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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. cp

    LOL. If he thinks that gravity is enough to make the universe create itself, then he needs to read up again on the cosmological constant.

    May 17, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
    • Thomas

      YOU.....are giving physics advice....to STEPHEN HAWKING?

      YOU?

      BWAAAAAA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA ......

      Thanks! I needed that.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
    • Jacob

      You mean the cosmological constant that has shown indirect evidence that our universe is subject to a big bang then a contraction into a big crunch, therefore arguing that gravity can make a universe create itself? So, he should read up on a theory that helps prove his hypothesis? Intersting.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
    • john

      Darn, where is Sir Bertram Russel when we need him most.

      May 31, 2011 at 3:40 pm |
    • heerobya

      I just don't understand the complete and utter ignorance of so many people...

      All it takes is a quick trip through an ancient history book. Civilizations pre-dating the "Christian" age believed on all kinds of Gods and Godesses, later "proven false" and replaced by the Judeo-Christan God, Islamic God etc.

      Gods that explained why lightning struck, why the sun set and moon rises, etc.

      And we call THEM ancient mystics? They are wrong? And you aren't?

      Guess what – you all are.

      Science gives us the ACTUAL answers to the questions of the universe. We don't have them all yet, but unlike religion, sciene is actually trying to find the answers not scare/intimidate people into giving them money and political power.

      June 3, 2011 at 1:35 pm |
  2. Connie

    Connie

    As for me personally, I am very grateful to God that He created the universe and me too and on top of that He made it so I can have eternal life through his Son, Jesus Christ. I used to not like my life and was struggling and couldn't see the purpose but now through God's grace I not only have a close loving relationship with God and a much more close and loving relationship with my family and people I meet and interact with while living out my remaining days here, I will have eternal life in a resurrected body when God raises us up like Jesus rose up. My sincere hope for everyone, including Mr. Hawking, is that they also would come into belief and trust in God and humbly receive God's gift of grace and the promise of eternal life though faith in His Son Jesus Christ. P.S. I also think that Science is the study, and interest in, God's Creation.

    May 17, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
    • aardman

      There's at least one three year old child somewhere in the world mired in abject poverty and dying of a horribly painful disease. Wonder what this child or his/her parents think of Connie's god.

      Of course when you confront people like Connie with this and ask them why would their god visit such suffering on billions of people, the overwhelming majority of whom are innocent, she will say "Oh, we can never even begin to understand her god's plan and the reasons why the plan involves so much suffering." So your god made you stupid so that you will just accept wide-scale suffering lying down. No thanks, keep your god to yourself.

      May 19, 2011 at 5:33 pm |
    • Ciceron

      Then, who created God

      May 20, 2011 at 11:52 am |
    • Josh

      @aardman. Another idiot. Some fool with a quick tounge and no brain. God didn't deliever those people to suffering we did. And get your facts straight kid....1 in 3? Get out of a 1997 book and get into something a little more up to date. Those people suffer because of our inhumanity towards one another not because of him. He vested in us to treat one another good and fair and to help preserve life by helping one another. So we have you, a stupid idiot, poking and mocking God saying he allowed this to happen. Those people confess his name as their savior and they'll be in paradise forever. Go ahead and say it doesn't exist and blah blah blah, but you can't prove it doesn't. The only thing you've proven is your a dumb@$$ who's thought process are scrambled by the idiotcy that plagues the world today. Kudos to you retard you're great and so is your mother. 😀

      May 20, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • megatron

      lol good one!

      May 22, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
    • Marky

      If Stephen Hawking doesn't believe in the afterlife why is his favorite show Ghost Adventures from Travel Channel?!?!!?!!

      May 22, 2011 at 10:36 pm |
    • John In England

      Are you on drugs ? there is no such thing as god, this rapture trash from the Bible that you trust in also proves more that its trash. Look around you, its PEOPLE who made what you have, its medical intervention that help people live not god or man made crap you think is real

      May 24, 2011 at 5:27 am |
    • Human

      Connie, what is amazing to me when I read these comments (and not just this page, but in general) is the overwhelming sense of sadness and disappointment I feel in us as a species for the level of hatred and disrespect spewed forth by those disagreeing with a certain belief or sentiment that is expressed on here. While I may or may not share your beliefs, I am saddened to see the smallness, childishness and insecurity of humanity in the expression of such insult and hatred simply for not agreeing with you.

