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. Lizzy10

    I have to relate what a MD told me once "I chose to believe in God because if he doesn't exist, when I die it won't matter and if He does, then I'm ahead of the game. Either way, I'm in no hurry to find out".

    May 17, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
    • Timetraveler

      Hate to break it to you, but your "MD" is plagiarizing Pascal. This is called "Pascal's Wager", which you've obviously never hear of (nor probably of Pascal himself). It has been debunked as intellectually and morally bankrupt by philosophers and great thinkers countess times and in numerous different ways since Pascal stated it. I wouldn't take a rat for a hemorrhoid treatment to that so-called "MD".

      May 17, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
  2. AH

    Here's the reality of things kids.... we aren't squat in the grand scheme of things in this universe we call home... you going to tell me that 'god' focuses much attention on us?


    May 17, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
  3. kelsey

    Mr. Hawking. I love you. Not because of what you just said but because I love you.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:31 pm |
  4. clark

    Who created god? Was it Super god? and Who created super god? Super Super god? And who created Super Super god? Super Super Super god? And who created Super super super god? Was it super super super super god? And who created super super super super god? It must have been super duper god.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
  5. Gustavo

    I believe he is right and he i wrong...both at the same time...All his ideas and theories are correct but not "labeled" correctly. God is that which always exists and is in essence the matter, micro-atoms, big-bang or whatever Mr.Hawkings calls it. He basically discovered God when trying to dismiss him. In the mists of all his science there is the faith, God, Allah or whatever you wanna call it.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
  6. EdgarX

    Science is the Alpha and the Omega of humanity. Nothing else is as powerful and definitive as scientific knowledge. Nothing is as certain and accurate as the Scientific Method. Science has given us all we have, made us into all that we are. It has shown us where we come from and tells us how we will end, backing it all up with solid, measurable, touchable, indisputably real evidence. Everything else is fairy tale fantasy fit for the 73% of Americans who believe everything in the bible as literal truth. In the end, they’ll be raptured into carrion and those of us who remain will evolve into a new, advanced species, capable of answering all the questions the Godmongers can’t even begin to fathom.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
  7. David

    We can't develop the unified theory of the 4 forces. Einstein tried and tried. And lots of other researchers have tried. Unless one accepts some kind of divine intervention, the unified force theory will not be provable. There's enough proof for me to believe that there is 1. A God, and 2. there is an afterlife. Hawkins reckons a human to a computer that when it fails, its the end. What he forgets to mention is that a computer needs a program. Programs can enter another computer and continue, just as soul can continue.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:29 pm |
    • Camaro

      I think I'm actually dumber for reading your post.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
    • EdgarX

      With the kind of brain you have, you better believe in a god, because you are going to need one. First, the unified field theory has nothing to do with unifying the four (notice I spelled it) forces. UT is an attempt to reconcile Einstein’s relativity with electromagnetism. Second, if your uninformed understanding of a scientific concept is iron-clad proof that a god exists, you need medication. Third, if you are counting on some form of an afterlife, you better try to enjoy your present life to the max, every day you have it, because once you are dead, you are going nowhere but into the cold, dark ground. Have a happy, ignorant life !!!

      May 17, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
    • DanW

      Actually, we haven't yet developed a theory of the four forces that deserves the name "theory". That doesn't mean we won't, though the theory might end up being quite different from our current understanding (think of Newton's theory of gravity, very successful as an approximation but needing Einstein to look at things differently). Hard problems can take centuries to solve. If you are really interested in the problem, then work on solving it. If you aren't interested in solving it, then go do something else. But don't pretend that you have accomplished anything by pushing it onto God and then walking away feeling satisfied.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
  8. patrick

    The Religious in a nut shell:

    And I paraphrase," They are sheep in credulity, but wolves for conformity."

    May 17, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
  9. simplify

    Ironic to me that a man who was diagnosed at age 21 with a terminal illness is still alive 49 years later – does God get any of the credit for that, or is it "pure science" as well?

