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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. EvolveNowNotLater

    Basing my life on the belief that I should never cause harm to another human being, I know I have made transgressions. I do not look to a GOD to absolve me. You should not either. Stand up and walk over to that person and apologize. Take what ever forgiveness/critisism they give you, learn from it and move on. If there is no GOD, this is the best we can do.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
  2. The Final Word

    Hawking 1 Fairy Tale Believers 0

    May 17, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
    • Indigo

      Odd, because I found his announcement so flawed with incongruencies that I consider this a victory for the "fairy tale believers".

      May 17, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
    • The Final Word

      Belief is just that. There will never be solid proof there is a God because he/she, the Bible and the whole religious system was conjured up by men who believed there had to be something greater than them. After they wrote that famous or infamous best seller they became celebrities and God was born.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
  3. mike58

    I saw a great quote recently "myths are religions in which there is no one left who believes. " Christianity, islam, scientology, etc are all myths in the making and if history is a guide, they still may have many hundreds of years to make the transition. Thank you SH for helping speed the process.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
    • EvolveNowNotLater

      Yes, Steven Hawking. Thank you for everything you have accomplished, while trapped in your crippled body and totaly free to explore your mind and our Universe!

      May 17, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
  4. Paulo

    Either God (or some higher power whatever you choose to call it or him or her)exists or he doesn't. Nothing Steven Hawking or anyone else says will change it, so what's the big deal. You can choose to believe anything you want. I have not seen physical proof of God but I haven't seen any physical proof of a big bang, black holes and all the other theories either.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
  5. AB

    noooooooooooooooooooo!! but it makes us feel better if we believe there is life after death so stop being a non believer!

    May 17, 2011 at 5:13 pm |
  6. 2bits

    Hawking is a truly wise man.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
  7. WBL

    Spontaneous creation?! Something out of nothing? Hawking is supposed to be a physicist. Rule #1 of physics: you can not create or destroy energy, just change it to another form. Mr Hawking should practice physics as he preaches it at least.
    Science can not answer all questions... as a matter of fact it still can not prove evolution of man... still no missing link. Gee, funny how that works. I wonder if Mr. Hawking has ever contemplated the wonder of human eye... or is that just some fluke spontaneously created from nothing. C'mon, really.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • derp

      Missing link?

      Between what?

      May 17, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
    • Michael

      Not the old missing link and wondrous human eye arguments again. You have to be so absolutely devoid of any understanding of science – or so completely blinded by fear of hell – to be unable to pick those old chestnuts apart in a few logical steps, that it serves no point to argue with people who cling to them like a drowning Fundamentalist whose ship of blind faith is sinking.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
  8. Indigo

    Well it is called faith for a reason! If God proved his existence, then everyone would "believe". God said that he would reward those who believed. If he proved himself, then you aren't using your faith. It isn't a "reward" if it is handed to you. It's like handing you an exam with a copy of the answer key. It doesn't prove that you learned the answers, it just proves that you skipped the hard part, (believing), and went right to the reward, (heaven)

    May 17, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • derp

      "God said that he would reward those who believed"
      When and where did he say that. I must have missed it. You would have figured he would have let fox news know so that they could cover it.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • The Final Word

      Ha ha. Too funny. Faith in a God is the only proof you have. And belief is no proof at all.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
  9. TechTalkGuy

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

    Before birth, there was no 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 5:12 pm |
  10. SilverHair

    Brilliant!! Heal thyself. Can't do it. Who will he ask?

    May 17, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
  11. wcb2009

    I find it easier to believe alien astronaut theories describing primitive humans worshipping aliens which they called "Angels" before I can believe in a "God" that holds the entire universe in "his" back pocket. And moreover there is actual physical evidence of this in ancient ruins and vivid descriptions in ancient writing. Funny how intelligent rational minds will call this madness but eagerly accept the existance of God.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
  12. Heaven

    Looks like the amyotrophic lateral sclerosis impaired his brain more than anything else.....

    May 17, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • Indigo

      Please..... Stop trying to help us if you don't know what you are doing. You are just making the rest of our jobs harder because we have to take responsibility for ignorant comments like that.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
  13. Tim59

    Doomsday is in four days. I wonder how Hawking's going to explain that.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • Indigo

      So how will you explain it if it doesn't happen? What exactly will you say if it doesn't end? Please reply.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:16 pm |
  14. Other Human

    It's not a "fairy story", it's an "old wives' tale". Csssh, idiot Hawking....

    May 17, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
  15. Ann

    In his book Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays, published in 1993, prominent physicist Stephen Hawking concluded that “science could predict that the universe must have had a beginning.”

    May 17, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • Indigo

      Well no frick it had a beginning. We are arguing about who or what made it.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
  16. Steve

    Looks like God punished Hawking in advance....

    May 17, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • Jerry

      Or perhaps God is making Steven suffer for "our sins", like that Jesus dude you guys keep harping on about?

