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. Jo

    I respect Hawking's right to state his beliefs. He doesn't believe in a heaven, and his immense intelligence gives him a great deal of credence. I do find myself a bit offended at the idea that I am afraid of death because I believe in an afterlife. His intellect does give him a great deal of power to assert his opinions on matters of belief, but I do not believe it gives him the right to also proclaim that holding such a belief is proof positive of any fear, weakness of character or lack of intellect. Personally, I greatly enjoy what my beliefs add to my life. If it is a fairy tale, it was a fun one!

    May 17, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
    • EvolveNowNotLater

      Jo, the reason to drop the pretense that there is some greater unknown purpose for our lives here is on Earth, is so we can open our eyes to the fact that there is an end to each of us. Once we embrace that belief, we can get on with the business of helping our fellow man/woman. We can take the next step in our evolution and leave this planet in search of other habitable planets, before the Universe, our own Sun or our own aactions finish us off as a species. Seeing it that way, I prefer the truth. Anyone else?

      May 17, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
  2. sms

    Not being mean, but he is slowly going a direction that we all know. With age and physical limitations that
    we all face, some of us slowly go into a world where we actually do go mad. There may and may not be
    heaven, but let us believe if we want to. Our souls must go somewhere Mr.Hawkins, where will yours go?

    May 17, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
  3. Egg

    Hawking is just a bitter old crippled maniac.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
    • Vynn

      Hey Humpty! Your cracked.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
  4. Tom

    People need to stop thinking that their faith in their religion somehow transfers over to complete fact that their religion is true. Faith – "belief that is not based on proof", in other words, don't confuse me with the facts and the mounds of data and research, I have made up my mind and am not going to do my proper research and due diligence before deciding my religious views. Idiots that are afraid to do proper research...

    May 17, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
  5. Big dog

    I find it interesting that so many people spit venom about, hate, or want to disprove the existence of God, or an afterlife. They spew ideas as facts, and can so a reason for why they think their argument is right. Believers just pray and keep it moving. God is not about fair, not about proof, his is about understanding, faith, salvation. Religion is not an open club, we dont ask you believe, you must choose to come to Him, just as some choose to go to science. By the grace of God HAWKINGS is alive, how does he explain a 49 year win with a disease?

    May 17, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
  6. thedude

    If I was as efffed up as he is I would think there isn't a heaven either. I'm glad to see my heaven won't have room for a d0uche bag know it all like him.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
  7. PACO

    JPO what a huge mind you have i would hope that you find trust in JESUS and that alone will improve your world i hope that you can

    May 17, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • Vynn

      I just hope you find Jesus. Frankly I've never seen proof that he ever existed. I've only read stories that some claim to be true, but of things and happenings that have never exitisted or happened before, nor since. Sounds like a fable to me, a fiction. There's a book that claims that a lady with a head full of snakes exists and one glance in her direction can turn you to stone. Should we believe it because it's in a book? Should we believe it because others tell us it's so? Should we believe it on another's authority? Or because it is a tradition? No. We should believe only when the claim is supported by evidence and common sense. Where is the evidence that the bible is true? Common sense and the absence of evidence tells me it's a fiction.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
  8. Jeanie

    Anyone who claims to know for a fact whether there is an aferlife or not is deluding them selves. The fact is we just dont know. I dont care how intelligent you are in other matters. No one knows for sure.

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

      But Jeanie I DO KNOW. Our brains work just like a computer; our memories and our thoughts are mere chemicals in binary forms resembling the 1s and 0s of the computor's language, carried from storage to processor by an electrical charge and relaying the result by electrical impulses via the nerves of our body. Here, housed in this organic computer is the sum of who we are, our memories, our thoughts, our subconscious being. All gone when the brain is starved of the oxygen that energizes it's operation. We KNOW this. There is NO soul. There is nothing of us to survive our death intact that can be called you. If there is no afterlife, then why would there be a heaven for the soul's deposit? Yes, we've come this far in our science to know this to be true. Yet it causes the weak to be afraid, so they invent fairytales to ease such fears and delude the fearful to faith. Religions are little more than afterlife insurance policies for which you won't be around to make sure they pay out in the end.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • techguy

      Jeanie, 2000 years of consecutive history sure beats xbillion years of complete speculation. Open your eyes.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:06 pm |
  9. Miraculous

    Mr. Hawking was diagnosed with a terminal illness @ the age of 21 and yet he is still alive today. In and of itself, that certainly seems to fit into the miraculous category. A point in his book (I'm reading it currently) he contends does not happen....
    He certainly can choose to believe whatever he wishes but I would be swayed to the contrary if I were in his shoes.

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

      And that's exactly why he is the smartest man on the planet and you're just a mindless christian

      May 17, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
  10. Jaycee

    Sad that he doesn't believe in God and an afterlife. With ALS, he could become whole again. At least, that's what I believe. Ah well, there's time – I hope he can take advantage of it.

