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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. Ken

    Hawking is brilliant.

    You know one of the most fundamental messages that Jesus had (if you believe in the fairy tale) is to love your neighbor. Love your enemies. Don't hate. Ever. And to live by his words he showed that even if they tortured him and nailed him to a cross, he still had no hate towards his enemies, only love. How can you claim to follow the word of god and still spout off hateful messages towards those who would take an opposing view? Seems pretty hypocritical to me.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
    • GABRIEL

      Matthew 12:30-32:

      “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. And so I tell you, people will be forgiven every sin and blasphemy.

      But the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.

      Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.”

      Did you have any other questions for us today, Ken?
      No?

      Good...

      Well then Ken, you have yourself a great day now, you hear?

      Run along now Ken.
      Run along now.

      Off you go.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:33 pm |
    • Castiel

      Gabriel – Father has been looking for you all over. Stop being a recalcitrant child and go see what He wants.

      Also, you breed with the mouth of a goat.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:53 pm |
    • GABRIEL

      @Castiel:

      Thanks Castiel, hopefully it has something to with Harmageddeon.
      I can hardly wait.

      May 17, 2011 at 10:03 pm |
    • GABRIEL

      The Holy One, blessed be He, said to Gabriel,

      'Is thy sickle sharpened [to mow down the Assyrians]?'

      He replied: 'Sovereign of the Universe!
      It has been sharpened since the Six days of Creation'

      Sanhedrin 95b.

      Have a good night, Castiel.

      May 17, 2011 at 10:25 pm |
  2. Jim Neumann

    In follow up to my last comment, thanks everyone for your comments, it's always nice to see good discussion going on... I agree totally with some of what was said, and meanwhile, I'm a little surprised at some of the people scoffing at the stance I take, both fellow Christians who think I'm being too acceptant of Hawking, and others who think I'm still not paying attention to Hawking's scientific achievements.

    To Christians who think I'm being too acceptant, let me say a couple of things: 1.) I know that Hawking might likely still call me an idiot and not be as acceptant of me as I am of him–that's fine, I'm OK with that, it wouldn't be the first time someone has called me an idiot, and after all, no one ever accepted Jesus to the degree that he accepted others. I mean who else would say "Father forgive them, for they know not what they do" about the people who were presently crucifying him? Also, being intellectual, as I describe myself, is purely a mode of thinking; it has nothing to do with what views you actually hold, just that you are the type who tests them and thoroughly thinks through them, weighing all the evidence...you can just as absolutely be an intellectual Christian as you can be an intellectual atheist, and vice versa.

    Meanwhile, to Hawking's supporters who suggest that I am not owning up to his scientific "proofs," I believe airwx has already said it best for me–he's a THEORETICAL physicist, and having read some of his work, I'm smart enough to know that much of what he says about God is an exercise in jumping to conclusions, even as sound as much of his scientific work is. Still, I have great respect for him as a scientist–before I gave myself completely to my passions for theology and history, I grew up wanting to be a quantum physicist like Hawking.

    Anyway, thanks for all the comments, it's fun to discuss.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
  3. swohio

    It's going to be interesting to watch Hawking standing in front of God some day, having to explain why he thought the afterlife was a fairy story. One can only hope the Lord will be merciful.

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

      Hope is a good thing.

      But if you think The Sovereign of The Universe will forgive Stephen Hawkings, however, you should consider pelading insanity for yourself, on the day you stand before The Throne.

      You think being a scientist gives you a greencard to blaspheme?
      No one has the right to blaspheme against The Allmighty.

      For He is the owner of everything under Heaven.

      May 17, 2011 at 10:00 pm |
  4. Rachy

    So it's because of the existence of 'gravity' that spontaneous creation can occur – how brilliant! Fair enough. And how may I ask did 'gravity' spontaneously create itself?

    May 17, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
  5. jim

    i am not overly religious or anything, but i do believe that there is some type of higher being and here is why. first, i do agree that the creation of the universe from matter is completely explainable by science. however, my question is, how was that matter created? it is not explicable by nature as to how the matter that makes up our universe could be created from nothing. in other words, why is the universe not just a giant vaccuum with nothing in it, as opposed to the matter-filled cosmos that we live in? these questions are not explicable by science as we know it. even the argument that god created the universe further leads to the question of who created said god? these questions may remain unanswered as long as man exists.

    as for the question of an afterlife, this question is equally as unrefutable or unsupportable by science. in either case, it is simply a matter of belief as opposed to a matter of science. perhaps the only way to answer either of these questions is if there indeed is an afterlife, which is a large part of the reason i continue to hope for and believe in god and life after death!

