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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. Ladyoftheday

    To all those who dont believe in God he gave you proof when he created Adam and Eve. No other way can life exist without a sperm and a egg. Now did nothing just put a sperm and a egg here and some how that just decided lets get together and create life. DUHHHH... Are can you explain?

    May 17, 2011 at 8:07 pm |
    • Don

      Viruses are alive; no sperm and egg needed. Bacteria divide and reproduce without sperm and egg. Prions, which are malformed proteins, may be alive or not; but the more or less reproduce–and are the cause of mad cow disease. Humans and sheep and dogs can be cloned. Ah, but a logical argument based on fact isn't going to help here is it? Life is the natural and outcome of organic compounds that like everthing in the Universe combine and build new things. Our very solar system–sun and earth–are the left over bit of other stars and planets that exploded billions of years ago. That's right, we've made of stars–created when they died; and they were created when other stars died; right back to the big bang. We can see this by looking into space at the 100s of billions of galaxies which allow us to see back in time. Wonderful, majestic, and difficult to fathom, but it's how we got here. No god required.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
    • Justin

      You probably believe that dinosaur bones were planted in the earth as well.

      P.S. Adam and Eve did not just appear. There's that crazy thing called evolution....but why even discuss that when you believe what you read from a book written by uneducated humans.

      Science makes religion look stupid. However, science does not have all of the answers, and this article is proof of that. We need to give up the "what happens when we die" concept and think about how we can live better lives....guess what, I learned how to be a good, morally sound and ethically sound individual and I didn't read the Bible....wild notion, I know.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
  2. dave

    You're all a bunch of worldly wise but heavenly confused, or lost, self-proclaimed sages that have based all your opinions on what you see and feel to be right or true. If you don't believe in God you'll know soon enough just how ignorant and insignificant your own thoughts have been. Make an honest, sincere effort to find God and plead for help to have faith in Christ and you will know the truth.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:06 pm |
    • Tom

      Your scared of your own death. I feel for you. You should enjoy life instead of cower in fear. There is no satan there is no god there are no leperchauns there are no vampires....Thor did not exist, Nor does any god. You will face the wrath of evolution as it transforms us all. In 300(as long as we don't exterminate ourselves) years no one will believe in your god just as noone believes in mythology today....deal with it.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
  3. Cameron

    Religious belief and science are 2 things that should not be compared. Believe what you want and learn from science.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
  4. matt

    "Spontaneous creation is the reason why there is something rather than nothing..."

    Wow, he sounds just as nutty as the religious people.

    Since there is no thing which does not have a corollary in the universe, it follows that things exist by the fact that they did not exist AND things which currently exist will sooner or later cease to exist. Easy as pie, no need to be a megabrain to figure that one out.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
    • Tom

      I believe he is explaining the creation of "human life" here and not the creation of the universe and all the other good stuff.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:26 pm |
  5. BarnFire

    Everything from nothing? I think the good professor made a sign error somewhere in his equations.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
  6. Bob

    I can't face the reality that all I am and will ever be will cease to exist the day I die, and it terrifies me that all those I know and love will be lost as will any essence of me. So I find it very comforting to release myself from the hell of knowing that and choose to live in the world of denial and afterlife that religion provides to me. The fear of the great nothing is too much for my mind to bear, and I can sleep at night by convincing myself that the absolute nothing we all face one day will instead be full of happy choirs of angels, reward for any suffering I've endured, punishment of the wicked and evil (it pains me to think those who cause so much evil will not suffer for eternity, so hell is a great comfort too), and that I'll get to see all those I currently miss since the death of friends and family are so painful. Facing nothing is not an option for me and I have to believe there is a plan and meaning to everything. Religion allows me to ignore reality, anesthetize my fear and pain, and make it through life without losing my sanity. God must exist as life without his wonderful grace is just too painful and full of fear to imagine for me. So I choose to believe. This is what is called Faith. I will pray for all of you, especially if you disagree with me, rather than killing you. Fortunately my fear is not so great that I feel I must exterminate all those that believe differently, or in a different view of God which helps them live their lives; and sadly there are many in the world who must believe so strongly they kill to salve their anxiety, panic and fear.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
    • Ed

      I like the first half of your message. Well said Bob!

