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. Amha

    It is very RISKY to deny power we know or we do not...may i ask the respective scientist if Heaven does not exsist, what about SIN in the world?

    May 18, 2011 at 1:59 am |
  2. Amha

    It is very RISKY to deny power we know or we do not...may i ask the respective scientist if Heaven does not exsist, what about SIN in teh world?

    May 18, 2011 at 1:56 am |
  3. tallulah13

    If you want to know what kind of person a christian is, threaten their afterlife. What a disgusting display of hatred, name-calling and ignorance this is. How proud you must be of yourselves, those of you who mock the body a man who has continued to work despite a crippling disease. How pleased god must be with all of you who declared that this man should be killed because he does not believe as you do.

    If this is christianity, I want no part of it and I can't help but believe that the world would be a better place without it.

    May 18, 2011 at 1:41 am |
  4. Danny

    So what does happen to all the 'broken down computers' Mr. Hawking?

    May 18, 2011 at 1:40 am |
    • Estevan

      I can answer that for you.

      The are taken to the dump where they gradually break down. The data processing stops the moment the computer stops working and doesn't magically float away anywhere. I know, I know....it would be comforting to think that the data processing would continue after the computer breaks down. But it doesn't.

      May 19, 2011 at 7:35 am |
  5. The Who

    But Hawking doesn't know what day it is;
    He doesn't know who Jesus was or what praying is;
    How can he be saved?.....
    Credit to The Who, Tommy...

    May 18, 2011 at 1:37 am |
  6. Reality Check

    It's about time that someone speaks up and tells the truth. Human life or any other form of life on this planet for that matter is nothing more than a bio-chemical process, when that process stops then there is nothing else than decomposing. Furthermore, no matter how much some people would like to believe the opposite humans are just another animal on this planet. We are 96% genetically identical to pigs and about 98% genetically identical to the larger apes like Chimpanzees and Orangutans. Still think we were created different, “6,000 years ago”? Creationism and all religions are all based on ideas and logical conclusions that seemed reasonable 3,000 years ago, or at the time they were invented (both Christianity and Islam are just variations on Judaism, why they all want to kill each other when they believe in the same fairy tale is beyond me, especially since their so called beliefs preaches peace and love) but that was based on the knowledge base that these people had. Today the combined knowledge base that is available is immense in comparison. It's just sad that we still have religions and that such large number of people still believes in these fairy tales even though there is no substance based on any real facts in them. You could say that it is very disrespectful to the men and women who have worked very hard to give us all this knowledge and understanding of how things works over the last few centuries to still believe in these ancient stories. Remember, just because you might believe in some form of Santa Clause or fairy tale does not make it real!

    May 18, 2011 at 1:35 am |
    • js

      @Reality Check…We are not 96% genetically identical to pigs….we have similarities and pigs are very intelligent, but I have never in my life seen such studies that would suggest 96% of our DNA is identical to pigs. However, 98% of our DNA is identical to that of a subspecies of chimpanzee called the “bonobo”, next in relation is the other subspecies of chimpanzee (the better know “common chimpanzee”), then gorillas, then orangutans, then the lesser apes “gibbons.” I’ll also agree with you that life on the planet is a biochemical process…but I disagree with you in your assumption that science and spirituality are mutually exclusive.

      To quote the article, “Hawking says in the book 'The Grand Design' that given the existence of gravity, ‘the universe can and will create itself from nothing.’" That’s all fine and very well, but what created gravity? According to the Big Bang Theory, “all matter in the universe was concentrated into a single point (Singularity) at an extremely high temperature, and then it exploded with tremendous force.” So if there is no God or higher being, where did this singularity come from? Scientists have been able to provide evidence for the Big Bang Theory, but not the singularity itself that the “big bang” spawned from…so Hawking’s assumptions, are just that, assumptions and opinions…and he does not, as you say “tell the truth” based on a proven, factual basis. He merely states his opinion.

