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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. andy

    Thank god I'm an atheist.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
  2. Rod

    I don't have a heaven or hell to put Mr. Hawking in so I refuse to Judge him. I am a Christian and I love God and I live my faith and I believe God loves him also. I hope and pray God reveal himself to him before he leaves this earth. I know one fact is that we all have to die and we will find out who is telling the truth.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
    • Dan, TX

      Well said Rod. As a non-believer myself, I am glad some of us can talk like civilized people. Atheists are very much discriminated against in our society, and I hope that will change so that more of us can come out of the closet. We both share the belief that we should do unto others as we would have done unto us. That is a belief that transcends religion. We really should focus on the things that we share and not sweat the small things like whether someone believes in God or not.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
  3. @Jackal21

    YOU have no evidence. NONE of you have proof of "God's" existance... a made up fairy tale created by people who lived over 2,000 years ago as a way to explain the universe and apply a general set of laws...yeah, it was great for the time....i guess... but there is no place for religion in today's societies. You "christians" are nothing more than hypocritical sunday christians who go to church, put on a face for a few hours per week, then come home and BEAT YOUR CHILDREN because you say the bible says to use the "Rod"....Do I speak from experience? Yes absolutely I do. Is this why I am hostile toward "christians" yes exactly. I have not met one christian family that does not beat their children because the church says to do so.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
    • Jackal21

      Wow. I dont know what kind of family you grew up in, but that doesnt happen in any Christian household I know of. I pray for you, brother. You'll find out someday that God still has always loved you through all your back-turning on him.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • Eileen

      I attend a mainline Protestant, progressive church and I could introduce you to quite a few.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  4. Michod

    There is no heaven and there is no hell. Never has been and never will be. When you die....you die. Get use to it.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
  5. Jeff

    As a Bioethicist, I am often asked the complexties of both life, and God. Does a Doctor have the right to deny a patients wish to die, regardless of the condition? Does the Doctor have the right to tell a patient there is no God, when the patient is ready to meet their maker? Are people of vast intelligence and arrogance, now assume they are of a higher life form? Does a Surgeon have the power of life and death in his hands if they so choose? Think about this, as you are about to heave open heart surgery? The Surgeon at his or her own choosing can save you, or not save you? .

    May 17, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
    • Dan, TX

      Jeff, you don't sound like any bioethicist I've ever met. It really isn't clear what you are trying to say.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
  6. Enforcer55

    All religions require you believe in something. it doesn't matter if you have every seen what you believe in. Until and I say until someone can prove there is a heaven or hell I will still doubt as everyone else has a choice to. If you feel that you must believe in something then that's your choice, the same as my choice not to believe until I have physical proof. Remember all religious teachings are to control the masses. Without this control all the Muslim nations would revolt.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
  7. JohnCBarclow

    This is completely useless information. The money and time spent on "cosmology" research would be better spent on coming up with cures for diseases and ways to grow more food for starving people. This whole "let's use math to discredit religion" religion is a waste of time. Grow up and do something real.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • Dan, TX

      You are one of the few people in the world who are not fascinated by cosmology.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
  8. Tova

    Stephen Hawking is indeed a genius when it comes to physics. But I'm really getting tired of this. He has no evidence that their is no G-d. He never will. His work is indeed fascinating and shows some of the great mysteries of the universe with possible explainations (though string theory is a joke), but again, I don't see how he has disproven any religion, beyond Fundamentalist Christianity that insists evolution isn't real or that we live on a Young Earth. But I think that's a minority of religious individuals.
    Believe - or don't - want you wish. But please don't consistently degrade me for my own beliefs - fundamentalist atheism is just as annoying as fundamentalist Christianity/Islam/Judaism/Hinduism/whatever.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • Dan, TX

      He didn't say he proved God didn't exist. He just said he has faith that there is no God. Most people apparently are hard-wired to believe in their self-importance and if the God of the Universe is personally interested in you (as most religions suggest) then you are very important indeed. It feels good to know that God is watching your back, doesn't it?

