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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 Bunker

    "Thanks to him we know any two objects in the universe that have mass exert a gravitational pull on each other" begins an article explaining Newton's Law. How does Hocking explain gravity if nothing exists? His explanation that gravity can create something out of nothing contradicts Newton's Law. Just because Hocking is smart doesn't mean he's rational.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
  2. MichaelDC

    It's refreshing to hear and see someone in touch with reality and science, and not afraid to express it–and not afraid of death either, I'd add. He's one of the smartest people of our time and I like that he's not caught up in PR because I think that that's the only reason most intelligent people profess to believe in some kind of god or heaven or other nonsense. Well done, Hawking. I hope you forgive all these religious zealot morons commenting here.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
  3. Jesus

    Hawking is smarter than what you all think. By putting these words in his book he uses them to sell his book. Surely he is smart, no doubt about that. You must remember that God uses all things for his benefit even that of a physics guru that does not believe in him. God does not need anyone to believe, he just is. Faith has no logic just as logic has no faith. All Science proves is how little we know about who God is and how much more we need to learn and understand who God is. There were many Hawkings in the past and there will be many in the future. God will outlast all of them. On 2 Kings 7 talks about another hawkings that did not believe any of this God nonsense and he learned tha hardway about who God is. Let me assure you that God does need lawyers. He just Is. He is the Great I AM.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
  4. EDDIE MULLINS

    MR.HAWKING HAS THE RIGHT AND FREE WILL TO BELIEVE ANYTHING HE WANTS TO BELIEVE.JESUS TOLD US THAT AS SURE AS THERE IS A PHYSICAL BODY,THERE BE A SPIRITUAL BODY ALSO,BUT FIRST THE PHYSICAL.AND I BELIEVE THAT PHYSICAL BODY IS GIVEN BY GOD TO HAVE FREE WILL AND USE THAT FREE WILL TO LEARN ABOUT HIM AND COME TO ACCEPT AND CONFESS HIM AS LORD AND SAVIOR.THAT IS WHY FLESH AND BLOOD CANNOT ENTER THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN,BUT MAN MUST BE BORN AGAIN OF THE SPIRIT. GOD,JESUS,HOLY SPIRIT LIVE IN THE NOW ALWAYS, TIME WAS INVENTED FOR MAN,JESUS SAID I AM THE ALPHA AND THE OMEGA THE BEGINNING AND THE END.HE CAN SEE ALL THE TIME LINE OF MAN. TIME DOES NOT AFFECT JESUS OR THE HOLY SPIRIT,IT ONLY APPLIES TO MAN.WHAT MAN DOES IN HIS LIFE'S TIME SPAN IS USE HIS FREE WILL TO DETERMINE WHAT HE BELIEVES OR DOESN'T BELIEVE.ALL OF US HAVE THIS FREE WILL,WHAT WE DO WITH IT IS UP TO US.MR.HAWKING HAS USED HIS FREE WILL TO ARRIVE AT HIS DECISIONS THAT HE BELIEVES IN.JESUS SAID ,THANK YOU FATHER FOR KEEPING THE TRUTHS FROM THE LEARNED AND THE WISE AND REVEALING THEM TO THE SIMPLE AND THE INNOCENT.I CHOOSE TO PRAY FOR MR.HAWKING THAT IS MY FREE WILL . AS FOR ME I ACCEPT JESUS AS MY LORD AND SAVIOR .JESUS SAYS THAT THE ONLY WAY TO HEAVEN AND GOD OUR FATHER IS THROUGH HIM...ORDER DOES NOT COME FROM CHAOS..FROM WHAT I UNDERSTAND {USING ONCE AGAIN MY FREE WILL TO BELIEVE OR UNDERSTAND..IF I USE A BOMB AND BLOW SOMETHING UP, WATCHING THIS HAPPEN THE THING BLOWN UP IS RIPPED AND TORN TO BITS AND DOESN'T IN A FEW SECONDS OR MINUTES OR HOURS AUTOMATICALLY COME BACK TOGETHER IN IT'S ORIGINAL FORM OR SHAPE}.MR.HAWKING CANNOT PROVE OR DISPROVE MY FATHER GOD,JESUS OR THE HOLY SPIRIT,HE DOESN'T HAVE THE KNOWLEDGE TO EXPLAIN THE TRINITY.AS FAR AS I UNDERSTAND,I DON'T HAVE THAT KNOWLEDGE EITHER.
    ...BUT AS FOR ME AND MY FAMILY WE WILL SERVE AND CONTINUE TO BELIEVE GOD OUR FATHER ,JESUS CHRIST AND THE HOLY SPIRIT ARE FOR REAL AND THE REAL BATTLE IS GOING ON IN THE SPIRIT WORLD...ALL THIS COMES FROM MY FREE WILL BELIEF.I AM NOT PERFECT AND WILL CONTINUE TO SIN UNTIL I LEAVE THIS PHYSICAL BODY.WE ARE BORN IN SIN AND WILL DIE IN SIN.BLESSED BE THE NAME OF OUR LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST.........

