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. aaron

    Say what you want about christian beliefs but there is one undeniable fact that proves them to be smarter than any atheist or any other man who is not: which is that they praise a man who is believed to be perfect whether you believe he was or wasnt does not matter but at least christians are striving for what is said to be perfection.. other than jesus what man has said he was perfect?? not hawkings thats for sure

    May 18, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
  2. Yupp

    Your actually in the matrix, nothing is real... Red pill or blue pill?

    May 18, 2011 at 7:18 pm |
  3. martiangt

    ad ignorantiam
    ad verecundiam


    May 18, 2011 at 7:03 pm |
  4. SKH

    I am probably the only person who is offended by the implication that because Fairy Tales are "childish", that means they are stupid. Fairy Tales are an archetypical form of story telling. They evoke the deepest, most primal and universal human emotions. Most modern works of fiction can be traced back to "Fairy Tales" of different cultures.

    I think Hawking meant it as an insult so I have to respectfully disagree with him on that. I don't think Heaven being a Fairy Tale is an insult. We as human beings are natural story tellers, it is how we make sense of our lives and our world. Whether or not heaven is an actual place isn't as interesting (to me at least) as our eternal quest to find meaning in death and comfort our grief.

    May 18, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
  5. Mike

    Cue 2000 idiots discussing science they don't understand...

    May 18, 2011 at 6:01 pm |
  6. Bluesman

    The Kingdom of Heaven is within you, said the great master, Jesus. That which created the universe is the universe, It does not sit outside of the physical world judging it. Within you. Not up in the sky. Seek and ye shall feed, knock and there will be an answer. Or just ignore it altogether – it really doesn't matter when it is all said and done. Life is good, death is peace. Rejoice.

    May 18, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • Estevan

      Thor is the one true God!

      Jesus is nothing!

      May 19, 2011 at 7:04 am |
  7. Elizabeth

    If I believe in God and at the end of my life find out that there is none, then I have lost nothing. However if you that are saying that there is no God come to the end of your life and discover that there is a God then you have lost everything. I pray for your souls.

    May 18, 2011 at 5:48 pm |
    • gupsphoo

      Given the huge number of religions in the world, the chance that you're worshiping the right god is very small. You're definitely not immune to hell.

      May 18, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
    • Estevan

      Pascal's Wager. Yawn. Refuted so many times it always amazes me when people throw it out there.

      May 19, 2011 at 7:05 am |
    • Jenna

      Classic Pascal,Elizabeth.However,in my opinion,the believer has lost everything(in the scenario in which there is no god).Given only one life,which is the better way to spend it:on one's knees in fear to a being who reads your thoughts and will torture you and your loved ones for eternity for believing the "wrong" myths and forces you to hate people with whom you would otherwise have no problem;or is it better to live life to the fullest (not hedonistic,but with vigour),to savour every day,to try to make this world a better place than it was before you,not for imagined metaphysical reward but for the sheer knowledge that you can and should help others?Belief in a life beyond this one devalues the only existence we are 100% certain of.It creates enemies out of neighbours and friends and often even family.Perhaps worst of all,it makes parents feel that their primary duty is to fill their children's heads full of tales of torment and agony for fear of the fate of their souls.The life of the believer is,in my opinion,a life not fully lived,and that is the unspoken tragedy of Pascal's wager.
      And for the record,if there is a deity who is willing to torture people for the grand crime of using the only ability our species possesses(the ability to think and reason),I would rather not spend eternity with such a horrific creature.

      May 21, 2011 at 5:36 am |

    That guy is so stupid! there is no other explanation of how we where created. Some People belive in the big bang but how could that make it where people can have babies? something like that is just plain simple. How other way could we be made ? there has to be a God and He is the one who created us in his own image. now let me get on another topic. HE CREATED EVIL TO TEST US TO SEE IF WE BELIEVE AND TRUST HIM! SO MANY PEOPLE HAVE BEEN SUCKED IN THE EVIL AND WILL BE TORTURED FOR ETERNITY. SUCK ON THAT STEPHEN HAWKING!

    May 18, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • Karen

      You are not a Christian.

      May 18, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • jun

      it's a sad to see that a man like Mr. Hawking in spite of his physical situation...doesn't accept the fact that with his god given talent (genius) never acknowledge that there is GOD...but it's okay because one day .. he and those who does not know HIM..will bow their head..will kneel and their tongue will confessed that there is indeed God....

      May 18, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
  9. hilltop

    Hawking is taking a epic leap of faith by declaring that the brain will simply shut off.

    May 18, 2011 at 5:10 pm |
    • gupsphoo

      What leap of faith? Can you show me one brain that doesn't shut off after death?

