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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. EricZ

    The believers will never believe for one second that there is no god and there is no heaven, even if there is a proof. Trying to convince the believers that there is no heaven by means of reasoning would just be a waste of time. Most people believe what they want to believe. I think one of the reasons is because they think life without god implies that life is pointless. But the thing is, life doesn't have to be pointless (although it is meaningless) without god.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
  2. Js

    Hawking's opinions on the existence of Heaven are as consequential to my faith as those of the vehement atheists populating these discussions are to astrophysics. Call it what you will, in my mind he's merely a dejected and deformed individual with an obvious ax to grind, and money to be made from sensationalism. By His very nature, the existence of God cannot be proven or disproven by humanity. Not even someone as "specially gifted" as Mr. Hawking.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
    • Vendo Thefastlane

      The burden of proof lies on those making the accusation. Scientists work their lives proving their theories, and humanity advances. It's better just to admit that religious people don't need proof, and are fine with personal belief.

      Not that there is anything wrong with that; you just admitted that nobody can change your stance! But I have a feeling that if somehow someone HAD proven that a god exists, you would GLADLY embrace that evidence even though you reject current evidence for nonexistence!

      May 17, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
    • Hawking

      And yeah, you are a giften one. moron

      May 17, 2011 at 7:22 pm |
    • GreenieInPA

      Nicely put, Vendo.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:22 pm |
    • WOBH

      so let me get this straight. God exists because his existence can't be proven. That really makes no sense at all

      May 17, 2011 at 7:28 pm |
  3. some jerk

    I didn't know he was british. If he's british, then where's his accent!!

    May 17, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
  4. gottlieb schlittenfahrt

    No heaven? Well...not for Hawking.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
  5. jim

    Science flies you to the moon. Religion flies you into buildings.

    This saying is getting to be a cliche, but is so so true.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
  6. GeorgeB

    I have a fair amount of disdain for organized religion and dogma, and Hawking is reputed to be one of the great geniuses of our time, I am amazed by someone with a mind like that I could probably sneak into mensa at best. I certainly do not believe in "intelligent design", that lame theory makes me laugh ... however ... cause and effect seems to be the one universal constant. For this vast and complex physical reality we exist in from subatomic particles to giant stars and billions of galaxies with billions of stars each to have been fabricated from ... nothing ... gravity??? ... does not compute. Could there be an infinite sea of thought that is more real than our physical plane, some famous deep regression hypnosis sessions seems to hint there is. Who knows, not me ... or Stephen either.

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

    I believe the truth is that we don't know. None of us can defend our beliefs without hesitation because we have insufficient facts (although science provides them in comparison to theology which believes them, but this is not the point).

    However, we do know we are alive right now, and we have some ignorance issues.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
  8. Fabrizio Tani

    My two cents: Science and Faith should not judge each other; they are two orthogonal worlds. The concept of "God" belongs to faith. Faith should not address "creation and evolution of universe" which is a scientific subject. Hawking says in "The Grand Design" that given the existence of gravity, "the universe can and will create itself from nothing." This explains how things evolve in the universe, not why. Who (or what) created gravity??? With our limited capacity there is nothing wrong in believing in the existence of God or "heaven" as long as we stay in the faith world and not try to be scientific.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
    • GreenieInPA

      Why is it, that when it comes to religion, everyone cries, "Hands off."? Sorry, but if something can't be debated, then it's not worth anything to begin with.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:20 pm |
  9. latenite

    Hawking is a brilliant physicist, but he's making claims beyond the scope of his expertise. Science is a very useful tool for measuring and explaining the physical world, but it's not capable of measuring or quantifying spiritual things. As Greg Koukl is fond of asking, "Can you use a yardstick to weigh a chicken?" It's simply not the purpose of science to prove/disprove the existence of the supernatural.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
    • Ben

      Believing in the supernatural is a symptom of mental illness.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
    • tommas

      He is one of the only people qualified to even make those conclusions.. There is no spirit or any evidence of it

      May 17, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
    • Hawking

      Thank you Ben.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:19 pm |
  10. joename

    I would never claim to be anywhere near as intelligent as Steven Hawkins. But as someone who likes to solve problems I believe that when intensely focusing on the possibilities of a giving challenge that it becomes very easy to lose focus on a wider field of view. In other words would Hawkins admit that there is only one answer to every question and or problem? If we readily accept opinions of others without question, how can we grow as individuals?

