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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. J8m

    There's such a disconnect between atheists and christians. As an atheist, what I receive from christians basically boils down to "just open your mind and believe, and then you can be saved, too". I've had that message given to me kindly, and I've had it given to me hatefully. I don't have a problem with the message itself, and I don't have any problem with religious folks being religious.

    BUT, if you're a christian, think of it this way...

    If I came to you and said "hey! Santa Claus actually WAS real", what would your reaction be? You KNOW he's not real, it's not like you're on the fence or undecided. There's no doubt in your mind. I could beg you, scream at you, and shout that Santa is real until I'm blue in the face, but it's not going to chage your mind, because you KNOW he's not real.

    It's the same way for atheists and "god". I *know* he's not real, so no amount of persuasion is going to make me suddenly change my mind, especially if no proof can be provided. At best I'm going to smile and nod, because I respect you as a person and you're free to believe what you want, but I'm not going to suddenly start believing.

    I'm not evil, I don't eat babies, I'm not trying to ruin the world – I'm just like you, except that I don't believe in "Santa".

    May 17, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  2. LouAZ

    Since you do not understand that 1+2=3, how could someone like Hawking convince you that 3=3 ?

    May 17, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  3. Denis

    Genius

    May 17, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  4. Woody

    What if this was all just a computer glitch and none of this is what Hawking really meant to say? I mean, the computer talks for him since he can't. Maybe Skynet took over the computer that talks for him! Then what would everyone argue about?

    May 17, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  5. Vulpes

    Wow. State that there is no heaven and get attacked by the "Un-Intelligentsia" en masse. If he chooses to believe there is no heaven then that should be okay with everyone since that is his opinion as reasoned as it is.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
  6. Aztrazolo

    Regardless of what your religious beliefs are, the claim that there is no heaven is not quantifiable. So it doesn't mean any more coming from him than it would coming from Lindsey Lohan.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • Vulpes

      Except that Hawking has reason and data to attempt to suppose his conclusion. Additionally, the point is missed by many here that he is saying that, given the data, a deity is not necessary for the universe to exist and behave the way it does. So, in fact, it does mean a good bit more than the likes of Lindsey Lohan.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • David Johnson

      @Aztrazolo

      You said: "Regardless of what your religious beliefs are, the claim that there is no heaven is not quantifiable. So it doesn't mean any more coming from him than it would coming from Lindsey Lohan."

      Quantifiable referes to "how many". You meant provable.

      It isn't Hawking's burden to prove there is no heaven or god or monsters beneath you bed.

      I also say that heaven and Santa and his elves are a fantasy, as is the Easter Bunny. If I must prove extraordinary things do not exist, then much of my time will be spent in this activity. You could run me ragged. Instead, it is the burden of the person making the extraordinary claim, to supply evidence that what they are claiming, indeed exists. If the evidence cannot be produced or is insufficient, I am free to discount your claim.

      Extraordinary claims, require extraordinary evidence. – Carl Sagan

      Scientists like Hawking tell us:
      God has no place in any scientific equations, plays no role in any scientific explanations, cannot be used to predict any events, does not describe anything or force that has yet been detected, and there are no models of the universe in which a god's presence is either required, productive, or useful.

      I don't think Lyndsey would be a credible witness to scientific findings.

      Science often asks things such as: "If such and such is true, what would I expect to see?" If what is expected is not seen, then the hypothesis is deemed incorrect.
      There is no evidence for an immaterial mind (soul) existing outside our bodies. Our material brains contain all that we are. When we die, we simply don't exist anymore. If our mind did exist outside our physical bodies, then why would injury or disease to our brain, affect our thinking? How could it? If there is no soul, then what is the purpose of heaven?

      God used to fill lots of gaps in man's knowledge. He fills fewer and fewer each passing day. Science marches on, right over the god(s). LOL

      God does not exist, as far as science can tell. This isn't absolute. It does not deny for all time any possible existence of god. But this is true of Santa and the fairies living in my left shoe. It means that as of now, god and Santa and my fairies are put in the myth column.

      Cheers!

      May 17, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
  7. maude

    I have absolute proof that there is a god. The all devine will rapture your sorry a*s soon.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
  8. Reality

    There should be nothing. Think about that. Nothing should exist ever. Even something from nothing should be impossible, but yet here it is. That is beyond human capability to understand. Don't care how you paint it, with either religion or science, nothing should be here and we aren't gonna figure out why that is. Even Hawking should know that energy cannot be destroyed, only changed in form. Thought is energy. When we die, that energy just changes form.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • JThomas2121

      I just posted that exact same concept. Thank you.

