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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. puzzled

    Can he afford to be wrong on this one?

    May 17, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
  2. questionauthority

    CNN trying to get a rise out of its readers

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

      CNN is the voice of god?

      May 17, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
  3. Matt R

    ***Spontaneous creation is the reason why there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist,"***

    I can understand an atheist citing the lack of proof for God as a reason for disbelief, but I can say this: I have never, ever, ever seen or heard of matter being spontaneously created out of nothing and I don't know anyone who has. Given that we've never observed it, why should we believe what Hawking says is true?

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

      Great point!!!

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

      Well if you never ever heard of it, then it must not be true, ever, never, ever, ever!

      May 17, 2011 at 4:05 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 alot of intelligent people here can believe that EVERYTHING spontaneously came from NOTHING yet they 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 4:13 pm |
    • DanW

      So God was spontaneously created out of nothing, but the universe couldn't have been? Or God has always been, but the universe couldn't have always been? We are only at the beginning of our understanding, or even theorizing, about how the universe came to be. The scientists are always looking for answers. The religious believers stop their search when they arrive at God. That may be OK for them, but it doesn't answer many questions in a practical, useful, productive sense.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:18 pm |
    • DanW

      Greg, you are assuming that nothing existed before the big bang. What if something else existed earlier, and the big bang was the end of the previous universe and the beginning of the current universe. What if this cycle goes on forever? Perhaps given the nature of the big bang it would never be possible for us in this universe to know anything about a previous universe, but that doesn't mean nothing existed there. So take your pick, eternal God creates universe, earlier universe creates current universe. Or any other explanation that might possibly be true but can't be proven. Nothing will be true just because you believe it to be so, no matter how much you want it to be true or how much it gives you comfort.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:26 pm |
  4. JoeS

    God live in eternity and is the absolute control of this Universe we are living in. Mr. Hawking is nothing for He only been living here just few decades. I read his article and He is not a good scientist for a lot of his scientist friends never believe on theory. Matter cannot be destroyed or created from nothing, the same thing with the existence of God. I know that God lives for I have a personal Testimony of him.

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

      It's not his article. Read his actual books.

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

      I have personal testimony of Santa Claus, do you believe in him?

      May 17, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  5. name

    If you argue that existence of the universe requires creation, and therefore god created the universe, then god exists and must have been created, which makes god not really god. If you argue that god simply exists, and was not created, then things can exist without being created and there is no need for god to explain the existence of the universe.

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

      Very true.

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

      Succinctly put.....I agree

      May 17, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • Matt R

      Not quite. The universe and everything in it (nature) seems to have required creation, unless we can accept that it sprang into existence on its own from nothing. God is supernatural (outside of nature) and the existence of God does not necessarily demand that He have been created.

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

      @ Matt R, does the R stand for retarded?

      May 17, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  6. Sackopoop

    Everyone above below this line is jelly

    ---–

    May 17, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
  7. Norcalgal

    I guess he'll find out....REAL soon, huh?

    May 17, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  8. citizenUSA

    If there is a god, I have a lot of complaints to go over.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
  9. Trav

    Regardless of beliefs, and I'm not saying he's right or wrong, but Stephen Hawking seems to have become bitter the last few years, and not just on the topic of religion.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  10. Jay

    The obvious answer to anything we don't know is always: "Some man in the sky did it". That's just common sense... Unless it's something we don't like, then the devil probably did it.

    That's why there has been such groundbreaking research in the "evil spirits" theory of disease recently.

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

      Obama did it, it's his fault.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
  11. dave b

    Mr Hawking may not believe in a god or heaven but i don't believe in the "big bang".

    May 17, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • Matt R

      Why wouldn't you believe in the big bang? It's a very sensible theory, even to most creationists.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • Shamrock6

      What existed before the big bang? How did it come to pass? Why did it come to pass? Why didn't it just stay like it was before?

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

      I believe in the big bang, and the gang bang, and the Harvey Wallbanger, and bangers and mash, I also believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster!

      May 17, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • stejo

      Sham, the most interesting theories around that get into the whole multiverse thing and membrane, or 'brane theory. 2 'branes touch an blam – a new universe is created with a really big bang. And where did the multiverse come from? Maybe it's always been. Kinda like God, no?