      May 18, 2011 at 6:50 pm |
  10. Aquilla

    The heavens declare the glory of God;and the firmament shows His handiwork. Psalm 19:2

    The fool has said in his heart,“There is no God.” They are corrupt, They have done abominable works, There is none who does good. Psalm 14:1

    God existence is not based upon man's finite and miniscule knowledge of whether or not He exists. He is AWESOME and our mere existence is hardly a speck of dust in this galaxy alone (and we have an ego!)– yet He loves us.

    For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16


    May 18, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  11. Brandon

    I feel bad for Mr. Hawking. What a sad day when someone denies the existance of the supreme being. It's like the sun is shining right in his face and all he sees is darkness.

    May 18, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
    • Jon

      thus a very powerful statement. like that

      May 18, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • Ummm

      Or he actually sees the sun and not some fictional character made up in his imagination.

      May 18, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
    • Jody

      I feel bad for those who glom onto outdated mythology for mental security rather than accept reality. There is no personal God...sorry...never was. The universe is indifferent to your ego and existence. The concept of a "supreme being" was created by men to try to cope with the existence they either feared or did not understand. It was perpetuated as an extremely effective means of social control. Any effort to maintain these beliefs must ultimately result in a Manichean struggle to explain why either an omnipotent God chooses to allow evil and suffering etc. or that "God" is not omnipotent and merely the equal to evil.

      May 18, 2011 at 6:58 pm |
  12. Mike in SA

    It's funny, I was on this string yesterday and now today I see pretty much the exact same thing. Christians trying to use the Bible to explain things to people who don't believe in the Bible. Atheists using many scientific theories to try and explain the mysteries of the Universe that they cannot comprehend yet. The finite mind will never be able to comprehend the infinite.

    I am a Christian who also firmly believes in science. I work daily in the medical field. I also know that there are things that science will never be able to explain, I'm also aware that there are many things in the Bible that IF I get to Heaven, I'd like to ask God some very pointed questions.

    Bottom line, Dr Hawking has his facts, opinions, beliefs, and theories that he holds dear. I have my facts, opinions, beliefs, and theories that I hold dear. In the end, when all is said and done, one set will be right, the other wrong. Which one will it be? I have know idea, but I do have my personal opinion. Now, I think it's time to have a beer. (Beer is the proof that God loves us and wants us to be happy! – Benjamin Franklin)

    May 18, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
  13. Frogist

    I have absolutely no objections to Prof Hawking's statement that heaven is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark. I am afraid of the dark. I understand the need for fairy stories as a comfort. I welcome the idea of heaven even while I have no clue how it would fit into our universe, how it would function, how it could possibly exist etc etc It is a comforting thought. But it is not something to be relied upon as a means of living my life. That difficult task must be met by me no matter what happens in any other unproven existence.
    I don't believe Mr Hawking was expressing an idea of how everyone else should view life, simply how he views his. But I respect his opinion as a knowledgeable man who despite, or because of his situation, has overcome any need for mental crutches and contributed so much to humanity.
    I'm glad to have learned about another side of a great man.

    May 18, 2011 at 3:39 pm |
  14. KTinCA

    Mr. H – what is your proof? Ha – you don't have any either!!!

    May 18, 2011 at 3:37 pm |
    • Joan borgund

      Educate yourself and Read. You will have something that will happen in your life one day will turn you to God. I am not here to debate with because I believe and you do the same. God Bless and keep you, because you will need him. You owe God more that you could ever repay. Thanks and I will not debate this with you. I am a Believer that's it.

      May 18, 2011 at 4:03 pm |
  15. KTinCA

    Well, I guess this guy's going to find out soon.

    May 18, 2011 at 3:33 pm |
    • Veritas

      Not really, he knows just like all sane people that being dead is like being unborn, you don't exist.

      May 18, 2011 at 3:48 pm |
    • Mike in SA

      Veritas – That's YOUR belief, right? You cannot prove it nor can I prove the other. You accept it on faith as do I. In the end one of us will be right, the other wrong. If you are right and I am wrong, no harm no foul for me. If, on the other hand, I am right and you are wrong...oops.

      May 18, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
    • gupsphoo

      You better believe in every religion there is out there or else the probability of you going to hell remains overwhelming.

      May 18, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
  16. Mike in SA

    What I find amazing is those who don't believe or have faith in God easily believe Dr. Hawking despite the fact that he cannot disprove Heaven or God, he just says there isn't one and those with no religious faith take his comments on..., well, on faith. Weird.

    May 18, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • Estevan

      No. I don't take it on faith that there is no god. I have not found any evidence for a god therefore I have no rational reason to believe in a god.