      May 24, 2011 at 10:17 am |
    • Jack

      @Josh
      First let me say how religious of you to be so kind to 'aardman' (much sarcasm intended). Although I disagree with Connie, at least she made her point nicely. You do realise that you cannot prove God's existence just as 'aardman' cannot disprove his existence. So why would you commit yourself to such a claim that you believe with complete lack of evidence? In the practical world this is called ignorance. As Carl Sagan said,

      "Who is more humble? The scientist who looks at the universe with an open mind and accepts whatever the universe has to teach us, or somebody who says everything in this book must be considered the literal truth and never mind the fallibility of all the human beings involved?"

      May 24, 2011 at 3:30 pm |
    • KingdomWork

      Those born of God know Him and can recognize His work and understand the deeper teachings of Christ. Those NOT born of God cannot see His work nor understand His Kingdom principals just like the religious leaders of Jesus' day couldn't recognize that He was a King.
      There is no need to throw your pearls before swine. 😉 Praise God for revealing Himself to you....
      God wishes none should perish, but the fact is that some refuse to become like a child to see Him. His ways are contrary to what we think they would be... "Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven." Matt.18:4

      May 25, 2011 at 7:05 pm |
    • Cindy

      KingdomWork, you seem to be contradicting yourself. First you speak of those born of God, that only they can see God. But then you speak of those that refuse to see God. If only those born of God can see Him, are you saying that some born of God are refusing to see Him? Anyway, the way I see the Bible, and what Jesus had to say, anyone can see God through the love of Jesus Christ. Jesus, in His love for us, did not say any among us must be without hope of knowing God. Even Hawking may come to see God. He could have a religious experience. Then the questions would be 1) Could he realize that this is what occurred and 2)would he be willing to speak of this to the public? Let's hope that should this happen to him, he'd be smart enough to realize it and humble enough to speak of it.

      May 27, 2011 at 11:31 pm |
    • KingdomCome

      @ Cindy
      "If only those born of God can see Him, are you saying that some born of God are refusing to see Him?"

      No, but maybe some born of God have not come to see Him for His Kingdom purposes yet... they have not come into the fullness of Christ and the glorious riches of His kingdom....

      Those who crucified Jesus could not see who he was or understand why he came...Were they blind? Or just prideful? Too arrogant to learn something new... in a new era? I don't know... Sorry, don't mean to be confusing.... 🙂

      May 27, 2011 at 11:46 pm |
    • KingdomCome

      @ Cindy
      "Even Hawking may come to see God. He could have a religious experience. Then the questions would be 1) Could he realize that this is what occurred and 2)would he be willing to speak of this to the public? Let's hope that should this happen to him, he'd be smart enough to realize it and humble enough to speak of it."

      This is such a good point... I have been praying for my husband to see God recently, and I believe he had an experience last week that was indeed God showing Himself... but did my husband recognize it... would he admit it is supernatural in terms of what took place... I"m waiting the verdict...:)

      May 27, 2011 at 11:49 pm |
    • CM

      Josh reminded me of that great sermon Jesus gave where he called everyone who questioned him "idiots" "retards" etc... Good to see his example being emulated!

      May 31, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • John

      If you grow up in India, you will likely be of the Hindu faith. Middle east - likely Muslim. Far East - Budhist. Deep South in the US - evangelical Christian. Everyone is searching for something - something better perhaps than here. Perhaps a purpose. Perhaps guidance. I decided at age nine years that I wasn't smart enough to way there was or wasn't a God - personal or otherwise. I don't believe Mr Hawking's has ever started a war, murdered innocent people, etc. Human history is riddled with the "sins" of religion and the rantings of the "true believers." I think religion has generally been promoted by those in power to control the people in one way or another. I salute sincere religious individuals who promote love, acceptance, charity, etc. Unfortunately, the ones getting most of the attention are the other ones. I would like to believe, but I'm just not able to.

      May 31, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
  3. Gary

    Those who need a "fairy story" to make it through life never truly live it.

    May 17, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
  4. Khandaker Mustaque Ahamed

    There is no god but we need the god to keep us out of doing any wrong doing. If there is no god then there is no heaven and it will be nothing wrong about doing anything wrong and the peoples in the society will start reacting like an uncontrollable chain reaction and eventually there will be a blast. There will be even no respect for the Scientists who brought peoples the truth.
    For our sake we should handle it carefully. The truth didn't hart me but there's a lot who will be hart.

    May 17, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
    • sebek

      One does not need Heaven, to behave normally on earth. People behave decently with other people on earth because they are humans, who have compassion and caring for others. You dont need religion to tell you about heaven to behave. And in any case, people have behaved immorally in the name of religion for ages. People have fought wars, killed each other, persecuted others all in the name of religion, and attaining heaven. Much better, if we think that there is no heaven, and the life here is heaven or hell depending on how we make it to be.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:05 pm |
  5. clint

    SOUNDS LIKE MOST OF THE PEOPLE COMMENTING ARE "AFRAID OF THE DARK" BUT DONT WORRK GUYS HES PROBABLY WRONG ITS NOT LIKE HE'S THE SMARTEST GUY IN THE WORLD OR ANYTHING. OH WAIT...

