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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. God

    Mr. Hawking's Doesn't have to prove there isn't a god because he didn't make it up. it's you religious people who have the proving to do. He gave you the tools to understand so you can either listen or don't either way he will be fine knowing the truth.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • steve88

      precisely. =)

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

      Mr. Hawkins couldn't prove anything he says even if he wanted to, because he didn't create anything of which he tries to understand.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
    • Brian

      There's no proving to be done. Believe or don't. We religious people believe without proof, that's why its called Faith.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
    • Realist

      Which is also why you're called irrational, Brian.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • JB

      For such a smart guy, you miss the whole point. Faith is based on educated belief. Mr Hawking has faith in things he cannot prove, just theories, as such science is his religions. At least Christianity has existed for over 2000 years and as a person who believes in science, I would think a record like that would stand on it's own. Christianity is not based blind belief, but is a lifelong journey and true Christians have a relationship with Christ, which cannot be explained to non-Christians, it has to be experienced for oneself. Try it you may like it!

      May 17, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
  2. SPQR

    Your believe could be as a fairy tale as theirs. Reality is what each one of us choses to believe. But we are all the same in the smallest form of matter. Therefore we are a part of something bigger.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
  3. blinky

    Stephen Hawking has had little more standing than a celebrity for the past quarter century. The world of physics considers him quaint, and that's not even a trade secret anymore. I love rigorous and open-minded discussion about metaphysics, but I'd no sooner turn to Hawking for perspective than Marie Osmond. No, wait, I'd rather hear out Marie Osmond. Like Hawking, she went through a lot of pain in her personal life, but at least she doesn't pontificate or make glib remarks. When she says God helps her see life with wisdom, I don't hear her preaching to others and just making her own honest observation. Hawking, in contrast, repeats the standard snide drill of know-it-alls, putting others down to make himself sound smart. At least Marie Osmond forms her own thoughts and speaks her own mind on the subject. I can't say the same for Steven Hawking.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:34 pm |
    • steve88

      he did speak his mind, and he his likely right;; you are biased in that you consider in a "know it all" , "trying to be smart". Death is no small deal, even for us atheists, skeptics, and agnostics. =/

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

      A peanut in his scat has a higher IQ than you. Marie Osmond...really???

      May 17, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
    • Brian

      steve88

      Death will in fact be a bigger deal for you athiests and agnostics because you'll die without knowing God and won't go to heaven.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • blinky

      Well, Steve, if Hawking spoke his own mind, he didn't have much to say, and said nothing at all that wasn't laced with sarcasm. You can put forth a point of view without deriding others. There are plenty of intelligent people on both sides of this debate and always have been. Hawking would have looked smarter if he had indicated he had done some serious and balanced philosophical reading: something more articulate than carping it's all a "fairy tale," which doesn't tell me anything except he's dismissive and has nothing substantive to say.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • Cletus

      @Brian

      That does not make any sense. Surely, a God that is supposed be all things that are good would not refuse one of his children for using the most important gift from God and that is the ability to think. If that is the case, then your God is a d-bag and is not worth believing in.

      Or is your comment on how God would react not true but just "believer" arrogance. I think the latter.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
  4. The Half Baked Lunatic

    It doesn't take someone with the intellect of Stephen Hawking to figure that out. Any bright five year old should be able to ponder the question of "is there a god?" for about five seconds, realize it's a stupid idea, and go on about his business.

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

      Going beyond the heavens:

      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 3:34 pm |
    • Brian

      oh very convincing

      May 17, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
  5. Joshua

    As a person who believes in God, I will say this; faith explains the importance of accepting that we do not know or understand things beyond our brains. God exists.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • JP0

      God exists in your mind.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
  6. edvhou812

    All of these physicists talk about parallel dimensions, parallel universes, and even worm holes. I'm not religious, but how are we to know that an afterlife is not something that physics hardly understands? Hawking may be smart, but I roll my eyes at his comment about Heaven.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • steve88

      I wouldn't say religions are impossible, how about extremely unlik... errrrhm, very likely man made.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
  7. Stephanie

    The closer one becomes to science, the further they push God away. I actually study science as a way to be closer to God, to study science is to study God, it is after all His creation. I pray that Mr. Hawkings sees Heaven one day. Being close to God doesn't make me less intelligent. I believe religion is a personal choice and no one should judge your beliefs.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
  8. Frenchy

    Hawking seems to contradict himself by stating "it is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper (fuse) and set the universe going." If there is no God, why does he he believe that it is not necessary to invoke God?
    And, if there is no God, and if truly, the "universe creates itself," can Hawking prove this empirically in a laboratory setting or is this just a "theory" he has postulated?

