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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. "Atheism is a fairy story invented by people afraid of the dark."

    Hawking has a high IQ, but he leaves much to be desired as a theologian and philosopher. Here are a few examples:

    1. The fear argument is just silly, for it is just as valid to say that people reject spiritualism and the afterlife for fear of divine punishment. Personally, I find the idea of atheism to be very comforting, but I've rejected it as untenable.
    2. Even if Hawking is right that gravity is necessary for spontaneous creation, that doesn't prove it is sufficient for spontaneous creation, for there is no gravity where there is no matter. Where did the initial matter come from that allows for gravity? Hawking would probably answer that it's always existed, but that's just begging the question.
    3. Hawking assumes that the space-time continuum is an inanimate object as opposed to a conscious being. He also assumes that the totality of superstrings in space-time cannot function as a kind of neural network. He may be right in these assumptions, but if he's wrong, the implications are rather obvious and quite stunning. We, and our brains in particular, may be created in the image of our Creator in a way far more profound than previously considered by theologians. What's especially interesting here is that this hypothesis could become a testable theory depending on scientists' ability to come up with a way to interact with superstrings. IOW, science and theology may one day merge – an interesting prospect indeed!

    The hypothesis described above is not yet a belief of mine, but I'm very partial to it. I would appreciate any serious criticisms or modifications to the hypothesis.

    Robert in Israel

    May 17, 2011 at 9:14 pm |
    • techguy

      Robert,
      Thank you for your comments and I agree (poing 1 &2). Pt. 3: I believe that there can be religious scientists (Faraday, Newton, etc.), but I don't think that science and religion can merge. Religion is faith based, while science is factual. (...Still not sure how the Big Bang 'THEORY' even became a theory, other than somebody desperately trying to find an alternative to creation, but it should NEVER be taught as a fact, but rather as a THEORY). It's ok for scientists to say "we don't know".

      May 17, 2011 at 9:42 pm |
  2. NeverBeenBrainwashed

    NungaBIZ

    Why spend so much time and money worshipping something that you can't prove is there?
    Nobody can fully prove the existence of god, nor can anyone prove that some spiritual being does not actually exist.
    The fact of the matter is, since nobody can prove either way, why even bother with it in the first place. I'm a realist and I refuse to follow something just because some authority figure tells me to.

    With the story I told, it just shows how easy it is to make something up and create a following that believes in it. My story is just as believable as the bible.

    Another issue. If you can explain how Noah built an ark capable of holding every species of animal and insect, I will then believe in 1 of the hundreds of gods man has most likely made up. The fact is, that such a feat was/is impossible. How does someone live to be over 400 years old. Or go without sleep for over a year. There are so many things in the bible that are impossible. Things that are proven impossible by science and research. Believing in such a thing is an ignorant way of going about life. It's much easier for you to accept something someone tells you than to ask questions and seek the truth.

    May 17, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
    • Cami

      yo the thing is not about believing or not, is the fact that if we don't believe then we are worthless living garbage who occupy a space in the universe only to create crap and pollution, in that kind of case we would better be recycled into some industrial material for a better use than eating and living like cattle, but if there is a god we acquire a divine status and a purpose to continue to exist beyond afterlife or at least the idea of it, which would give life a sense right?, otherwise an electric device regenerating itself with a battery for 60 years would have a better use than a human being living for 60 years to then die right?

      get it?

      May 17, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
    • NungaBIZ

      Dude, are you Tom Cruise, or do you just need to profess your view of someone you don't knows faith that's not your own? I never said anything about money, what if I'm a Jew or a Buddhist what if I'm a member of the There is no universe, there is a dream within a dream within a dream church of give me all your money. If you can't beat them, hurt them right? Won't work on me, I won't tell you what I believe in just so you can make more of a fool out of yourself.

      Don't put words in peoples mouth NeverBeenBrainwashed or should we call you LetMeBrainwashYou? Your argument is lost on your failure to come up with even one thought you didn't get off a cereal box or a bad talk show.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
  3. biorsel

    Wow, this blogs is deep! And I know one thing that if Hell is where bad people goes, I want to be there because all of my friends are there, not up there and be lonely!

    May 17, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
  4. Stephen Paul Dunphy

    The question is not whether Mr. Hawkins is right or not,. The question is who makes up the frame work of the tools
    with which he frames his ideas. You cannot measure air with a hammer. Mr. Hawkins conclusions are like men playing
    guitar out of tune but all in the room tune to him so he is in harmony with each other but not 440 actual C. I speak over 24
    recognizable languages perfectly. Far better than my English. I have never been exposed to any of them. This cannot be possible in my computer like mind, without another spiritual world. I am heavily classified as untouchable. Unfortunately I am the Worlds top xeno-glossolaliac. I did not choose this. It is your obligation to get all you can. You do not have a second chance with no God. Your God connected conscious defies logic of the little you have to gain in this only life. and treats people right at the expense of the only logical reality you have on earth.

