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. james

    I am still wondering why people who are Atheists so intolerant and bitter. Most people who do not believe are liberal and I thought you were to be tolerant of what other people believe. I guess you are only tolerant if the ideas expressed agree with your position. Who cares what Hawking says. I know what I believe that Jesus is the son of God and if others do not I feel bad for them but I pray they will change their minds. I do not condem them for that is not my job. For me there is no way this all happened by accident.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • brian

      While I, as a liberal support your right to believe anything you want to believe and worship in whatever way you wish to, I still think your beliefs are stupid.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • scott

      @James, well said!!! The tolerance of the liberal only exists when you either agree with them or don't question them. Of all the things to be intolerant about, you would think the teachings of loving each other would be something they would support. Regardless of your views of God, you would think His teachings would bring us together. But as "brian" put it, believing in "loving thy neighbor" is stupid. Personally, having faith puts me at ease and makes me a happier person. If you think it makes me "stupid" as well, so be it. Of the people I’ve known across the world, the believers in God seem to be much happier as a whole.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
  2. Julie

    So glad Mr. Hawking can express his beliefs and so glad I am free to believe what I choose...only one way to be sure, and I am not ready to find out!

    May 17, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
  3. love4news

    None of us will know for sure until that time comes... But one thing is for sure...I'd rather be prepared, only to find that the "computer" died with no chance of rebooting, than to find that when the "computer" failed on this side it rebooted into something better on the other!

    May 17, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
  4. Christopher

    Quotes from men prove nothing

    May 17, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
    • closetiguana

      Which religious book are you referring to?

      May 17, 2011 at 2:44 pm |
  5. douglas

    Descarte would disagree with him.

    I'm an engineer and really love this guy. But I'm sorry, NO ONE is qualified to draw this conclusion. It is not a question of science, it is a question of faith. No one will ever know if it exists...no one. You merely have opinions. Yes, science says it's not there if it's not proven. But in this case, it may be that just because it's not proven doesn't mean it does not exist. You can't argue faith.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
  6. John Do

    Stephen Hawking, you may be a brilliant man, but still only a brilliant man with his own belief, one which he cannot prove.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
  7. Kevin

    John 3:16 Good luck to all!!

    May 17, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
  8. John

    He can have all the degrees after his name he wants but he doesn't know for sure anymore than the next guy. He better hope he is right.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
  9. closetiguana

    It's time humanity has moved past religious explanations of the unknown. Be it a sun god, Zeus or a Christian God.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
  10. Husker65

    Bruce - I feel sorry for you. Find a computer that will do that.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
  11. d

    it's simply a matter of time and we will all find out who's right and who's not. do not overlook the goodness of God and what he did for you through Jesus

    May 17, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
  12. IOwnYou

    Isn't this the same guy who said aliens were going to invade Earth in the next decade? LMAO.

    My idea of living decent is not criticizing other people's faith.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
    • stejo

      I'm glad you are at least consistent in your stupidity. No, he isn't the same guy. He did say that if aliens had the technology to get here, they would most likely eradicate us, viewing us as we view an infestation of insects or something along those lines.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • brian

      no. I don't think he actually said anything like that. LMAO

      May 17, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • IOwnYou

      Uh yeah, he did. Moron. LMAO. It looks like my stupidity is sufficient to remain smarter than you...

      May 17, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
  13. Lou

    This means there is no Devil either! Now, how much knowledge does one need in order to infer the rest of the knowledge? Please raise your hands if you feel you know over .0001% of what is unknown in the universe! Otherwise, keep in mind that whatever you say on this subject, one way or the other, is simply a conjecture! There is no need to get defensive or offensive.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
  14. SATCH

    Religion is such a farce inflicted when people had the brains of a 4 year old, and no explanations for fire, rain, gravity, chemistry, DNA, physics, etc that I cannot even comment out of frustration for what religion has shat upon and formed the id-iots of this word. You should all just get off this planet so those with intelligence can save our species and this world.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
  15. Donnie

    I love it when Hawking throws out controversial statements like "there is no god", "there is no heaven" etc. It gets every body so fired up lobbying for their beliefs. The idea of heaven, hell, god, afterlife etc. is was developed to make the masses feel better about dying and death. We're all just carbon. When we stop working, the carbon returns to earth, which will also some day die and return it's matter to the universe where it originated.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
  16. Scarf

    There is no heaven? Does that mean the Earth is actually round too?

    May 17, 2011 at 2:38 pm |

      Earth is round – NOT THAT RELEVANT

      May 17, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
  17. Steven Brown

    Of course it's a fairy story; there is only nirvanna.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • JJ in CT

      No silly, there's no Nirvana, there's only the Elysian Fields. No wait, there's no Elysian Fields, it's Valhalla, that's the real one. Whoops, got it wrong again, it's Bhuva Loka. There are just so many over the course of time, I just can't keep them straight....

      May 17, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • Stevie7

      Nirvana ended with the sad demise of Curt Cobain

      May 17, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
  18. JusticeForAll

    It is impossible to disprove something that lives in a different dimension. I am not saying he is wrong. I am saying he is wrong to suggest that he can know. If there is a force (God) that is unlike anything human or anything we can sense we obviously cannot understand and hence sense it. It does not prove its existence either.