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

      He DIDN'T invoke god!!! What a maroon ....

      May 18, 2011 at 11:59 am |
  9. CW

    @ To Mr Hawking an anyone else who is a non-believer or atheist

    18 For the message of the cross is fo-olish-ness to those who are pe-rishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:

    “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
    the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”[c]

    20 Where is the wise pe-rson? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the ph-il-os-opher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the fo.oli.shness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 J.ews demand signs and Gre.eks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ cru.cified: a stu.mbling block to J.ews and fo.oli.shness to Ge.nti.les, 24 but to those whom God has called, both J.ews and Gre.eks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the fo.olis.hness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

    For those that want to know...1 Corinthians 18-25. Please meditate on this one.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • steve88

      but your religion and book is man made;; just give your own life meaning for the time ya have – is hawkings point.

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

      Nah.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
  10. Steve D

    I agree with Justiceforall...something had to start all this, something existed out there, take for example the Big Bang !!
    theory.. many in the field of science indicate this is the beginning, this is point " A " well what created the Big Bang ?, what
    created the created and the created before the created, its unreal how far the universe is, we have a universe that
    science has taken photos of, what created our entire universe, and what created the universe before ours...it's like
    when you hold a mirror and look into another mirror, the image is of your self is stacked and stacked upon each other,
    are we just a mirror that goes on forever. As for god i believe in him, because who created the raw emtion within us,
    the death of a loved one that many of us have experienced including myself is very painful, the happiness we experience,
    joy, love, saddness, compassion, i believe God instilled this in all of us. And God has given us an example that may prove
    science is wrong, we all just could be animals roaming around, but look at us all, did God create us and the abilities we
    have.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
  11. David

    Unfortunately, there is a heaven. All of those who don't beleive it I will pray for you. The most likely reason some of you have posted these comments is because your angry people, maybe because your life is not what you want it to be, or its empty. I GUARANTEE YOU, that if you went to church and prayed a little, your life will change forever. For those who refuse to believe that is your choice, and I absolutely respect that. But it will be a rude awakening when your time finally comes and you see that none of it is a fairy tale, but its real. I didn't post this to make anyone angry or to make enemies, I have just seen way too much to believe otherwise. Prayer works, and heaven, the Father Almighty, Jesus, The Blessed Mother, and The Holy Spirit all exist. Believe me.

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

      nobody is denying that the placebo effect is real.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
    • JP0

      Presumably you have been there (heaven) to check it out and are reporting back to us. There is no support for your position. Religion is an invention of man and, for the most part it, is used to control people who are incapable of thinking for themselves.

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

      Amen

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

      @David: You really couldn't be more wrong. I don't believe in heaven because I don't need to believe in nonsense to be happy. I like this life, and I'll do my best with the time I've got. You Christy-types are the insecure ones that need fairy-tales to be happy.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  12. CW

    @ To Mr Hawking an anyone else who is a non-believer or atheist

    18 For the message of the cross is fo-olish-ness to those who are pe-rishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written:

    “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise;
    the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”[c]

    20 Where is the wise pe-rson? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the ph-il-os-opher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the fo.oli.shness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 J.ews demand signs and Gre.eks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ cru.cified: a stu.mbling block to J.ews and fo.oli.shness to Ge.nti.les, 24 but to those whom God has called, both J.ews and Gre.eks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the fo.olis.hness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

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

      Excellent. People think we are crazy or may call us "Bible Thumpers", but its because people like us have seen God's light and are Blessed. Keep praying, and keep the faith.

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

      (1) This means nothing.
      (2) Stop trying to explain things with the Bible, it doesn't work.
      (3) Matthew 6:5.

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

      i think it's time to save up for a new keyboard.

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

      CW,

      Ah, by Paul of Tarsus - meh! Why would you believe him?

      May 17, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
  13. VINCENT

    HE'S RIGHT!!! NO GOD EITHER!!!

    CHECK OUT THE FREEDOM FROM RELIGION FOUNDATION WEB SITE!