    May 17, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
  5. Colin

    In 1984, 1200 people were found dead around a volcanic lake in Camaroon. Many animals and livestock were also killed. The survivors had strange burns on them. Assume your family live nearby. To get to the bottom of what happened and save your family, would you prefer to rely on (i) A dozen Catholic priests; (ii) a dozen witchdoctors; or (iii) one scientist trained in geology and vulconology?

    Says it all.

    May 17, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
  6. bert

    I respect and admire this man. He`s a living proof that miracles exist. He`s a miracle in his own right by having challenged death for 49 years, and still be around with great mental health. No scientist believes holeheartedly in the divinity of God and his cration, for they cannot accept that creation is the work of " A BEING", but of Anti Matter. The equation simply does not balance for them, it is not a valuated constant to add God in it. If i was Hawkins, i would be a bit more toughtful, and look deep into his own huiman condition and accept he`s a living miracle granted by virtue of God, or , in scientific terms, Anti Matter, so, as to try and figure out why is he still alive, and what is his real mission on earth. The , maybe, he`ll believe there`s God after all.

    May 17, 2011 at 9:12 pm |
    • Colin

      Bulls*it. He could no more believ in sky fairies, than a doctor could believe storks deliver babies.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:14 pm |
  7. deepwater805

    Methinks Stevey stole that one from John Lennon...

    May 17, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
  8. Cami

    Cool Story Brah, listen hawking, why don't you just take some potassium cyanide and go to sleep?, that will fix your problems,

    if your theory of no god were truth, then we are a bunch of living garbage and deserve to be nuked to ashes, birds would have more right to exist than us, but since god does exist life really has a purpose, unlike your view of life which to me seems like an empty story.

    May 17, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
    • Colin

      Is your self worth that fragile and precarious that it depends on a fanciful sky-pixie to be other than negative? What a shallow existence.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:17 pm |
    • Will

      Cami: Your words are so full of compassion and love. Spoken like Jesus himself. What disgusts me most about most religious kooks is their quickness to condemn anyone who doesn't share their gargantually absurd and laughable view of the cosmos. Then again, the more you guys squirm around and shout your delusions in the calm faces of the sane, the more convinced we become that the days of religious insanity are numbered.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:27 pm |
    • sam

      The more you talk, the more I like the idea of nukes.

      May 17, 2011 at 10:02 pm |
  9. Ron?

    Wish the dude would make up his mind. He said god did exist, then didn't, and back and forwarth. non-believers are feeling good now, just wait till he changes his mind again. Then will you switch sides? haha Hawking won't be here much longer then he'll see if he's right...

    May 17, 2011 at 9:09 pm |
  10. jma58

    Hawkins is one of the most brilliant minds on this planet. Always happy to find another realist

    May 17, 2011 at 9:09 pm |
  11. Lando

    Hawkings is a hater at the end of hte day. For all the ambition he has if he was so flippin smart he would have focused on a cure for life not try to killa persons belief. There were lot of people out here like myself that always found him amazing in his mystery of intelligence. I see why the Lord taook his ablity to be move and speak now. he doesnt speak facts it took him over 30 years to disprove his own theory i recently read. So who is to say his pride is bigger than his intelligence. If he could speak he would not be so famous and interesting. Sorry Mr Hawkings. Heavan is for believers dont knock us. Remember when you believed you would live longer than they told you. You believed other wise if not youd be dead a long time ago. Punk

    May 17, 2011 at 9:04 pm |
    • Castiel

      Jesus was just here, and he's upset with your spelling, your overly judgmental behavior, and that thing you've been doing with the neighbor's dog. Please put your computer away now and go pray.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:59 pm |
  12. Al

    Mr. Hawking may convince some that "God" is not real but in the end how will he convince "God" Himself when they meet? It will be too late and there will be nothing he can do when Jesus says I never knew you!

    May 17, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
    • DanW

      So the loving God and loving Jesus condemn Hawking forever because he spent his life trying to understand the universe that they created, using the unique mind that they bestowed upon him, a mind that he used in the way it was designed to be used. Yep, gimme some of that religion!

