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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. RationalThinker

    While nothing is 100% certain Stephen Hawking is 99.9% right about so many things including this. And because he spends most of this time expanding our knowledge of the universe rather than worrying about magic sky friends and unprovable concepts like heaven, we are all so much better for it. He is one of the greatest human beings to ever live.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • AtheistIsTheOnlyWay

      And to that I say AMEN! HA! Religion... what a joke.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • Chris

      I don't think the majority of believers worry about God. I don't worry about it any more than I worry about a nuclear explosion.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
  2. Gary Fales

    Hawking: "Heaven is a fairy tale."

    God: "I still love you, no matter what you believe. Heaven is real."

    May 17, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • gozer

      Speaking for god are we now? Prove it.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • AtheistIsTheOnlyWay

      But he apparently doesn't love everyone. Oh no! You're gay? Sorry. You aren't allowed in heaven. A minority? Oh I'm sorry. You're not a white person. Enjoy hell.

      That fairy tale book you call a bible is full of inconsistencies and double standards... how can you believe any of it?!

      May 17, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • Jim

      God has vocal chords and speaks English? What a simple mind you have. Must be a product of No Child Left Behind.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • manguy mctwinkletoes

      Probably has a James Earl Jones voice too, right?

      May 17, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • stejo

      Gary, that is super-creepy! And condescending. And, did I say creepy?

      May 17, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  3. Samuel

    The irony of this statement by Mr. Hawking is that when he actually did relevant work in physics, he did so by his need to know "how God thinks". Some things we'll never know until it's too late I guess.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
  4. vtskivt

    Something created everthing

    May 17, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
  5. lefty avenger

    Hawking is a super smart guy with a serious physical disability. Perhaps what he needs is an all expenses paid trip to Amsterdam for the weekend to cheer him up. I do not think that Hawking can know the unknowable.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • insuranceconsultant

      Pretty big difference between "unknowable" and "obviously rediculous". Maybe we don't have the current technology to know whether or not blackholes can be navigated or whether or not we can build a transporter, but I'll wager both are possible given enough time and knowledge. However, I confident of three things regardless of what we "don't know":
      1. There is no Santa Claus
      2. There is no God
      3. The Detroit Lions will not win a Superbowl.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
  6. insuranceconsultant

    Duh. Did we really need a world-renown scientist to tell us this? Pretty obvious to those bright enough and willing to accept reality.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • Chumlee

      No, what we need is less people so depressed by their own immortality trying to take the joy out of living for the rest of us.

      Way more than 3/4 of the world's population believe in the existance of God. Majority rules. God is real.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • Brian

      So its about intelligence then?

      May 17, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • AtheistIsTheOnlyWay

      2/3? Really? You've got the numbers on this? Typical bible thumper. Take BS and state it as fact. "If it's in the bible it must be true!"

      May 17, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • manguy mctwinkletoes

      "No, what we need is less people so depressed by their own immortality trying to take the joy out of living for the rest of us."

      Why do people NEED god and heaven in their lives in order to experience joy? Live life to it's fullest because at the end, it's done. End of story.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
  7. Vic

    It took me hitting rock bottom and near death before I could even imagine there was a God. The only evidence I have for God is that every man seems drawn to worship something, like they're created for it. It's that God shaped hole everyone is looking to fill. Why does every man look for answers to why they exist? Please do not call me stupid because I believe in God, it's more like I put my pride away and came to terms that there is a Grand Plan for my life.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • YaThink

      Everyone has there way of coping with reality, but when you resign yourself into believing there is a grand plan for you it stops you from taking responsibility for your life and the choices you make.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • Brian

      Glad you found God.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
  8. cabinguy

    Most people would agree that the placebo effect is real – which happens when the mind believes something so strongly that it makes it so (i.e. the placebo sugar pill cures a person of a disease because they believe they are taking a real drug). Perhaps faith works like a placebo: If you believe strongly enough that you have a spirit, and you believe that your entire life, the body may make it come to be… perhaps heaven is born within us, and faith is the seed that starts it in motion. My point is that science and belief are not necessarily inconsistent with one another…

    May 17, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
  9. David

    this is hawkings OPINION... its an opinon/theory because it hasnt been proven and of course can not be proven.