    MARX WAS RIGHT: RELIGION IS THE OPATE OF THE PEOPLE

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

      Your caps are stuck.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • steve88

      eh true, but ya need a new keyboard. Your caps are stuck btw. =P

      May 17, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • Full of Pity

      Unlock CAPS please.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:47 pm |
    • Full of Pity

      also.... *OPIATE

      May 17, 2011 at 7:48 pm |
  14. Bibletruth

    Why is your religion (what ever it is) right and everyone else is wrong? Thats a good question. I would leave off the last 5 words in asking that question. By "right" I suppose the hearer like me would assume "true" or "the truth". When the truth is recognized (not hard to do....harder to accept because of fallen humanity) the false is readily seen when it presents itself. Its the same concept as bank tellers learn to spot counterfeit bills. They dont study the thousands of potential counterfeit ways a counterfeit bill might look like. They study the real thing so it is easy to spot the counterfeit in whatever form it is presented. It is rather easy to show that the bible is supernaturally inspired, but takes some time. And once you see the bible is inspired (and you cannot not see it...you can reject it, but you will know with a certainty it is supernaturally inspired), you will also know that no other religions book has that, not one, ever.
    Dont want to upset anyone by the above, but that is the truth.

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

      Hi,
      It's not that one religion is right and others are wrong. Many people do think like that, yes. However that way of thinking is wrong, I agree with you. I beleive that all religions are interconnected. Some things are false, and somethings are true. But I know that heaven exists, and so does God. Try praying the rosary every night before you go to sleep. See how Blessed your life becomes if you believe. If you don't believe you are not a bad person, you just don't know any better. And that's ok.

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

      Have you studied all other religious books in order to make that claim, or are you just assuming that?

      May 17, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
  15. Ian

    To quote Galileo, "I do not feel obliged to believe that the same god who has endowed us with sense, reason and intellect has intended us to forgo their use."

    May 17, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
  16. Rich

    Scientists are limited by what they know, and theists are unlimited by what they don't know. Glass half full or empty?

    May 17, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
  17. Cletus

    Look at the world today. There are only two possibilities, one is that God never existed in the first place, or God has tuned his/her back on us. Either way, God clearly does not exist anymore.

    I would have to think that if there ever was a God the gift to humans was thought and evolution, clearly giving mankind the tools to prosper without God's intervention. Boy we sure screwed that up.

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

      We haven't prospered? We're going to be at 9 billion people by the end of this century. There were less than a billion 200 hundred years ago. What would be your definition of prospered if not the fact that there are many more of us?

      May 18, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
  18. JP

    Valid question Colin, the answer being that God always existed and is timeless. He created time and space/time as defined by science since Einstein. The question as I see it boils down to do we believe in a timeless creation or timeless Creator? Science has shown there was indeed a "Big Bang" creation event. What it has yet to show is what was there "before" that to cause the event. If not a Creator then what, and how exactly did IT come to be? Now discredited astronomical theories got around it by saying it always existed and the Big Bang theory was originally called that as a derogatory because it sounded too much like the book of Genesis. All this matter and energy came from somewhere though, we now know that, and it seems to be in stark defiance of the axiom that matter and energy can not be created or destroyed.

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

      But if you accept that things can always exist and be timeless, then the very assumption you used to conclude there must be a god (that things cannot be timeless and forever) is flawed. You want oto have it both ways. One rule to get to your god then another, totally contradi-ctory one to defend it.

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

      Do you truly understand time and space? If you don't, how then do you know about something surely more difficult such as the creator. What do you think time is? Something your watch says? Do you know Einstein theories of space-time? I suggest reading more about these things and less time in the church, you too might come to see that the brain is a sophisticated organic machine and fairly clear that it can die. Sad but the best degree of truth, the best explanation.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:44 pm |
    • Robin

      Ahhh. Your logic doesn't work, because the laws of physics evolved from scratch, starting with the big bang. Gravity didn't even form until sometime on the order of 10^-40 seconds or so after the Big Bang. Heck, matter didn't even start dominating until 60,000 – 70,000 years after the big bang. Just to be clear: there was no set of physical laws that we are aware of that were in place before the big bang. Of course, the Intelligent Design and Creationism sets will respond, "Aha! That means there was a god (or gods)! The reality is that science hasn't answered that question yet. It doesn't mean that science won't sometime in the future. Not knowing yet isn't an indication of a flawed theory. Likewise, not having a complete theory isn't an indication that there is some supreme being. Believing there is such a being relies on faith, and faith isn't bound by the Scientific Method like, uhm, science. Christ, just let your faith be your faith. After all, there is no proof there is a supreme being, and for the record Intelligent Design and Creationism are NOT actual theories because there is no physical evidence to support and there is no way whatsoever to objectively test those ideas.