      May 17, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  17. Careful Thought

    If there is an apple on the table when two people walk into the room, and one person says, "Hmm, I think someone left an apple here" and the other says, "No, the apple appeared here on its own", the second is the one who bears the burden of proving that something complex happened, for the first time in recorded history, without something causing it to happen. The wording "GIVEN the existence of gravity..." implies that there is indeed gravity, and matter and a place for them both to act. Certainly I can imagine matter not existing at all being the basic world with no god. The existence of matter, electrons, protons, neutrons, follwoing a careful set of rules of behavior alone is enough for a reasonable person without an ax to grind to say, "It's reasonable that there's more to this story than: there is matter and space and time and it's all going to work together to form things such as carbon atoms, Lady Gaga and frustration, without any purpose or external intervention. And if you think otherwise, you're obviously a silly backward hick who clings to bronze-age myths to assuage your fear of death." No, I think you can be the smartest person in the world and look around you after studying the ins and outs of biology and all the sciences and conclude that even if I don't know what "it" is, there has to be SOMETHING beyond what we can perceive. Something helped start this even if it isn't still involved. Many many solid Ph. D.s are firmly convinced that their study of science points to an "initial cause" that they can't rule out. And most of them are at least as smart as the average CNN forum contributor with a snappy answer.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • Indigo

      I love this post so much. ^_^

      May 17, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
    • wcb2009

      It has already been proven that matter can be spontaneously created without any divine intervention. I think that is Steven's entire point. To borrow an expression from his book, "it's turtles all the way down"

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

      "even if I don't know what "it" is, there has to be SOMETHING beyond what we can perceive."

      Erm yes, but abandoning the scientific method in the pursuit of that answer and concluding, without evidence, that "God must have done it", is intellectually lazy beyond belief. Literally.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
    • Michael

      Nobody but a fool resents people from believing in a creator. What we resent is people constantly threatening us to accept wholesale their exact and complete belief system on no good rational grounds at all.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
    • M

      How has it been proven that matter begins to exist without reason? Because we can't observe a cause? Good job

      May 17, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
  18. M

    IIf you want to gouge your eyes out after looking at all the fundamentalist Christian and village atheist comments in the comment section, you are not alone.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
  19. lee

    this was written a long time ago....before Hawking....by a better man....his name was John

    Because that which may be known of God is manifest in themf; for God hath shewed it unto them. 20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even† his eternal power and Godhead; sog that they are without excuse: 21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools

    May 17, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • Michael

      John's description of divine truth certainly precludes any of the cherished tenets of Christian fundamentalists invented many centuries later by Calvin. John speaks of things that are evident to the natural philosopher; nothing we couldn't get from Plato or Lao-Tze.
      And most folks don't feel any more reverence if he hath shewed it to him in the King James Version or not.

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

      Nowadays, John would be locked up in a padded cell.

      Actually, he'd more likely be shot in the eye by a Navy Seal.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
    • M

      Hawking was not attempting to make a rational argument, he was simply stating his personal opinion. If you think the fact that he's a brilliant physicist gives him the credibility to make bald philosophical pronouncements you are incredibly weak minded. Which is probably why you're satisfied with the idea that things pop into existence spontaneously in the first place.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
  20. rosemarie robson

    i think hawking need to put his nose into reading the WORD OF GOD (which he can find in the BIBLE). He should put away all of his science books, which will not get him into HEAVEN. I wish I could see the look on his face when JESUS returns to earth, lets see if he thinks that HEAVEN is a fairy story then. Oh and by the way Mr. Hawking you will still have time to repent and change your story before the sign is put on your forehead by the angels of GOD.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • Corey

      How is the bible the word of god. Assuming god exists, which he doesn't, did he/she write the bible? No. Men wrote the bible. (Not women because woman weren't allowed to write). Then other men, translated the bible into hundreds of religions, which were again translated into other religions. With each translation, another man behind the writing, with his own prejudices and political agendas.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
    • Eric

      you miss the point. There is no 'god', so why should he concern himself.
      I wish I could see your face before you die, when you realize there is no other side, only death and taxes.

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

      You can't scare us any more. We are grown up now and can think for ourselves.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • Lincoln Place

      @Rosemarie – what are you going to do when you die and there is nothing else? Nothing, because you'll be dead. No rising up into the sky, no eternal happiness frolicing in the clouds, no ambrosia with your GrandMa. But if believeing helps you put one foot in front of the other and make it through your life, go ahead and believe – it's your life, the only one you'll ever have. Just don't expect those of us capable of accepting that this is all there is to not enjoy ourselves by mocking you and laughing when you try to scare us into sharing your beliefs!

      May 17, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
    • Jerry

      Do you still believe that there are monsters under your bed?

      May 17, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
    • WBL

      Rosemarie, Jesus tells us that not all will come to Him. People, as time passes, won't believe even eye witnesses such as Peter and John and James, calling them liars and exaggerators. We are His people, called by His name. The truth is the truth no matter how people might rail against it. We will continue to feed the poor and care for the widows and orphans, as Christ has instructed us to do. And pray for the lost. Put on the whole armour of God and stand. Good on you sister. God bless you.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:27 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.