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. DaleH

    "Learning and ever learning, but never being able to come to the truth." Suddenly, I feel smarter than this man, because I believe in God. Even my dog knows there is God. The fool hath said in his heart, 'there is no god'.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • Fred Evil

      "Even my dog knows there is God. "
      LOL, you have the dumbest dog I have ever heard of!

      May 17, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • claybigsby

      read something other than the bible (which was written by man).

      May 17, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Fred Evil wrote: "you have the dumbest dog I have ever heard of!"

      Actually, it sounds as if the dog is as smart as its owner...

      May 17, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • Southerner

      How do you know your dog believes in a god, and which god does he believe in?

      May 17, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
  2. LiveFreeor

    A truly wise person recognizes that there is much much more that he does not know than he does know. To categorically state there is no afterlife is as foolish as the statement that the afterlife can be proven by human beings. It takes wisdom and courage to live by faith.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • claybigsby

      "It takes wisdom and courage to live by faith."

      Really? All it takes to live by faith is a good brainwashing.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • PraiseTheLard

      LiveFreeor wrote: "It takes wisdom and courage to live by faith."

      Actually it takes neither one... It usually requires one to forgo any critical thinking, and as for courage... joining the prevailing cult is easy... standing up for anything but is what takes courage... Try parking a car with a "Darwin" sticker somewhere in the bible-belt...

      May 17, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
  3. Briffault

    It's amazing how a man of such mighty knowledge can make himself sound like a fool, with so few words. I respect his earthly education, but his spiritual education doesn't make a dent in my belief. I don't go to church, I don't read the bible, but I know for a fact there is something when we die. Not sure what it is, but for me it's real. I'm no psychic, and I didn't ask for proof but it happened anyways. So Mr. Hawking......you're wrong.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • claybigsby

      you know for a fact eh? Please provide proof of these "facts"

      May 17, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
    • Briffault

      LoL, can't, it was proven to me for my own peace of mind. You've gotta find your own, sorry. You don't have to believe me, I don't blame you if you don't, but I'm not gonna waste both of our time trying to convince you of something when it sounds like you've already made up your mind. All the best to you though 🙂

      May 17, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
    • BRC

      If you can't, adn don't want to try to convince them that they are wrong, why bother pointing it out?

      May 18, 2011 at 3:56 pm |

    Psalm 14:1 The fool has said in his heart,“There is no God.”

    May 17, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
    • cooldude

      we use brains to think not the Heart.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:14 pm |
  5. Mookster

    You know, I used to be skeptic of a divine creator myself, but after taking a course in cellular biology and studing the mind boggling complex inter\intra cellular interactions that take place in the body, its kind of hard to believe that it all happened randomly. Processes such as transcription, translation, mitosis, meiosis, the structure of microtubules, protein chaparones, etc etc I could go on forever, are so complicated and intricate them in some cases with all our technology scientists still don't understand many aspects of life, let alone be able to replicate certain processes in a lab from scratch. So basically, my 2 cents are this: If you run accross an atheist who's never studied the complex biological and physical systems of our universe, he's basically talking out his ass if he just shrugs off the possibility of a divine creator, that is for sure.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
    • steveo

      If the maker is so intelligent then why do we have to eat, breathe, drink, and talk out of the same hole? This guarantees a good portion of us will choke to death every year. Not very intelligent in my opinion.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • claybigsby

      and if you run across a theist that has never studied those things, they are basically making stuff up out of thin air. Just because humans cannot understand some complexities of biology and life in general, doesnt mean that there is or isnt a god.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
    • Stevie7

      Typical of the religous – I can't explain it, so god must have done it!

      It's a lazy argument. There are countless examples of such claims being eventually disproved by science. And frankly, the make statements about cellular mechanics I think represents both a lack of understanding of evolution and a lack of appreciation for the time period in which it occurs?

      May 17, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • Charles in Iowa

      and by this reasoning, its just as likely that we are genetic experiment by aliens. I love how people, when confronted with a mystery or something that scares them, automatically falls back on the "boogie man" theory. I never claim to know it all, nor will I claim to be sure you are wrong, but then again, I would never knowingly or even indirectly wish harm upon someone else, you know the veiled slams of "I will pray for you" or even the people who say "he's going to ...." love the Christian love, as long as you are wearing the same brand of WWJD t-shirts and drinking the big glass of koolaide.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • Hitch

      Natural selection isn’t random, go back to bio 101.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:53 pm |
  6. Christopher


    WOW! Just Wow!! Not only have you condemmed this man to hell...."Maybe he's afraid because he is going into the dark". Which I believe your bible tell you is a sin.