      May 17, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
    • Tom

      You sound psychotic....dude be happy you and your family got to live long lives and stop opperssing yourself....how do you not go crazy laying awake in bed thinking you have wasted even a minute of your precious life giving it to some false diety? Stop praying for me and start helping out your fellow humans...maybe give a homeless guy a sandwich or something he needs your help more then us atheists.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:33 pm |
  7. COMMONSENSE

    Ah, Mr.YankinOz, man himself is composed of three parts (spirit, soul, and body). So, where exactly did you get the brilliant notion that Christians don't believe in ghosts, or spirits?....the bible says that when Jesus died, "He yielded up the ghosts.' And please tell us where you heard that Heaven is a physical place...haha..so obviously you only believe the way you believe because someone else told you these things. And honestly speaking (and I have to be honest). As much as I love the Lord, if I was in Mr. Hawkin's condition, I too might find it a little hard to validate the things of God too. Once he believed...now again he doesn't. The man has no authority what so ever on this particular subject. It doesn't take a great deal of common sense to see that this gentleman is hurt emotionally (and perhaps he has every right to be...who wouldn't be if they were in his shoes), and he's angry. So, let's just keep it real. For someone with know authority on this subject, clearly his opinions are originating from a place of hurt and anger. Understandably so.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
  8. ScottK

    It's as rational to think everyone who was good will get a flying horse that takes them through the spot on Jupiter into a fantastical wonderland of candy and carnival rides after they die as it is to believe in heaven. I guess for some that would be redundant if their imagined heaven was a Jupiter Carnival.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
    • COMMONSENSE

      ScottK....what in the world does being good have to do with Heaven....haha..innocent ignorance...you gotta love it. And I realize that you were simply mocking God, because you don't know any better. Well, pay close attention here; even Webster defines a thing called iniquities-sins of the father. So, all of you that have the nerve to bad-mouth the Lord and the existance of His Kingdom...you might want to research a bit on the subject of 'generational curses' because if not for yourselves, for the sake of your children and there children, you might want to know for certain Who or What you're talking about just in case. In fact, I have absolutely no doubt that this great minded man Mr. Hawkins, is probably a result and living breathing proof of those results. His great grandparents or his parents were just as ignorant as all of you here. Trust me, you would be better off just saying, 'I don't know, we will see', and leave it at that. Because when you begin to mock the Lord, it doesn't go well for those that do. I pray that He forgives you for your lack of discretion.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:24 pm |
  9. NW - Great Americans

    If you don't believe in God you are an IDIOT!
    We'll pray for your salvation anyway 🙂

    May 17, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
    • Justin

      If you believe in God you're an IDIOT!
      But I hope you have a good life.....

      See, I can say it too.

      P.S. the Bible = Aesop's Fables......Something made up by humans....not God.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:16 pm |
    • Steve

      There's a good example of a typical tolerant Christian.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
    • Tom

      This is what the romans thought about roman mythology! Your a dunce....enjoy being ridiculed in 300 years. Hopefully there is a picture of you in a future text labeled SUCKER!

      Enjoy wasting your life praying for me...I hope your giving all your money to a church or preacher! serves you right for being a moron.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:40 pm |
  10. JC

    I thoroughly agree that the brain is a computer that will stop working when it's components fail. I also agree there is no heaven for broken down computers. It is my soul that will go to heaven .... not my brain.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:01 pm |
    • Tom

      Your soul? Ever think that your brain is so powerful it has duped itself(meaning you) into believing that you have some imaginery thing called a soul? Careful of tiny trolls, I hear they steal your soul in your sleep!