      I am sure that you will choose to have faith that science will one day somehow prove the impossible that there is no higher being and no cause for spirituality, just as people of faith will choose to have faith that there is a God and a higher being, because as of now, it is impossible to prove otherwise, and I feel will always be impossible.

      May 18, 2011 at 3:23 am |
    • js

      And once again, as I have seen by many people and atheists posting comments on this forum, way too many people are confusing doctrinated religion with spirituality.

      May 18, 2011 at 3:29 am |
    • Nathan


      May 18, 2011 at 3:41 am |
    • Reality Check

      OK JS point taken, but you have the same problem when it comes to what you might think the universe came from. If it was created by something call it whatever you want, what did that something come from, and what did it create the universe from? Just saying that this something's ways are not for humans to understand is not a good enough answer. The fact is that over the centuries we have learned and gained knowledge about how things work so just keep on saying that there is something else that created the whole shabang doesn't really explain anything either. It's not that long ago that we didn't know anything about charges and ionization and therefore thought that it was a big god with a big hammer that was responsible for thunder and lightning. May I say it was a perfectly reasonable, logical and very intelligent conclusion to draw but as we today know totally wrong. However, it was based on the knowledge that they had at the time. Do you see my issue with religions? They were all invented at some point by humans and if you are going to believe in any of them you have to accept some pretty far fetching stuff, like you can't question god and the likes, so step into religion and the door slams shut behind you and you will never see the light of day again.

      The fact is that we don't know what happened in the early seconds of the universe, and no matter what we will conclude there will always be the question what was before that, a little like the hen and the egg. However, this does NOT mean that there was some kind of god who created it and definitely not anything that we can read about today. I think that will be very clear to everyone that the predominant religions of today is ancient beliefs that might have been reasonable at the time when they were written, but that was more than 1,600 years ago and we have learnt a lot since, even though I sometimes question that when I see what is going on in the world.

      May 18, 2011 at 3:57 am |
  7. Sriram

    Both Hawking and Dawkins come up with these controversial statements (with no fresh insights) every time they want to sell their books. Many people rush to buy their books every time they read such provocative articles. We must realize that we can't understand life and death by looking through telescopes and microscopes!

    May 18, 2011 at 1:35 am |
    • Reality Check

      Sriram, on what grounds do you base your statement that Dr. Hawking does not have any “fresh insights”?

      It was through the use of telescopes that we managed to prove that the earth is not in the center of the universe, and by the use of microscopes that we started our journey to understand the smallest building materials of life. I suggest that you learn something about what makes things tick and how things work in reality. We have also managed to abandon the view that the earth is flat despite what religion wanted us to believe. With a bit of luck we might even be able to drag the religious community into the 21st century before we enter into the 22nd.

      May 18, 2011 at 3:05 am |
  8. Surreality

    I need god like a hole in the head. A hole filled with a massive c.o.c.k. I mean i need god a lot. I need him to stop me from saying stupid crap like this. Plus, i mast.urbate waaaaaaay too much. just thought y'all should know

    May 18, 2011 at 1:31 am |
    • Nathan

      THAT doesnt shock me. Shocking would be if you said your mind was completely chaste.

      May 18, 2011 at 1:58 am |
  9. Tammy

    All I can say to Mr. Scientist is thank God I am one of His fairy princesses and only have to answer for my actions and beliefs and not crazy people who's computers have apparently already shut down and stopped working! Geez...people are oblivious to the obvious.

    May 18, 2011 at 1:30 am |
  10. Dulcimer172

    How many egos are there, driving people to post here ? I left the Christian church, when I saw it was filled with people too busy trying to be good Christians, to be good people.

    But I don't need to convert anyone to my beliefs, here. Not going to insult anyone I disagree with or try to make them look foolish. I'm not going to judge you.

    I don't quote scripture or science. Perhaps the ONLY comment I would make about Doctor Hawking's comments are – that he is stating his own personal opinion, as if it were fact.

    But I won't call him names, or attribute unworthy motives.

