picked based on those time morals at that present time.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • Rick

      Johnny, you have clearly missed the point, though being a religious zealot means you've probably miss a lot of points.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:28 pm |
    • joeNYC

      >>then please explain to me where God came from.

      I asked that question as a 5 year old (I am now 47), and got told by the priest that "God always was. He's always been there". I knew then, as a child that the priest was clueless. That was the tuning point for me. The time that I knew that religion is a lie.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
    • Luigi

      Failure by people to answer questions doesn't prove God doesn't exist. (Nor does it prove that God exists.)

      I don't know. I really doubt you know and I doubt that Dr. Hawking knows either. Of course, he's a scientist. He knows he's working with theories. Some of those theories are pretty strong but he knows he's working with theory.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • Madtown

      Sorry, but "infinite regress" also doesn't really prove anything. Sure, if something can't come from nothing, and God created the universe, then who/what created God? I get it, but to infinitely go back and back to who/what created who/what first, just gets us in a loop that proves or disproves nothing. That's where the notion of God as the "first mover" comes into play. Bottom line is, we are still too primitive intellectually to come anywhere close to understanding this. But, it's fun to discuss!

      May 17, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • MuleHead

      Johnny – That's a circular argument with no basis in fact. There have been many thousands of gods, generally with a message from 'man' stating that their god or message is 'the ONE'.... the majority of which are gone. To say that the one God you happen to believe in at this microsecond of cosmic history is 'the ONE' can't be logically supported. Education in science is the only 'god' worth spending time discovering. Life is much too short to live in the shadow of ignorance.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • Max S

      All you see and don't see could be converted to energy(string theory explains this). If I possess energy(am the source of it) , imagination and means of manipulating the energy, I could create the universe, life and anything. If you can't grasp that, how can we talk of anything greater?

      May 17, 2011 at 3:46 pm |
    • Greg

      You cannot have an infinite regress- there had to be an initial cause. Since time/space was created in the 'Big bang', then this initial cause MUST be outside of time/space. i find it extremely sad that you can believe that EVERYTHING spontaneoulsy came from NOTHING yet you mock those who believe in a creator as the initial cause. Sorry, but I do not have ENOUGH FAITH to be an atheist!

      May 17, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
    • Man In The Moon

      God did not come from anywhere. If there were religious people who claim He came from somewhere, your question would have relevance. But, as stated, your question makes no sense.

      You're using a rather pedantic logic. I think what you're attempting to do is deal with the First Mover theory of the universe without first understanding what it is. What you're missing of the First Mover theory is that it encapsulates a concept of the Eternal. That the ephemeral universe came into existence at a point in time. There had to be something that sparked existence of the void. And then the filling of the void. Basically something cannot be created from nothing (reference Einstein's relativity). This is something that "science" has only accepted in the past 100 years and Judeo-Christians have believed from Genesis.

      It seems we were ahead of the curve by about 10,000 years (or more once the oral traditions are accounted for). You non-believers may eventually catch up with us. But then you won't be a non-believer..... I wish you luck.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
    • Floyd

      Mr. Hawking does not have an answer. He is merely guessing. He has no faith so it is simpler for him to lean his assumption that way. Ironic how such a smart mind goes to the simpler way of thinking. To claim people are afraid of the dark ids a snooty pot shot. We are ot afraid of the dark at all. We are the ones who are unafraid. We have faith in the energy we have and that it will be continuous in some form. Computers are plugged in or have batteries to power them. They are man-made. I think people that use that analogy are shortchanging the human existence and trivialize it. We are much more special than a machine. Sad he thinks of himself that way. Life is special. Perhaps his frustration of not figuring it out has him feeling this way and he feels he is not as smart as everyone says he is. Some things maybe are not meant to be figured out, and that frustrates those who try. Spontaneous creation he says. That is a blank statement if there ever was one. See how he makes a statement but still cannot definitively explain it. It is solely his opinion and we have ours.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • frink

      Bologna! Everyone knows its turtles all the way down.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • Mike V

      Floyd, it's true that he can't say with certainty that there is no heaven; nor can he say with certainty that there are no invisible unicorns; there's equal evidence for each.

      May 17, 2011 at 6:54 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.