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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. davey

    thanks for your input stevie. now i can catch the early nfl game and not feel guilty.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
  2. drahcir61

    NO ONE knows if there is a God or Creator. Those who believe do so from faith & ancient written text. It's one thing to "live your life with meaning" & believe in a God. But if you are unwilling to even consider other possibilities then you lack the true meaning of life which is to use your brain to explore all possibilities ... & not just believe what others have told you.

    Who created God? And God's Creator??? Spontaneous creation either created this Universe or it created God. One way or another, spontaneous creation has, & probably still does exist.

    If you can't tell me who created God ... or if you can't explain how God created itself ... then your own beliefs are flawed.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
    • nick2

      I could say the same about the tooth fairy.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
  3. OctaveOrgans

    Who cares about the afterlife! What matters is the here and the now. Later will come and be addressed when it gets here.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
    • steve88

      well it would matter if we are punished for; being wrong about beliefs, or for not believing, or for believing the "true"-ist claim to be false,, But that entire idea and its premise is completely unfounded as well. lol xD

      May 17, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
  4. RaKa

    There is actually no scientific proof that stephen hawkins is the one doing the talking. So all we really know for sure is that somewhere there is a computer that doesn't believe in God. And why should it, when we are the ones that created it?

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

    Sounds like good news to me! I was on the highway to hell!

    May 17, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
  6. J. Mike

    I would like to ask Mr. Hawking one thing: If he has had ALS (Lou Gehrig's Disease) for so long, and most people die from this disease within 2-3 years of diagnosis, what's keeping him alive? Perhaps he himself is a miracle that science can't explain, much like the God that he claims doesn't exist.

    On a more human note, what kind of person would spend his time debunking the historical and traditional beliefs of nearly every society that ever existed? Is that really his definition of living life to it's fullest? Perhaps I am delusional to a scientist, but its my belief in a God and an Afterlife that allows me to have compassion toward my fellow human being regardless of his belief structure. I wonder what compassion Mr. Hawking shows?

    May 17, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
    • nick2

      Just fate, I should think. Certainly not magic – unless you believe that the creator put him on earth to annoy zealots?

      May 17, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
  7. greenbird321

    Oh, well if Stephen Hawking says it, it MUST be true. *facepalm*

    May 17, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
  8. OZ

    QUESTION EVERYTHING.

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

    I wish him well. I seems that he has taken all his talent an focused it toward trying to disprove something. He could do more but he is so single minded in speaking out against God. Does not matter if he is real or not, Mr. Hawking seems bitter. I hope one day he finds something to heal his resentment.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • Proof_N_Numbers

      I believe thats the point of Mr. Hawkin attempting to understand this. Considering this is the one question that is asked by all but answered by none (factually), I believe it the most difficult task to take on. Why do something if it's easy??? Also, given his situation in life right now, it's most likely the biggest thing on him mind..

      May 17, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
  10. Ann

    Stephen W. Hawking, Lucasian Professor of Mathematics at Cambridge University, when discussing how the universe began, said: “In the classical theory of general relativity . . . the beginning of the universe has to be a singularity of infinite density and space-time curvature. Under such conditions, all the known laws of physics would break down.”5 So, modern scientists do not agree that because something is contrary to the normal laws of nature it can never happen. In unusual conditions, unusual things may happen. Surely, if we believe in an almighty God, we should admit that he has the power to cause unusual—miraculous—events to take place when it befits his purpose.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
  11. Omar

    IIf you guys look for them, there are plenty of other scientists that authored proof that there IS a Heaven and God. This man doesn't know everything, just like everybody else. Don't let blasphemy take your faith away. Some questions shouldn't be asked.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • Geoffrey

      NOBODY has legitimately proven there is a heaven. There is not a single ground, measurable, quantifiable fact that will support the idea of heaven or to define it.

      What scientists? The ones who believe that God created the universe in 7 days? Ahh yeah, not a scientist.