    May 17, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
    • Ceejus the Unleavened Christ

      Is God was really loving he wouldn't have stricken him with an illness in the first place.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:30 pm |
    • DanW

      I think the person who deserves the credit will be the scientist who spends the time and effort to understand why Mr. Hawking is different from (other) ALS patients and, through his efforts, brings us a step closer to curing this disease for all people. If someone wants to give God the credit for Mr. Hawking's survival, that's OK for him, but I don't think it benefits mankind.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:58 pm |
  10. jcty

    You get what you believe in. Watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UpsK8n71ODw

    May 17, 2011 at 8:26 pm |
  11. Muneef

    (Who is Stephen Hawking to claim that "The concept of heaven or any kind of afterlife is a fairy story")? Now he is claiming to see and know the unseen and unknown? OK Prophets had God to inform them but who does Stephen Hawking has to tell him of such? The problem he may even disbelieve in Satan so who is there else if was not him Satan to inspire and reveal to Mr.Stephen Hawking? 

    Agree mankind brain is his computer and in order for this computer to work it requires all the other working physical systems and senses...this computer is programed as to when it should stop working naturally but man shortened the life of that time given by destroying their health or risking their physical body into physical harm...

    There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers but there is heaven and afterlife for the souls or the personalities that lived behind those computer but not the actual hardware of the computer...after all if you had the soul you can fix it to any more developed hardware that is suitable to living heaven or hell...
    Though all people hated dark and favored light for it...but as seems that Mr.Stephen Hawking is favoring the Dark over the Light which he named as "Fairy Tales" or "Tales of the Ancient"....!

    [17:85] They ask you about the revelation. Say, "The revelation comes from my Lord. The knowledge given to you is minute."
    [53:29] You shall disregard those who turn away from our message, and become preoccupied with this worldly life.

    [53:30] This is the extent of their knowledge. Your Lord is fully aware of those who strayed away from His path, and He is fully aware of those who are guided.

    [53:31] To GOD belongs everything in the heavens and everything on earth. He will requite those who commit evil for their works, and will reward the righteous for their righteousness.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
    • Muneef

      As seems Mr.Stephen Hawking had suffered a lot from early age and from age of 21 to 69 tied to a chair facing death every day,had no chance to live a natural loving life...towards which he had been in the state of denial towards God existence for not having his pleadings answered...?    

      An attempt to banish a divine creator from physics for the sake of science research is acceptable but an attempt to banish a divine creator from physics for misleading people from spirituality and belief of God, then that is a different issue...

      Hawking says "The Grand Design" that given the existence of gravity, "the universe can and will create itself from nothing.".

      But he did not explain who did put that so called "The Grand Design"? The Designer? Since for every design there is a Designer? 

      "Spontaneous creation is the reason why there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist,". 

      Seems here he admits that there is a reason for every creation,all came for a reason a some thing and not for a nothing...

      "It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper (fuse) and set the universe going," Hawking wrote.

      As mentioned to you that Mr.Stephen Hawking had kept invoking God to get him recovered from illness but seeing no appeal was answered had him to feel that he had to set him self to go as universe is going....
      [21:83] And Job implored his Lord: "Adversity has befallen me, and, of all the merciful ones, You are the Most Merciful."

      [21:84] We responded to him, relieved his adversity, and restored his family for him, even twice as much. That was a mercy from us, and a reminder for the worshipers.
      [38:41] Remember our servant Job: he called upon his Lord, "The devil has afflicted me with hardship and pain."

      [38:42] "Strike the ground with your foot. A spring will give you healing and a drink."

      [38:43] We restored his family for him; twice as many. Such is our mercy; a reminder for those who possess intelligence.

      [38:44] "Now, you shall travel the land and preach the message, to fulfill your pledge." We found him steadfast. What a good servant! He was a submitter.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
    • EdgarX

      Man, if you invested a fraction of the time you spent memorizing this crap, actually educating yourself, you’d be smarter than Hawkins.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
    • Muneef

      I am smarter than him I believe in which he does not believe....and that is smarter than him...

