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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. TXcinderella

    Dear Spiritual Leader, I only live in Texas, not from there so stick that in your pie hole and swallow it!.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
  2. MP

    Well, thank god this settled.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
  3. stephan

    Computational sciences provide a continuance of evidence for the case of intelligent design. Once again Mr. Hawking changes lanes on a fast track to discredit intelligent design by attacking God himself... Will Mr. Hawking next attempt be to discredit our own time and space domain as just an illusion and link it to probability theory...

    May 17, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
  4. edwin

    Who is Steven Hawking?

    May 17, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
  5. James

    Though I find his studies of black holes and the cosmos fascinating, I don't think he is an expert on heaven or the afterlife. The brain is much more than a computer. Computer's will never be able to love.

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

      Prove computers will never be able to love. Good luck.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
  6. TG

    Mr Stephen Hawking is like many, who say that the existence of an Almighty God that created the universe, is fantasy, along with "heaven". However, until just a few years ago in 1998, there was no recognition of dark matter and dark energy. Researchers, in analyzing light from a special kind of supernova, or exploding star, found evidence that the expansion of the universe is actually accelerating ! At first, the scientists were skeptical, but evidence soon mounted. Naturally, they wanted to know what form of unknown energy was causing the accelerating expansion. For one thing, it seemed to be working in opposition to gravity; and for another, it was not predicted by present theories.

    Appropriately, this mysterious form of energy has been named dark energy, and it may make up nearly 75 percent of the universe ! These researchers have provided a somewhat simple formulation of the universe – 74% dark energy, 22% dark matter, 4% normal matter or that which we can see. Thus, the "heavens" are more than "meets the eye", and as researchers dig deeper, the discoveries will only add weight to the fact that there is indeed an Almighty God, whom the Bible names as Jehovah.(Prov 3:19; Isa 40:22)

    May 17, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
  7. EvolveNowNotLater

    Why do we humans create religions and populate them with 'GODs'? To escape the finite. To put into a closet the knowlege that there is an end to each of us and never look at it again. Open the closet, let a chink of light in and see with your mind's eye that there is only the now in which each of us exists. We have one chance, which we call a life-time, to get it right and assist each other in surviving and triving as a species, no matter what comes next. We have one life in which to try and never stop trying to over come our selfishness, greed, glutteny... and give FORWARD to those who will come after us.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:51 pm |
  8. pistachio

    How does he know what there is after death??? That is ridiculous that he even talks such nonsense, like he knows something the rest of us don't. What an idiot!!!

    May 17, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
    • Alison

      Not necessarily an idiot. Just a realist.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • RonFromNM

      He's not an idiot, just someone who can think rationally about reality. A concept that clearly escapes you.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
  9. The All Knowing

    Hawking is a genious! Imagine how cluttered heaven would be if it did exist. With the earth population pushing 7 billion and increasing exponentially, there is no way for such a place to occur. Not to mention the billions of people already dead and trillions that have yet to be born. Do religious people leave room for the other organisms as well? The dogs, cats, birds, rats, insects, and microbes all surely go to heaven as well to right?

    The brain is capable of such amazing thought processes that it has blinded people to the fact that after death, you are exactly where you left off before you were born, non-existant. I'm sure nobody remembers the place they were before birth, because thoughts and memories occur within the brain, a network of neurons and chemicals that create these feelings. It can all be traced back to evolution and explained through scientific evidence, creationism just has faith.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
  10. Nick

    Well gosh, now that science has solved crime and invented ways to make us all tall, smart, creative, compassionate, good looking, tolerant, and polite, I guess we must stop questioning it.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
  11. Other Human

    Hawking went on to say that "water is wet", at which point several Waterians(?) stated that they felt in their hearts that water was not in fact wet.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
    • The Spiritual Leader of the Pagans

      you are such a funny dumb sh!t

      why were you not aborted?

      May 17, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
    • Other Human

      God saved me.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
  12. Canadian guy

    WE WILL ALL FIND OUT EVENTUALLY.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • steve88

      If hawking is right, no we wont. lol. just saying. haha.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
  13. 2tired2care

    I wonder when Hawkings last got some? I bet if he got more he'd have a rosier outlook on life.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • The Spiritual Leader of the Pagans

      his ladyfriend is a 10+

      May 17, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
  14. fairy-tale's

    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.
    So how can you Atheist set there and say that we believe in a fairy-tale when you are believing in something which odds are against. It would seem that you are the ones that are believing in a fairy-tale

    May 17, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • The Spiritual Leader of the Pagans

      Dumb @ss ~~~ it is sit there not set there ~ you hilbilly

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

      Roger Penrose is not a physicist so who cares what he has to say on the subject?

      May 17, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • Chris

      Because 10^(10^123) > 0 😉

      May 17, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
  15. Daniel

    Well put, J8m. People that believe in god want the rest of us to prove their wrong, but that's not the way it works. They have to prove that god exists, just like in law we try to prove guilt, not inocence. The fact is that there is no proof. The fact is that every religion has their "god", but they all think that their god is the only one. Sorry people, no proof, no existence. Does anyone have proof? Nope.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • Mike D

      That, and, the fact that this man knows more about the universe than any other person to have ever lived?

      May 17, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
    • lionroar88

      Daniel,
      It would be nice if you understood Religion before you type. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam all share the belief in the same God. The difference is in how they pray to that God and some other fundamental beliefs... for example Jews are still awaiting the Messiah, Christians believe Christ was the Messiah, I'm not well versed in how Muslims view Muhammad (I know he was a Profit, but I think he was more than that to them?).