    ALL I will do is to wish him well, and all you too – a good nights sleep and a wonderful new day, tomorrow. I'm going to bed 🙂

    May 18, 2011 at 1:30 am |
    • Nathan

      ARGH I would that you were hot or cold. 😉

      May 18, 2011 at 1:56 am |
  11. Marney

    Can you imagine how far we would be right now if religion didnt hamper the progress of science. There could be a cure for cancer or aids, or maybe there wouldnt be so much death in the world that is caused by religion.

    May 18, 2011 at 1:29 am |
    • Boscoe

      Actually, while that may have been true up until not so long ago, I'd say at this point capitalism is more of a hinderance to science than religion is. What is that line from Idiocracy?

      "...sadly the greatest minds and resources where focused on conquering hair loss and prolonging erections."

      May 18, 2011 at 2:05 am |
  12. Lawrence Namale

    Common sense: It is wiser to believe that there is God and in the end find out that there isnt than to convince oneself that there is none and find out that there always has been!

    May 18, 2011 at 1:26 am |
    • Ogre

      Lawrence Namale
      "Common sense: It is wiser to believe that there is God and in the end find out that there isnt than to convince oneself that there is none and find out that there always has been!"

      – Not wise if you have chosen the wrong god... most of the tens of thousands of them are jealous and vengeful.
      – Not wise if the real god detests sycophants.
      – Not wise if the real god knows that you believed just to cover your azz.

      May 18, 2011 at 1:34 am |
    • HudsonEast

      I agree with the other reply here: IF there were a god with any real integrity, then he/she/it would probably prefer the honest person who had followed their beliefs (and who had tried to live a 'good' life based on those beliefs) than a two-faced shyster who was trying to cover all the bases.

      June 1, 2011 at 10:27 pm |
  13. Davis Onsakia

    This guy can have some crazy ideas but the truth is that the truth will be revealed in this life or in the afterlife. The truth will be revealed to us all to see, him included.

    May 18, 2011 at 1:24 am |
    • Boscoe

      Unless the truth is that you get whatever you believe you're going to get, which in Hawking's case would be oblivion.

      I'm not religious by any stretch, but I can't fathom how you could even function, laboring under the belief that when you die there's nothing else. What would be the point of trying or caring about anything? With no continuity beyond this short life, how can it have any real value? you're here, then you're gone and it meant nothing. Everything you'd learned and experienced where for naught. There'd be no possibility of regrets because you'd simply cease to exist.

      I don't buy into any of the pre-packaged religions, but I do believe that there's more going on than what we can perceive and that this life is just one step in a much longer, possibly endless journey. And if Hawking is right, then it won't matter if I was wrong because I won't be able to realize it or feel stupid, I'll just be gone.

      May 18, 2011 at 1:58 am |
    • Estevan

      Boscoe....I've heard that a lot from believers.

      I am an atheist. I have no reason to think that I go anywhere after death except 6 feet underground. I don't think there is an afterlife because I haven't seen any evidence for it.

      I used to be very religious and I can honestly say that I as an atheist I cherish life even more than when I was a believer exactly because I don't think there is an afterlife. This existence of ours is all we have so we have to make the best of it. There is no afterlife but I can "live on" through my legacy and my deeds while I was alive. If someone believes there is an afterlife then they can be lazy in this life because they believe they will have all of eternity to experience whatever they want. On the other hand someone who does not believe in the afterlife has to make the most of this life and can't afford to be lazy.

      May 19, 2011 at 7:43 am |
  14. Eric Leon Flowers

    Believing in that statement as one of the best intellegent wrote for the minds in the world today, much is I have known the truth about some comfort in the universe for personal reasons and Doc. Stephen Hawking ; truely open my mind as the same respect I have for my lifes reason . It is a great feeling to know the Truth .

    May 18, 2011 at 1:20 am |
  15. SAJU.M.GEORGE -United Arab Emirates- Abudhabi

    A lot of souls right now in the hell said the same sentence you said while they were on this earth. But now they all are screaming that there is heaven and hell. Mr. Stephen you think you got a few apploause as a hero today. But on the Judgement day you will confess before billions of souls, angels and before the God that ......." I WAS WRONG ".

