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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. bob

    Is it considered hatred to disagree with an opnion? Hawkins is obviously expressing an opinion which is not based on any fact what so ever.Would he be considered a hate monger? The truth will set you free and it appears that he is not, in more ways than one. I would dare say neither are those who believe as he does.

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

      Hate? He's said the equivalent of "there are no unicorns". You cannot prove the non-existence of something, just try to prove to me there isn't a teapot orbiting jupiter. Maybe a god placed it there. Maybe an alien. There's no evidence it doesn't exist, but does that mean we default to it does? Hawking just said 'no, we don't', and I'm pretty sure you'd agree if it were any other concept other than god. So why does god get the logical free pass?

      May 17, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
    • rachel

      Bravo Bob. I agree.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
  2. Ranterdon

    Saying god exists does not make that so...of course the opposite is true as well...all the pundits here (and Hawking) who like to call things by descriptive names like "fairy tales" do so because they are desperate to be right in this matter...because no one can be proven right or wrong in this I choose to respect the faith that some have in Science as well as thos who have faith in God's existence.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
  3. XWngLady

    Yes. And of course he would know.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
  4. paul

    So Steven Hawkings is working for satan, does not surprise me one bit! Just like the devil he knows hes going to hell and wants to brainwash as many people as he can into going along w/him.The way i feel anymore,is F$%K EM,let em burn! I feel just like Jonah w/the Ninnavites. You people just dont get it because you just dont wanna get it.Many are called few are chosen.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
  5. Mark

    Mr. Hawking now that you have made that statement – prove it!

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

      The proof is self evident.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
  6. 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 4:21 pm |
    • The Spiritual Leader of the Pagans

      people from texass are jack@sses full and through and round and round
      go flush yourself down the toilet.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
    • Wayne

      Belief in a god requires faith because there is no evidence in support of that belief. Science does not require faith because of the evidence. Silly statement of your post.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  7. reader10

    Who is first God or the universe.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
    • Primum movens

      1 There exists movement in the world.
      2 Things that were set in motion were set into motion by something else.
      3 If everything that moves were caused to move by something else, there would be an infinite chain of causes. This can't happen.
      4 Thus, there must have been something that caused the first movement.
      5 From 3, this first cause cannot itself have been moved.
      6 From 4, there must be an unmoved mover.

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

    The simple fact is none of us know what happens after we die. Point blank. If you pretend to know then your dumb. I do BELIEVE that there is an afterlife and a heaven because I want to. If you have a problem with that then your up the creek because I don't give a damn. I really don't understand why people argue about whether there is or isn't a God and how THIS came to be. You believe what you want and I'll believe what I want. Enough said. Move on with life and if I'm wrong then so be it. Get over yourselves people, you are not that important.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:21 pm |
  9. Dustin L. Hopper

    Agreed Mr. Hawking. It's about time people grew up and stopped believing in ancient fairy tales.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
  10. Don

    From whence does gravity arise, as it is a precondition of creation in Mr.Hawkings view?

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

      Not known. But it wasn't god.

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

      Exactly

      May 17, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
    • Letmeout

      As in exactly right Don

      May 17, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
    • Dan, TX

      Well if you could explain what gravity is, we'd all be happy to hear it. I understand what gravity does, but I don't know what it is.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
  11. Ray

    Those making the claim must provide the evidence. Hawkings is not claiming something exists...he's saying if you make the claim that something exists you must provide some tangible evidence. Which, of course, does not exist for any religion. Why? It's all make believe based on arrogance and ignorance. Is it any wonder that statistics show the more educated you are the less religious you are?

    May 17, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
  12. Brian D

    As seen in a letter to the editor of Time magazine a few months ago: "...the realm of God likely begins where physics ends."
    (~Vivek Mehrotra) That statement opened my eyes to new possibilities.

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

      It"s called "God of the gap". When scientist says, "We don't know," believers jump in with, "It was god."

      May 17, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
  13. Bill

    Look, Mr. Hawking is NOT telling you to not believe in God (or Allah, or Buddah, or nature spirits, or tarot cards, or His Noodly Goodness). He is not preaching. He doesn't care what you believe in.

    Just stop trying to use religion to explain the physical world. Its a different subject entirely. Trying to force religion into science with lame ideas like "intelligent design" is just irritating.

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

      Buddah--BUDDHA is not a god. He never claimed to be. He was simply a human with perfect knowledge. Perfect knowledge which yielded a beautiful belief system which is completely absent of a central or supreme god. Just FYI.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
  14. gweech

    Hawking has no proof that there is not a god. Every scientist tries to prove it but cant. When his day comes im sure god will be the one to explain everything to him.

