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. Madge Gibson

    First of all, I can't imagine why anyone would be interested in what Stephen Hawking thinks about Heaven. All a believer can do is tell people about Jesus – they can't force anyone to believe. It's Mr. Hawking's loss. Poor, poor man. I feel sorry for someone that has nothing to say except something like this. Perhaps he is bitter because of his physical condition. That can do it!!! Especially if you have no faith.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
  2. Anna

    Heaven is 'a fairy story,' scientist Stephen Hawking says..." How does he know?

    May 17, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
  3. Pauli

    I believe Jesus, Mohammed,etc. never gravitated towards the intellectual elites precisely because of their overly humanistic perspectives and their convictions that they knew far more about man's existence than the humble "simpletons" that make up the rest of society. By Hawkings declaration, I certainly can see why.

    I'm philosophical about God's existence. If he/she doesn't exist, then I won't know or care when I die because time and consciousness will cease to exist for me. I won't even know I'm dead. On the other hand, if he/she does exist, which I'm convinced he/she does (consider the exquisite mathematical formulas that help to explain the order of the universe – suggesting a higher level of intelligence in its design, or look into a new born's face), the last thing I want to do is go around telling everyone my brain is a computer and there is no such thing as Santa Klaus. I'm pretty sure He/She wouldn't take too kindly to my opinion and I'd wind up getting a big kick in the spiritual a*s for it. So, I'll play it safe and believe.

    One other thing I'd ask you all to consider – the law of thermodynamics. I'm no physicist, but I believe the law plainly states that energy is indestructible. Since our brians function by way of bioelectrical impulses, it is undisputible that our consciousness is made up of energy (read spirit). So, by extension, we live on in some form after our phyiscial bodies die.

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

      You have proven one thing, you are no physicist.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
  4. Cube Farmer

    What a creepy little man... I tend to avoid people who claim to have all the answers. In the end there will be a group of people who are right and whole bunch of folks who are poop out of luck. I hope I am with the group who made the right choices.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
  5. Steve O

    George Carlin said it best:

    "When it comes to BS, big-time, major league BS, you have to stand in awe of the all-time champion of false promises and exaggerated claims, religion. No contest. No contest. Religion! Religion easily has the greatest BS story ever told. Think about it. Religion has actually convinced people that there's an invisible man living in the sky who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do. And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever 'til the end of time!

    But He loves you. He loves you, and He needs money! He always needs money! He's all-powerful, all-perfect, all-knowing, and all-wise, somehow just can't handle money! Religion takes in billions of dollars, they pay no taxes, and they always need a little more. Now, you talk about a good BS story. Holy S***!"

    May 17, 2011 at 3:41 pm |
  6. Anne Chovey

    the bible
    written by man
    edited by man
    proclaimed to be the word of god....by man

    May 17, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
  7. G Smith

    Stephen Hawking is indeed brilliant ....BUT

    There are three simple facts that he cannot refute which bring his claim of "no heaven" into question:
    (1) Like all of us...Stephen Hawking doesn't know...what he doesn't know.
    (2) Like all of us.....Stephen Hawking has not yet died therefore his claim of "no heaven" is somewhat a theory.
    (3) And Not like most of us...Mr. Hawking has not put forth a "proven" Final Theory or the Theory of Everything...the key word here...theory.

    Mr Hawking may be correct BUT he could also be wrong.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • Barnacle Bill

      "Like all of us.....Stephen Hawking has not yet died therefore his claim of "no heaven" is somewhat a theory."

      That is pure speculation. You have no idea who may have lived lives other than this one we have now. You have absolutely no empirical evidence that reincarnation is not the norm. As such, those of us with much higher than "normal" intellect might not just be "lucky". We might have previously earned that intellect.

      I find that to be much more plausible than your fairy tale.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • Orchal

      I don't think you meant what you said in the following statement:
      "And Not like most of us...Mr. Hawking has not put forth a "proven" Final Theory or the Theory of Everything..."

      ...so you're implying 'most of us' have put forth a proven/final theory of everything? Maybe you did mean it...no idea! If you did, 'most of us' best be contacting Dr. Hawking!

      May 17, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  8. Mike

    He's right.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
  9. Matt-N-Austin

    Definitely not going to be a heaven for that guy...

    May 17, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
  10. Jorge

    I do not find death to be such a desolate proposition under the assumed premise that there might be no heaven. Think of it, no judgement for the millions of people who live their lives without perpetrating major evils, yet would be sure to be found wanting by the God(s) of most religions. Not having to share eternity with those who, though equal to you in the most absolute sense, may have caused you great pain, frustration or vicissitude and who's memory you have determinedly tried to avoid in life. There is an age in which, given a choice between oblivion and continuing to carry the lifeburdens that have now become ungrateful, the elderly would take the oblivion. One must ask what there would be in heaven that would not become obligatory and burdensome too, given the nature of the human spirit and the way it is tattooed and carved by life experiences. If there is no heaven, then there is no hell, but there is surely an eternal end to those who gain from the suffering and want of others, that sounds good enough for me. Perhaps oblivion IS the most perfect expression of heaven.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
  11. crucified

    Hawkins doesn't believe in God, in his Books he does not preclude God as a possibility..chapter 1,2,3 theory of everything. He does however, believe in Aliens....funny! because little green men are so much more viable...