      May 17, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
    • Jerry

      "He has no evidence that their is no G-d. He never will."

      Indeed. That's the point. God may be necessary in metaphysics, but not in physics.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
  9. Bibletruth

    Someone asked: Have you studied all other religious books in order to make that claim, or are you just assuming that?
    I am talking about truth, not assumption. No I have not "studied" any other religious books except the bible, but I have casually looked at several. The interesting thing is that you dont have to study any religous book (and by religous book I take that to mean the authoritative book of a particular religion, like the bible, koran, etc.) to get to the truth. Just ask a simple question (its a question that everyone would agree on that the question is the exact one to ask to get the truth) and by the answer (yes or no) given by the most knowledgeable/high positioned persons of that religion, you will eliminate every religion except Christianity.
    Now that you have the true book (bible), read it , study it, and you will find true Christianity, which is accepted by a minor number of masses that would put themselves under the Christian umbrella. And to find true Christianity is likewise quite easy by asking just a few questions (the first of which eliminates the vast majority of professing Christians/denominations).

    May 17, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
  10. Nurse Lisa

    god and science dot org has answers for atheists

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

      It has AN answer, and not a very convincing one. "God did it" is not an adequate explanation of things we do not understand.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
  11. Read Invictus

    Stephen Hawking should drink Ayahuasca, and tons of it.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
  12. freetime1

    The haters are coming out in droves. It's easy to see from many of the post here that christianity is just as intolerant as islam is with any one that does not agree with or follow their belief system. All the hate directed at a man who has expanded mans understanding of, well just about everything. Kind of sad if you ask me. He does not hate you for your beliefs, he has just stated that they are wrong. Get over it.

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

      No, he voiced his opinion. Hawking has belief in something other than God. This has nothing to do with people who view multiple religion. This is is personal belief on the lack of any higher Power. So in fact Mr. Hawking is attacking all religions.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • Sam

      @Jeff – so let me get this straight: voicing an opinion is an attack? Really?

      May 17, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • Bob Bichen, Auburn, IL

      Frankly, I'm impressed at how civil the debate is on this subject. The common (and I believe correct) theme is "no one really knows", including the very intelligent and gifted Mr. Hawking. To disagree with one's opinion and conclusions respectfully is not "hatin". My opinion, yours may differ.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
  13. bobby

    Hawking says in the book "The Grand Design" that given the existence of gravity, "the universe can and will create itself from nothing."

    And what causes gravity without mass?? I guess He will find out for certain, in the not to distant future.

    It seems that what we don't understand is either god or the big bang.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
  14. Unknown

    There's no way anyone can prove or disprove the existence of god. For the believers, there's absolutely no proof that god exists. Everything up to this point has been old stories and fairy tales. I bet most of you so called "believers" don't believe in memaids, santa claus and leprechauns. I suppose I can tell you that I have a green flying pig dancing in my living room and you will ask for proof before accepting this nonsense. Yet, you do believe so blindly when it comes to religion. For non-believers, absence of evidence is not evidence of absence! You can't prove scientifically that god doesn't exist. In fact, due to our limited understanding of the universe, and the fact that we only use a small portion of our brain, we might never fully comprehend what god really is. That leaves us with faith vs reason... make your choice.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
  15. The Spiritual Leader of the Pagans

    I have 127 gods. Just about everything I do on a regular basis has a specific god to pray to for that event. In this was we get more service than with one god who is busy with everyone's sh!t all at the same time. Greater efficiency. That is why we pagans still have so many miracles happen to us and you christians have not had any in hundreds of years.
    A bigger bang for your money donated.

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

    I personally do not understand belief in something that has not been scientifically proven to exist. But billions of people on the planet feel differently. If aliens landed, would you still believe in heaven? Will you go to human heaven or alien heaven? Are they separate?