    May 17, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
    • The Spiritual Leader of the Pagans

      yo dumm!e

      all caps in puter manners is shouting ~ keep the hly rolling for sunday

      May 17, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • Yo

      ",I DON'T HAVE THAT KNOWLEDGE EITHER."

      You nailed it! You don't and your comments prove you are clueless but yet you think your belief in God makes you better than the smartest person in our time. Yo...NOT!

      Time for a reality check and realize your really just a putz who has one really inflated EGO!

      May 17, 2011 at 11:00 pm |
  5. rocky

    Mr King has never believed in god or heaven so he will try to dis-credit anything that concerned with it, on his day of judgement then he will see if he will go there or burn in hell. no scientist can prove or dis -approve heaven because it meant to be so,we don't even know how the brain works properly and yet we try to figure out the great beyond

    May 17, 2011 at 4:37 pm |
  6. blobber

    What a sad, broken, bitter man. Education is not the key to truth...plenty of stupid people know the difference between right and wrong and what truth is.

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

    Well this certainly changes things...

    May 17, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  8. Reality

    What else do we know:

    1. The Sun will burn out in 3-4 billion years so we have a time frame.

    2. Asteroids continue to whiz by us daily.

    3. One large hit and it is all over in a blast of permanent winter.

    4. There are enough nuclear weapons to do the same job.

    5. Most contemporary NT exegetes do not believe in the Second Coming so apparently there is no concern about JC coming back on an asteroid or cloud of raptors/rapture.

    Bottom line: our apocalypse will start between now and 3-4 billion CE.

    With respect to the topic. This and a bit more:

    The Apostles' Creed 2011: (updated by yours truly based on the studies of NT historians and theologians during the past 200 years)

    I might believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
    and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
    human-created, spirit state of bliss called heaven.

    I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
    preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
    named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
    girl named Mary. (Some say he was a mamzer.)

    Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
    the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

    He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
    a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of
    Jerusalem.

    Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
    many semi-fiction writers. A bodily resurrection and
    ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
    Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
    grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
    and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
    called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.

    Amen

    May 17, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • The Spiritual Leader of the Pagans

      I bet you like prune juice.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
  9. angie

    "There is no creature who perceives all of what is and what happens."

    May 17, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  10. HenryMiller

    Nothing new in Hawking's observation–two hundred years ago, the French mathematician Laplace dismissed the concept of gods with the comment, "I have no need of that hypothesis."

    May 17, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
  11. john

    SO HE DECLARES HIMSELF TO HAVE A COMPLETE KNOWLEDGE OF THE UNIVERSE, SO ANYTHING HE CAN'T EXPLAIN SCIENTIFICALLY IS A FAIRYTALE...LOL CAVEMEN WERE THE SAME WAY ABOUT LIGHTNING AND THUINDER.

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

      Yes, and then SCIENTIFIC EVIDENCE explained lightning and thunder to be more than mere fairy tales. Not to mention, you could see them 😉

      May 17, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
  12. aacon

    The universe expands against infinity.What Steven Hawkings does not understand is that infinity has an intelligence and IS God.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
  13. caliconor

    I don't believe there is a Christian idea of a heaven. But you can't prove or disprove heaven with any BRAIN or tool that we have as human beings. You can't prove the non-physical and immaterial world with physical existence. It's impossible.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
  14. 2tired2care

    No one can say for certain. It's only when we die that we find out the truth.