    May 17, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
  6. Mel

    There is nothing new in this comment. It is a classic example of the reductionist philosophy present in a lot of physics today. At the same time as assuming to speculate about parallel universes that there is no way to know anything about and which is beyond the capability of physics to know anything about, without any sense of irony he discounts anything beyond this life. (You can't have it both ways) Those who have seen ghosts up close and clearly, as I have, have no doubt about the existence of an afterlife. Certainly, the logic is there in his point, but leaving out essential elements in an equation or a calculation is bound to result in different conclusions/results. Hawking merely presents the atheist prejudice that is part and parcel of English culture today – nothing more and nothing less.

    May 17, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
  7. Lou

    I have tremendous respect for Stephen Hawking. However, I wish he would not say these kinds of things because to say there is no heaven is to say there is no God or God is dead. We've been through this many times before and it hurts more than it helps the truth. I believe science will lead us to the truth so lets move forward without making these judgements. As a Christian and a follower of Jesus Christ I have experienced the power of the holy spirit in my life and know that Jesus is alive and real. Call it the sixth sense. In the final analysis time will tell. Also, lets live and let live regardless of your beliefs. Love and peace.

    May 17, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
    • Matou

      I've got news for you Lou...and anyone else who thinks that God did anything to help them or the devil did something to hurt you....you did it yourself or it was random chance, nothing more. Saying that an all powerful being did anything is too neat and tidy.

      May 22, 2011 at 11:01 pm |
  8. Carbon Copy 1

    Heaven is a Fairy Tale it comes from the Word Heave-on,During early Egyptian Day's of the Building of the Pyramids, Slaves were Beaten to Haul and pull, Which led to groans and Moans From Suffering. The Slaves would look towards the Sky Crying for help when the Comand came to Heave- on again.. That is where the Spoken Word Heaven Comes From, Now then the Oppression at the Hands of "The Oppressor" Moulded (Molded) an Impression in the Minds of the Oppressed to Believe That Saviour and Salvation Will Come From Heaven.Now" Till This Day "All of Humanity's Rejection of Oppression At the Hands of Many Oppressors Moulded(molded) an Impression in the Minds of Humans in' Silence To Pray For Help.'.

    May 17, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
    • dadobustemup

      prove it

      May 17, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
    • aimee

      Really...? They spoke English in ancient Egypt...amazing...

      May 17, 2011 at 7:01 pm |
    • phobos

      Yes, because the ancient Egyptians spoke in English...

      May 17, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
    • Roger

      Yes – they were under the British Empire even back then...thus English!

      May 17, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
  9. Roger

    Hawking was wrong about Black Holes and it took him 29 years to admit it. This guy is smart, but he is human and has his own biases like all the rest of us! He could be right, but he could be wrong – guess what, that puts us back to where we were – who knows!

    May 17, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
  10. Steven

    WELL, i know for a fact that there is life after death Mr. Hawking so shame on you for being shallow. I HAVE SEEN A GHOST so you do not convince me in the slightest.

    May 17, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
    • Thomas

      Your experience proves that you need either glasses or medication, not the existence of an afterlife.

      May 17, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
    • Bugsy

      @Steven, Steven you made me fall out of my chair from laughing so abruptly ... I HAVE SEEN A MORON.

      May 31, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
  11. Jason

    I want to here what Sheldon has to say about this.

    May 17, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
  12. Greg

    If there is an afterlife any believers will have the satisfaction of telling Mr. Hawking that science can only displace faith to an extent and if there is none... it won't matter 🙂

    May 17, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
  13. TCVAN

    Too bad. You'd think someone like that could think outside the box better than he does. Surely he knows there's more than sight, smell, taste, hearing and touch. Yet he's choosing to limit himself to only the five physical senses that he himself has. Of course, he is in that scientific inner box community and doens't choose to look beyond it....too bad, there's so much more outside that box.

    May 17, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
  14. Pope John

    digitaldan...that's the point...if you wait for God to come to you, it's too late...Have a nice eternal lonely sleep.

    May 17, 2011 at 6:51 pm |
    • Matou

      this is the only life you get. there is no divine respawn that lets you have all the milk and cookies you want. live now or forever hold your peace.

      May 22, 2011 at 11:05 pm |
  15. SG

    Intelligence and wisdom are two different things. Humans in general have been searching for and claiming knowledge of all things spiritual for as long as they have existed. I believe in spirituality. But to me Spirituality is like someone one who uses a computer, but never knows how it works inside because theres a veil called the computer case that they cant see past. No one is allowed to look, so we all contemplate its internal design and either come up with our own theories concerning it or submit to other more established theories. My belief is that no one actually knows for certain how it works, and may never know.