    You also prove the atheist point. "He can't speak of things which he can't see with his humanistic eyes" Since no one sees GOD....except for people who drink the Kool-aid....then no one should speak of god ever again. Right??

    May 17, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
    • Bill

      Christopher no one is EVER condemned to hell. They go there because they choose to go there. They choose hell over heaven.
      Because to be in heaven requires bowing beore the king of the universe and the creator of all things. Some people would rather believe there is no heaven because they dont want to ever bow to anyone.
      Sad really.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
  7. Billium

    Keep giving your 10%. If not, you may be denied a ticket to "heaven."

    May 17, 2011 at 2:36 pm |
  8. Colin

    brings up another, even sillier, aspect of Christian superst-itions. Non-believers will burn for eternity in he-ll. Think this through. You don’t have to kill, you don’t have to rob, why, you don’t even have to litter. All you have to do is be obdurate in rejecting the Christian god and he will inflict a punishment upon you an infinite times worse than the death penalty….and he loves you.

    dark Ages nonsense.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • percy chow

      For what it's worth – according to the Bible, Hell was never meant to people – but rather a wish granted for Lucifer. A place where God – is not.

      Thus if people *choose* to not want to believe in God (or any other religious) figure for salvation or a "niver place" after death... who's really at fault?

      The unfortunate consequence of choice.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
    • Calvin

      God doesn't send anyone to Hell. Hell is to be separated for eternity from God's presence and those who go there choose to do so. Everyone is given the opportunity to spend eternity with Him, but if someone chooses to be separated from God then he gives you what you want. You can't complain about Hell if you choose to go there.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
  9. Fred Evil

    Next thing you know, this f$(*&er is going to tell me I'm not getting my 72 virgins either....I KEEL HIM!! – Achmed the Undead Terrorist

    May 17, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
  10. Bill

    For a supposedly extremely intelligent scientist he sure has missed the ball here. I am not saying that what churches describe as "heaven" is accurate but there is definitely another level of existence after this one as thousands of near death experiences can attest. In addition, the human body operates on electricity and electricity is energy. As Mr Hawking should know, energy cannot be destroyed, it can only change state. For instance, electricity into light. Does "Go towards the light" sound familiar?

    May 17, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • Billium

      There is an afterlife. Life and the universe will continue without you. All of us are a small part of a big picture, which will continue. The afterlife is the life that continues. All of life is one being. There is no god, but there will always be a universe, even if not ours.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
    • Stevie7

      Then do ufo's exist too, because there's lots of reports of those, too. And alien abductions? And ghosts? Just because someone says something happens, doesn't make it true.

      NDE's can also be reproduced in a lab just by stimulating certain areas of the brain. People just put a religious spin on their experience because they personally cannot explain it otherwise. Just like how people used to think god was responsible for the rising and setting sun and how we must be the center of the universe. Science conclusively tells us otherwise.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
    • BRC

      It's true, energy cannot be destroyed, only converted. However your question is based on an innacurate description of how the "electricity" in a human body functions.

      Electricity is a broad name for the exchange of electrons, which can be caused by a number of factors, such as fluctuating magnetic fields, or chemical reactions between properly structured molecules. Our nervous system , for instance, uses sodium, potassium, and a few other things, for the solution necessary to faciliate nerve synapse through an osmotic balance (ie. electricity via chemical exchange). The raw materials are different, but it's very similar to what happens a battery.

      With batteries, the production of electricity will continue until the balance of the solution has completely shifted, the electrons have moved as much as they are goign to, and the battery is "dead". Depending on its material make-up, introducing charge to the solution tips the ballance back in the other direction, recharging the battery for further use; though this can only be done but so many times. The human body is very similar, as long as our cells are functioning, and we are taking in the nutrients required to maintain the chemical balance, or body will facilitate the exchange of electrons.

      However, when we die, the cells cease to function, the chemicals stop moving and rebalancing, and the remaining charge developed is expended on finalizing the position of various molecules throughout the body (post mortem twitches and yes, even sensery perception such as a "bright light" can all be explained by the final amounts of electricity in teh body disipating and activating various muscles or cells within the brain).

      Now, I won't use it to say that there is no god or afterlife, but we certainly don't need either to explain what happens when humans die.