    May 17, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • Barnacle Bill

      With uncountable galaxies in the universe, the likelihood is more than assured that there exist other forms of life. The likelihood of some all powerful being standing in charge of it all is a really big stretch, to be kind. The probability that you are not very intelligent is high, very high. That's where I'm putting my money.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
  12. Mike B

    Poor little bitter, soulless man.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
  13. Madge Gibson

    First of all, I can't imagine why anyone would be interested in what Stephen Hawking thinks about Heaven. All a believer can do is tell people about Jesus – they can't force anyone to believe. It's Mr. Hawking's loss. Poor, poor man. I feel sorry for someone that has nothing to say except something like this. Perhaps he is bitter because of his physical condition. That can do it!!!

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

      You gotta admit that he has a pretty valid reason to be bitter, what with the way God jacked him all up.

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

      God has His reasons; it is not for man to judge them but to accept them and move forward as best he can. He will not give you more than you can handle. I can say this even after my 7 week old daughter died for no known reason. All of these inabilities/disabilities are given to us to see what we can do even though we are not fully capable in the way that most people are. Just remember, those of us that have all of our limbs, senses, functions, etc. still feel as if we could be better if...

      May 17, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • James

      If God won't give you more than you can handle, then why are there so many suicides? All of these trite little sayings are just meaningless nonsense and can easily be refuted, as I just showed.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
  14. Dave

    Stevens probably right guys. Everyone wishes there was a sweet afterlife, but something like that doesn't just happen on it's own like creation of the universe does. No one said we couldn't make one.. Space ships and planes started out as fantasy and now no one wishes they could fly.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
  15. Tom Frary

    Re: scientist Steven Hawking. "Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you seems to be wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, "He catches the wise in their own craftiness", and again, "The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile." 1 Corinthians 3:18-20. What an unfortunate waste of what could have been a great mind had it been given to God. There's still time Mr. Hawking. "while it is said: "Today, if you will hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion." "And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief." Hebrews 3:15,18,&19.

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

      Tom, I would like for you to believe absolutely that there is another planet in the universe that could support life. if you do, I will give you a great reward. if you don't, I will punish you eternally. Ok, start now.

      So, how did you do? Were you able to MAKE yourself belive? Of course you weren't. You can't MAKE yourself believe anything. Belief comes naturally from experience. It's not manufactured at will. But your God only rewards those who believe that he exists and that Jesus was his son. A criteria, I might add, that has been amended from its original form. What kind fo criteria is "belief" for rewarding people? How about good or bad? That would be more logical if God is good. Instead, his criteria seems rather arbitrary. Who wants an arbitrary God? Heck, he might just change his mind and write a whole new rulebook at the last minute, maybe call it the New Testament, and then only people who are left handed are allowed in heaven. Try believing in something that makes sense.

      FYI – If an all powerful and all knowing God created us all the way we are for a reason, why did he create so many of us to be good people but not with the ability to believe in him? What was the reason? Also, free will cannot exist if there is even one all knowing being in existence. If someone knows every action you will take before you're even born, then your entire life is predestined and you have no true free will. Therefore, your God cannot exist because he claims we have freewill yet has caused our every action to be predetermined. It's all just so illogical, the only thing that makes sense is that "faith" is a required component.

      "Faith" – the ability to believe in something you know is unlikely to be true. So if faith is required for you to believe in your God, then you are admitting that it is unlikely that he exists. Yet you want us to spontaneously believe in something you inadvertanly admit is unlikely to be true. What a foolish design.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
  16. James

    God has existed since before the beginning of time. But how can you have a BEFORE occur BEFORE time existed since it's referring to time? Before and after are linear elements of time. So before time, there cannot have been a before. God has always existed. But how could any sentient being exist without time? If one thought comes after the next, then time exists. If one thing occurs after another, then time exists. Even suggesting that time is a created phenomenon would mean that God simply existed for no period of time and had an infinite amount of thoughts and actions all occurring at, wait for it, the same TIME.

    I'm afraid the bible and it's changing rules are a bit too arbitrary for me. God may exist, just not the God of the bible. After all, he's described as perfect yet look how many mistakes he has made.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
    • Tom Frary

      The mistake is on your part. Your not understanding. Spiritual things are spiritually discerned. The things of God are hidden from those that are lost. Jesus is there. Waiting. Let Him in and you'll understand.