    May 17, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
  16. PoopEggsBenedictTheTurd I meanThird

    If there is a god, I wish he would start cleaning up after himself! This place is a real Hellll hole! yuck!

    May 17, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
    • Sam

      Take a deep breath and ask yourself where do the O2 comes from that keeps me alive!!

      May 17, 2011 at 7:02 pm |
    • GOD=WARS

      Do take a deep breath and thank your local plants and plant-like bacteria for providing O2. And no......plants and bacteria are not created by GOD.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
  17. ibelieveinthepeople

    How about everyone just believe what you believe and leave each other alone? Everyone's so concerned about what the other person's belief system is. Just live your lives the way you want to and stop making such a fuss with each other. Most of you, with the exception of the few open-minded and humble observers of course, just want the next person to believe the way you do. News-flashs: the world does not revolve around any of us. Make observations, it's of course within all of our rights, but all this hostility and finger-wagging is ridiculous.

    May 17, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
  18. steveinmn

    Gravity created the Universe? Great!

    Who (or what) created gravity?

    While I despise organized religion, Mr. Hawkings, bright as he is, cannot dissuade this agnostic of the rightful place of a 'creator' in the quest for explaining all of this.

    May 17, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
    • Casey

      It's not Mr. Hawkings – they guy has a PhD so it's either Dr. Hawkings or Professor Hawkings.

      May 17, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
    • aardman

      You cannot be an agnostic while at the same time assuming with absolutely zero proof whatsoever that there is such a thing as a 'creator'.

      May 19, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
    • cheyanne

      I can not change anyone believe I can only tell you my own story I grew up in a religious church had a dead heart I began to search want to know is there a God when so much suffers then I began to try and doubt his existence but I couldnt explain how a explosion began all the planets the rotation the sincronized movement of the moon ocean birds migrating in season the bears hibernation everthing that if man leaves alone knows how to survive. I called out to God and he met me and something changed personally for me that day I had a feeling inside of completion and no matter what bad thing I encountered he was with me and took me thru and some bad things led me to have a testimoney of understanding of what others where going thru. I wont fight to make my point I only believe I can tell you why I know there is a God there is a Heaven and someday I will be there.

      May 20, 2011 at 12:00 am |
  19. Pope John

    Hey Hawking....when the computer dies, doe's the computer maker die too? I dont think so Mr.wheely brain!

    May 17, 2011 at 6:49 pm |
    • Gross

      Pope John Paul II was a pedophile.

      May 17, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
    • Wayne

      All life is chemical reaction to the core. Nothing magical.

      May 17, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
    • Ok

      Eventually, yes the computer maker dies too. DUH!

      May 17, 2011 at 6:57 pm |
    • Jacob

      That comment makes no sense... we didn't make our brain and it's not like hawking was saying that when our brain (computer) dies that god (the computer's creator) dies as well. If you choose to believe in god, by all means go for it, but you should probably let people much smarter than you, like Stephen Hawking, make the smart witty comments.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
    • CM

      Computers also get tons of viruses and break down because the maker can't make them perfect. Oops... so much for omnipotent god...

      May 31, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
  20. DigitalDan

    I believe that "GOD" was created to Control all those that NEED it. Me on the other had, Science rules... HARD FACTS is where it's at.. The day "GOD" Comes and knocks on my forehead THEN I'll believe...

    May 17, 2011 at 6:48 pm |
    • DrScience

      be careful what you wish for...

      May 17, 2011 at 6:53 pm |
    • Sam Eapen

      What Mr. Hawkins or any other Scientists couldn't do, Christ did it for me. He paid the price for my sins and rescued from the wrath of the creator. Now I remember clearly one verse in the Bible i.e Gods word..Broad is the way of destcution and narrow is the way to life. Only few will find it.

      May 17, 2011 at 6:55 pm |
    • Wayne

      Sam, you're a sinner, I am not. Are you saying that god is one mean vindictive sob?

      May 17, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
    • aardman

      Hey Sam Eapen, you know by assuming and declaring that you are saved and the rest of us unworthy heathens are condemned to hell, you are committing the sin of pride, of presuming that your place beside your god is assured. If I remember from my early catechism when I used to believe in fairytales, one of the biggest sins is to take upon yourself the judgement that only your god can make. You are not exhibiting the proper Christian humility. You need to stop presuming that you are saved, and worse to boast about it, or you're going someplace else other then heaven.

      May 19, 2011 at 5:45 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.