      May 18, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
  11. Stacy

    Hawking doesn't know this because he is so much smarter than most people.... Hawking is SAYING this because he's smart enough to not be afraid anymore of the consequences...... consequences from society, not from any god. Everyone knows he's right, they're just pressured to go along with religion because of family, friends and having their kids mistreated at school. Hawking knows there will be no peace on earth as long as religion has a part.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
  12. Liz

    It's sad that he has to live in this disabled body and has no hope of ever having a new body. I personally can't wait to go to heaven. The knowledge of eternal happiness gives me so much joy in this life. Without this knowledge, my life would have no meaning. What's fun about working, suffering with illnesses and even worse when we loose loved ones. I don't see any happiness in material things. I only have the necessities. Heaven is very real for me and I hope it is very many others too!!

    May 17, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
  13. PCollen

    GOD is the unknown variable in the equation of life. Hawkings, being a physicist, cannot solve the equation of life having an unknown variable. Therefore, he denies that variable's existance. And so he 'wins', which is what he must do to justify HIS existance.

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

    Whatever Steven....time for you to go see the father now.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • xactomundo

      If by Father you mean nothingness-void/universal-all, then yeah, sure...

      May 17, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
  15. Jon

    Proving the existence of God is just as impossible as proving that God does not exist. From my perspective, atheists do have a god and his name is "nothing"...atheism is a belief which requires faith. God's existence cannot be proved or disproved through scientific means period. An honest scientist would say "I don't know if God exists or not!".

    My 2 cents...

    May 17, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • steveo

      As an atheist myself, I do not have beliefs I have ideas. Ideas are much easier to change as we become more knowledgable about our universe.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • claybigsby

      "God's existence cannot be proved or disproved through scientific means period."

      And you know this how? Just because our science cannot prove or disprove god doesnt mean there isnt science out there in the universe that can.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • Stevie7

      Do you have a faith in not believing in Santa, or the toothfairy, or the flying spaghetti monster? Do you enjoy the hobby of not collecting stamps? Atheism is a view point derived logically from objective evidence. A lack of faith is not faith.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
    • Ben

      Atheism is a religion like bald is a hair color.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
  16. Eddie

    I guess it its that simple, everyone in existance has either believed or not in a god and that is their right to voice thier opinion. There has NEVER been proof that a "God, of any religion" exists or that it does not exist so everyone will be right or wrong in thier own minds and always feel that their opinion is the right one and thats fine. But to waste your time discussing whom is right or wrong is pointles because this debate will go on long after we have passed and even our children so instead why not just enjoy your existance on earth for as long as possible and live every day to its fullest and not worry about it. Never be influenced by what one man (Steven Hawking or words in a book) to determine how to make your life as happy as can be. As the teachings of the Dhali Llama state always look at life as the world is there to exsist to reflect of what you make it. Just go through your day with a smile and try to pass if forward if possible and if a roadblock occurs then process the actions to make it a suitable and positive outcome. Some have stated that believing in god is like beliving in unicorns that can fly, just on the basis that you will never see it doesnt mean it does or doesnt exist. I personally do not attend a church mainly due to the fact that I believe that wherever I am at any given moment is my place to thank myself for acheiving whatever i have in life to get where i am, therefore spending more time with my 4 children and lovely wife.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
  17. Chris

    Aetheism is just as arrogant as Religion.... claiming to know the truth.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
    • sacdaddy

      I'm an atheist, but I won't argue your point. I just think our views are more logical.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
    • Fred Evil

      No, we don't, but we claim that the evidence we have before us doesn't come close to matching the results you claim.
      The facts do no support your 'truths,' yet still you cling to them a fact.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • Dogs disciple

      Sadly, religion will end the world. And it won't be the non believers, it will be the people believing their God is the only one and the fighting that has escalated over the centuries. But then again I guess God wanted it that way?

      May 17, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
  18. R

    I think he's just sad he's stuck in a wheelchair. Give the guy a hug!

    May 17, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
  19. Paul Steele

    Of course there's no afterlife. No one can prove it, but that doesn't mean there is an afternoon. Just like Hawking says – its a fairy tale...

    May 17, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
  20. Tim

    Ummm....he says there is no need for God to create the universe because gravity can do the job.....who or what created gravity?

    May 17, 2011 at 2:34 pm |
    • Samuel Raines

      It was just there. Gravity, to him, is a beginning, as God, to you, is that same beginning.

      I could just as well ask you what created God, and then what created that, and that before that, and so on.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:35 pm |
    • closetiguana

      The universe created gravity.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • OpenMynd

      Who or what created God?