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

      If I jump off from the Empire State building I will die upon impact. I do not need to DO it to KNOW it. This is the wonder of science. 😉

      May 17, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
  15. Turner

    From the beginning of human existence, mankind has been inherently religious. Why is it that, regardless of culture and time period, the majority of the world's population acknowlege a higher power? The drive to understand our purpose in this world, or whether or not we even have a purpose, is innate. We are the superior species on this planet; is it really so farfetched to consider that there might not be one even more superior? Perhaps a being we can't fully comprehend or even is our creator? From Fibonacci's number series whose patterns have been observed within nature to the periodic table, there appears to be an order, perhaps design if you will, to this world. Fifteen hundred years ago everybody KNEW the Earth was the center of the universe. Five hundred years ago, everybody KNEW the Earth was flat. Imagine what we'll KNOW tomorrow....

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

      Adult: "There is no Santa."
      Child: "But I believe in him. Someone has to bring the presents!!!"
      Adult: "There is an explanation You see..."
      Child: "[Interrupting and putting fingers in ears] BLAH BLAH BLAH ... I don't care what you say!!!"
      Adult: "I am merely stating fact. It doesn't even scientifically make sense. How could he deliver all of those toys in one night? How could he live at the north pole? Don't even get me started on the reindeer!"
      Child: "Yeah ... well science isn't always right .... world flat .... earth centric model .... " [Child continues to rattle nonsense].
      [Adult shakes head and walks away]
      Child: "You can't PROVE he doesn't exists .... I have faith!!!"

      May 17, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
  16. Wisdom

    I respect Mr Hawking for his intellect and his academic achievment. I am a devout Christian, and an avid fan of science too. Dr. Hawking's position about gravity creating everything is a theory, and not a law. There has been no substanitive proof as to the existence of parrallel universes, or 10-11 dimmensions. As to the point about our universe shrinking and expanding, that too is only a theory as the size of our universe is beyond our ability to measure. If the atom is the basic building block of all things, from whence did the atom originate? I find it both interesting and entertaining that there are so many theories about the creation of the universe that people just accept as a fact without substanitive proof. We still cannot explore the Mariana's Trench, nor journey to the core of the earth, but we can proof how creation happened.

    Religion is about faith. Faith is the believe in things hoped for and the evidenece of things not seen (Christian Bible, book of Hebrews chapter 11 verse 1.) No true Christian should become defensive, or insult anyone who doesn't accept our faith. Our Lord Jesus Christ instructs us in the books of Matthew 10:14, Mark 6:11, and Luke 10:11 to simply: "shake the dust from your feet." In closing to all my Christian brtheren who read this remember the words of warning given to us about such things in the book of Colossians chapter 2 verse 8: "beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit; after the traditions of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ." All that Dr. Hawking, and other atheist or agnostic is attempting to do is spoil your faith through philosophy.

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

      Well said. Christianity is faith-based; not requiring proof.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • Brad

      I appreciate your ability to discuss and not just attempt to force your beliefs down us "non-believers" throats. But you do realize that Christianity is a copy of several religions. Christ is a copy of everything from Greek mytholodgy to Egyptian mytholodgy.

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

      You are correct. As christians we dont need to argue our point, only let our belief be known. Indviduals has a right to accept or reject. The only thing I will say about Mr. Hawking is that he is offering no new evidence on the subject, so why is it news. Science is contiually proven wrong. A short time ago scientist were saying that there was no need to test dinosaur bones for DNA becasue they were so old that they couldnt contain any. A short time ago a scientist found DNA in a T-Rex bone and they stated that it must be able to survive longer than they thought. They make science match what they believe.

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

      I agree. My belief in the one true god, FSM, is faith-based and requires no evidence whatsoever. Also my belief in unicorns, wizardry, and spongebob.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
  17. TechTalkGuy

    I have always believed that we shall return where we came from (the world of nothing).