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

      Likewise he has no proofs there are no unicorns. You can't prove the non-existence of something, that doesn't mean the default is you -ssume it exists.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • Wayne

      No scientist has ever tried to disprove anything. Scientist prove things, not the other way around. Idiot.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • Ryan

      It is impossible to prove an existential negative (that something does not exist, in this case). It is only possible to prove an existential positive (i.e. something does exist) or to show that an universal qualification is false (by way of counter example)

      May 17, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • Dan, TX

      @wayne, technically, scientists do try to disprove things most of the time. They set up a model, a hypothesis, and if it is correct then so and so should be true, and if it is not correct, then so and so will not be true. So you can get a true result and show it is consistent with your model, but that is not proof. On the other hand if you get a NOT true and answer, you KNOW your model is not correct and so you make a BETTER model to take into account this new data. So, it is indeed very nice to get data that support your model but you make the best progress by getting a result that disproves you model so you make a new one that is CLOSER to the truth. That is the goal of science to get closer and closer to the absolute truth. When the phenomenon is very complicated (as most things are) it is really boring to keep showing that the model is ok. Then people will stop wanting to study it.. I guess that's when it is proven, when it becomes to boring to continue...

      May 17, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  15. Bob

    Hawking needs to quit while he's ahead.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:19 pm |
    • The Spiritual Leader of the Pagans

      Bob needs to go drown himself in the toilet

      May 17, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
  16. nick

    i bet if stephen hawking took a hefty dose of some good LSD or DMT his viewpoint would be different. not that those drugs are godly or anything.....they just change you spiritually.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • The Spiritual Leader of the Pagans

      i have taken hundreds of trips on very good clinical 25 and it has not changed my feeling that the whole concept of god is silly and foolish

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

      What changes is your brain chemistry. You are having chemical hallucinations when you take psychedelic drugs. The spiritualistic feelings you have are created by your own brain.

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

      I was once asked what I tell my kids about faith. I explained, to astonishment, that faith never comes up with my kids because I don't brainwash them into believing fairy tales. They are older now and we have great conversations about their friends who anguish in rigid religious families.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
    • blazonga

      BS!!! I decided I was an atheist when i was 7 years old. During Sunday school at a Southern Baptist church. And then as a young adult ate hallucinogens hundreds of times. Still an atheist.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
    • jimbo

      I was a catholic altar boy until high school. Was never hit on by a priest and questioned the entire religious fiasco the entire time. To see these words – THERE IS NO GOD – surely brings a chill to all you bible beaters. I have no qualms about typing it or saying out loud cuz there ain't no afterlife dudes. LSD usually allows people to see how interconnected all life is on the planet. The ones who get all godly on LSD trips are generally the ones that think they can fly and end up jumping off buildings. Which demonstrates natural selection and evolution.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
  17. Jackal21

    Jesus was no magician. A very real, incarnate transformation of God.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • Ryan

      Prove it.

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

      Prove he wasn't. Moron!

      May 17, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
    • Ryan

      Greg, Usually the person making the claim provides the proof. Besides everyone knows that God is a non-scientific topic and thus cannot be proved by science. Otherwise we'd have had an answer to this question a long time ago.

      The fact that people believe in it without proof shows the lack of scientific education in this country.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • Manner V

      @Ryan well, how about you prove he wasn't? If your wrong there are eternal consequences, if I am oh well. I think God will say to an athiest, "Well you didn't believe in afterlife, so you won't have one." Yes, Ryan at that point, you will be right and so will all the rest there will be no afterlife, accept, no afterlife with an unfortuante and ironic twist.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
    • Manner V

      @ Ryan the fact that so many people in this country do believe, shows America's wealth of character. Read Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling, or perhaps Christ's words, "Blessed are those who believe without seeing, the kingdom of God is theirs." Ryan read a history book and tell me how many times Science has been wrong. Even a betting man wouldn't handle that action. I will take human reason, faith, and comapssion with wisdom and sensibility over one-dimensional athiest commentary. It's weak.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • Ryan

      @Manner V,

      If we followed the Bible's "advice" that those that believe things without proof are "blessed" means that I could tell you that if you run up stairs fast enough you would be able to make it downstairs. No proof required right?

      "Ryan read a history book and tell me how many times Science has been wrong."

      It's been wrong a lot, except when science is wrong it amends itself. This is the whole point. When religion is wrong believers make up reasons why it's still correct.

      "I will take human reason, faith, and comapssion with wisdom and sensibility over one-dimensional athiest commentary."

      Reason and faith are opposites. Faith is what you believe without proof and thus does not have reason. Besides no one said I was an athiest, but unlike you I don't claim to know everything, but leave myself open to see the world through proof.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
  18. jimbo

    Awesome!!!! The Hawking is right. I have told friends that when you die you become compost, end of story. God, heaven, the afterlife it is all the biggest money scheme in history. Everybody pays and the churches make some cash, tax free cash.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • Ranterdon

      and of course if you don't actually look for the miracles in life you will NEVER see them...