      May 17, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
    • Crocker

      No mortal being has the answers. Not even Dr. Hawking. We will all find out eventually for ourselves.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
  13. paul

    Faith is a gift of God given to believers. Many are called and few are chosen.those of you who dont have it no explanation will ever satisfy your carnal minds. for those of us that have been blessed with the Holy Spirit we dont need PROOF, the proof exist in our hearts.We have undeniable proof you could never understand because you have not been chosen to participate in Gods plan of Salvation. BELIEVERS know what Im talking about. Many are CALLED but few are CHOSEN!

    May 17, 2011 at 9:01 pm |
    • Will

      Faith is simply a license to believe without reasons. Plus your point makes zero sense. How can faith be a gift given to believers when faith supports the belief? Thanks for poignantly demonstrating the illogic of faith and the sad potency and mind-destroying nature of religious delusion. Your whole outlook is a reasoning error. Sad.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:19 pm |
    • Riley

      Right, because god only wants "believers", not great minds like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and many others who have donated billions to charities. or Stephen Hawking, Albert Einstein, and countless others who are famous and great people for their advancements, including medical advancements that have allowed amazing people like Hawking to live. What you are saying here is terrible, claiming to be special or a better person because you believe in something is very very ignorant. Statements like that make me hate religion more than Al Qaeda extremists.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:34 pm |
  14. Buttzola

    What is the difference, he can't get into the Catholic heaven anyway now can he?

    May 17, 2011 at 9:01 pm |
  15. ObjectiveOpinion

    I agree with Stephen. What a great mind. For all those that want to believe there is a god, why doesn't he just prove he exists, and end the debate? You know why, because Stephen is right. There is no god.

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

      You willing to bet your life on it? Or your eternal soul? If so, you are much braver than I am.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
  16. xlion

    As individuals, we will never know heaven. As a species, heaven is our evolutionary destination, should we be so lucky to reach it.

    May 17, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
    • Timetraveler

      Sorry, but evolution *HAS* no "destination" nor any goals nor any plans. You're still mired in religion and god. Evolution is random genetic mutations and natural selection. That is it. And this is why it is so elegant and works so well. Free your thinking from the shackles forged in the Dark Ages.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:02 pm |
    • S101

      As a species our destination is extinction.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:16 pm |
    • xlion

      We alone guide our evolution. Not God. We will create "heaven" when we are able. There are those among us that devote their lives to this purpose. You must be one of those bitter god-hating psuedo-atheists who feel cheated by god if this is how you interpret my previous post. Evolution of the human race is not random. Our lives are not random. I already know what I am doing tomorrow and who I'm doing it with. I have my reasons why I am doing it. Nothing at all is random and while my choices come naturally to me I would not refer to it as natural selection.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:23 pm |
    • xlion

      My wife and I chose each other because of the similar beliefs and ideas we share. We will instill these same beliefs in our children. Maybe we will get involved in politics to try and shape society based on these beliefs, or maybe our children will. If somewhere this becomes a detriment to survival, we will be eliminated from the gene pool. ALL CHOICES. Not much random at all. Our kids are pretty smart. Hope that never becomes a detriment to survival, such as in a theocracy. And yes, I said IF we are so lucky, but I agree we will probably not be.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:34 pm |
  17. Marcus Thompson

    I believe that Stephen Hawking's disease is finally affecting his mind. How sad.

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

      You're the one with the disease. It's called religion.

      You've been brainwashed.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:22 pm |
    • sam

      I suppose you believe all kinds of delusional things.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:56 pm |
  18. JB

    Greg, couldn't have said it better myself! Take a lot of faith to think all this just happened!

    May 17, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
  19. tim

    i am thrilled by the lively disscusion that dr hawkins has encourged with his thoughts

    May 17, 2011 at 8:54 pm |
  20. Bob Ragin

    God gives you and extra 49 years and this is how you thank Him?? $%@# you Hawking!!

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

      Read up on Henrietta Lacks. She died from cancer, and yet her cells have been used to save the lives of countless others. The scientists did the work. It was all started from cancer. Would you then thank God for giving her cancer because of all of the lives that were saved? How about, she got cancer, some people worked to find out why and helped mankind. Who have you helped by giving the credit to God and cursing Mr. Hawking?

      May 17, 2011 at 9:08 pm |
    • CF

      There is no Stephen Hawking ... only the robot who occupies his body.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:09 pm |
    • Cida

      I totally agree; not fair at all.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
    • kit

      No Bob..science gave him the extra years.

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

      Advancements in medicine allowed Mr. Hawking to live another 49 years. If a fictional character such as god had that power he'd not let so many Christians die at such a young age.

      You've been brainwashed.

      May 17, 2011 at 9:21 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.