    May 18, 2011 at 1:18 am |
    • wil

      WOW! What an evil god!!!!!!

      May 18, 2011 at 1:29 am |
    • wil

      He will burn in hell for being WRONG!!!! you know your book was written a thousand years ago by people who thought that the earth is flat.

      May 18, 2011 at 1:30 am |
    • SAJU.M.GEORGE -United Arab Emirates- Abudhabi

      hI "WIL",
      Some people ask why this mercyful God created hell?
      My question to them is " Why you reject the love of God which is manifested on the Cross of Calvery to save you???..

      God is merciful and Holy..and he is a perfect judge too.. Do you want to tell God to accept all Criminals in Heaven?
      He loves you..Jesus Loves you.

      May 18, 2011 at 1:44 am |
    • Reality Check

      Interesting point! So how do you know? You claim a lot of things that you can't prove that is simply based on beliefs invented a few thousand years ago. Do you really think that we haven't learnt anything since? Where do you think the knowledge that enables you to sit in an air-conditioned place and use a computer to post your views came from? Without men and women like Dr. Hawkins you would still be seeking cover for the heat and looking for the nearest water hole. Your comfortable life and gadgets that you use were all made possible by these hard working scientists so you might want to pay them some respect and try to understand the knowledge that they are trying to convey to you. No so called God ever invented air-condition or computers or the combustion engine without which there wouldn't be any money in the Gulf States.

      May 18, 2011 at 1:58 am |
    • Andrew

      If god requires sycophantic praise from his believers lest he cast them down to an eternity of pain and torment for not offering it to him, then your god sounds vain, evil, and vile. I'd much rather live an eternity in hell with Dirac, Feynman, Sagan, etc, than in heaven near a god requiring me to give him sycophantic praise surrounded by a bunch of believers who don't see how disturbing that imagine sounds. Your heaven sounds like my hell. I don't see how I could possibly enjoy a heaven while the people I most respected in life for their reason and intellect are suffering for all eternity, your version of heaven sounds just plain objectively evil.

      May 18, 2011 at 2:12 am |
    • SAJU.M.GEORGE -United Arab Emirates- Abudhabi

      Hi Reality,
      Can you proof that Mr. Stephen is right?

      God did not invented Aircondition or Computer, but his image and his masterpiece in creation called human did many amazing inventions which helps a lot to people like us in Gulf state and you guys in USA.
      I was not a believer for many years, but before 16 years God opened my blind eyes and now I experience his great love.
      I mentioned the above to empesis that I KNOW BOTH THE LIFE – WITHOUT GOD AND WITH GOD,
      Did you ever with God ?. Be with God for one day.. then evaluate my openion and views you will realise the REALITY.

      May 18, 2011 at 2:22 am |
    • JC

      Nut job. Keep your beliefs to yourself. The rest of us will live in reality

      May 18, 2011 at 2:39 am |
    • John

      Absolutely right. Every knee shall bow down and every tounge will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. The fool only says that there is no God. The inventions and discoveries won't give one divine knowledge.

      May 18, 2011 at 5:22 am |
    • HudsonEast

      Why is it that your god is such a vengeful egotist that he can't tolerate anyone not believing in or worshipping him? Why must punish he harmless human beings so terribly? Or could he just be an internal manifestation of your own tendency to want to torture and punish others because they don't think and act like you do?

      I can tell you this, if a person like your god were to act in this appallingly vicious way in our society, we would have to lock him up and hope that he responded eventually to the care of psychiatrists.

      June 1, 2011 at 10:34 pm |
  16. Carlos

    At University of Virginia, Dr. Ian Stevenson studied for decades cases of past life memories, and came to the conclusion that reencarnation was the best explanaton to more than two thousend cases studied. Science will eventually demostrate what Spirituality has teached for centuries. Of course, current science has decided to remain materialistic (which is in itself an epistemological position based on belief and faith, not evidence), and working like a self-fulfilling prophecy, they find what they went out to look for.