      May 17, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
    • jimbo

      What is miraculous is the fact that a whole bunch of people on this planet think there is an afterlife. There is an entire universe beyond the atmosphere of this planet but a heaven? Nope, sorry just compost.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
    • Madtown

      "I have told friends that when you die you become compost, end of story."
      ----

      Oh, you've told your friends that? Well, great! Maybe you are correct. Maybe you are not correct. One thing I can say with certainty, is that you have no idea which it is, so your story is not the "end of story".

      May 17, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • jimbo

      Ashes to ashes, dust to dust. A rough translation of compost but not politically correct to say while sending off a loved one to the compost pile.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:57 pm |
  19. Jack

    Neo: What do you expect me to do?
    The Oracle: Nothing Neo. I expect you to do what you always do. To make your own damned mind.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • Greg

      Bravo!!!

      May 17, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
  20. Joel

    People need to understand that there is NO WAY to determine with our current intelligence if there is a god or not. No one can say definitively that there is a god, and no one can say definitively that there is not a god. Intelligence is relative, we may be smarter than other species we observe on this planet wet but that does not make us "smart". we still have a long way to go, for now consider the existence of god unknowable.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
    • Corey

      One cannot disprove the non-existence of anything. With your logic, I can say unicorns are real, and you could not rebut it.

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

      That seems silly, do we likewise consider unicorns unknowable, flying teapots orbiting jupiter unknowable, the loch ness monster unknowable?

      There is no way to prove god doesn't exist, but in lieu of evidence for god, why is belief in any way warranted? Why would god be given a free pass, but we don't consider unicorns real? No evidence defaults to 'we -ssume it doesn't exist until evidence comes by to the contrary'.

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

      There is a God but I don't feel the need to prove it. I just believe and because I believe I know. The end.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
    • Corey

      @liza: And that is why I know the Flying Spaghetti Monster is the one true god. I don't need scientific facts or third-party perspective. What I believe is what I believe and that is the truth and I will act like a child now. The end.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
    • liza

      Wow Corey, calm down. I wasn't trying to make anyone angry. Just saying that believe in God and faith in God does not require "proof". That's why it's called faith. But if you open your heart to God then you find the answers. Doesn't matter to me what anyone else wants to tell me. Good luck with that Spaghetti Monster guy.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
    • Sam

      @Andrew – I WANT one of these flying teapots, pls.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
    • Manner V

      For those who need an explanation, there is none good enough. For those who don't, grace is theirs. I would rather err on the side of believing in God, then not. Imagine what God would say to you if you arrived in heaven and he was there. Hawking is foolish to take on God. Put all of your eggs in human science limits one tremendously. If he even paid more credence to human history and his past colleagues in Science, he would surely see that Science has been wrong and limited so often. Not solid ground, sir.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
    • Corey

      @Manner: So god is a he? I didn't think such a supreme being would be limited to such gender identification. And does god really have the time to meet you when you get to heaven? Doesn't he have enough to tend to with all the wars, starvation, and births going on?

      May 17, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • Manner V

      @Corey, using "he" is the literacy and lexicon of the Bible. God is a spirit, he is there and everywhere. I may have limited him in words, buit anyone could see that was the biblical lexicon at work, you limit God through human sensitivities and framing.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • Ryan

      @Corey,

      It's actually true that we cannot disprove that Unicorns do exist. It comes down to the logical statement "For all beings on Earth there exists a unicorn." In order to prove that wrong we would have to actually gather every being on Earth and examine each one to show that none of the are unicorns. However, in order to prove it true we need to find only one being that is a unicorn.

      Obviously the first is practically impossible to do. The second is much easier. However, absene of evidence is not evidence of absence. We do not know whether God exists or not, however, personally I do not see any reason that one should assume a God exists. People have made up their mind without evidence by calling it "Faith" when really it just shows that their minds are closed.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
    • Ryan

      @Manner V,

      1) You missed the point as I do not claim to have any proof that he was or wasn't. The original poster has made a claim and I'd like to see the proof of it. Without proof I cannot assume something to be true.

      2) If we followed the Bible's "advice" that those that believe things without proof are "blessed" means that I could tell you that if you run up stairs fast enough you would be able to make it downstairs. No proof required right?

      "Ryan read a history book and tell me how many times Science has been wrong."

      It's been wrong a lot, except when science is wrong it amends itself. This is the whole point. When religion is wrong believers make up reasons why it's still correct.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
    • Dan, TX

      I don't believe in God, but if there is a God and we meet in the afterlife I have no doubt he'd pat me on the back and compliment me on how reasonable it was not to believe and that he was super impressed that I didn't need to be threatened by the fear of his retribution in order to lead a morally good and happy life. (or at least as morally good as most Christians, nudge, nudge, wink, wink).

      May 17, 2011 at 5:19 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.