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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

    Hawking's opinion is as good as anyone's but the fact that he is a physics genius does not give him any more credibility on this subject than anyone else has.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
  2. reader10

    Who was first God or the universe.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
  3. Scully

    God is the summation of everything of which we are not certain. Of this I am certain.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
  4. gmccyclist

    I pray that Hawkin's thinking will catch on in the Muslim world.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
  5. Jason

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

    Ok, so how did gravity come into "existence?" The use of that term certainly is ironic.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
  6. Dale

    Poor Mr. Hawking. Regarding by man as a genius – revealed by his own statements as a fool. To say there is no Heaven is to suggest there is no God. And "The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God." Psalms 14.

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

      I can quote Star Trek too.. doesn't mean it's real

      May 17, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • Dada

      You are in fact one of the Old that continue to quote from your fairy tale bedtime story books. We are of extraterrestrial origin which means we all have the capability of extremely amazing intelligence. Hawking is one who has been able to access these dormant abilities of our alien ancestors. You are a poor soul that clutches their fairy tale book spewing quotes in your own self satisfaction. Do you really believe that anybody of any grand level of intelligence will listen your your quotes and think "wow! He's right!" ? No! We just see you as one of the ignorants that are keeping primitive ideology ongoing and preventing reality from living true. Put down your fairy tale book and quit the quote spewing, then embrace free thought outside of the book. Please! Otherwise you are of no use to this world.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
  7. Kathy S

    Please let's treate each other with respect. Christians--please be Christ in the flesh here!!!!

    May 17, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
  8. Champ

    I've never been of the belief that the mind goes to heaven. Hawking can look all day and he won't find a soul in an autopsy. We're not human beings having a spiritual experience. We're spiritual beings having a human experience. And it's an amazing gift. So do the best you can with it.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
  9. Justin Observation

    The man has a talking wheelchair and he doesn't believe in magical places in the clouds? Wha?

    May 17, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
  10. orator

    Read the orations of Robert Ingersoll on God (or the Gods) - if Hawking is wrong, all he has to do is ask God for forgiveness. If God forgives, then Hawking is no better or worse off that everyone who spent their life praying and donating $$ to God and churches. And if God does not forgive, then everyone who has spent their life praying to an all-loving, all-forgiving God have been seriously misled; and why would you want to spend your life, energy and $$ being so misled?

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

      You are free to choose, and it appears that you have. You've chosen to defy God because you believe he isn't worthy. That is your choice. If in the end you are wrong I hope that gives you some solace.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
  11. Mike, Albany

    The prospect of a reward or fear of punishment in some sort of afterlife should not be motivating factors for living a decent, moral life in service of others. True selflessness comes from doing these things with no thought of what it might bring you after you die. Once you accept this, you no longer need a God except to explain what you cannot explain in any other way. If your prime motivation for your code of ethics, for you dedication to others, is the thought of what you might gain after you die, then you are unworthy of the reward you profess to believe in.

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

      Wonderfully said. "Integrity is doing the right thing, even if nobody is watching."

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

      /bow. You speak wonderfully, sir. I hope to view a thousand more comments from you. Have you seen the Quantum Activist? I would like to have a conversation with you on the topics discussed by Dr. Goswami.

      May 17, 2011 at 6:22 pm |
  12. DGH

    very sad that he has no faith beyond what his eye can see.may god for give you

    May 17, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
  13. JT

    If the existence of God would ever be scientifically proven, everyone would have to believe in Him and Free Will would no longer exist and therefor Faith would no long exist.

    Scientists, although smart in their field, can't even tell us what gravity is – they can say what it does and mathematically show its affects on mass but they can't tell us what it is. The Universe is expanding but they can't say what it's expanding into?

    From a group of people who believe in worm holes magically transporting us to different areas of the Universe and the theory of parallel Universe's where there's an exact copy of each of us and yet they cannot grasp the thought of a God? Wow.

    There's room for religion and science and one doesn't necessarily disproves the other. In fact, the more scientific you look at things, the more proof there is that God exists.

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

      I am a scientist. The more scientific I look at things, the less god I see because science requires critical thinking. Critical thinking and faith are diametrically opposed to one another. Faith is the absence of critical thinking, it is giving up on thinking.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • Bobby

      awesome

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

      Funny, Mike, that you say that but offer no reasoning as to why science and faith are diametrically opposed. Why are they? Scientists, of which I am also one, have researched everything from the parting of the sea to our own genetic imprints showing that we are all built with an instinct of faith and an afterlife.

      Why is it that tribes in remote area of the world who have never met a person outside of their tribe worship an afterlife deity?

      I just find it funny that people of science find every opportunity to jump on the anti-Faith argument without doing any studies or research about it. Do your research then come talk to me.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
  14. Beagle

    I was a firm believer in immortality of the soul until I had general anesthesia for surgery. He makes a great point that when the computer stops functioning then awareness ceases. I do leave the door open that there are things that I don't know and I really hope someone does come up with a way that I can believe that some part of me will transcend this existence.