      May 17, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
  12. Tom

    Whoever said that 'Heaven' must be a place that our souls go and reside after our physical body is dead? I believe that the 'Hereafter' is so far beyond anybody's comprehension that no mere mortal person is even conceivablly capable of understanding the concept let alone what God may or may not be.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • Shamrock6

      Exactly. Asking anyone...even Hawking to understand how the universe truly works, how it was truly created and how are lives are created and the purpose behind it is like asking a two year old to fly an F-18. It's dumb and it won't work....every time.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
  13. Paul

    When was Hawking ordained to be the only one to fathom all the mysteries of creation? Its easy to explain away the existance of the Spirit of God when you have consciously chosen not to receive Him and never known His beauty. Seems that a complete, thorough and unbiased investigation is lacking. Very sad but not insurmountable. Think about it.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
    • Denizen Kate

      Hawking never claims to be the only authority on the mysteries of the universe. He's stating his opinion, and since Hawking can do little besides think, I'm willing to bet that opinion is well-considered.

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

      So am I "lacking" because I believe differently than you? Sounds a bit xenophobic don't you think? Will you please drop bombs on my village because I am lacking the Spirit of God? And depleted uranium has been known to show people god, by blasting them to kingdom-come...

      May 17, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
  14. bobbydoobie

    The world would be a better place without religions.

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

      That is pretty much what it boils down to.

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

      You mean there would be other idiots to joke about?

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

      Actually, it is statistically proven that periods of time which were most removed from religion or religious beliefs had the most murders, suicide, genocide, etc. So, statistically speaking, the world is a dark and scary place without a system of religious beliefs. A good book to read on these matters is the Devil's Delusion.

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

      @ThinKer... What are you talking about? Statistically proven by whom, and during what time period? When have we ever been removed from religion? Please provide links, footnotes or something, I am dying to read these stats and discover their source, please enlighten me, I am only a medical professional so I do not know very much...

      May 17, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  15. Chad

    Physics does not exist either. It's just a way that our human minds measures how physical reality behaves (some of us, like Hawking, do this better than others, but either way, it's just all in our heads, or if we write it down, it becomes an abstraction on paper. Physical reality goes on doing what it's doing, whether we measure it or talk about it. Hmmm... maybe things we measure or anticipate in our minds do have relevance, or existence, even if the only place they exist are within the landscape of our grey matter. Heaven doesn't exist? I have it in mind!

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

      Your closing parenthesis does not exist in this universe? So, if you cut off your pinky with a meat clever it's all in your mind?

      May 17, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
  16. Shamrock6

    Study some of the ancient mystic schools of thought. The Rosicrucians for example. There are people that have a better understanding of how life and the universe works and operates and it really has NOTHING to do with organized religion. Did an intelligence create all of this....yes. Is there a 'life' after death....yes. Does any of it have to do with the Bible etc......No. Organized religion is a tool of governments to seize and wield power nothing more. Despite this....there is a truth to the universe which eludes a lot of people. Believe what you want.....still doesn't change it. In fact, that't the purpose of this whole thing. It might take you ten or twelve lifetimes to figure it out. Whatever.

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

      I was a bowl of pasta in a past life?

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

      Don't the Rosicrucians advertise in magazines? And you think they aren't organized? So the Rosicrucians have mystic books that have the truth and believe the Bible isn't true. The Christians have a mystic book, the Bible, and believe the Rosicrucians books aren't true. How about the Scientologists? Islamists? Buddhists? etc. etc. Don't you get the picture???

      May 17, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
  17. adron

    I thought this guy was to suppose to be smart. How can he claim to know something that no one can possibly know, and can’t prove with research? It’s just bad science.

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

      and you can prove God's existence how?

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

      Can you disprove the existence of the Flying Spaghetti Monster?

      May 17, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
    • Denizen Kate

      Adron, read the article again. Go ahead, it's short, I'll wait . . . okay, did you get it this time? The bit about the existence of gravity? Good science, bad reading comprehension.

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

      You can't prove the non-existence of anything. With your logic, I can say unicorns are real, and it would be true. You cannot disprove unicorns, so they must be real!

