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. Mike

    Finally someone will state the truth. Religion is a nice crutch for people who can't accept our little lives are short and once we die, we are dead. Yes, it's a nice comfort to think we people die it's god will, or there are in a better place, or they had a higher calling, but like I said, it's only a crutch. Now, I'm not saying religion is a bad thing, it does teach good values and love thy neighbor and other good practices, but this should all be common sense, whether you believe in god or not. Remember the "Golden Rule".

    May 17, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • Veronica13

      Sadly, you know very little of religion. If it is such a crutch, why do so many choose to suffer for it. Isn't the definition of a crutch something that lessons your inability. The crutch would be to not believe and to constantly seek only oneself.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  2. GodOfScience

    Steven Hawking's 'science' is a polymorphism of Religion, and he's now the self-appointed theocrat.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
  3. Caleb

    The FOUL has said in his heart, there is no God.

    No more to be said.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:24 pm |
    • Brian Holbrook

      Actually the FOOL said that. The FOUL just stank up the joint. The FOWL said either "squawk," "chirp," "tweet," "cluck," "gobble," or "whoot."

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

      What's a "foul"? Is that kind of like a fool?

      May 17, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  4. kilmo

    Well, I think Hawkings spoke the obvious on this one. Humans have a LONG ways to go, if they still think there is some old gray haired man that has always existed, all of a sudden decided to create humans in the last million or so years, after the universe has been around for billions. But people need something like this to believe in to feel like their life has reason, so I have no problem with it really. The only problem I have with it is the millions and millions of people religion has killed, for the sake of saying ones religion is right while all others are wrong. Humans are still fairly simple computers. I like to call humans.. the first Comadors .. or maybe an Apple II

    May 17, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  5. Punchmaster

    As predicted, the kids are given the news that there's not really a Santa Claus and they throw a tantrum and go pout in the corner...ha ha.

    Why is it so hard to come to terms with the reality that you're not going to exist forever and just roll with it? As crazy as life can be, it's a pretty amazing adventure overall, so why not just make the most of the time that you DO have left and quit obsessing over death?

    May 17, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  6. kilmo

    Well, I think Hawkings spoke the obvious on this one. Humans have a LONG ways to go, if they still think there is some old gray haired man that has always existed, all of a sudden decided to create humans in the last million or so years, after the universe has been around for billions. But people need something like this to believe in to feel like their life has reason, so I have no problem with it really. The only problem I have with it is the millions and millions of people religion has killed, for the sake of saying ones religion is right while all others are wrong. Humans are still fairly simple computers. I like to call humans.. the first Comadors .. or maybe an Apple II

    May 17, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
    • Veronica13

      God is not a "man". In this you have your error. God bless you.

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

      @Veronica13. I apologize for my mistake. You're right .. God is not a man. I should have said 'being of some sort'. I am not going to argue over there being a God or not.. but it is extremely unlikely. It just amazes me that people believe in things that are so truly unrealistic.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
  7. Mosterd

    Discussions like those below is what you get when you try to make a religion out of science. If the man is so smart and knows all the laws of God's creation, then let hem raise himself up out of his wheelchair. That would indicate his mastery over the matter.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  8. tylerdurdun

    Hawking is smarter than Yahweh! I imagine this world would be in a lot better shape if Hawking would have been put in charge of creation and controlling the Universe. Heck, it took all knowing, all powerful Yahweh several practice runs for him to achieve his finished product (i.e. original sin, the Great Flood, Sodom and Gomorrah etc). Despite numerous failed attempts, it still seems this world has numerous areas for improvement. I even think Hawking possesses a far superior emotional skill set than God. He doesn't seem to express any glimpses of baser human emotions like wrath, vengeance, or jealousy like our current overseer, God. Think where this world would be with a more emotionally stable and more intuitive individual like Hawking controlling the reigns. Parting note: Yahweh is the most prolific Abortionist of them all. Can we please gets some legislation in action so he will stop ending ~30% of all pregnancies in miscarriage (Please research this figure if you doubt it). This is down right wrong as these early embryos and fetuses do in fact have a soul! God, Yahweh, or whoever you are, you better step your game up because it seems Hawking and his science buddies might be planning a coup! Everyday science is making advances to compensate for your miscues (viruses, birth defects, mutations, dinosaurs lol etc.) God, and if your not careful, they may just render you obsolete!