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

      Let him in how? If there is a being who can reward me with a fantastic and eternal afterlife, he is most welcome in. Nope, don't hear him knocking. Guess he's busy writing the New New Testament and can't be bothered right now.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • Mindy

      Sometimes the knocking isn't heard because the person isn't really listening (even though he says he is). Having faith means believeing without having to 'see' Him. Opening your heart means to be open to these truths without proof, just acceptance.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:06 pm |
    • belief

      If you read the Bible you would know it is not God that made the errors it is man. How can you speak on something you have not read.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:13 pm |
  17. Ranterdon

    It seems very clear to me that the existence of God cannot be proven without a doubt either way.

    Hawking is using his "scientific pulpit" to present his opinion seemingly as a fact but it is ONLY his opinion and I see exactly zero attempt at real scientific method to prove otherwise.

    My experience has taught me that life is incredibly strange...the immense improbability of us being here at all (I mean really who actually turned on the lights in the first place) leaves me open to the possibility of the unlikely or improbable.

    Someone like Hawking whos body is clearly breaking down can look at things two ways...It's a (god given) miracle he's alive at all or life really stinks and why would any god do this to someone deliberately. Obvious to me which road he is on...

    May 17, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
  18. carloman

    This is the most fundamental truth: The person that puts forth an idea must first provide factual proof, not interpretation or professions of "belief;" moreover, it is not up to those that doubt the offered idea to prove it, it is up to the one offering up the posited idea to prove it. By "proof" it is meant tangible facts, testable evidence, replicable evidence. Anything else is just talk and speculation. Belief is a poor way to verify the truth or existence of anything, god or gods included.

    May 17, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
  19. Benjamin

    As an agnostic, it sounds like Mr. Hawking is making a similar leap of faith in saying there is no god/afterlife as religious people who say there is…

    And as a lamen I would like to ask… with gravity, Einstein's not Newtons, the concept is that mass bends space, so instead of being pulled around the sun we are falling around the sun.

    But if gravity as a force is predicated upon the existence of matter… what created the matter that causes gravity?

    Again I am a layman in the world of science and physics, I was a history major, so I apologize if this question is dumb.

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

      Benjamin, there is no such thing as an empty space. Matter cannot be destroyed or created from nothing, at can only be transformed from one place to the other. The same thing with God, since He live in eternity. The difference between you and God is that, God control the Universe. God does exist and can prove to you that he lives....just ask the Mormons.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:45 pm |
    • Carole Clarke

      History major here too. Motion had to begin somewhere, perhaps caused by gravity but who did create those things? If the universe has always been there then why any action at all? I believe in the God who handed down the commandments – perhaps we are his morality play, his TV sitcom, his amusement park – something to keep him from being bored by monotony. Not just one Big Bang, but billions of trillions before us and the same after us, non-stop entertainment for the Almighty. Works for me!

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

      @Benjamin...I have to agree with you on the point of gravity. Where did it come from? If matter didn't exist in the form of planets and stars and the, because of gravity (or whatever) suddenly the planets and stars do exist, where did gravity come from? It is like the egg or the chicken...which came first?

      May 17, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
  20. IamGod

    It's silly of him to declare this with some kind of finality, as his knowledge is limited as to the depth of complexity of our existence. We believe in God and Heaven for many reasons, regardless of whether some think they are flawed or believable. We don't need some people telling others what to believe... enjoy your life and enjoy your faith; live and let live.

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

      No discussion of religion should omit discussion of the concepts of perception. There is no evidence one way or another for anyone to believe anything. It is also a pointless discussion. Live within the universe that you can see, deal with "death" when it comes.

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

      "We don't need some people telling others what to believe" Except that is exactly what religion does on a daily basis to those who don't agree with their belief. It's in our schools, our gov, our courts, every moment of our lives. If you and everyone else truly believed this there would actually be a separation of church and state.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:49 pm |
    • stejo

      Typical – Did you notice the quote starts "I regard..."? That is the same as "In my opinion...". He's not stating it as a fact, but how he regards the matter.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:52 pm |
    • kurtinco

      You so-called "believers" are weak minded fools who more often than not use your gods to explain what you cannot otherwise grasp or to justify your actions even when they fly in the face of human decency. Need proof that your gods are imaginary? Ask 10 different people what does god wants of us and you'll get 10 different answers. My god wants me to wear blue because it brings out my eyes. Oh yeah, my god also wants me to kill you if you don’t believe in him. And every 10 years, by the light of the full moon, my gods wants us to read scriptures, dance barefooted, and eat the flesh of the first child born to my tribe that year. Your god just wants you to believe in Adam and Eve or worship the jacked up words of the “profit” Mohammed, or of Abraham. Common, give me a gd break.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
    • Alyssa

      @kurtinco – it's "prophet", not "profit". Profit is what you get when your revenue exceeds your costs.

      May 18, 2011 at 4:03 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.