    May 17, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
  11. LTB

    Humans have such an inflated view of themselves. Could it just be possible that we are creatures of this Earth that evolved just as the thousands of other anaimals and plants did? We think that everything we do is so exalted–we must be special. I've got news for you, you are a living being on a planet that just happened to be in the right place for life to flourish. I know that makes you feel small and unimportant, and belief in a God helps to explain the unexplainable and make you feel "needed," but that is all we are. Now make the most of your life 'cause when it is over it is over.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
  12. Wayne

    If there is a god he's putting idiots in charge of converting non believers. Also he's not doing a good job of convincing skeptics of his existance. God is an idiot.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
  13. Meh

    Oh well...I'm just glad that he's not the all consummate authority on the subject. He is free to believe however he chooses, just as I am. I choose to believe there IS a heaven. I certainly do not wish for anything bad to happen to him, I am able to overlook some things in this life.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
  14. The Doctor

    Oh Steve! While you are completely brilliant on so many levels you have made a huge flaw. You drew a conclusion without all the data. As I have said before the universe if vast and complicated. You have so much yet to discover and see. Why must something be a fairy tale simply because it seems too fantastic to be true? It's life Steve. It is the possibility of life. If you wish to personally not believe in something that is fine. However, until you have explored every corner of the universe and every plain of existence...thats all it will be....a belief. In the end I feel its better to believe in the impossible rather than just close our minds off to it, because it is deemed "silly". If you did that, then you wouldn't be where you are today? Its your job to specialize in the ridiculous and to achieve the unimaginable. Its one of humanities greatest attributes.

    See you around Steve!

    The Doctor

    May 17, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
    • tommas

      " too fantastic to be true", yes its called parsimony

      May 17, 2011 at 7:15 pm |
  15. Antwoine

    The theory of "Spontaneous Creation" is flawed math... It emplies that 0 = 1 and 1 can not equal "0"... oh... and BTW... there is no such thing as zero....

    May 17, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
    • tommas

      That is under the big assumption that consciousness is actually more than matter... Neuroscience is taking away that security blankett too

      May 17, 2011 at 7:13 pm |
  16. Tom

    I disagree with Hawking. Heaven is a more in the genre of supernatural fiction.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
  17. hy

    Don't know about heaven but if we could magnify one of the black holes a little more we could see the blinking sign saying "welcome to hell Mr. Hawking".

    May 17, 2011 at 7:09 pm |
  18. Hoofleau

    There is no such thing as a beginning or and ending. That is a human concept in order to rationalize the existence of "being". Man still looks at the stars and wonders. It is his nature.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:09 pm |
  19. Jerry--Scranton, PA

    I would rather believe and be proven wrong, then not believe and find out there is a God!

    May 17, 2011 at 7:09 pm |
    • tommas

      So you are believing just to get a reward, hahaha... If their is a personified deity that created you don't you think it would see that as selfish?

      May 17, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
    • Ben

      What a joke! You'd rather believe in something for the sake of NOT having to deal with the possible "damnation" of not believing? You and all other Christians like you make a mockery out of the "word". You believe something because you BELIEVE it. You obviously don't believe. True belief comes from the heart, figuratively speaking, of course; not from a "lesser-of-two-evils standpoint.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:12 pm |
    • Vendo Thefastlane

      ...And in the meantime live your only chance of existence in an inappropriately restricted way due to religious tenets...

      May 17, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
    • MattCDF

      Yeah, God must love it when people admit that they are actually hedging their bets.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:16 pm |
    • GreenieInPA

      Don't walk under ladders either, Dude.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
    • Gary C

      You describe the fallacy of Pascal's wager. Look it up on the internet.
      The fallacies are:
      1) The assumption that it is equi-probable there is a deity or no deity.
      2) That you automatically pick the correct deity to worship from the thousands man has invented over time.
      3) You pick the right *sect* worshiping the right God.
      4) Your deity doesn't mind that you are just worshiping them to "hedge your bet".

      May 17, 2011 at 7:55 pm |
  20. Nathan

    Who do i believe, personal revelation or Hawkings resentful musings. God please help me withstand the almighty logic of this Superbrain!!!! not!!!!! bahaha

    May 17, 2011 at 7:08 pm |
    • tommas

      Another word for personal revelation is psychosis

      May 17, 2011 at 7:10 pm |
    • GreenieInPA

      A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

      May 17, 2011 at 7:15 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.