    May 17, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
  6. Buttzola

    To me, this fellow is no different than a drunk at a bar expressing his opinion, since I can't understand how he comes to his conclusions.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
  7. Rob W.

    Hello Mr. Hawking. Thank you so much for dropping by and sharing your insights. I'm sure I speak for all of us in saying we appreciate your offering an opinion. Tell you what...we'll put it right over here with the others…and…if it ever amounts to anything, we'll move it right to the top. OK? Please have a nice day. NEXT…

    May 17, 2011 at 8:51 pm |
  8. Gregg

    Hawking's human: not everyone can be right all the time.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
  9. GABRIEL

    Well, since Steve Hawkins is so God-damned smart, why doesn`t he spontaneously create his own universe and design a cure for all his ills why he is at it?

    That should not pose a problem for a man of his stature, should it?

    And before you start arguing that this looser is a astro-physicist or whatever, and not a biologist or a doctor, that should not really matter now should it?

    If he is as smart as you claim he is, he should be able to conclude his new degrees within the weekend.

    Shouldn`t he?

    Oh, what`s that you say?

    He can`t get a degree in bio-engineering and build a new body for himself by spontaneous creation and transfer his mind into the new body, because he is not that smart?

    Ok then, if he is so God-damned stupid that he does not even have the brains to do that, why is claiming to know the origens of existence then?

    I thought you had to be clever to do that.
    Real clever.

    Seems this drooling retard in the wheelchair, who cannot even speak by his own power should maybe reconsider his judgement of guys who has real power.

    Guys like God, for instance.

    Figure a way out of the wheelchair Steve.

    Figure a way to get your body working again, and your lips to be able to move.
    And your mouth to be able to speak.

    Figure that out, Steve.

    And then we shall discuss who exists and who does not.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
    • Bryan

      Fundametalists are the same whether christian or muslim. All fundamentalists are a threat. Fundamenatalism IS the problem.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:20 pm |
    • GABRIEL

      Sorry for all the spelling errors, by the way.

      English is not my 1st. language.
      English is my 974th language.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
  10. Kingfisher

    Hawking's opinion about heaven is just that, an opinion. I read The Grand Design today, and I didn't get the impression that they were denying G-d, or the soul, or afterlife in this book, merely holding up alternative reasons for why it COULD be true that the universe exists without them. Overall, it was a brilliant work and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Taken as a whole they've made a very compelling argument that the explanations of the universe provided by both science and religion are incomplete and always evolving, and that one perspective is no more or less valid than another. Live well, believe in whatever gets ya through the day, and keep an open mind... uncertain predictions are one thing, but according to the model-dependent realities of his science and my religion there's little point in claiming to know the answers before the "experiment" is finished. ;o)

    "It might be that to describe the universe, we have to employ different theories in different situations."

    May 17, 2011 at 8:49 pm |
  11. Bible Believer

    Heb 9:27 "And is it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgement"

    May 17, 2011 at 8:48 pm |
  12. GOD's biatch

    I leave tightly coiled piles of GOD in my yard all the time

    May 17, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
  13. clark

    Hawking is right. Gravity is the result of the bending of the time space continuum from it natural linear state due to the presence of mass. A mass also created by fluctuations of time and space held together by sub atomic forces which are also created by fluctuations of the time space continuum. Time and space are the 2 fundamental elements of nature. Nothing supernatural needed to create them.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
  14. A.L.

    Can you people please stop breeding? We really need to strengthen the gene pool. Santa Claus: Guy that we tell our kids about in order to bribe them into behaving all year. Jesus Christ: Guy that we tell our kids about in order to scare them into behaving for their entire life. Difference? We stop believing in Santa when we're about 7 and we realize it's physically impossible for a fat ass to fit down a chimney and deliver presents to 3 billion kids in one night. Ya, I had the Jesus thing figured out about a year after the Santa thing.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
  15. paul

    Steven Hawkings is Satans little helper!