    What do you say we stop worrying about belief, and start worrying about saving our planet? If every person devoted all efforts that we seem to throw at this pointless debate to enlighten someone else's mind, and focused on, let's see I dunno, a clean renewable source of energy!! Wouldn't that make this world a better place? One that will allow for our children to figure out whether or not there is an afterlife because we saved the atmosphere?

    One last idea... Most kids get the basic idea that heaven is in the sky, and hell is in the core of the Earth where it is already hot... But what if you were born in space on a station or vessel? Where would that innocent child's mind picture these places? I do not profess to know everything. There COULD be a God. And if there is, I'm sure I will be judged accordingly for my beliefs. But until then, I can only work with what I have. If a divine priest from a tribe came and told you to operate on your child this instant, or the voodoo gods will take his chi, would you do it? No, because you have no evidence that the voodoo gods exist, and no reason to believe your child is sick. Thesis: Human civilization has always tried to make sense of that which it does not understand. We are driven by emotions that cause us to sometimes do irrational things. Fear is the most powerful motivator.

    ter·ror·ism
       [ter-uh-riz-uhm]
    –noun
    1. The use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes.
    2. The state of fear and submission produced by terrorism or terrorization.
    3. A terroristic method of governing or of resisting a government.

    Any religious evangelist that tries to tell you that you will burn or suffer for not believing what they believe is by definition, a terrorist. They are using fear to convert you to their beliefs. Believe what you believe because your heart says it is right! I don't want you to believe my side. I simply want all humans to strive for a more peaceful, open-minded and truth-seeking world. Religion should remain in the home and wherever you choose to worship. If there was a bill to ban evangelism, I would vote yes. Let people discover spirituality on their own instead of cramming it down their throats.

    Now, bring on the scrutiny. Oh, and before someone calls me an idiot. I KNOW I'm an idiot. But I try to be a little less of an idiot every day and God forgives me for this. :p

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

      Very well thought out. I could not agree with you more.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • Bob Bichen, Auburn, IL

      I won't call you an idiot, but I do disagree with your use of the word terrorist in this context. Your definition does say "violence AND threats", nor or. Use of irrational fear may be improper, but to call such a thing terrorism negates what terrorism truly is. Just like the recent vogue in overusing the term "Nazi" tends to negate or understate what the Nazi's really are and/or were. I agree that many try to use fear of hell or devine retribution improperly for their own ends, but I would also try to accurately label such things so as not to lose credibility. My opinion, yours may differ.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • Jim

      Your assertion that you do not believe anything that has not been scientifically proven is bunk plain and simple.

      You believe that you exist. Since we can manipulate the mind well enough to make you believe illusions are real and the fact that you cannot prove that you exist without referencing something outside yourself (which might be what is being manipulated), you cannot prove you exist. It is reasonable to believe that all your experiences are real but not scientifically provable. We (individually) work on the assumption that our perceptions are correct.

      Do you believe in dark matter? Dark matter is most likely a reality but we cannot prove that it exists scientifically – unless one has devolved science down to "proving" what is there by not actually being able to show positive evidence for proof. Dark matter is a reasonable hypothesis but nothing more at this point.

      Scientifically speaking, you cannot explain why you have the concept of "I" let alone use it in conversation. If you are only matter only, than you should not say such things as, "I didn't do that" when neurologists uses electrical impulses to make you move a body part – no matter what the graduate student Harris claims. The idea of "I" outside of matter if there is nothing outside of matter is scientifically foolish and thus unproven. This has been done countless times through experimentation and is scientifically proven to happen and you must believe it. Of course there is nothing outside of matter that has been scientifically proven so while it is true, it cannot be true. Which do you believe? What is scientifically unproven or proven but not according to following the dictates of science?