    May 17, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  9. domrodz

    If spontaneous creation is true, then there would be more than one earth. The creation of a planet just like earth, with life,and sun and water would be possible, and yet none exist except earth. I would rather live life believing that God exist and then die and find out he does not, rather than live my life believing that God does not exist and then die and find out he does....

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

      That's right, live your life in fear.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
  10. AgnosticHippyChick

    I'd like there to be a continuation of 'self' after death, a soul that lives on, but as much as I'd like that, I just don't see how there can be.

    If a soul does exist, can souls be created or destroyed? Where do they come from? Are they older than the universe (~13.75 billion years)? What are they made of? How does it interact with my body? Is my soul the seat of my experience and decision making?

    Who I am, the little 'me' inside my head, seems to be my personality and a continuity of experience built from my memories.

    My temperment or personality seems to be more 'innate' although shaped from experience, maybe that's my soul? At different times, I've taken medications that have changed my personality in what seem like very fundamental way. Can physical matter interact with a soul?

    Also my memories seem to be stored in my brain. Damage part of my brain, and memories would disappear as if they never existed. So once my brain stops working, what is left of me? How can memories or temperment survive death of the body?

    I've had the heart wrench experience of knowing people who have suffered mental illness, alzheimers, and the effects drugs and alcohol. Those things dramatically effected peoples personalities and memories.

    So, it seems like much, if not all of who _I_ am, is tied up in this body. What is left after I die? How can an immaterial thing like a soul carry my memories? How can I continue to think without neurons? How can I gain new experiences without senses?

    I just don't see a way for anything like a soul to exist.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
  11. Zelda

    God. The unsure and fearful person's answer to questions asked by human being throughout time. When you close your eyes for the last time, that is all there is. Humans have looked for explanations for phenomena since time began. Every group came up with some kind of god. Guess what................there isn't one. There aren't any. The concept of a god is totally ridiculous. Be a good person while you are here. There is no after.

    May 17, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
    • Veronica13

      May God bless you Zelda.

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

      What if you're wrong?

      May 17, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
  12. DJRussell

    Scientist who believe in parallel universes should not assume that since we cannot see heaven in our visible world that it does not exist at another level. Reality goes beyond our 5 senses. When you can see energy flow between plants like lightening bolts you will realize that life is more than the obvious. Science is just one viewpoint about life. Love, hope and faith are another viewpoint. Just because one cannot measure, weigh and photograph love, hope and faith does not mean they do not exist. Likewise, heaven is not of the mind or the senses. If you want to relate to thinks of the spirit, you need to put on a new pair of glasses.

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

      THIS. You got it, bro. Not sure if you're a Christian, but as a Christian, that's how I see things. "God's ways are not our ways."

      May 17, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
  13. Allen Davis

    I think it's funny that everyone is saying "Oh, he changed his mind about black hole theory....are you going to listen to this wishy-washy man?" So he recanted a theory....what does that have to do with his religious beliefs (or non-beliefs). Most of you once believed in Santa Claus....

    May 17, 2011 at 5:22 pm |
  14. llott59@yahoo.com

    Wow – so a physicist says Heaven doesn't exist and we should all fall in line and not believe in Heaven or God anymore.

    Should we believe in Hawking now? Because he knows everything? That kinda makes him god (note the lower case g).

    The idiotic thing is that his article was ever written and then presented as news. It's an opinion.

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

      Beleive what you want, a theroy does not tell you what you should beleive.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
  15. Froman

    This is the first time I have ever written anything online, but I felt compelled to share this....If you have feelings of self-fulfilment and try to bring love and happiness to others, then it doesn't matter what you believe. Take anger out of your heart, except in traffic and watching football, and just do the best you can. If you can live life to the fullest and look in the mirror and be truly proud of what you see, then you are doing great. I believe in God because of a feeling at the very essence of my being. My Grandmother's cancer disappeared the day after I cried and prayed over a crucifix, which helped that faith. Unfortunately, many really good people die every day, prayers or not. Our belief or your non-belief is not worth one more person dying. No need to make an innocent stranger feel bad or question themselves, either. Right?