      May 17, 2011 at 8:45 pm |
    • pat carr

      blah blah blah blah, all you've done is regurgitate verses from a silly old book

      May 17, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
  12. sid


    May 17, 2011 at 8:23 pm |
  13. jp2thx

    "It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way."
    (Proverbs 19:2)

    May 17, 2011 at 8:22 pm |
  14. Bill Johnson

    I choose to believe in a god. If I am wrong I won't know it. It will still have been a good life. There is no evidence of god or an after life. We are saved by faith only. I've given up nothing, unless you value evil behavior.

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

      You are a weak-minded individual who prefers the bliss of ignorance to the privilege of knowledge. You make an excellent sheep, but are a disgrace to humanity.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:44 pm |
    • pat carr

      "Faith" in what exactly? nonsense and fairy tales taught by someone else?

      May 17, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
    • DanW

      Why not just live a good life for its own sake? Are you saying you would live an evil life if you weren't thinking of God? And why would you do that?

      May 17, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
  15. Steven Ong

    First define what is heaven. Heaven is where no evil exist. Where everything is perfect. If there is no evil on earth then this is heaven. We dream of a heaven far away but forgot that we have turn heaven into hell. Professor, You see your problem and the world and forget that things can be better than this. You have missed the truth and bounded by darkness.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

      This is gibberish. Not sure if that exists in heaven or hell, but it sure as hell exists on this forum, in spades.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:38 pm |
  16. Steve

    I was raised a Muslim, then went thru a period of atheism due my utter dislike for religion and then became a Catholic due to my personal experiences and my Dad's side of the family who are Catholics. When I was a atheist no one could convince me there was a God and now that I am a Catholic no one can convince me there is no God. So I think this is all at a personal level this debate will continue to the end. There is a difference between intelligence and wisdom. I think the people who believe there is no God use a rational approach and their intellect which is their brain which is totally fine but they fail to use wisdom which I think is more intuitive. Believing in God is intuitive and very personal. But again each belief is personal and based on lot of factors in our lives and so should not be attacked or ridiculed. The key is how do we live with each other with our different beliefs. Disease takes a toll on even great minds and geniuses and Mr Hawkings is no exception but he has every right to believe there is no God and no heaven but so do I to believe there is a God and heaven. Hopefully one day all of us who think we are intellectuals, religious an social learn to live in peace thru words and action no matter how much we differ.

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

      Amen to that

      May 17, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
    • observer

      all good about personal experience.. i don't have a problem with that.. everyone can live the way they want.. It's only when there is organized religion then we all have a problem.. because these people that promote it use this so called personal experience only to control and extract money from people.. and what's more perverse i think these people (pope, bishops etc etc) really don't believe in any god...

      May 17, 2011 at 8:42 pm |
  17. srichey

    Stephen Hawking is quite correct which is why life is so precious.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
  18. Citizentobe

    Poor fellow. Unfortunatyely, he is going directly to the other fairy or fiery place.........soon.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
    • Ceejus the Unleavened Christ

      But first he will pass go and collect $100

      May 17, 2011 at 8:25 pm |
  19. dont worry

    The afterlife is a state of energy on another plane of existance. It can be a positive or negative state of energy. What's in your heart will decide that.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:20 pm |
    • S101

      We infer cause and effect through our sensory experiences. When the senses go away, then there's no cause and effect inferred by the mind. Without cause and effect there may as well be nothing.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:36 pm |
  20. Ceejus the Unleavened Christ

    The bottom line is if you don't believe that a man who was his own father rose from the dead to make up for the mischief of a talking snake you are going to burn forever, for God is love.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
    • Joe

      Does he have children or a wife ? Doesn't he feel the love the way I do. If he did, he would know deep down that their is much more to life that physics and particles. Time is a dimension as is the Soul. Why do you think the soul lives foverever and can traverse time ? It simple, the sould dimension does not interact with the time dimension. That is why some see ghost or can predict future events or see beyond their eyes. So many signs exists all around us. Wake up !

      May 17, 2011 at 8:28 pm |
    • hey now

      Now this if funny! well done!

      May 17, 2011 at 8:32 pm |
    • Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son


      May 17, 2011 at 8:37 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.