    Do i believe in God? eh.. I'm not sure... Do I believe that once we die..thats it..we cease to exist? ABSOLUTELY not.

    Nothing in the universe is created and then completely destroyed.. You can cut down a tree and kill it..but the wood still exists.. So its my opinon that there is some sort of conciousness beyond this life..

    whether its heaven..or super duper dead person fun land..is something I'll find out when the time comes..as will we all.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
    • Loki

      You are both correct and incorrect at the same time. You matter does not cease to exist, just the electrical impulses that make you a person. Those simply cease and are no more, your body becomes worm food (or not if you choose to be forever locked away in a concrete box, taking up space that could have been something useful).

      May 17, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • Powercosmic

      Oh, right. You're invoking psuedo-scientific thinking that comes straight out of creationist propaganda.

      I quote:

      "Nothing in the universe is created and then completely destroyed.. You can cut down a tree and kill it..but the wood still exists.. So its my opinon that there is some sort of conciousness beyond this life.."

      Your consciousness isn't "wood" even though the thing in your skull appears to be made of wood. Your consciousness is actually a Chemical-Energy State in a Biological State-Machine that we call the Human brain. That "State" requires that certain processes continue uninterrupted, like oxygen delivery via the bloodstream, without oxygen the cells in your brain cannot convert ATP into heat and an electrical charge which synthesizes the necessary signals that maintain the state.

      When the process is interrupted the state begins to dissipate, and if cell damage occurs state can be lost completely, memories, personality, and function can all be damaged and lost.

      However you are correct that the chemical elements aren't destroyed and the heat energy is radiated out into the surrounding area and space, those things are not lost but they are also no longer in a configuration that make "you" you.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
    • Hitch

      David,

      ‘So its my opinon that there is some sort of conciousness beyond this life..’

      Your comment on the conservation of energy/matter/ (1st law) notwithstanding, I have to ask you the following. Your consciousness exists as the byproduct of having a physical brain which consists of a specific pattern able to produce the effect ‘consciousness’? Obviously prior to being conceived or having a brain in the womb you weren’t conscious, so what is to make you think that once this physical brain dissipates & is no more that the consciousness will continue?
      I really don’t find the idea of not being conscious all that scary, we often do it in our dreams as our brains go on ‘auto-pilot’ & I was perfectly fine for billions of years before my consciousness, I think I will be fine without that consciousness.

      May 17, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
  10. Jimbo-Bob

    It's funny when Hawking says there is no God all the christains just assume he means their god and jesus like they are the only religion on earth, they really don't like to think too much.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
    • Minnie

      That is because that really is the only one people attack. Makes you think huh?

      May 17, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
    • BRC

      That could be because it's one of the few that tries to involve itself in everything. When's the last time you heard of someone pushing a law becasue it was the word of Zues?

      May 19, 2011 at 12:16 pm |
  11. Lawrence

    Hawking says in the book "The Grand Design" that given the existence of gravity, "the universe can and will create itself from nothing." If that is true, then how was gravity created? Did gravity then come from nothing, Mr. Hawking? Is this magical gravity assumption by Hawking based on science or is this Hawking's own fairy tale or his own "religion"? Sounds like this is the one question that Hawking has not been able to figure out for 50 years so he takes his own "leap of faith" to enable himself to choose not to believe. The world's foremost scientest relying on bad science to support his decision not to believe. Hopefully he figures out a better answer sometime.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:49 pm |
    • then who created God?

      Huh?