      In most cases the default "position" with regards to the existence of something should be a lack of belief unless sufficient credible evidence is found which would justify belief.

      Saying "I believe in god because it's in the bible and because I feel his presence" is as logical as saying "I believe in leprechauns/fairies/unicorns because it's in a book and because I feel their presence".

      May 19, 2011 at 7:13 am |
  17. Jenz

    "...Listen, heaven and earth! The children I raised have turned against me." (Isaiah 1:2)

    May 18, 2011 at 3:13 pm |
  18. gray

    So... God is nothing, and the universe spontaneously came into being from nothing... but God is nothing, soo god doesn't exist.... wait what?

    May 18, 2011 at 3:04 pm |
    • sbsmoov


      Mr. Hawking and other scientists simply just have to say it is so and the lost masses will believe because they are "brilliant" scientists–therefore they speak with GREAT authority. Yes they know the real truth. And the world respects & puts absolute trust in people with a long list of credentials after their name. So there you have it...a great scientist has spoken and therefore it MUST be true.

      May 18, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
    • Damian

      SBSMOOV same thing with religion though just b/c we can go to Church and be told things or read stories in a Bible doesn't mean it is so...........yet millions believe the most unbelievalbe stories

      May 18, 2011 at 3:31 pm |
    • Veritas

      Just forget the whole god thing already. What do you need "god" for?

      May 18, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • Mike in SA

      SBSMOOV – When Dr Hawking, et. al. speak it, despite the fact they cannot prove it, their followers accept it on faith. I find it funny when I accept my God on faith, I (and other believers) are excoriated for that. Interesting...and very telling.

      May 18, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • gupsphoo

      Actually, you don't need faith to disbelieve claims made by a Bronze Age mythology.

      May 18, 2011 at 7:17 pm |
  19. Nonimus

    The amazing Kirk has weighed in on this:

    May 18, 2011 at 2:41 pm |
  20. lance

    How does his theory account for the presence of gravity and space?

    May 18, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
    • sbsmoov

      Mr. Hawking and other scientists simply just have to say it is so and the lost masses will believe because they are "brilliant" scientists–therefore they speak with GREAT authority. Yes they know the real truth. And the world respects & puts absolute trust in people with a long list of credentials after their name. So there you have it...a great scientist has spoken and therefore it MUST be true.

      May 18, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • Mr.Dawkins

      I'd rather listen to a great scientist than a peasant who lived 2000 years ago and didn't even know what the sun was.

      May 18, 2011 at 3:27 pm |
    • Damian

      There's no proof God existed or exists, I certainly don't believe any of the miracles in the Bible. I do however believe Jesus was a real person, Mary was not a virgin, and Moses never walked on any water. I'm just saying.

      May 18, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
    • Mike in SA

      Damian – There is not proof He does not exist either. Oh, as to Moses walking on water? Never happened; Jesus, however, is a different story.

      Mr. Dawkins – As to this "peasant" who you didn't even know what the Sun was? Sorry, I'd have to say that since His Dad created it, along with all the heavens above, He probably knew what it was. See, I don't think science and God are that far apart. For example, I am in firm belief of the Big Bang Theory (notice the word Theory in there). Unlike Dr, Hawkings who cannot tell you how it started (he has conjectures but no provable fact) I believe (again, I have no provable fact either) that God did in fact "light the torch paper (fuse) if you will. My belief is no more provable than his belief. You and others take his belief on faith, I take my belief on faith.

      May 18, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
    • Donald Harris

      I find it incredible that this "genius" can't even accept the most basic principles of his own atheists tenets...that there is no such thing as spontaneous generation. How, Mr. Hawkins, can something just create from absolutely nothing?! Explain that and you can retain your alleged intellectual superior grandstand. We're supposed to believe that a ball of fire appeared out of nothing and stayed suspended in the galaxy on fire for billions of years while other planets just appeared out of thin nothingness and rotated around it with one of those planet just growing all sorts of animal and plant life...again being created from absolutely nothing. And heaven is the fairy tale? You'll find out how smart you really are quite soon. Oh, and say hi to Satan...I'm sure he'll tell you you're just imagining hell, too.

      May 18, 2011 at 4:15 pm |
    • Epyx

      How does your bronze age fairy tale account for gravity or space? The whole basis for your belief system is faith...based on nothing more than belief that you are right...not proof or evidence...just blind belief. At least science admits that which it has no answer for and offers evidence and proof for that which it does.

      "We are all atheists about most of the gods that societies have ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further." -Richard Dawkins

      May 18, 2011 at 4:42 pm |
    • Robert

      @Donald Harris – Dr Hawking could explain it to you, the only problem would be that you do not have the intellect or education to understand the answer.

      May 18, 2011 at 5:16 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.