      Let's repeat that: there are no facts and there are not tests possible to do to indicate whether or not there is a supreme being. There's nothing more stupid than religious zealots pound their fists and froth at the mouth, claiming that science is "wrong". Likewise, there is nothing more stupid than scientists trying to use theory to invalidate someone's faith. Geez! There is no variable that accounts for fate in any physical equations in existence.

      If you can't grasp that science doesn't even address–and won't ever–the existence of a supreme being, then you aren't worthy of being a scientist. If your faith is so weak that you feel threatened or get apoplectic because science doesn't recognize your pet god or gods, then maybe you should re-evaluate your faith or whatever religion helps you sleep at night.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
  19. kaywheel

    According to his own declaration, heaven will not be for him. I hope he finds his way to truth at some point. He has sufferered apparently with this terrible disease. Mercy is in order.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
    • jents71

      @kaywheel... You vastly underestimate, and lack understanding of Stephen's character... A disease that would've taken 99% of everyone else, could not take this mans life because of his dedication to his work and want to live... He doesn't need fanciful religious tales to keep him living... Religion is a crutch.. Here is proof of what hard-work and dedication give to you, not some false believe that no matter what you do, you'll be saved... Garbage...

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

      and you know the truth?

      May 17, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • Barnacle Bill

      If god were merciful, she would not have inflicted the likes of you upon those of us who actually think.

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

      @ jents71

      No matter what Mr. Hawkins knows or doesn't. He still has no absolute answear or undertsanding of the creation of the Universe. Meaning the chances of him being right or wrong are equal or anybody else who believes different.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • AmazingSteve

      Oh stow it.

      Stephen Hawking has seen and understood more wonder in his life – with or without his disease – than almost any other living person, and certainly more than any of the people on this forum (myself included). Try actually listening to what he's saying: "I'm not afraid of death, but I'm in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first." Those aren't the words of someone who needs your pity, those are the words of an inspiration and a hero who loves his life.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:43 pm |
  20. AmericansBelieveInMoney

    Believing in God and Heaven is a lot better than worshiping a piece of green paper like most Americans do. Truth is most Americans worship a dollar bill as if it were a God, namely the so called atheists.

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

      I think the religion you are referring to is capitalism.

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

      Really? What atheists are you referring to?

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

      I would have to disagree. Most of the greed comes from republicans who for the most part are the believers. The democrats are the ones fighting to have God removed the the pledge and from money and also want a redistribution of wealth.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
    • Belief is Cancer

      Most of the people whom worship money happen to be Christian. Perhaps you should try doing your homework, your statement is possibly the most ignorant and bigoted thing I've ever read.

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

      Not true. Most of us worship the twenty now, and the lucky ones worship the hundred. Worshiping the dollar bill is so 1970s.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • Christian Chapman (It is just a name)

      I agree that most American's worship the Dollar, but I would argue that non-believers are less likely to do so than most Christians.

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

      I have to agree with all replies. You, sir, are delusional if you think greed is coming from atheists.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • JP0

      BS

      May 17, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • J8m

      Can you back up your implication that atheists are more attached to money than religious people with any kind of facts? Your argument as it stands comes across as really childish and narrow-minded. Also, why would you say "so-called" atheists? Do you think they're only pretending to be atheists?

      May 17, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
    • Barnacle Bill

      Thanks for telling me what I believe in.

      I can rest easily now.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • Aaron

      No need for either really, you could just as easily worship nothing at all.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
    • MuleHead

      Just like the Peter Popoff's, Jimmy Swaggarts, Ted Haggarts, LDS'ers, JW's, Popes, Imams, .....and on,.....and on....and on....you think they preach for the 'glory of god'? Give me a break...

      May 17, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • Tevii

      Wow, how many rich greedy business men are right winged republican Christians......was that comment based on ignorance or what ?

      May 18, 2011 at 12:10 am |
    • JohnR

      Capitalists don't worship money any more than the average $10 per silly movie liberal Hollywood star does. That absurdity aside, to say that atheists typically worship money is ridiculous. How many atheists millionaires have you seen on TV begging for donations?

      May 18, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • JohnR

      Whoops! That was supposed to be "$10 million dollar per silly movie"!!!!!!!

      May 18, 2011 at 11:53 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.