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

      Omar, that's what they used to say about people who dared think the earth went around the sun.
      Please show me scientific proof of heaven or hell. If you can prove it repeatedly and empirically, I will believe it. Problem is, you can't.
      The problem with you guys is that you need proof at all. Faith needs no proof – even Saint Paul says so in Hebrews. All you creationist types are so bent of proving things because your faith is weak. I know because I used to be one. I am still Christian, but not creationist. You would probably consider me not much of a Christian at all, as I am not willing to judge anyone's understanding of the truth without first hearing their ideas with an open mind; and certainly not willing to damn them to hell for seeing things differently from myself. I believe heaven and hell are here and now, around us and within us, depending on how we live our lives and on the state of our minds, and salvation is choosing to live in heaven. May God bless you.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
  12. GodOfScience

    By the looks of Stephen, he undoubtedly is Godforsaken.

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

      What a lovely CHRISTIAN comment....just what I would expect...

      May 17, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
  13. RaKa

    Atheism is the religion of Science and they have a lot of tv evangelist.

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

      If atheism is a religion, then NOT collecting stamps is a hobby. Try again.

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

      They even have people who can spell and compose a sentence.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
    • Michael

      The difference is that atheists are not always threatening you with eternal punishment if you refuse to give up your erroneous beliefs.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
    • Punchmaster

      I'll bet you think baldness is a hairstyle too, right?

      May 17, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
  14. Dan Spitzbardt

    Hi, Steven thinks he is a know it all, but if he did some real research he would know when people and animals die they go somewhere, maybe it's not heaven or hell, but somewhere. People and animals have a soul or spirit, this has been proven in high speed photos of ghost people and animals. There is definitely a spirit world somewhere. Sometimes ghost people and animals just don't pass on right away and that leaves in possible to be able to see, sense, here, and photoghaph them. I think it's a another dimension we go to when we die. I also believe in reincarnation also, so we can learn all we can here on Earth to become good souls and live in peace with one another. I just hope all the greed, wars, hunger, and killing off planet Earth will teach us a lesson someday, so we can live in peace and be free and happy.

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

      My favorite Ghost Person is Casper. He's friendly.

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

      Actually most people do regard him as one of the greatest minds of our time. That does qualify him as a "Know it all" ... though I think there are different and more apt descriptions. He is a genius, widely regarded as such and regarded as one with deep understanding on the nature of the universe. At the least, consider what he is saying because he knows more than you and he is smarter than you. Maybe wrong ... but definitely smarter.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:26 pm |
    • nick2

      sounds like you have some inside knowledge ?

      May 17, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
    • puck_the-hockey_cat

      Those are some really weird comments and opinion I must say...ghost people? Well I don't blame you for believing in what you want, just odd that's all.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
    • Dan M

      What's this "real research" you speak of? The only way anyone can know what happens to us after we die, is to die. Are you saying that Prof Hawking should die?

      May 17, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
    • YaThink

      You do realize animals don't have souls.

      May 17, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
    • Dan M

      YaThink: I bet animals say the same thing about people.

      May 17, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
  15. 2Cents

    What an idiot. Heaven is a belief off a religion. Where does this man get fairy story from?
    This is the same as saying Muhammad is a fairy story.

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

      This dude just mad at God for his life situation and "heaven is a fairy story" is a result of of it.

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

      Not sure, but I'm fairly certain the point and content of this article went right over your head.

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

      What heaven was the dude talking about?

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

      Ever get an email from someone in heaven? Pictures? Any kind of physical indication of it at all?

      No.

      So it is a fairy story. At the very least if there is a heaven, it is probably quite different from what people hope, wish, pray and egotistically hope for.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • Pixie

      2cents,

      May you live happily ever after with a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow...

      May 17, 2011 at 5:25 pm |
    • 2Cents

      If he was talking about the Grand Design, God, and creating. Hes talking about stuff in bible right? Why doesn't is he targeting the bible? Why he just targets Buddhist belief of how the universe was created? I think my comment went over your head like the bible for Hawkins. If you don't wanna believe the bible why call it a fairy tale? Then call every other belief a fairy tale.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
    • LifeIsCrazy

      I see why the bible says, "he that says theres no God is a fool." Let heaven be heaven and God be God if you don't believe best to keep your mouth shut you look like an idiot like Hawkins.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
    • expatADAM

      Muhammed is a fairy story......duh!