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

      You're obviously right. And of course it goes without saying that all those who are healthy in this life will spend eternity in a wheelchair with ALS. Or maybe none of us will have a body and only our mind, which means you'll spend your eternity as a mental cripple. Or maybe...just maybe, there will be nothing but the strings we borrowed to create our brains and bodies, and the mind or soul will evaporate upon death. Which outcome scares you the least? And which one seems most likely?

      May 17, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
  11. Jim Weix, Palm City FL

    I do not agree with Mr. Hawking, with regards to the existance of a Higher Power. However, as a true Christian, I would not insult or belittle him for his belief. Like the Muslim terrorists, so called Christians become nothing more than them, when they insult or wish injury on those who do not believe the same as them.
    They are not Christians, just ignorant zealots.

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

      You don't condem the person, but certainly his believe. As a Christian you should ABSOLUTELY take a stand against such nonsense.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:49 pm |
  12. Thor son of Odin

    I would like to know why my father is not included in this? Odin is a great warrior, creator of all the universe. Why doth this weakling Jeezy creezy get a name check and not my Pappa? My neighbor, Apollo God of the Sun wants to know why Jupiter, King of the Gods also doesn't get a name check, lets not forget, he fed those silly early Jeezy followers to the lions. What's up with the arrogant christians??? Many Gods before them, we're still here, just because no politician says "Odin bless America" doesn't mean we don't exist!! Why is it every time a 'god' discussion comes up numb nuts mention the Judeo/christian god, the grave yard is full of dead 'gods'...their's will follow in time, just ask Woden...

    May 17, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
  13. Dogs disciple

    If there is one thing this story has shown us, it's that people are sticking to their opinions. Is there a God? No there is no God? What this shows us is both sides are willing to fight to make their point, though I feel those who believe in a God, one of the 3500 on record, seem to be willing to die to make their point more than the Athiests.
    The bible the greatest story ever conjured up and put on paper. Had Dr. Seuss been around then perhaps the lot of you would be praying to the Grinch?

    May 17, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
  14. Mike

    I don"t need the Hawk to tell me that heaven does or doesn't exist. Look around at all the bad, bad, bad things happening in our world. You're saying Jesus was there when that seal shot Bin Laden? Fantasy, indeed.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
  15. jeffrey65000

    I think those comfortable in their faith would not feel the need to comment on this this topic. Seems like it'd be a moot point. Otherwise, they are just name-calling. Which isn't very Christ-like.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:43 pm |
  16. me

    Penrose a friend of Hawkins stated that the odds of the "Big Bang" accident is 10| 10| 123 to 1.
    That is 10 to the 10nth to the 123rd

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

      I will definitely take your friend Penrose's evidence then. Definitely, this man I never heard of over Stephen Hawking.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • Tom

      With infinite time and infinite space doesn't that basically mean that anything that is possible will eventually happen if you wait long enough??

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

      So I would imagine that this chance is repeated every second of time, though time can be measured at far smaller increments, that this is the number of seconds that "nothing" existed until "something did.

      For me, it is rediculous to lay odds of probability of something happeneing when it has only happened once, many billions of years ago. Don't you have to have a collection of examples in order to postulate their probabilities? There's only one Universe. Where's the collection upon which probability is then projected? Seriously.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
  17. TheBear

    I must ask this of all the believers out there:

    There are many religions in the world, and many branches of each religion. And the most fervent believers all believe that only their chosen religion will enter heaven and not the others, so how do you know you are following the correct path?

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

      Its called faith. Much like scientists believe they can find the answers to the toughest questions, even if they have no clue as to how to do so.

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

      You don't. That's why it's called "faith".

      May 17, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
    • hey

      same way you know a counterfeit currency from a genuine one. By recognizing features of the true one, you can dismiss all the counterfeit ones. Obviously this takes effort.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • TheBear

      Yes, but Brian why does your faith tell you to be a Mormon rather than a Baptist? Please elaborate on your position

      May 17, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • hey

      I can kind of paraphrase why I've chosen my religion (Jehovah's Witnesses)

      I believe that God exists. I believe that he created the physical universe and all life in it. I believe that it's reasonable for him to communicate with humans be means of the Bible. What leads me to the bible is actually a bit more complicated than that, but I'll start there for the sake of simplicity.

      Many religions claim to follow the bible. But not all of them follow it.

      The Bible says that God's name is Jehovah. Many religions say God has no name, but that's not according to the bible.
      The Bible says that Jesus is God's son. Many religions teach that God and Jesus are the same person, or are part of a trinity. But the bible does not teach that, and furthermore that defies logic. I'm not my father, and you aren't yours, so why would Jesus be God if he himself says he is God's son.

      These two statements alone rule out the majority of religions that identify themselves with the Bible. But there is more.

      Jesus said his followers were no part of this world. So how can his followers participate in politics, trying to shape the world to mirror "Christian" values? The bible says Christians were to reside as alien residents, and in fact as ambassadors and envoys on behalf of God's kingdom? What ambassador do you know that meddles in the politics of the land he resides. Jehovah's Witnesses put their trust in God's Kingdom, and do not put their trust in "earthling man" or "nobles" (psalms).