    May 18, 2011 at 1:17 am |
  17. SmoothKrilla

    You know he must be going mad over the years just sitting in his chair thinking this over and over. That must suck.

    May 18, 2011 at 1:16 am |
    • HudsonEast

      What sucks is the inherent sadism in your post.

      June 1, 2011 at 11:11 pm |
  18. Hobyo

    Fact: the earth and we have been created. and so has the Sun.
    Fact 2: the Sun will literally eat earth and all of us up in about 100,00 years.
    Fact 3: If by miracle our Sun doesnt swollow us up, the super massive black hole circling our galaxy would... abeit it takes a little longer.
    Fact 4: Fairy tales might last for some time but not forever.

    May 18, 2011 at 1:15 am |
    • 4Real

      Uhhh... fact fail.

      ^^Fact: the earth and we have been created. and so has the Sun.

      All evidence indicates that the formation of our solar system was caused purely by natural means. Read up on solar nebula theory. And for life's origins, the work of Jack Szostack and his lab group at Harvard has some interesting work relating to the general RNA world hypothesis. And for humans in particular, read any of the books or papers about genetic analysis, or linguistic analysis even.

      ^^Fact 2: the Sun will literally eat earth and all of us up in about 100,00 years.

      No, the Sun will not begin to go into the giant phase for ~5 billion years. And by then our species will not exist, it will either have become an evolution dead-end, or become something else (unless we artificially regulate our genetic makeup somehow).

      ^^Fact 3: If by miracle our Sun doesnt swollow us up, the super massive black hole circling our galaxy would... abeit it takes a little longer.

      False. Our solar system will continue orbiting the galactic core... at least until our galaxy collides with the Andromeda galaxy in a few billion years, at which point our system may be thrown into intergalactic space... not that that would have much effect on us, other than changing the view of our galaxy.

      May 18, 2011 at 1:58 am |
    • Andrew

      Fact 1: Evidence? Cause really accretion and a nearby second generation star going supernova disturbing a dust cloud thus explaining our high abundance of higher elements seems like a very excellent explanation. It's also what the current science says.

      Fact 2: Blatantly false, the sun is about halfway through its main sequence, meaning about another 5 billion years before it ever goes red giant and has a chance to either eat or burn the earth.

      Fact 3: Blatantly wrong, betraying an ignorance of what a black hole is. There's no difference if there was a super giant star in the centre of the galaxy gravitationally speaking, a black hole's gravitational pull is proportional to its mass, which is estimated at around 4 million solar masses. That means the black hole has the gravitational strength of about 4 million suns. However, it is also 26,000 lightyears away. You forget that gravity abides by a 1/r^2 relationship, meaning things very far away have very very little gravitational pull. Mass scales linearly, distance does not. You'd find Alpha Centauri, Earth's closest star, would have a significantly stronger gravitational pull. In fact our entire local group has way stronger a pull, that supermassive black hole probably was significant in imparting the angular momentum of our galaxy, but that's about it.

      Fact 4: Hopefully true, though certainly not fact.

      May 18, 2011 at 2:04 am |
    • Andrew

      Note, I actually didn't crunch the numbers, so I could be wrong that our local cluster has stronger gravitational impact than the supermassive black hole at the center of the galaxy. If you really care that much, it's not hard to test, mass is directly proportional to gravitational strength, I told you how far the black hole is, and alpha centarui is about 4 lightyears away. Likewise, it's a binary star each with roughly a solar mass, so it has about two solar masses. But I don't actually care enough about the claim to explicitly calculate just how weak the supermassive black hole's gravitational pull is compared to our local star cluster.

      May 18, 2011 at 2:09 am |
    • HudsonEast

      Wow, Hobyo, your science is almost as bad as your theology.

      June 1, 2011 at 10:37 pm |
  19. Zowad

    God is beauty of life and universe. Regrets for them who do not believe in God.