      May 17, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
    • 2Cents

      Nobody needs anything from Heaven its a belief of a religion. Believing is personal.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
  16. Dubbbin

    The burden of proof lies on those who make sensational claims, not on those who see no evidence. If I claimed I could fly, you'd probably ask to see it in action. If I said I could theoretically fly, you'd probably pick apart my physics calculations. If I said I could fly because my older brother said I could, and that you should shut up and believe it too, you would probably stop listening to me.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
    • nick2

      Thank you. A breath of fresh air.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • Michael

      What a tidy summary of evangelistic fundamentalists. I salute you.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • The Final Word

      One of the more intelligent analogies. Well put. I will ask forgiveness of the bearded dude should he ever show up. Just kidding.

      May 17, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
  17. Allen Davis

    Kudos to a scientist brave enough to not only publicly dismiss the fables and arcane myths that make up organized religion, but who has lived a full and happy life despite a lack in the belief of 'heaven' AND a crippling illness. I feel that more people should embrace self-reliance, and quit putting the very exclusive and total control they have over their lives in the hands of a mythical being. May you enjoy the rest of your life happily, Mr. Hawking!

    May 17, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
  18. Brittney

    Before you blindly follow the short guidance of this mere mortal, I think you should know:

    Stephen Hawking presented a new theory about black holes in the summer of 2004 that went AGAINST his long-held beliefs about their behavior.

    So before you buy into his existential theories, for which he is neither better prepared nor more informed than you, think about it.. Just think about it.

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

      Yes, because "thinking about it" is something people clouded by religious dogma always do. They do nothing but think.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • Geoffrey

      And your point is? That somehow a small mistake about black holes is relevant to what he says about something completely unrelated? This is not useful thinking on your part, I'll say that.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
    • Dan M

      Yeah, think about how he admitted he was wrong when the more information came in. Think about how he didn't just blindly write off newly discovered evidence just because it wasn't the same as his book that hasn't been updated in around 2000 years or so. Think about how he showed us that it's not only okay to say you were wrong, but a sign of a maturity and virtue.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
    • nick2

      I have. I agree with him. There is no magic – but there is a form of eternity and no, it is not biblical.

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

      James: You add absolutely nothing worthwhile to the discussion.

      Geoff: The point is that he is capable or erring, whether on black holes or something as significant as your humanity. The point is: this man's opinion is his own and his scientific contributions should not in any case serve to make him credible in this matter. So for those inclined to believe this man given his reputation, I ask that they think for themselves. Now that's a very good point.

      Dan: See above comments.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • Dan M

      Just because someone disagrees with you doesn't mean they aren't adding something to the conversation. What they're adding is called a "counterpoint".

      And, if he errs once, he's always wrong? And because he CAN, he always WILL? Interesting world view. If he's capable of erring, so are you. So, I guess that means we should remember that Brittney can make errors, so let's all remember that when she replies to our posts, everyone. 😉

      Good luck out there, kid.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • Brittney

      You seem to be unable to comprehend "the point." First, James didn't offer a counterpoint, simply used his time to rant against religion. Second, I'll be the first to admit that I am able capable of erring. Third, I mentioned his error in something Hawkins long believed to point out that he very well could be and by many accounts is likely to be wrong about Heaven's existence.

      Again, the point is that he's being referenced and quoted on his perspectives on Heaven, which may be blindly followed by many. I don't care what you think personally, all I ask is that everyone reading this post think for themselves, trust their own hearts, and come to their OWN conclusions, rather than accept this one man's assessment as fact. Good luck to you too, kid.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:57 pm |
    • Dan M

      I think "the point" is, that you could also be as wrong as all of us are. To say that some of us "blindly" follow Prof Hawking's ideas is a little condescending. Hawking has always backed up his ideas, theories, and research with papers, essays, and books. This theory comes from his most recent book, which spends much time backing up his claims with evidence, most of which as been peer reviewed.

      So, if reading a dozen books that correspond with our college educations is "blind" following, then some of us are frankly insulted by being written off so easily.

      May 17, 2011 at 6:12 pm |
    • Brittney

      Don't take offense, the comment wasn't directed at you if you're not "blindly" following this guy.

      May 17, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
  19. RaKa

    Atheist do not exist. There are no true atheist, atheism is a luxury. How many countless self-proclaimed atheist called out to God before their demise? I have heard many so called atheist call on God when they are in trouble. It's all quite amusing.

