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. riley08182008

    Love this guy, can you say genius?

    May 17, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
  2. Hartmut

    This is the main problem: To know or not to know the difference between faith and science. If faith could be grabbed by science, then there wouldn't be any need of faith.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
  3. RK

    tomn8r – there is no proof for the existence of a higher power either. Certainly in times of dispair, it is comforting to know that one's suffering may be a part of a pre-ordained plan, but that also suggests that the concept of free will is a fallacy.

    I tend to side with science, as it has been able to answer virtually all of the questions we have asked regarding our origins, with the great exception of how matter came to be in the first place. We do know that the universe originally consisted of hydrogen atoms, which eventually formed heavier elements through the process of nuclear fusion, which occurs within each and every star, and these heavy elements were dispersed when stars go super nova. Still the ultimate question is how that matter came to be in the first place.

    The above process ultimately shows we were not exactly molded in the form of some supreme being- rather that we as humans are the culmination of eons of creation, destruction and evolution, and will have exisited for less than the blink of an eye, relative to the age of the universe. However, the components that we, and everything around us are made up of came from somewhere, but where? Personally, I believe that god, or more appropriately, the creator is not some old guy with a beard watching down upon us, and perhaps not even a sentient being at all. Through the lens of the hubble space telescope, we have been able to look back to the beginning of time itself, and have found a massive region of dust and gas, which literally gives birth the new galaxies ... my question is – could something like this be god? If you think about it, this area creates stars, and planets, and by extension, all that organic life needs to exist – isn't that the key role of what we all call god?

    This is not meant to bash religion....religion serves to provide us all with a code of ethics to live by, without which human society may have never reached the point where we find ourselves today. In fact, all of the issues with religion stem from people – how many deaths can ultimately be traced back to the fact that one person believes something different than the other? Did the bible command men of religion to squash scientific thought during the dark ages, or were these people simply afraid of losing their power and influence, which happen to be two human constructs?

    May 17, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
  4. Orlando

    Why argue? it is impossible to prove or disprove who's right or wrong. He's got an opinion, thats all. it's not fact nor fiction cause no one knows. personally I think his computer analogy is spot on. but don't forget that electricity powers those computers, and energy is niether created nor destroyed. if a component of the computer doesn't work, the Electricity stays in the grid. our souls will return to the energy grid of heaven! I'm not much of a believer in hell even though some deserve it....LOL so when he passes hopefully he'll have the genious from the other side to figure out how to relay the message that God lives to we living mortals whom suffer not knowing what awaits us! wouldn't that be great!....LOL

    May 17, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
  5. swin

    So Mr. Hawking thinks the world spontaneously formed itself out of gravity. Well, Mr. Hawking, where did gravity come from?

    May 17, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
  6. Me

    There are people that have seen the afterlife and come back to tell about it. Mr. Hawking should stick to real science and leave is personal opinions out of it.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
    • Mr. Chow

      So people's accounts of "seeing the after-life" after a near-death experience is proof? C'mon..The only thing it's proof of is a dying brain's feable attempt to rationalize what is happening.

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

      Sorry, but all those images of the afterlife are nothing, but the misfiring of electrical inpulses and the optical nerves as you are dying. When you are revived those are the memories you are left with. It's like a computer shutting down and closing all of it's programs for a brief moment you are able to see all those programs as the windows are closing and shutting down the system.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
  7. Randy

    I was at Stephen Hawking's house the other day when the doorbell rang. I says to Stevie, I says, "I'll answer it – don't get up."


    May 17, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
    • f

      BA-dum-bum psshh!!!!!!

      May 17, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
  8. Gerald

    Whether you be Jew or Gentile, belief in G-d is a choice. Trusting that the Universe came forth from nothing is also a belief. Whatever you choose, don't bash someone else for the choice of "beliefs" they made. Hawkings, however, unlike many scientists before him, made his belief to be supreme over all others. He has put himself no better than a religious nut.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
  9. Otto

    Try reading the Bible before you knock it. 90% of the people who put down God stand firmly on mis-guided facts. I hope there is a God. But I guess I wont know until I die. Neither will you.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
  10. REG in AZ

    It is hard to imagine someone taking such a strong position when they really can't explain everything. As I understand, no one can explain what was or from where was whatever there was before the "big bang", or explain what and how the power exists at the very most basic level (sub-cell) that gives everything its existence – could it be of/from God, the soul of everything, its aura? And then there is what everyone has experienced – what you know intuitively, what you just sense, experience, feel. No, I think everyone has to answer the question for themselves and be confident in their own answer for themselves. Until someone answers all of the questions or comes back and tells us, that is the best we can do.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
    • Darryl

      Superb comment.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
  11. The 13ers

    He's right. Churchies are just wasting time. If I'm wrong, then I guess I burn in hell or whatever cult you follow definition as hell (that definition might be Cleveland, but I digress).

    Look at what religion does (and has done) to people. Such a waste of time, money, life. Try to think of all through the ages of what could have been accomplished without religion.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
  12. Challenge

    Well it doesn't take one of the worlds leading scientific minds of our time to figure that out. Every man, women and child with an IQ over 100 should be able to reach the same conclusion.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
    • spiek78

      A lot of intelligent people have faith in God. Isn't there a possibility that God created something from nothing? I for one would rather be safe than sorry. What's my loss if I have faith and there is no God? If there is a God and I blatantly deny the existence then I might be in trouble when I die. Just a thought...