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

      Froman, Your praying to God had absolutely NOTHING to do with your grandmas cancer disappearing. Or do you just really believe you are that special and deserving? What about the millions of other people that prayed to your same god and their family members still dies of cancer? Can you grasp what your reasoning does for humans? Nothing! You are the same person that would tell a Muslim their faith is not right. Very ignorant.. sorry. Happy your grandma made it.. but it has nothing to do with your prayers. I guess it makes you feel pretty special though. huh?

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

      Thanks for your post. I try to live my life the same way.

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

      I dig it!

      May 17, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
  16. Margaret

    And who is Stephen Hawking anyway? 😉

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

      Just a friend of mine!

      May 17, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
  17. Dixintex

    Because we are terrestial, there are concepts which we cannot understand. We do not have the correct reference or depth of knowledge. For this reason, we create myths/stories/parables/analogies to explain those things which are beyond our grasp. That way, they become something we can understand. As we evolve as humans, our understanding evolves. For instance, how would you explain the internet to a Roman citizen in the year B.C.E 4,000? You would have to explain on his/her knowledge set, which would not be the same as ours today. How to explain to someone now that it has been proven that one atom can exist in 2 places at the same time? Our understanding does not reach that far for the most part. Explain it in terms of religion. We can understand what it means to have faith, to believe. Think of religion as just paraphrasing those things which we just don't have the depth of knowledge to understand. Make it mystical and tell everyone that if they don't believe, they will go to hades. The understand that....and it controls the masses as well. Knowledge is Power!!!

    May 17, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
    • ajk68

      The typical shallow response of someone who doesn't understand the depth of thinking on these matters... There are good logical reasons by which we can know a single God exists. Aristotle, a pagan, figured this out. It's not a matter of belief; it's a logical deduction. The mistake of most atheists is to take as an a priori fact the supposition that God does not exist. It is a close-minded approach.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
  18. Henry

    If his statements are meaningless why are there so many religious people denouncing them on this discussion board?

    May 17, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
    • ajk68

      Hawking oversteps the bounds of science. This is not science; it is philosophy and theology – where Hawking repeatedly has been shown to be a light-weight. Physical science is a method of knowledge of the causes of natural phenomena from observations of the natural world. Hawking errors in trying to use physical science to discuss supernatural realities. Even if Hawking could produce a physical measurement to disprove the existence of Heaven, it would still not be physical science since the end conclusion transcends the realm of scientific conclusions (natural realities).

      May 17, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
  19. paul

    The spirit world is not governed by astro physics, sorry Mr. Hawkings your THEORY holds no weight! Weight get it?ha ha

    May 17, 2011 at 5:20 pm |
    • Allen Davis


      May 17, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
  20. Pete

    If he's so smart, why doesn't he get up and walk?

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

      I thought he made that clear. We are biological computers – and are as such essentially imperfect. What a brilliant man – are you afraid of the dark ?

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

      if you're so smart, why don't you shut up?

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

      Unlike you, not everyone's brains are in their pants.

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

      I know of one 'biological' computer who could heal another 'biological computer'. His name was Jesus. You science priests need to get in touch with your protons and stop promoting this nonsense.

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

      What a mature response. Grow up.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:29 pm |
    • David O

      ...because intelligence has nothing to do with physical ability

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

      Just because you understand something doesn't mean you have the power to fix it. We know you're an idiot but we're not able to make you smarter. Get it?

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

      If god exists, why didn't he give you a brain?

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

      And if you're so clever, why don't you sprout wings and fly?

      If you figure out the answer to that one, then you've got an answer to your question.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • S Kyle

      It doesn't take a phd to realize there is no god or heaven.

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

      The most stupid, far fetched theory in the world, is by far the concept of heaven and hell, afterlife and all that garbage...
      Science produces facts... Religion is just a bunch of hocus pocus nonsense...
      Go ahead, believe in the magical big guy in the sky... Whatever...

      May 17, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
    • Punchmaster

      If you're so smart, why do you believe in God (assuming you do based on the Hawking jab)?

      May 17, 2011 at 5:39 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.