      May 17, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
  11. Lori

    Maybe this is why he suffers so...

    May 17, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
    • Tom

      What makes you think he is suffering? He is one of the greatest minds the world has ever seen. It is too bad you cannot look past his physical limitations to see this. Your weakness is your mind...No wondering YOU are suffering weakling.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
  12. Nana

    So now we just need the Muslim world to accept this reality. Muslim ignorance is such a dramatic hindering to peace on earth. the abundance of purely uneducated Muslim believers, their oppressive existence in their self created repressive regimes, lifestyles, and governments, their radical inturpitations of their fairy tale book, the fact that their culture and people have contributed less to man kind than any other culture and people of all the earth, their self ritious belief system that empowers them to commit atrocious crimes against humanity, the muslim men prance around in flip flops and linen moo moo's while they lock their woman in their household prisons to be abused slave-wife's, are entirely too ignorant to even build sewer systems and even after thousands of years that other cultures have developed running water toilets, toilet paper, and effective sewerage systems, they still whipe their pood-cracks with one hand (no paper) and eat with the other, and yiddle to the sky just before detonation of their suicide bombs that murder innocent men, woman, children, and babies. It's not hard to see that it is Muslims that are the biggest threat to civilized peace on earth. I can only wish that ET will park the mothership over the entire middle east, open the hatch and say " get over yourselves! we did all of this and you idiots are incapable of having any kind of sanity, so much to the pleasure of the rest of the world, you all must go!" , right before blasting the entire Muslim population with a vaporization ray. They say dreams can come true so nothing wrong with being hopeful

    May 17, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
    • Joe

      You're obviously not a bigot.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:08 pm |
    • Tom

      What? Shut up hate monger. All religions are guilty for killing in the name of....get off you holy soap box.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
    • guest

      Please educate yourself. In the Dark Ages, when Christianity was forbidding scientific inquiry as "heresy", Muslim scholars were amongst the most enlightened in the world, giving great contributions to science, art, trade... It's true that the more extreme facets of it today are mis-guided, but so are the most extreme facets of Christianity (just look, again, at history for that one....Inquisition, anyone?)

      May 17, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
  13. Bill

    There are Flying Spaghetti Monsters! I have eaten of thy body and I am full.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:00 pm |
  14. hamzatu

    If Hawking said it must be true...

    May 17, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
    • mother of four

      You beat me to it. Thank you. 🙂

      May 17, 2011 at 8:02 pm |
  15. Amee

    I am so glad to hear , Paul, that you are sooo smart and can answer for the eternal question of "is there a God?". I guess we will just bow to your knowledge and not question anything because you SAID and by golly it has to be true!! I guess one day one of us will be proven right, and I believe it will be me. Because you see I do believe in God and heaven.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
    • Factoid

      I guess you believe in fairy tales then.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:09 pm |
  16. joeNYC

    @ Pastor Carlton Evans

    >> All things are only possible to those who believe.

    I challenge you to prove that this is the case. Just evidence.. something that we can see or touch or read.

    May 17, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
    • kchiefs

      I suppose that is why atheists have a hard time with logic.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
  17. Icantbelivethisisnews

    Well, we won't know until we get there. So why worry? Anyone who claims they know what will happen after you die is looking ton control you. I like Hawking, and he is a brilliant thinker. But he has limits just like all of us, and to make a claim like that is silly. An afterlife cannot be empirically tested, so it can't be proven or disproven.

    Personally, I believe that we can conceive of God just as as one of our skin cells can conceive us. But what do I know?

    May 17, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
    • Mike E.

      I completely agree. Why argue about things which only make people bitter and angry and can't be proven either way? Everyone will find out in their own time. Same goes for religion... believe what works for you. Why can't people accept that?