      Jesus said "he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword". He also said "love your enemies". furthermore Paul said "return evil for evil to know one". As a result, Jehovah's Witnesses do not take part in physical warfare on behalf of the nations, recognizing that their purpose is to preach the good news regarding God's Kingdom. You can't preach to someone if you kill them.

      The list goes on. But I think you get the point. What I'm trying to say is, I believe what the bible says, and on the basis of its claims, I align myself with a religion that actually follows it.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
    • TheBear

      If your's is the true religion, shouldn't people come to you? Why do the Jehova's witnesses feel the need to go door to door to try to convert people to their ways?

      May 17, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
    • TheBear

      Also, I must put it to you that unless you fluently understand ancient languages, then you have NOT read the bible, you've read an English translastion of the bible, and as you no doubt know, much can be lost in translation, such as your use of "Jehova" as God's name, which is highly Anglicized.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
    • techguy

      There is one heaven, one God, one teaching, etc. Sin and human perversion which include this scientist, clouds our thinking, and hence we have all those religions in different forms. There is only one thing that ensures our salvation which is the blood of Christ that was shed as an atonement for our sin. If you believe that you will be saved. Using your smarts will never get you anywhere. God that has created Heaven and Earth can certainly see through you before you even know it, Stephen Hawkins or not... As for the right religion, start with early Christianity and go from there. You will find a common theme of teachings before people fall away from the thruth only to be renewed by spiritual leaders again (St. Augustine, Martin Luther, John Arndt, etc.). Modern religions like Jehovah Witnesses, Mormons, etc. are just that...Modern Religion. God does not modernize his teaching and the bible warns us of those false prophets. Truth be told, you won't be popular, but the true Christians were never popular, and likely lead a simple life.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
  18. G D

    Who is Steven Hawking?

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

      A smarter man than most.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
    • Sanity

      A man obviously smarter than you.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
  19. EvolveNowNotLater

    We humans of planet Earth are so very arrogant to even consider that 'GOD' might be a being who created us in his image, making our frail bodies holy by his design. If 'GOD' does exist, who is to say that he was not just some highly intelligent inter-gallactic traveler who decided one day to seed this planet with some DNA, which when combined with a few strings of proteins, water and electricity from lightening became the first life on Earth. That 'GOD' may be an ameba, extremly evolved in some ways, but still a mortal creature who is long gone. We may have been given peices of its DNA millions of years ago, but did not evolve yet into highly intelligent inter-galactic travelers and therefore we have failed our one-celled creator to this point. If we continue on our current path and continue to believe in a Heaven, why would we ever take the next step in the evolution of our species and leave this planet in order to find more habitable planets thorugh out the Universe? That is the step, after a small mental leap of 'non-faith' that Hawkin is hoping his writing will evoke.

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

      What if our known universe is actually just the result of some kids science project, and we actually just exist in a petri dish or fishbowl?

      May 17, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
    • hey

      I like the Scyfy channel too. 🙂

      May 17, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
  20. Skeptic

    I agree that there is very little evidence of a god as defined by the world's major religions, and not having a better answer as to how life or the universe came to exist does not count as a reason to believe in God in my opinion.

    On the other hand, why do so many of my fellow skeptics take such a vitriolic stance on the subject? How are you being negatively affected by those that do believe? I love that we live in a place and time where we can openly share our personal beliefs. There is no need to blast away at someone just because they do not agree with you.

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

      I wouldn't care if religion weren't so fully ingrained into politics, and if you didn't have things like a large bloc of Christians trying to remove gay rights, or get creationism taught in classrooms, or even make highly political statements and campaigns (like the Mormon's prop 8 one) without losing tax exempt status. Those kinda make me a little bit p!ssed.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • Dogs disciple

      Because churches don't pay property tax? Isn't that the real reasoning behind Scientology?

      May 17, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
    • TheBear

      Because differing religions are the ultimate cause of the some of the worst conflicts in the world and have been for centuries

      May 17, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
    • iPwn

      "How are you being negatively affected by those that do believe?"

      Religion is the cause of the vast majority of wars, at least the wars for which man has kept records.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
    • Skeptic

      Andrew, I hear what you are saying, and I hope that we as a people continue to move toward equality under the law for everyone. Like you said there are those in America that feel like it is their duty to impose their religious beliefs on everyone, but I have faith in my fellow Americans that we will not allow that to happen. We should all have the freedom to live as we choose up until the point where you infringe on the rights of others.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • Marc

      I agree with you wholeheartedly Skeptic. Atheism is, by definition, a "faith", since we have no more proof that God doesn't exist that they have that he does. Any true skeptic should keep an open mind about things we can't prove.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
    • Skeptic

      Hate, greed, and fear would still exist without religion. I don't think violence or war would disappear if religion did not exist, but it is a hard hypothesis to prove/disprove.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • TheBear

      No, war would not disappear, but some conflicts might.

      Would India be fighting Pakistan now? Would the arab world be fighting Israel? Would the Iran-Iraq war have happened? (Shiite vs Sunni)

      It's not so much the existance of religion as the intolerance for differing religions that is the ultimate problem.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:12 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.