      May 17, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • Brian

      At last a post that makes sense. Hawking has absolutely no idea how we came to be and so has decided that it must be 'spontaneous creation'. I don't mind him not knowing, how could he, but to then say therefore there isn't a god is completely unfounded.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • Minnie

      Absolutely right! I love how the scientist will tell you that there is no God yet tell us that the universe magically appeared. "We are not sure how, but the universe started on it's own." Nothing and I mean NOTHING else in the known universe can do that, yet we are suppose to swallow the magic creation button. C'mon people, I refuse to cram religion down anyone's throat but lets do the math 0 + 0 = uhhhmmmm, wait for it.. 0 . We cant get something from nothing.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
  12. Jacob

    If something was bound to be created from nothing... then who created the "nothing" ? Am I the ony one here who believes hawkings' answer is a bit short-sighted and trying to dumb people down not to think beyond that?

    May 17, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • lefty avenger

      That is some cosmic thinking there. If something was created from nothing then what created the nothing for the something to come from? far out dude.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • chgn66

      Read his book, I doubt it is dumbed down.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • manguy mctwinkletoes

      "then who created the "nothing" "

      A guy with a beard who farts lightning maybe? Why does it have to be a "who"?

      May 17, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • stejo

      I doubt Hawking gives a crap what you think beyond.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • Tom

      Interesting that you should put it that way. I once was confronted in the student center of the college I was attending regarding my view of 2 opposing opinions on God and the theory of creation. While being a Christian and have read the Bible (different versions cover-to-cover) many times, my response to the opposing opinions was the same as yours. I simply stated "So what if you believe in evolution and the Big Bang theory – matter, in scientific terms, does not simply manifest itself from nothingness; at one point in time all 'matter' had to have been created." Did not Albert Einstein himself proclaim that "matter can neither be created nor destroyed?" So who or whom created 'IT' if not by divine – supreme being – intervention?

      May 17, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
  13. Pelegrim

    He's 100% accurate

    May 17, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
  14. Chris

    This is news? First of all it didn't take Stephen Hawking for people to understand this and who cares about what anyone else thinks. These stories of disproving or proving God are old and tiring.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
  15. Lycidas

    Personally, I think Mr. Hawking should stick to science and leave theology to the Rabbis, Pastors and other experts in faith and religion.
    Not saying he can't have an opinion mind you, just that he is known for his scientific thoughts and might want to stick with that.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • gozer

      Following that specious line of thought, you should not be permitted to comment about anything, since you are so ignorant.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • Mulebomber

      what makes those people credible experts?

      May 17, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • Kamikaze

      lol there are no "experts" in religion especially when they keep changing it every other decade.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • manguy mctwinkletoes

      That is exactly what he is trying to accomplish, separating science from religion. He isn't telling anyone what to believe, but he is saying that there is no place for religion in true science.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • DC from NJ

      That would be fine with me (an atheist) as long as you also leave us alone. That means that your churches have to give up your tax exemptions, your donations to your religious clubs are no longer tax-deductible and, most of all, that you convince the religious fanatics to quit killing other people of (other) faith in the name of your own imaginary god.....

      May 17, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • Lycidas

      Ty Gozer...you obvious expertise in being a jerk troll is noted.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • Lycidas

      @Mulebomber- Hopefully a life full of study like Hawking has done in his profession. In no way am I saying that all religious teachers are experts in their faith and belief structure, so don't go all wierd on here.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
    • Lycidas

      @Kamikaze- lol..you don't know much about religion do you?

      May 17, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • Lycidas

      @manguy mctwinkletoes- I agree especially in both directions. There seem to be a lot of ppl on here that have a huge problem with religion telling them about why the world is the way it is...but has no problem having science telling religion why they are wrong. It goes both ways.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • Lycidas

      @DC from NJ- How about you tell science to quit creating nuclear bombs, blood pathogens and all the other killing joys they have brought to us.
      As for the tax exempts...ok...if you will tell the govt from investing in NASA, green tech and other scientific pursuits. That would be fair right?