      May 17, 2011 at 8:04 pm |
    • Mark

      I totally agree with icantbelievethis is news and Mike E.. Leave things that can't be unproven alone.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:17 pm |
  18. Joe

    Hawking is mostly being criticized for what he has concluded about our universe: that there is no god and that consequently 'heaven' is an anachronistic delusion. I've come to the same conclusion myself, and I'm quite comfortable with the fact that, upon my death, nothing more will happen than the decomposition of my body. Unfortunately, there's no polite way to state that conclusion without the legions of god-believers getting all worked up into a frenzy. Their god-belief system is baseless, so I shouldn't be surprised that their angry responses are similarly baseless (although quite entertaining).

    May 17, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
    • COMMONSENSE

      Joe you sound like a very intelligent man. But tell me though; while your body is decomposing, what happens to your spirit? You do realize that you are made up of spirit, body, and a soul correct? So, does your spirit just kind of hang out at Times Square for eternity or what...haha..

      May 17, 2011 at 8:11 pm |
    • Mark

      And how did you come to the conclusion that its baseless when proof is all around you including yourself, your kids, if you have any and all the people around you, etc. etc.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
    • Tom

      CommonSense....Please show me where my Soul, or Spirit is located in my body? I have a brain, a heart, lungs and lots of other goodies, sorry no soul. Oh yea and guess what I lead a great life helping friends and family, good job and a big smile on my face most of the time. I am sorry you need to trick yourself into being happy, there is a growing number of atheist in the world and you will just have to accept your belief system is slowly...but surely dieing. I just hope you "believers" don't destroy the world just because you cannot accept the truth.

      You have tryed to create an argument based on non-existent objects. Thus proving the Joe's point that all believers use baseless arguments. Feel free to have your beliefs though.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
    • Joe

      It's simple. There is no soul, no spirit. That's Hawking's point, which aligns with my own conclusions. Yes, we have "spirit" in the sense that we all have personalities, unique traits, etc. But those are purely functions of our biological uniqueness and mental complexity. There is no separate spirit that dwells inside us, then flies away to never-never land after we die (or to Times Square). The best way to have an after-life is to do as Hawking, Einstein and MLK have done: make a positive impact during your life, which will last beyond your death. Yes, you can do that without believing in gods, devils, angels and other silly notions that people need to add false meaning to their lives. And yes, as one respondent pointed out, there are many beautiful things that surrounds our lives: children, families, nature, etc. Those things are not proof of any god, rather proof of how beautiful our world is. And it's even more beautiful knowing that there isn't a god.

      May 17, 2011 at 10:50 pm |
  19. pkrstar

    Well, the only thing I'm gonna say is, when he takes his last breath, he better hope he's right!

    May 17, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
    • Taylor

      Unfortunelty, the Dr. is correct.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:05 pm |
  20. Unafy

    Yes, but humans created computer, if there electric system goes down the computer is not functioning. But if the computer goes down, nothing will happen to electric system. I personally think that our life is analog to this computer thing. Ok we created the computer so that we can do some tasks on it. Who do you think design us; just think about yourself, every part of your body is designed for purpose, think about our reproduction system. Nature can testify that there is a designer of everything!!!

    May 17, 2011 at 7:58 pm |
    • Mike

      This isnt a response to you, "Unafy", but I couldt figure out how to just put my own comment into it. Heaven is real, but fake. Hell is real, but also fake. The most insurmountable obstacle we could wish to overcome is to get outside of our own mind. Consciencness is god. Our religion is the idea that every one of us have made "accesible" to us.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:10 pm |
    • SCIENCE WILL SET YOU FREE

      If GOD did not exist, people would invent him to explain all the mysteries of the universe (How was Earth created? How were humans created? etc.) Science has hundreds of thousands if not millions of artifacts/skeletons,tools to support Evolution from early humanoids to today's human form. Religious fanatics have "The Holy Bible" which I found out recently has about 6,400 editions (with different information in each). Maybe ignorance really is bliss!

      May 17, 2011 at 8:18 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.