      Hawking claims that the universe has the ability to create something from nothing. If he honestly believes that, then ALL scientific theory goes out the window. Energy is the one true constant (as far as we understand to this point in time). Where did all of the energy come from, or the noble gases? According to Hawking now, it all came from nothing. No, it didn't.

      Sorry Hawking, you're wrong about that and using scientific principles, if A = B, and B = C, then A MUST equal C. If Hawking KNOWS that God doesn't exist, and he KNOWS that the universe came from nothing, since he's wrong about the latter, he must also be wrong about the former. Okay, okay, I know it's not the same, but it makes a point.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • Vulpes

      @JThomas2121: "he must also be wrong about the former. Okay, okay, I know it's not the same, but it makes a point." You right about it no being the same. You should also mention your statement is a logical fallacy. There are some advance concepts in physics that might help your understanding about what Hawking is saying.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • Vulpes

      Sorry about the grammar mistakes *sigh*

      May 17, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
  9. John Richardson

    Sincerely, what proof does Mr. Hawking have that there is no God other than his opinion?

    May 17, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • JesusCrust

      What proof do YOU have that there IS one?

      May 17, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
  10. anon

    ITT: People who are afraid of the dark.

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

    I seriously pray for Stephen to one day find the truth and know that God is real and Jesus died for him too.

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

      I pray that he will find the one true god: The Flying Spaghetti Monster.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • Madtown

      Tina,
      What's "the truth", and how do you know it's true?

      May 17, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
    • HoMan

      I'm sorry all you Jesus freaks but his story is merley the retelling of the true savior – Mithris.

      Come rapture only the true believers (all one hundred and six of us) will be teleporting to heaven while you duped christians will be differentiated from the out-and-out heathens but the dumbfounded look on your faces.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
    • Daniel

      Tina – You have the right to believe what you want, but the truth is that man invented god...... and for many reasons. Man invented god as a way to explain the un-explainable. Man invented god to control other men. It's nice to think that when you die, you go to a better place, but it's simply a way for man so avoid the fear of death. It's a nice fairy-tale, but totally unfounded.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:32 pm |
  12. Bob

    WHICH god doesn't exist?

    May 17, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
  13. Matthew McGill

    While camping last weekend I took note of some beautiful black butterflies and wondered how anyone could attribute their existence to anything other than our Lord's desire to entertain us. It is sad that anger and rebellion so often lead people to try and disprove the existence of a Higher Power.

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

      We should call this the "black butterfly" argument. Just goes to show, there are nutjobs on both sides.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • sardukar

      that make perfect sense...do you know that there is this black spider they call it Black Widow....I was wondering if this was also created for somebodies amusement..may be you can explain.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:09 pm |
    • Adam

      Why should I try to disprove something that has never been proved in the first place?

      May 17, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
  14. xray

    well, easy for him to say...

    ok i apologize in advance

    May 17, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
  15. missmye

    Wow! I am hundred percent impressed. This is one of the first times I have read an article that majority of the commentators disagree and do so respectful clearly stating their reasons for disagreeing. It is also gratifying to see that those who don't agree aren't up in arms about the illusions of a heaven and an almighty God.

    In my view heaven exists, God exists and while Stephen Hawking can exercise his free speech and think I find it so strange that he spends so much time trying to disprove 'what he believes does not exist'. No one would spend time pondering, writing, theorizing on aspects of life that should be irrelevant to them. A simple analogy can be taken from self help books which usually advocate ignoring what society thinks/says because they are not relevant. Conversely those who try to please society show that they actually care about it and what it thinks of them.

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

      When the religious try to impose their beliefs on others by attempting to change legislation and education standards, then it DOES become relevant to non-believers.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
  16. Jackal21

    Hawking is dead wrong. The thereom proves it. Read it!!!!