      May 17, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
  13. Randy

    I can walk.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
    • Argument from final consequences

      He can think. I would rather be able to think.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:07 pm |
    • f

      I think I'll take a walk.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
  14. George

    Stephen Hawking is a fairy story.ALS for all those years?
    Not likely.He doesn't really exist.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
    • f

      I have never heard of a case of ALS where the patient lived for more than several years. He needs to be re-diagnosed. Its NOT ALS.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • Argument from final consequences

      f's argument is a classic argumentum ad ignorantiam.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
  15. Tom in ATL

    For those of us who believe that God created the heavens and earth, it's really a shame that such a brilliant man uses his knowledge to declare that heaven is a "fairy story". If he would have said "heaven is real and God is preparing my mansion just for me", would all you non-believers think, "oh my gosh, Hawking said it, therefore it must be true"? Either way he loses. Neither side is "provable" – period. That's why it's called faith. (yes, belief in evolution is FAITH!) Study both sides, and I guarantee God will change your thinking!

    May 17, 2011 at 5:01 pm |
    • Argument from final consequences

      Evolution is not based on iron age mythology. It is based on an overwhelming amount of evidence, not ridiculous sophisms like "That is why it is called faith," which is shorthand for "We have no clue, and ignore our internally inconsistent assertions."

      May 17, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • Roland

      Part of the Christian (Evangelical, Mormon, and Catholic) mission is to spread those beliefs to all corners of the globe. Does Steven Hawking not have the right to express his beliefs too?

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

      Evolution is a well established fact. Backed up by a mountain of evidence. Even though the evolutionary jigsaw puzzle has a scant few missing pieces, the image it reveals is unmistakable, God and religion is ALL conjecture. Funny as science intrudes on once held ground of religion, religion will keep backing up…draws a new line in the sand, then redefines what God is to fit science's remaining missing piece of the puzzle.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • Nurse Lisa

      if evolution was provable it would be the LAW of evolution not just the theory.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
    • Roland

      And if Christianity where provable, you wouldn't need "faith".

      May 17, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  16. Kermit01

    Why is Stephen Hawking making all these absolute claims without scientific evidence to back them up? That is very unscientific. Without proof his atheist beliefs are just another faith. It is troublesome that he mixes his faith with science and tries to portray it as real science.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • Mark C

      Baloney. There is no more proof for God than there is for the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
    • sean stott

      atheism isn't a faith, it's a lack of faith. Do you have to back up your belief that there is no such thing as unicorns or the tooth fairy?

      May 17, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
    • Hmm

      "I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail," – That's a statement of opinion, not fact.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • Bob D.

      The Flying Pasta Monster does not exist because it is known to be a creation of man. However, if you say God does not exist, then prove it.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • Mr. Chow

      Doesn't it concern you that a person with an IQ and intellect far-exceeding that of ordinary people is that confident that there is no Heaven or after-life?

      Science is not the enemy of Religion: common sense is.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • Nurse Lisa

      they say they can't have faith in God because they can't see Him; but scientists have faith in a naturalistic cause for the universe and yet noone observed the event – it is faith in the cause of the universe without proof. Ok so gravity caused it – what caused gravity? When he dies he believes there is nothing. Hawking has faith in lots of unprovable issues but with far more consequences since he's chosen to bet his eternity on it.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
  17. Bert

    God Exists. Religion Shouldn't.

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

      Amen to this! I agree completely. I believe in God, but not so much in organized religion.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
  18. GG

    More questions, does God have to pee, and if he does, does he put the seat back down.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
  19. toto

    I am more convinced that we humans live inside of an atom which is part of a molecule which is part of a big body or element and that there are zillions of zillions of living worlds, but I also convinced that God is the Creator of all of those worlds.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • Mick Travis

      "Professor Jennings, could I buy some pot from you?"

      May 17, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
    • f

      I believe almost the same thing ! I always had this idea that everything that ever existed in our world and in all the universe was just a dream in the mind of God. That's a pretty cool idea too, right? But it all goes back to God (from whence it came). Yes God and Heaven do exist and I hope to meet God in Heaven one day. Hope to see you there !

      May 17, 2011 at 5:08 pm |
  20. kir

    If life and existence is nothing more than just a "cosmic accident," then there is no reason for living.
    I prefer to live my life with purpose.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:00 pm |
    • Argument from final consequences

      Because something would be better if true, does not make it so. That is a logical fallacy.

      And, you don't need to believe in a supernatural surveyor in order to have a life with purpose. Be good to other people and make the world a better place. Simple.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
    • PeterPam

      You can have purpose without fairy tales or the promise or an afterlife or made up religions. I know many good people who are non-believers leading righteous productive and purposeful existences (however brief that may be).

      May 17, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • sonofgadfly

      Go ahead. Your purpose is still made up.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:06 pm |
    • Brian Holbrook

      What purpose? To serve a god who is at best indifferent and at worst a sadist? What good is your impotent god to you? Can he stop you from getting cancer? Prevent your child from being murdered? Stop the gunman from mowing you down in your church pew? History shows he either can't or won't which makes him either useless, psychopathic, or non-existent. If he did create us, why did he do so? Because he was lonely and the angels weren't doing it for him? Why create us with free will? We won't have free-will in the afterlife so why not skip all the trouble it caused? Looked at logically your god is a moron.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:09 pm |
    • andrew

      its always good to prepare if you believe in jesus and you die and there is no jesus than you lose nothing, but if there is you gain eternal life in heavan, i have had ups and downs in my commitment to GOD during my lifetime but as of lately i have searched to learn more and pray more and lay down my bad habits and GOD has truly been proving to me his existance and love he has for a faithful believer.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:21 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.