    May 17, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
  16. Dragomir

    It is evident that God doesnt work on levels we expect. Do you really expect form force that keeps universe going to help you win a lottery. It is also evident that in the name of God terrible things humans did to other humans. Different groups of us wanted to own the God and have exclusive right on Her, or use Him to cover our own shortcommings. Evidently it is not working. Development of humans is a painfull process.

    If we would learn only one lesson that many of us believe we already have learned, than everything would change for us.

    The lesson is "Law should rule over man, not man over another man!".

    Every democratic leader sweare by this yet there is no democracy today that really applies it. Powerfull man still rule over less powerfull ones and twist the Law to fit their current needs or aspirations.

    How did we learn the need to protect nature? We hit the wall and than get pulled back and started thinking.
    If we do not follow path of God we will hit many walls and learn very painfully. On that path we can hit the wall so big that we will not exist anymore or we can keep learning folowing the God. If we genuinly believe in God, things will get easier for us as humans. Most of us know that and feel it deep down in essence of our being.

    It is not about death and being scared of it. It is about discovering our purpose and how things work. It is about discovering God's laws, all of them. And then living harmoniously with our environment within our universe and possibly beyond. The path of God offers limitless possibilities. Other paths leed to destruction and missery. That is your heaven and your hell. Very real ones.

    Reality is we cannot change whatever happens after the death. In grand sceme of things it probably doesn't even matter.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
  17. gochrisgo

    Heaven is a state of mind! Hell is a state of mind! Hawkins is already in heaven, he is a passionate and loving contributor to all of human society. He is living in the now – the only place where we can access heaven. Religion is at it's saddest and most fearful when it treats this earth and itself as an mass evacuation plan for the next place. To that extent I Agree with Mr Hawkins, but their is a place for belief in my life – as much as that belief is itself in a state of flux. If we are both wrong then it doesn't matter – it's still heaven all the way to heaven 🙂

    May 17, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
  18. Raul

    Ok, so let me get this straight. The universe will create itself from nothing given the existence of gravity? So if gravity exits, then that's not nothing. It's something. And if gravity existed before the universe, then Gravity is Hawking's God? I think his mind entered an infinite loop that he can't get out of.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
  19. Ron San Bruno, Ca

    Even Stephen Hawkins has made mistakes in his theroies . He is not the final word,and I am amazed that he feels that his life has been as worthless as a computer. I would have hoped that he would have come too the realization that it is impossible for any partical that exists ends in darkness. The universe is a living reality there is no escaping it. All is partical, there is no emptiness in the universe of particalism. The deeper we go the more we realize that everything is of one thing,like a collective,one can not exist without the other. So goes life in the universe .A blood cell is an individual entinity,it can be trasplanted and survive, every cell that exists is an individual,therefore all that is , is adaptable to the needs of its environment, not the other way around.I think Stephen needs to look even deeper into himself and find the partical that he is.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
  20. Jerad

    I don't care whether people choose to believe in God, gods, heaven, hell, or anything else. However, it takes a galling amount of arrogance for a person to know that such things do not exist.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
    • Jerad

      I meant to write "claim to know," not just "know."

      May 17, 2011 at 8:47 pm |
    • A.L.

      .......Or an incredible amount of knowledge.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:50 pm |
    • John

      Or do exist. Humans like to imagine a lot of things. Imagining makes you safe.
      How can anything be waiting for us after death? Because we swore less? Then whoever is in charge will say "Wow, good job!! Here's a cloud to live on! Fun!"

      May 17, 2011 at 8:52 pm |
    • swoopy009

      Or that they do not exist!!

      May 17, 2011 at 8:53 pm |
    • Jim Neumann

      Very true Jerad, I must agree with you. It's an incredible leap of faith, actually, and a blind one even for the most brilliant of us, to say something like that. After all, you are trying to empirically rule out what, by definition, cannot be empirically observed or quantified.

      May 17, 2011 at 8:56 pm |
    • Jim Neumann

      Sorry, I also have to say, that while I can see where those are coming from who say "or DO exist," I'm not sure I agree. I think the larger leap, and the greater arrogance, are required by those who say they absolutely do not exist. The reason I say so is because theists for the most part do not claim to be able to prove that there is a god–they simply assert their belief to that end. Atheists such as Hawking, however, are in fact saying that they can prove, or "know" for a fact that such things as God, heaven, and hell, etc. do not exist, though by definition, such things cannot be empirically judged and so cannot be empirically proven OR disproven.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:01 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.