    May 18, 2011 at 1:14 am |
    • Scott

      Agreed, it must be a dark place to not see God in the world. I thought it interesting that Hawking asks us to assume as a given the force of gravity. Where does he think gravity comes from? It seems regardless of whether our individual unified universe concept emanates from faith or matter, we are always subject to some sort of leap of faith.

      May 18, 2011 at 1:46 am |
    • Andrew

      He thinks gravity comes as a bi-product of the geometry of the universe. General relativity describes what causes gravity, the only real problem is that GR and Quantum Mechanics don't really agree on a model of gravity. However, given Hawking's moderately recent embrace of string theory, it's likely he believes gravity is caused by a closed string.

      Just because you're ignorant of what Hawking's research is, doesn't mean the man himself is.

      May 18, 2011 at 1:51 am |
    • Reality Check

      Intersting Scott! So what do you think gravity is? Still think we will drop of the planet if we cross over the edge? Or are we still chopping the head off people for saying the earth is round?

      May 18, 2011 at 2:21 am |
    • Scott

      Yeah, I really set myself up for that one. I've read 'A Brief History of Time' and enjoyed astronomy in college, so am aware of Hawking's genius intellect. Mine was simply a rhetorical question representing a personal belief (unprovable mathematically or otherwise by me, however) that we all intuit or make a leap of faith to some degree regardless of what view we take on the God issue. My perspective is somewhat the skewed result of having been a philosophy major in college, then doing my thesis on Nietzsche which enforced a different perspective on the claim 'God is dead'. Great feedback to both of you, thanks; I do appreciate your very informed, intelligent responses and am always open to new ideas and learning something new. Cheers!

      May 19, 2011 at 2:40 am |
    • HudsonEast

      I find life and the Universe incredibly beautiful - I suppose that these all the things that we can see and touch and feel are not enough for you, and you look elsewhere. So, I genuinely appreciate your regrets for me, because I believe they are well-intended, but I feel rather sorry for you too.

      June 1, 2011 at 10:45 pm |
  20. BigPoppa

    I think he could be a bit bitter at God because of his condition. I do believe in God. Whether I am good enough, well... I can only hope.

    May 18, 2011 at 1:07 am |
    • Maire

      My thoughts exactly. Although, given the tenor of most big scientists on religion, his view may just be an occupational hazard.

      May 18, 2011 at 1:14 am |
    • Andrew

      Considering his condition is likely what allowed him to spend most of his time thinking and doing physics, thus making him one of the world's most well respected physicists and living far longer with ALS than any other individual before him, and is still able to communicate, I would imagine Maire is correct and he is an atheist not because he is all that bitter, but because the further people tend to go in science, the less they tend to believe in religion. Doesn't mean there aren't theist scientists, but they don't const-tute nearly as large a percentage as they do in the general populace. That becomes even more skewed when you start looking at members of the NAS and the like.

      May 18, 2011 at 1:49 am |
    • HudsonEast

      Has it occurred to the more religious posters here that Stephen Hawking is a man who has been struck by a terrible, debilitating disease, and yet he continued to work and make something of his life, to benefit of us all? He has the courage and strength to carry on and to help unfold our understanding of the Universe. He sees the beauty of life and the cosmos despite all that has happened to him, and he does not whine about his fate. Heck, if he were a Christian, he would be extolled as a saint.

      But he is not religious. He doesn't believe that in an afterlife everything will be alright for him - instead he thinks that when his shortened life comes to an end he will just be dust. I would say that takes even more courage, because it would be real nice if he had that afterlife illusion, as it would probably help him carry on. But if he does not believe in a religious doctrine (a terrible sin, I know) at least Hawking does not tell anyone that they will burn in hell for not thinking the same way he does. The only thing he has done to offend anyone, it seems, is to state that he does not believe as they do. It seems that the proponents of a god of infinite love cannot tolerate that.

      June 1, 2011 at 11:05 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.