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

      You are quite amusing. Because of what you heard, no atheist is a true atheist. Believe it or not, the world doesn't revolve around you. Didn't you read that in the bible?

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

      Wow, why do you know so many Atheists in dire situations? And why is it always amusing to you?

      May 17, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • steve88

      when I say omg, god help me, god dang it/him, or god bless you, that doesn't mean I think any such deities are true, It is a darn lie that most atheists recant on their deathbed. =/

      May 17, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • Allen Davis

      Atheists not only do exist, but in most cases, are quite happy. I've lived 30 plus years without 'god' or religion, and couldn't be happier. I'm not in denial, I'm not angry or a 'loner'. I have an atheist fiancée and a child raised with no religious upbringing, and we all exist....we're all happy. That's a narrow view you have on the subject.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
    • __c

      and how many "religious" people are without sin or have never doubted their faith?

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

      There is no proof that Atheism exist.

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

      I find that people who believe they are evolved from monkeys are just as funny as monkeys.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • russelldmc

      Really? When my grandfather was dying in 2005, to our surprise he refused prayers by his caregivers and loved ones. He requested a non-religious service for his funeral. He was a lifelong churchgoer with our grandmother, who predeceased him, but gave it up on his deathbed. This was a man who loved life, and he told me that he had lived a happy life and was ready to die, and that he was at peace with the idea that there was no heaven.

      Your statement clearly doesn't apply in all cases. By the way, we did give him a religious funeral service, against his wishes. It was purely for the comfort of his sons and daughters.

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

      They call out to GOD not because he is real but because they LIKE you have been brainwashed to believe in him.

      Mohammed the Islamic prophet married his brothers daughter when she was six, he consummated this 'marriage' when she was 9 yrs old ...... THIS is in the KORAN

      Me? I was brought up a catholic, but hold the same view as Hawkings......THERE is no god ONLY one that we have invented.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
    • Corey

      @Raka – Are you over the age of 11? Send in the Fail Boat.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
    • puck_the-hockey_cat

      And how many times as a religious person called down god when things dont go there way, for whatever reason? Remenber for each atheist there is a religious extremist to counter there view and in every religion I may add.

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

      Amusing that you care. The thing about believers is that they are ALWAYS TRYING to get you to believe that YOU actually believe. If you ask me, THAT is the true measure of their OWN DOUBT, not something as silly as calling out "My" or "Oh" god. Really scientific: "Oh well, atheists sometimes renounce their lack of belief; so there MUST be a god". Yes, that would make sense only if conjecture and opinion replaced proof, likelihood, science and logic. Laugh if you want, then try to conceptualize the definition of "Faith". There is a difference between it and fact. Let people believe as they want and drop the presumption that your beliefs should be theirs.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  20. MS

    mmmm, Hawkings isnt always right, he was wrong about black holes, he even had a bet going with another scientist about the nature of blacks holes and lost!

    May 17, 2011 at 5:14 pm |
    • Allen Davis

      So a man makes an error, and now it speaks of his religious views being wrong...everyone makes mistakes.

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

      There is actually no scientific proof that stephen hawkins is the one doing the talking. So all we really know for sure is that somewhere there is a computer that doesn't believe in God. And why should it, when we are the ones that created it?

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

      Black holes aren't in the bible, so they don't exist and they both lost the bet, right?

      May 17, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
    • puck_the-hockey_cat

      He has been right more times than he has been wrong. Anyway it is his opinion, you have yours and I have mine. Remember religion is a deeply personal thing and at the end of the day (so to speak) as long as you are at peace with yourself and those around you...does it really matter who is right and wrong?

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

      The theory of evolution is the best comic book ever written. I don't get offended at comments atheist make, they are so funny. Kinda like their monkey counter parts. Atheist are humans, Christians are superhumans.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
    • Christopher69

      I feel sorry for him now more than I did before. Like it or not God is real. Dont fret Stephen, There's still hope for you, just tell his son your sorry because you have no proof he dosent exist. And how dare you compare a computer to a human brain.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
    • Marc

      I find it strange that a brilliant man like Hawking will compare his miraculous brain to a computer (a product of human creation) but dismiss their own existence to an unguided forces or chance. I guess it’s the chicken and egg conundrum.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:35 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.