      May 17, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
  16. J

    I wish God were a fairy tale, but I have talked to to many people that have had experiences that are a result of what seems to be prayer, or life changing events that can not be explained by doctors or scientists. As a sceptic, I actually have studied the bible and facts relating to it. If you have not read it, please do not comment. It is hard to explain it away as a fairy tale, or something soemone made up to stop our fears of death. In fact is not really about that at all. I am a sceptic and have chosen the side of a world we know little about and that we are here fro a purpose and not just dirt put together to further our procreation to no end...

    May 17, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
    • Powercosmic

      Well then, you should consider this question: Why does life only "have meaning" if its eternal? Why can't a mortal, evolved, life have meaning?

      I mean really, believers have invented the idea that life can only "have meaning" if it includes belief in nonsense. Well, I have no reason whatsoever to believe in god, and therefore I consciously choose to dismiss religion as nonsense and guess what?

      My life, my short time here, has more meaning to me than before because I'm not "waiting" for meaning.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • stejo

      Why does life have to have a meaning? Life is life. Create meaning for your own life.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:02 pm |
  17. Not quite sure

    The posts by the atheists are much more convincing and logical than the posts by the believers. The believers keep restating "It's in the bible" as a reason to accept God. I read Star Magazine, but I'm not buying that Jen and Brad are getting back together. I think the concept of God is nice. The idea of life after death eases a lot of fear and provides comfort. For me, "having faith" means having ignorance, and is not something I can do.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:47 pm |
    • Jesus X

      Well said, it's for everyone to make up their own mind(s).

      May 17, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • ShaneB

      It takes no less faith to believe this weeks scientific theory that is in favor. Spontaneous creation of something from nothing is no less of a leap of faith than creation by a creator.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • A Priest and a Rabbi walk into a bar...

      A priest and a Rabbi walk into a bar. An atheist sits at the other end. As they sit down, the Atheist says, "Bartender: a beer for the Rabbi, a beer for the Priest, and a beer for their imaginary friend."

      The bartender sets up three beers. They thank the man, and each take a sip. The third glass remains full.

      The atheist, upset at not inciting the two, says, "how can you two believe that some magical flying genie just waved his hand and created all the universe?"

      The Rabbi asks, "And what do you believe, my son?"

      "I believe in logic and science–things we can see and prove!" answers the atheist

      "Well, I see you. You are my proof of God. And here is your blessed logic: If life was created at random, or by just the right conditions occurring on earth, then why doesn't life just spontaneously occur all the time? And why can't scientists recreate these conditions? If life was truly created just by making the right soup, then why would it be so elusive? If we know the effect, why can we not find and recreate the cause? No, my son, life is not random: you are my proof of God."

      The atheist, clearly frustrated at this response, turns to the priest and points at the full beer, "If your God exists, then why can't he empty that glass of beer?"

      The priest, takes the glass, pours it over the atheist's head, hands him the empty glass, and says, "the Lord works in mysterious ways."

      The signs are everywhere, subject to your interpretation.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • Star Mag?

      You think the "concept" of God is "nice?" It's pretty clear you read Star magazine.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • Ed

      ShaneB – Your post spotlights how horrible science education is in this country. Science has nothing to do with faith. Theories are developed, sure, but when the evidence makes them untenable, they are discarded and replaced with new ones. With religion, people cling to their beliefs regardless of the amount of evidence and reason put before them. Science advances along with our understanding of the Universe while religion is ever stagnant.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
    • stejo

      Nice joke. When logic fails, attack. I bet the jihadists really love that one, but they tell it with an imam...

      May 17, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
    • Rrro

      No good theologians bother commenting here. But, there are many logical reasons to believe in God. Every culture on the Earth has perceived of a deity in some form. And obviously, if you want to know how did everything begin, you need an ultimate source that needed no beginning. And a lot of different factors had to come together just right to make life on Earth possible. Yes, evolution explains a lot but only how, how did everything come together to make evolution work? There are so many other examples. I don't believe intelligent design should be taught in schools, but you can see a lot of it in nature. Each specific religion has it's own perception on what God has revealed himself to be but there are many good truths they all share in common. But, unfortunately like any other kind of things built on love and understanding in this world, there are small minded people that twist it toward hate, or it's simply misunderstood by outsiders.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
    • Brian

      Not quite sure – don't let the posts on here make up your mind. Also those that say its in the Bible therefore it must be true aren't being lazy as the core of being a Christian is a 1005 belief that the Bible is teh word of god.