      I'll take my 'blind' Faith any day over the Scientologists. I can't think of a better place to live out eternity than in Heaven.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
    • Reed Forrester

      @Daniel
      There are many people, including myself, for whom the proof is overwhelming. Dreams that come true, life changing epiphanies, out of body experiences, near death experiences, answered prayers, recovering from a disease that is normally 100% fatal after a spiritual experience. Perhaps you have never seen any proof for yourself, and don't believe the stories that others tell. Or maybe you've seen proof and just pretend it doesn't mean anything. Maybe the stories that other people tell are easy to dismiss, even if it is your own mother or best friend. Maybe you don't have any choice in whether you believe those things or not, for whatever inner reason you have. But anybody who actually looks for proof will find it. Here's an easy place to start for things that are unexplainable: A book by Larry Dossey, "The Power of Premonitions".

      May 17, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
    • Daniel

      Lion – Scientology is another religion. It is not science. You can choose to believe what you want, but according to Islam, you're going to hell. According to christianity, the Islamists are going to hell, along with all non-christians. Let's not forget all the millions of people that were on the earth before Jesus. I guess they all went to hell, too. You can believe what you want, but it doesn't make you right. It's funny how people will assign any unknown to a god. People just can't stand to just let unexplained be just that..... unexplained.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
  16. erica e

    For a man who has been through so much crap physically, its no wonder why he doesn't believe in heaven or god for that matter...i don't blame him...he has done nothing but provide the world with amazing knowledge and kindness through-out his life and here you people are judging him for being honest and truthful...so much for religious morals...go re read the bible and practice what you preach...

    May 17, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • Alison

      Very good point.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
  17. Sharon

    I once heard "If you live your life like there is no God and don't believe in Heaven and that Jesus died for our sins, then you'd better be right. If you are wrong, you will have a miserable afterlife". Makes sense to me. Live how you want. I choose Faith. It's also what freedom is about. Although in the past decade or so, Christians are made out to be hateful. We aren't hateful, we are saved! If a Christian acts hateful, they may not be a Christian. It is OK for us to have the beliefs that we have, though. I am ridiculed consistently about my beliefs, but it's OK for Muslims to pray in the middle of the sidewalk where I live. Wake up, America. Steven Hawking can believe whatever he wants. AND SO CAN I!!!!!

    May 17, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
    • steve88

      I agree; we can disagree and coexist =)

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

      Religion is full or artful wording, and logical paradox. "If you dont believe, you'd better be right" is simply a way of keeping the faithful, faithful. Now, science never says "If you think science is wrong, you'd better be right", because science is the ONGOING quest to refine our knowledge. Religion says, "No, accept what you are told, and don't listen to anything else". You tell me, which sounds more sensible?

      May 17, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • butlerbulldawg74

      You assume that people that 'live their life like there is no god...' are out there committing horrible atrocities. It's been my understanding that throughout history the worst evil the human race has ever seen was indeed committed in the name of god himself. Yeah, I'd choose to live life like there is no god any day of the week over that.

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

      and if you live your life with a belief in religion, you better be right or you will have wasted the only life you get.

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

      Sharon, I absolutely agree, you have the right to believe whatever you like. It's when people's religious views are given as justification to legislate their version of morality that I have a problem with.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:59 pm |
    • Reed Forrester

      @butlerbulldawg74
      "It's been my understanding that throughout history the worst evil the human race has ever seen was indeed committed in the name of god himself. Yeah, I'd choose to live life like there is no god any day of the week over that."

      Your understanding is wrong. Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, the slave trade, countless genocides, the arms trade, and many more were acting in the name of greed for wealth or land or power. Even for the conflicts that were supposedly about religion, many (not all) were really only using religion as a pretense when the real goal was greed, including the crusades. Ever hear of the Children's Crusade? On the other hand religion was used many times to stop wars. Even popes intervened between warring parties, calling on their religious faith to stop a conflict.

      The benefits that religion has brought are far too numerous to mention, but just in regard to regulating conflicts, they include reasons to avoid conflicts ("the meek shall inherit the earth"), methods to avoid conflicts ("turn the other cheek"), greater fairness in dealings with others (the Golden Rule), progressive increases in rules for promoting justice ("an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth" was a huge step forward in justice for that time, and helped people avoid getting murdered in trade for an insult, or a massacre in trade for a murder).

      Frankly I think that a society that did not have religious principles guiding it would be hell on earth, sort of like Somalia, or Wall Street. I am not saying anything about the source of those principles, only that people have religious faith in them.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
  18. jeb

    I guess we find out on Saturday

    May 17, 2011 at 4:48 pm |
  19. Nick

    But what does Stephen Hawking think of planking?

    May 17, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
    • butlerbulldawg74

      LOL! I think he'd say "beware of gravity" in those situations.

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

    Hawking, like myself, has come to the conclusion that religion, its dogma, its stories, and the concept of a god, are man mad ideas, which they are. Man, thousands of years ago, did not understand the scientific method. We do now, and it has given us more insight into everything from the subatomic, to the macroscopic than religion ever attempted to describe. Science has given us knowledge, religion has given us blind faith. Whatever road you choose, just remember not to be a hypocrite. Stephen Hawking's new book is fantastic, I've read it cover to cover twice. The meager quoting from the media does not give a good picture, or a picture of how well thought out and written this book actually is. Once you read this book, you will have an understanding of reality that you never thought was possible, or even probable. He is the smartest man alive, and deserves all the respect he has EARNED.

    May 17, 2011 at 4:47 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.