    Before birth, there was in pain or suffering. In fact, there was no knowledge.
    After life ends, you return back to the dark universe and all of the fairy tales that you wasted your life worshiping was nothing more than pure entertainment.

    Right now, Osama bin-Laden is in a dark universe of thoughtless silence.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • Greggy

      So you live only to die, eh? Life is folly... everything between your living and your death is simply an electro-chemical reaction to internal and external stimuli – much like a fish reacting to the absence of or presence of water? That the continuance of social memory and the ability of man to better himself based on the work of others who came before are simply meaningless constructs? We live in our bodies for decades and yet can neither understand nor control our inner processes; we cannot heal our own lung cancer – in fact, we are often not even aware that we have such a condition. Even the greatest doctors who inhabit their bodies for a lifetime cannot fathom well how they work. We are so far removed from the reality that undergirds our own physical structure that a judgement of the meaninglessness of it all is, well, meaningless.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
  18. Leucadia101

    Can't say as I can disagree with Mr. Hawking on this point, although I highly doubt that anyone alive can dispute the existence of an afterlife, since none of us has actually died(and stayed dead). Who is to say what the truth on this one is? For that matter, who is to say who or what created the universe? I'm more concerned with getting my grill fired up, crackin a beer and throwing on a tri tip.
    cholesterolsuicide.com leucadiabob.com

    May 17, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
  19. John B

    My 9 year old son's brain tumor tells me there is no God. If there is...he is a dick.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
    • Corey

      Haha here here. F the man in the sky!

      May 17, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • Nick

      Well said. And I hear ya; my son passed away in August.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:40 pm |
    • Brad

      Sorry to hear about that man. Yeah, if there is a God, and I doubt there is, It is one sick SOB. And he can go to hell.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:41 pm |
    • Mario R

      God did not put that tumor in your son's brain. Unfortunately, due to free choice and sin, horrible things happen to people who don't deserve it. God can and does use anything for good though, you will see. The question is, will you be part of the Hand of God that shows to others that your son's life was lived for a reason?

      May 17, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
    • John B

      My son lives in excrutiating pain EVERY DAY Mario. Think about that and tell me how any part of that can be good. God can create the universe...hear our prayers...and lets children with no sin hurt so bad they can do nothing but writhe in agony when not on major pain killers? Bah.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
    • Nurse Lisa

      God doesn't cause tumors or kill kids or make people suffer to learn lessons – God is not a child abuser. The devil wants you to bear the burden alone and place blame wrongly. John 10:10 Jesus speaking (blames the devil) – The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
    • Q

      @ Mario R – I agree. God didn't put the tumor there nor did He do anything to prevent it. But furthermore, no free will with an omniscient first cause creator. All actions are known beforehand and because this knowledge is infallible, we have no choice but to conform to what is already known will (and must) occur.

      @ Nurse Lisa – A global flood? Amalekite children and infants? Perhaps you have some less abhorrent explanation for these behaviors? Your cognitive dissonance is showing...

      May 17, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
  20. Jeff

    Well based on Mr. Hawking belief. Then we do not exist, if spontaneous creation is what bought us her. How does something that does not exist create something that does exist? All of a sudden Life happened? Evolved? If Spontaneous creation is how we arrived here. Then Mr. Hawking, why do you have the ability to create complex formulas and understand the true nature of Physics. But lack the ability to understand and heal your own body?

    May 17, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • TechTalkGuy

      Well, Jeff - it appears that your world of ignorance shields you from the truth.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • HenryMiller

      Your failure to comprehend what Hawking says in no way implies that he's wrong.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • The Spiritual Leader of the Pagans

      Jeff ~ you are from texass aren't you?

      May 17, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • Brad

      Yeah, went right over your head. Please don't comment if you don't understand something. Go and research it first. Oh wait, it's easier and makes you feel better to just believe in the spagetti monster.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • TEE

      You need to dig a little deeper into the term spontaneous creation. There's more to it than your grade school , superficial notions.

      Maybe read one of Hawking's books? Any books re; this subject...? But that's always the challenge for so many people, to investigate, and learn about what they're commenting on before doing it...

      May 17, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • Wellllllll

      Nothing new, recycled propaganda

      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.