      There is much of life that is scientifically unproven and you believe things that are not scientifically proven, just like everyone else. Maybe more, maybe less but you do so whether you admit to it or not.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
    • Dan, TX

      Jim we need not pick nits. Is a rose beautiful? How do you know? Can science "prove or disprove" that a rose is beautiful? Of course not. But that doesn't really negate the general view that none of us have ever witnessed a supernatural phenomenon, hence, belief in a supernatural phenomenon is a leap of faith. Belief in God has always been a leap of faith and no serious person has ever thought science could help to prove there is or is not a God. The point made was the presentation of the view that there is no real need to have belief in a God to lead a good moral and happy life. We just have to say that that is fine for him, but for you, without belief in God you would not know how to live and your life would have no meaning. That is strong and reasonable argument for you to keep believing in God and we support you 100%. But you should support us 100% too.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • patrick logsdon

      Very well written and delivered Jack. I like your point. Well OK, back to making a buck for now.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:22 pm |
  17. David

    No one really knows what happens, heaven or no heaven...We all just assume we are right and poke fun of others who disagree with our taught perception..
    I personally think the bible is one of the worst books ever written, it gives people a pedestal to judge...simply sad.

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

      Never judge a book by those few that use it improperly (like hitting you with it or standing on it). That is like saying cars are "the worst" because it gives maniacs a "reason" to think most of the world is inferior because most people in the world don't have automobiles.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • mathis

      well at least you follow through with your own beliefs.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
  18. James

    Why does one have to negate the other? Dr. Hawking assumes there is no God – for which he cannot obtain any scientific data that there is, or there is not. He makes very broad assumptions on what he defines as God and then states there is no such thing. Physics is in its infancy as a science as is everything else involving human understanding. God has been declared dead many times before. Black holes were once considered fairly tales too sir.

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

      He can't also find evidence to show there are no unicorns, and no teapot orbiting Jupiter, does that mean belief in either is really warranted?

      May 17, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
    • houstondoc

      The reason Dr. Hawking is very famous in the realm of physicas has to do with theoritical experiments that deal with black holes. He has never won a nobel prize because his theories are untestable and cannot be verified. He has taken one faith and replaced it with another.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • Branson

      Moron, science has no ego everything science finds is always falsifiable, thats why its science. If it wasnt the search for the truth and instead men making up stories with no proof who r to jaded to find the truth it would be called well...religion!

      May 17, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  19. StevieBoy

    While I'm more of an atheist than anything else and respect Mr. Hawking's vast knowledge of the sciences and believe he's probably correct in his assertions I also believe that NO ONE really knows what's in store for us after death... most likely nothing at all since that's what makes sense to me, but all the brains in our world put together don't really know for sure. Mr. Hawking, find a cure for AIDS, cancer or anything more useful that this...THANKS Pal!

    May 17, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
  20. DH

    What if he's wrong?

    May 17, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • Corey

      What if he's not?

      May 17, 2011 at 4:14 pm |
    • Jim

      Only one of those scenarios presented has any repurcussions.

      If you are wrong (there is a god) then there is something to be concerned about.
      If you are correct (there is no god) then you have nothing to worry about.

      Intelligent people never answer with a lesser answer to the question asked.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
    • Jowicr

      Ok Pascal.

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

      Yeah..."What if" Keeping praying and filling the offering basket 🙂

      May 17, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • Brian Bailey

      It doesn't surprise me that the only place this is considered news is in the fundamentalist US. The rest of the developed world moved away from such simplistic concepts as heaven and hell decades ago.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • Lycidas

      @Brian Bailey-Sure they did.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • Jerry

      Fear of the repercussions do not have any bearing on the correct answer.

      Would it be better if there was a heaven? Sure. that doesn't make it true or untrue. It has no bearing either way.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • Southerner

      Jim,

      Your answer only works if you never sacrifice anything in this world for the promised afterlife. If you do however, and Hawkings is right, then you WILL have lost something.

      As an example, all those poor Mus lims and Je wish people will never know how incredible bacon is!

      May 17, 2011 at 4:22 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.