      May 17, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • Tim

      @ Samuel: you made the false assumption that I'm religious. And its not the same....I didn't say God created the universe....I asked what did? Hawking is saying he knows that gravity is all that's needed to create our physical universe...that's a scientific statement that is irrelevant....its not just a case of explaining how matter formed into the universe...its a question of where matter comes from. Remember...this is the same guy that said the universe will ultimately contract and be reborn by another big bang...which has been proven incorrect...the universe continues to expand at a faster rate...its not slowing due to gravitational forces.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • Ian

      Same argument can be applied to God. What created God? "God is." "Gravity is." same argument line.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • Kon

      And who or what created god?

      May 17, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • Bill

      Samuel ... God is eternal and supernatural ... beyond anyone's understanding, including Mr. Hawking.
      To discus spontaneous creation and NOT recognize that there must be a supernatural force beyond human understanding who created it ... THAT is the fairy tale.
      It's amazing that such a bright man could be so illogical ... he denies the existance of God and yet believes in spontaneous creation .... both of which he has never seen. Why? Angry a little? Bitter over your illness.
      Mr. Hawking, how sad for you. If you are right, it won't make a difference ... but If I am right ... well, let's just say eternity is a looooong time to cling to pride.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • jj

      Following your logic, I would ask you a similar question. Who created GOD?

      May 17, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
    • Cyndie

      To this scientist gravity is the beginning and asking him "Who created gravity" is the same as asking a believer "Who created God?" There are those things (scientist, believer, athiest, whoever) that we have, because of our own perspective, to accept as "are". These things are and always have been. There is no proof, there is no convincing, there is no actual argument. They just are.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • Mike

      Alright then, who or what created who or what created gravity? It's an infinite regress. Also I'm not as well versed with theoretical physics as others, but pretty much one of the primary theories is that there was no time before the beginning of the universe so it's irrelevant. The universe just "is."

      May 17, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
    • Tim

      Actually, my question is a scientific one. Everything we know about our universe has an explanation. There is some cause and effect to everything...its quite orderly. So why should we assume that gravity was just there....something caused it....something caused what caused it. Asking me "well, who created god"....doesn't affect me. I don't necessarily believe in God.....but I do believe that there is a cause to everything...and if Hawking doesn't think so....why did he go into science in the first place.....just because he can't figure out what created Gravity...or God....he wants to quit there and say" well, if he can't figure it out...then there isn't a cause"...it was just there.....sounds like a cop out to me. And the existence of any type of god has nothing to do with the existence of an afterlife...."god" could be a natural force that doesn't recognize our existence. If you want a more plausible explanation than Hawkings....how about we don't exist.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • Ben

      If the Universe and/or Gravity required a creator, then so did God. So who created God? Now it's just an endless line of Gods creating Gods for infinity. Occam's Razor is the common argument to use here. Of two competing hypotheses using the same parameters and outcomes, you should use the one that makes the fewest new assumptions, and has the fewest steps in its process. Tacking "God" onto the start of the Universe is adding complexity without reason to. So it's likely to be incorrect.

      And of course, keep in mind the amazing coincidence that the only Gods left in the modern world are Gods of things we don't understand. When we didn't understand where lightning and thunder came from, we had Zeus and Thor. When we didn't know what the Sun really was, we had Apollo and Amaterasu. But as we learn more about the universe, we shed these myths. And now we're down to just a few big questions like "where did the entire universe come from" and "is there any life after death" and it just so happens that those are the only Gods people still believe in.

      Fairy Stories indeed.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:10 pm |
    • BRC

      I don't know that it answers the question, but if you look at it correctly, nothing "created" gravity, it is a force that is inherently accompanies the pressenc of matter. I am certainly not an advanced physicist, and I hated astronomy, but I think the thought process follows the lines that gravity acts from matter on all matter around it, the greater the mass adn the shorter the distance the greater the effect, causing all the matter (and thereby all the weight) of the universe was compressed to a near singular point by a continual application of increasingly powerful gravitational force. This is the part where is gets a bit murky, as we still do not have finalized Theories onhow all the forces interact or even what the root cause of gravity is, but at some point with all of the matter and potential energy compressed into an almost incalculably small space and was triggered, cause was has been called the Big Bang. And that's where we will always snag, because it could have possibly been the mac daddy of all explosions and release of energy caused by all of the atomic particles of the universe simultaneously fusing (= greater energy release than fission); or, if you are inclined to believe- a diety of some sort may have seen the cluster and kicked it REALLY hard to see what happens. If you prefer science, your question becomes where did the matter come from. If you prefer religion, you have to figure out where the diety that did the kicking came from. Kind of took a long turn there, but the point is, you don't need to try and find "what" created the gravity.

      May 18, 2011 at 3:32 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.