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

      I believe the point is that anyone can come up with any number of claims that can neither be proven nor disproven. Just because one of these claims gives you comfort doesn't give you a good reason to accept it as fact. Nor should it discourage you from pursuing evidence to support the claims that you wish to believe. Hawking is a man who looks for reasons why things are the way they are. I get the idea from some of these comments that there are those that think that Hawking, looking for explanations that don't involve God, is doing something wrong. If we explained everything we don't understand by saying that God did it we won't progress very much. Your child is sick. If it's the will of God, wouldn't it defy his rule to give the kid a dose of penicillin? But the most amazing thing to me is that there are people who think that the universe is too complicated to exist without having been created, and yet accept that there is a God who exists without having been created, and yet who is more complicated than the universe!

      May 17, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
    • JohnR

      @Corey You can prove the non-existence of some things, eg the largest prime number

      May 18, 2011 at 12:03 pm |
  18. RC

    I take comfort in knowing that there is indeed an afterlife and there is more than just this...20 minutes after my brother died in a car accident 1500 miles away, my 2.5 year old asked me who was standing next to me in our kitchen – it was just my son and me so I thought – believe what you will but I know my son saw my brother's spirit in our kitchen that day.

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

      >_>

      May 17, 2011 at 3:38 pm |
    • Schniggy VonFlugen

      Indeed. Those of us who know.....1000% for sure cannot possibly explain it to those who have doubts. Something has to happen to you...as it did with me. Up until that point, I had doubts.

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

      Your kid sees dead people?

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

      I hope your are right, but far fewer people will roll their eyes at you if you'd simply stay away from the word "know", when discussing these issues. Despite your life experiences, YOU DON'T KNOW what's in store for us(if anything) after we leave this realm. No one does.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:42 pm |
    • Goose66

      Your comment is perfectly a propos. You are 1000% sure there is a God, while a man of science would only be 100% sure there isn't.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  19. JW

    All scientists have difficulty in accepting anything they cannot see, or touch or measure. It is their nature. They cannot conceive of the spirit or soul because that does not compute. It is the old story of the scorpion crossing the river, why does he sting the animal carrying him? It is his nature. It is in others nature to believe in the spirit and eternal life, it requires faith-a gift that these people do not have. it is not right or wrong, just personal beliefs and to each his own. The enormity and complexity of the universe from the macro to the micro, galaxies to quarks is beyond our comprehension. The scientists cannot find a unified theory no matter how hard they try for the last 500 years – there is still mystery. So it is with those who believe in the spirit and infinity, no one can prove or disprove who is right, so let the world go on and just enjoy, we will all find out in the end if there is eternal life.

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

      So let's bomb each other in the name of something we can't prove or disprove.

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

      A couple things in response to your post. One is that science hasn't really been looking for a unified theory for 500 years. Another is that is not that science can't conceive of an after life, just that it requires actual evidence and not faith. Science is always willing to admit it's wrong about something – that's why they look for a unified theory, it's a search for what is true. Faith based beliefs don't afford such a luxury as admitting they are wrong, because they don't rely on evidence, but on human "feeling." And how can something as subjective as a "feeling" be wrong? It's up to you to decide what is more valid.

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

      500 years? The very idea of some grand unified theory wasn't really meaningful until Einstein's General Relativity in the early 1900s, so we've been working for roughly 80 years to get a coherent ToE (Theory of Everything) and we have a few candidates but testing said theories is, well, currently outside of our scope. But 500 years is a bit of a stretch, that's even before Newton.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
    • Andrew

      I should actually be careful with what I say... cause it was a bit imprecise. The grand unified theory (GUT) isn't actually relevant with GR, as the GUT is what we have to explain E&M, strong and weak forces. The "Theory of Everything" is different, and it includes gravity. I said "some grand unified theory" not really realising that it could cause confusion.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
  20. brad

    "Have we any right to assume that the Creator works by intellectual powers like those of man? " – Charles Darwin, Origin of Species

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

      Yes

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

      Do some homework. Darwin would not have been able to publish "On the Origin of Species" had he denied the existence of God. This sentence was added to assure his theory would be published, and his credibility wouldn't be attacked by Christians. (Kind of like Prof. Hawking's is being attacked today).

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

      What would the Flying Spaghetti Monster do?

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

      Regarding Brad's quotation of Charles Darwin: Darwin was a brilliant observer and scientist, but like all such people, he was not flawless: His question begged the question. Their is no reason for a person's default assumption to be that there IS a "creator," beyond nature itself.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:11 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.