    Scientists what everything to fit in the square of science. However, the question still arises how or what is the universe and what created it. If nothing created it it existed in obne or another form forever? It is a concept that the limited human brain has a hard time grasping since it is so far out of our reality.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:38 pm |
    • brian

      Who or what created god?

      May 17, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
    • jinn

      Intelligent people get their beliefs from their facts, not their facts frrom their beliefs.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • brian

      If nothing created god, then has it exisited in one form or another forever?
      If god exisited forever, why not the universe?
      Or is that concept a little too far out there for your brain to understand?

      May 17, 2011 at 2:43 pm |


      May 17, 2011 at 2:58 pm |

      @jinn Please define "fact", do my dreams & nightmares exist or not???.........................................

      May 17, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
  19. Hitchslapped

    The same people that are saying that Hawking cannot possibly know what is after death are the same people who proclaim there is a Heaven without actually knowing that there is. If there is a God, one has to ask if he is so powerful, why doesn't he end this debate once and for all.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • Tom

      Still waiting for the birth certifecate...

      May 17, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
    • Susan

      Oh, one day he will. I just pray you will have changed your mind when he does.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:45 pm |

      DOES SOMEONE HAVE PHYSICAL EVIDENCE THAT LOVE EXISTS???...............................................................

      May 17, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • Joe

      God doesn't have to respond directly to people just because they demand it. Think of us as children – whining and stomping our feet in a fit of juvenile rage. God doesn't have to respond to that anymore than a parent does. He has his own plan, as most people on this planet believe. If you disagree that's fine, you have that right. I happen to believe in a creator and believe that he set the world in motion – and for the most part it runs without his intervention. We were given the freedom to think and act on our own. You may think it's just a big accident we're here. But the more I learn of science the more I realize this can't just be an accident we're here. There are just too many strange and unlikely things that would have to have happened to bring about us being here in this rock. I mean look around. Do you think that all the resources and things on this planet/universe just happened to come together to make you? That requires a lot of faith lol.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • Joe

      Problem solved – Hitchslap has the answers. Whatever Hawking says is fact I guess. He's infallible. Almost godlike if you will. lol

      May 17, 2011 at 3:10 pm |

      @Joe Agree 100%, why would the big bang explode and form matter for no reason? and why wouldn't it have causality?? please Mr. Hawking, FIRST provide some physical evidence of your claims since you're the stubborn ignorant who demands physical evidence of God.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:15 pm |
    • YaThink


      So in layman's terms use your imagination to make it real, otherwise it doesn't exist.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:17 pm |

      @YaThink Don't be a materialized fool, can't you see there's more to depleting this planet's resources and living this life without giving nothing in exchange? have you no empathy inside? can't you realize the most valuable things in life CANNOT be seen?? LOVE IS IMMANENT IN THIS LIFE, AND FAITH IS HAVING LOVE. Hope you can understand this before your life span runs out.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:26 pm |
    • YaThink


      Love is shown by how you express yourself to others but ultimately it's only how you feel about yourself. Love like s-ex is all in your head or should I say brain. Love can be demonstrated. God cannot be shown nor demonstrated.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:32 pm |

      @YaThink God is demonstrated the same way love is demonstrated, because God & love are actually the same, they function the same way: "And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him." (1 John 4:16) Whoever doesn't understand that Love/God cannot be put into physical evidence or physical analysis, then that person continues living a life with no empathy inside himself or herself, it's not a brain function because you cannot possibly know how Love feels by the brain, only THE FEELING inside can tell you how love is.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
    • YaThink

      THE FEELING = Brain synapses
      nothing more

      It's all in your head.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
  20. waheid

    Religion is a form of escapism favored by people who are too ignorant or too lazy to think. There is no heaven or hell and there is no god. The priests and preachers are no better than snake oil sales people and, like snake oil sales people, many of them are in the game for money and nothing else.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • JusticeForAll

      The concept that nothing created the universe and that it always existed in one form or another is hard for humans to understand. It is outside of our reality. It is not to say that there is a force of God. It is also impossible to disprove an intelligent force.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
    • Chris

      (sigh) another bitter ex-choirboy who was porked up the poop shoot by a gay pedophile posing as a priest.

      God invented man. Man invented religion. Try not to confuse the two

      May 17, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
    • Joe

      Why all the hostility towards believers? Just because you don't believe something, or do believe something, that doesn't make it a fact. It's just your opinion. Don't blame your problems on others, and if nothing else follow the wise words of Jesus – treat others as you would yourself. Love your enemies. If everyone did that the world would be a better place – no matter what your beliefs are.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:45 pm |

      And God is NOT religion. Religion was created by man's imperfection and God has never said to do as religion is.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • Educated Faith

      "Science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind."

      "My religion consists of a humble admiration of the illimitable superior spirit who reveals himself in the slight details we are able to perceive with our frail and feeble mind."

      Both quotes are from Einstein. As a physicist, Hawking is unmatched – unfortunately, it's given him a god-complex where he thinks he knows more than the being that gave him life.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • ajk68

      Hawking is unmatched as a scientist? Are you crazy. There are ton of people who have contributed more. They're just not atheist media darlings.

      May 17, 2011 at 6:00 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.