    May 17, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
  17. Andre Lucha

    I've read Hawking's book The Grand Design. In it he talks much more than just about our universe. He covers widely accepted M Theory and String Theory to attempt to explain how our universe was created. He uses reference to science, Newtonian Laws, quantum physics and mathematics. Here are the basics:
    1. There are almost an infinite number of parallel worlds within our universe which we cannot perceive
    2. There are almost an infinite number of parallel universes many of which have different laws of physics
    3. There are 10-11 dimensions of which we can only see 3
    4. Our universe expands
    5. Our universe used to be extremely small, wherein Quantum physics is applicable
    6. In Quantum physics tiny particles are created out of nothing (its a known, observable fact)
    7. After expanding, our universe will start shrinking again into a tiny particle

    All of these theories and observations are based on concrete scientific conclusions and mathematical deductions. Yes, we are important in our own way and we actually affect the universe with our observations. However, there are TRILLIONS OF TRILLIONS of other planets, galaxies, parallel words and parallel universes.

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

      Andre,
      Where did the volume of space, the "box" if you will, come from where our universe spontaneously created itself within?

      May 17, 2011 at 4:00 pm |
    • JThomas2121

      But they are still theories. You're talking about fragments of scientific data trying to explain massive theories. It's akin to interviewing people who had near-death experiences, all the same, all from all over the world, then determining that there is, indeed, life after death. You can't have it one way then deny it going the other way. Scientific principles don't work that way.

      If you want concessions that the Big Bang happened (which is only postulated theory supported by fragments of data indicating the universe is expanding ...) then you need to concede that there is the possibility of life after death due to all of the reported NDEs.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
    • Joe D.

      You do realize that almost everything you've outlined here takes just as much faith to believe as believing there is a God or a heaven? If things are imperceptible to us, how do we know they are there? If we can only see three dimensions, how can we be sure there are 10-11? You state that these findings were discovered using "concrete scientific conclusions and mathematical deductions," but under Hawkings' logic, things like parallel universes and multiple dimensions cannot exist because we cannot perceive them.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • stephen

      All he's done however is re-write Einstein's General Relativity equation. The problem though is that Einstein's rule has been debunked by the likes of Arthur Eddington (1919), Alexander Freemann (1922), and Willem de Siter (1927). Einstein's main problem with General Relativity is that it was loaded with presuppositions. Presuppositions that presumed that the universe had no beginning which he later wrote about his discovery as "irritating." Hence his meeting with Edwin Hubble in 1929 that showed red shifts which confirmed that the universe had a beginning and was not some sort of cosmological constant. Einstein said that he wanted, "to know how God created the world. I am not interested in this or that phenomenon, in that spectrum of this or that element, I want to know His thought, the rest are details."

      May 17, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • Andre Lucha

      stephen, Hawkings talks about all of this in his book in great detail. You can read it for yourself. Einstein did NOT believe in God...just google him and objectively look for that information.

      JThomas2121, yes these are theories. They are not however based on "fragments of data" but on gigantic volumes of it. In any case, are you seriously comparing NDEs to Quantum and Newtonian physics??

      All i know is that Hawkings and the scientific community that he presents make sense. I can choose to believe in Jesus or Prophetic Credence of Muhammad or Snake God Buba of the Mochetu Tribe, but I don't, because it doesn't make SENSE when I analyze it in detail. I choose to believe in what makes sense because I have the ability to do so. You can believe in whatever you want if it makes you feel good. You can leave scientists to conclude what they observe and study. Perhaps, you are right and a God exists...maybe one day we'll arrive to that. I guess we want to do it through hard work and observation...not just blind acceptance or just due to a principle of "we are here so somebody made us".

      May 17, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
  18. Matt

    Does anyone know what happens after death? Is there anything after death? No one knows. Some people pretend to know. Some people are so filled with self righteousness/fear that they lash out at anyone who suggests there is nothing. At least we can take satisfaction in the fact that no other person, be them humble or arrogant, smart or foolish, can really know until they are dead and gone. It is something we'll all have to find out for ourselves!

    May 17, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  19. cosmicone

    What is the reason there is no heaven? Wouldn't powerful minds create such a place if they had a chance? Aren't we working with all our might to increase our power through science? If a mind was powerful enough, wouldn't a place like this exist already even if we couldn't see it? Wasn't a jet plane or a moon rocket once a fairy tale?

    May 17, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
  20. hingedlwnb

    I hope to God he's right.

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

      Steven Hawking IS GOD!!

      May 17, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • Axel

      Tooth fairy, Santa Claus, God... believe in as many or as few as you wish... In my view you get those 3 changes to figure it out before you blink out. Religion is the power of man over man where no legitimate basis for that power otherwise exists – how else do you explain so many killing and dying for the the "beliefs" of others who lead them to such actions?

      Having said that, believe what you will if it makes you happy.,,

      May 17, 2011 at 4:09 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.