      Although from your statement haivng faith means having ignorance it soudns like you have made up your mind. Getting from not quite sure to believing isn't a quick and easy step for most of us.

      Being a Christian requires much more effort and commitment than being an Atheist. How hard is it to call people bible-huggers and other infantile names, point to the lack of scientific evidence, questioning Christian's intelligence and throwing Santa and the Easter Bunny in for good measure? Not hard at all.

      You really think this is it and when you die thats the end?

      May 17, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  18. Colonel Trautman

    God didn't create Rambo ... I did.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • max in ny

      haha i guess that means you also created one of the most overrated action movies ever

      May 17, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
  19. Larry Pooface

    He knows as much as you or I about what happens when we die. Just because he's into all of that science stuff doesn't mean he knows everything about reality. The fact is, no one knows anything. Reality may not be anything like what we have made it out to be. We have spent our existence trying not to live in this world, so we may be a bit off when it comes to purpose and metaphysics. We live in buildings that keep us safe and hunt and gather at the local grocery store. Everything is illusion, so some fancy pants, angry guy could be wrong. I am all the time.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • Rico

      you are obviously a believer...and you are wrong about that

      May 17, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • stejo

      I'd hazard a guess that Hawking knows more about reality than pretty much anyone else, except for maybe a few of his colleagues.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
  20. JUST SAYING

    I know that Stephen Hawking is as dead as one can be while still breathing, but until he is actually dead he has no idea what happens after death. He only has an opinion.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
    • Powercosmic

      I think that everyone agrees that to be the case about the Pope, too.

      I think that all religion is based on opinion too.

      Thanks for making that point.

      What is not opinion is this: Given the hard evidence that Humans are evolved primates, that humans are evolved by natural processes from molecules, what are the statistical odds that heaven and an anthropomorphic god that cares about these evolving molecules exists? My guess: less than 1 in 1 billion

      May 17, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • Blossom

      Just the same as any religious zealot. They don't KNOW anything, they only have FAITH that the invisible sky person will have a mansion set aside for the good lil' boys and girls. There's no PROOF of any deity, only a few old musty books written by bronze age people that have been revised so many times down through the years that no one really knows what they actually wrote.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:51 pm |
    • PROBLEM SOLVED

      Just as God, Heaven or "la la Land" is an opinion. No one knows, but religion is a great control for the masses. They even figured out how to get 10% of your real money to build more buildings and pay more "holy men" for their opinion.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • Dan

      And how would you know what lies after death? The problem with life after death is, nobody survives to tell about it. Stop pretending to be an authority what you clearly know nothing about it. I know for a fact that I don't.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • littlemissme

      Exactly.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • Majestic

      That's right, "Just Saying". And neither does the pope, minister, cleric, nuns, priests, NO ONE knows. BUT, and this is a big but, Hawkings theory is MUCH, MUCH more believable than pearly gates, angels with harps, streets of gold, etc.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:56 pm |
    • Wow Logic

      It's amazing to me that so many people will sit here an believe in something so illogical that they actually fear death, they actually fear a so called hell and hope to make it to a so called heaven... what people need to realize is you have 1 life! no after life, no nothing, life ends just as every other living organism on this planet. My question is if people honestly believe there is an afterlife why dont they believe in a pre-life? But again I guess it is true that when you let a religion or set of beliefs control your mind you lose all ability to rationally think....

      May 17, 2011 at 3:00 pm |
    • PT

      If there is a God, he can be a real dick!

      May 17, 2011 at 7:30 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.