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

      Well, you're sure as Hell on the wrong path now, Jimmy.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
  15. Jason M

    How long did the catholic church tell us that the earth was flat, and that the sun rotated around the earth, even with PROOF? Next you christians will tell us that we're wrong about priests and little boys too. WAKE UP you religious, moronic, lemmings....

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

      Grow up child. Name calling sets you apart from me. That is but one of many reasons I am where I am, and you are where you are, and thank God I never have to visit wherever you are.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • Lone Stranger

      EEEEEAsy, big fella. What do you care if someone else wants to be a lemming, or anything else. You believe what you want (i.e.: that you are nothing but turbulent dust), let everyone else do the same. God bless you, dust.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
  16. brooktrout2010

    Hawking is an overrated scientist. Hawking is not another Einstein or Newton. It is because of his illness and his perseverance ,he has gained scientific acclaim. In one presentation when one of his theory was being torn to shred, he said that the laws of physics in another universe might be different. BTW: heaven might be in in another universe with different laws of physics!

    May 17, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
  17. NC Wafer

    I feel sorry for the poor scientist. There is good and evil. This is common knowledge. I have seen several that did not believe in anything but THEIR own understand; once their last breath is was being exhaled....many call out on the name of God or curse him, however generally his name is mentioned.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
  18. Ronnie Kurian (Vancouver)

    Stephen Hawking is intelligent, but not wise. Wisdom is something that comes from God. Otherwise he wouldn't be making such foolish claims. Somebody has to be very stupid to believe that all this happened from one BIG BANG!! My advise to you is start reading the bible and get some wisdom. May God open your eyes and that you will know the truth.

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

      Next you'll tell me to read Harry Potter and believe Voldemort is real. In lieu of evidence, you don't a-sume something exists. And no book can serve as its own form of evidence, or else, again, Harry Potter is real.

      You make me sad to be in Vancouver.

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

      The bible is a genocide manual; there's no wisdom in it

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

      Actually, wisdom comes from experience. Nobody, not even an all-powerful deity, can GIVE you wisdom. Wisdom is something that comes of hardship, of loss, of learning by means of being forced to experience. A knowledgeable person thinks that a rickety bridge is unsafe. A wise person knows that a specific bridge is a bloody deathtrap, as they were nearly killed trying to cross it. That is the difference between wisdom and knowledge, not whether or not a deity has handed it down to you.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
    • Eileen

      Andrew: So you're sad to be in Vancouver just because someone else there has a different point of view from yourself?

      May 17, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • hudson valley

      I do think anybody who believes in the hypothesis that there are heaven and hell after life is not capable of logical thinking. Only a proven hypothesis becomes a theory. A theory can be verified by scientific methods independently by various scientists around the world. It also can withstand a test at any time. The fact is nobody knows what would happen after death. i.e. It is unknown.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
  19. Kathy S

    Hey everyone,don't forget-they'll know we are Christians by our love. Let's show Christ's love here......

    May 17, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
    • Shaun R

      Why is love needed at this time? Hawkings wasn't preaching hate; he was telling the truth. Seriously-racism and religion shouldn't have viable places in society as they cause the most discord. When's the last time a human parent asked their 'children' to 'worship' them. Parents typically want their kids to enjoy themselves-safely, be prosperous and to live long good lives- so i have a hard time believing a personified God wouldn't have the same or similar desires. But what is preached came from MEN, combined with rationales that support some other type of thinking. Sorry, just cant believe a perfect God would make mistakes... and now has to go prepare ANOTHER place for his children... sounds suspect to me. Just using my God given brain..

      May 17, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  20. Spacial

    Einstein said it best. Energy can not be destroyed it changes form. 99% of what we are is electromagnetic energy. Upon our death that energy goes somewhere. Every thought process, every memory which is electromagnetic in makeup. So where does it go?

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

      ... That makes absolutely no sense, and I'm pretty sure you know nothing about special relativity. Energy is a property of particles, you might as well be asking 'when we die, where does our spin go?' It doesn't actually make sense. People need to stop thinking they know physics, it's clear the vast majority of individuals don't.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
    • Chupacabra

      I agree. If from nothing bursts forth something, it's the very existence of nothingness from whence there could be.... whatever it is we call divine.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • Smile13

      That's what I thought too. Humans have about the same energy in one body as one nuclear bomb. That energy has to go somewhere???

      May 17, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • Bill from Quebec City

      I read the bible every day. I belive in god, I belive in Jesus. God is the creator, well hawking is saying that humman being are juste like some kind of computer and that there is no heaven because computers "dies". A youg child out of every knowlege could have done this reflection. We humman most have been created by god, has we created the computers witch by the way are nonconsient of there own self existance. ( sory for the spelling, my firts language is french )

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

      But e are told that animals have no souls, yet physically, many animals contain more energy than a human body. Where does that energy go?

      May 17, 2011 at 5:00 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.