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. Sandy

    Every knee shall bow including Mr Hawkin's ! My God is real !!!!!!!

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

      The flying spaghetti monster god?

      May 17, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
    • Ricardo

      zombie jesus is the coolest one.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:06 pm |
  2. Ricardo

    So I have a few questions about Christianity. This is my take on it. It seems to me it's kind of like a set-up, but correct me if I'm wrong.
    So God puts us on this rock, and gives us a fairly thick rule-book (Bible), then fills our heads and hearts with 'sinful' urges and desires, and if we deviate from that rule-book, we get stuck in a place of eternal damnation and suffering. Hell, we're BORN with sin in the first place, and are stuck with it no matter what we do except for ONE thing.
    To save us from our sins (which God set up himself since he's the rule-maker in the first place), he sent Jesus down to earth, who then did his thing, and died for the sake of all of humanity. Thus, if we wan't to be cool with God and avoid this place of eternal damnation, we must believe and place our faith in Jesus Christ, via teachings which have been filtered through thousands of years worth of imperfect human minds, based on this ancient rule-book. A book full of crazy stuff like "If anyone curses his father or mother, he must be put to death." – Leviticus 20:9
    And the kicker is, in being all powerful and omnipotent, God knew the WHOLE TIME what choices we were going to make. Every move. Every decision.
    I don't get it...

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

      As for me personally, I am very grateful to God that He created the universe and me too and on top of that He made it so I can have eternal life through his Son, Jesus Christ. I used to not like my life and was struggling and couldn't see the purpose but now through God's grace I not only have a close loving relationship with God and a much more close and loving relationship with my family and people I meet and interact with while living out my remaining days here, I will have eternal life in a resurrected body when God raises us up like Jesus rose up. My sincere hope for everyone, including Mr. Hawking, is that they also would come into belief and trust in God and humbly receive God's gift of grace and the promise of eternal life though faith in His Son Jesus Christ. P.S. I also think that Science is the study, and interest in, God's Creation.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
    • Ricardo

      heyy a civil response. I dig it. I like what you have to say too. Thanks

      May 18, 2011 at 12:27 am |
  3. Brendan

    "Given the existence of gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing." And so where did gravity come from? I'm not a religious person, but I've yet to see science disprove the existence of some higher power or prime mover.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
  4. Jacob

    ...what i'm saying is... who created that "blank space" in which nothing turned into something? If there were nothing, there would be none of us here to question any of it. But the fact is that there is something. And that little something that originated from nothing wouldnt have happened unless there was somewhere for "it" to happen in the first place.. we speak about rennaisance art but we also speak about the canvas board it was painted on. We talk about the big bang... but we dont talk about the fact that it happened *Somewhere*... Anyone who's played SL knows exacty what i'm talkin about.

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

      This. ^

      I agree, where did the space/box/volume/canvas where the spontaneous creation occured come from?

      May 17, 2011 at 3:22 pm |
  5. Satan

    Mr. Hawkings has explained sound judgement and reasoning which can not be disputed ... WINNING

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

      Good Lord Satan, your comparing Steven Hawking one of the smartest people to ever walk the earth, to Charlie Sheen one of the dumbest people to walk the earth? You really are the debil aren't you?

      May 17, 2011 at 3:25 pm |
  6. SF Aaron

    I cannot wait for the day when the world is entirely without religion and people employ ethical and philosophical arguments that can be universally applied to all people in coming to ethical, moral, and just solutions instead of relying on the antiquated dictates from sheep herders of 2k years ago.
    The Bible = the most overrated and greatest idiot spawning text ever created by the hand of MAN. Used only to fool the masses into believing fluffy stories so that their (the masses) apathy does not interfere with those in power so they can maintain and flaunt said power. By they way, I pretty much group most "holy texts" in that same category since few are truly holy, moral, just, inclusive, RIGHT, or even accurate.

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

      How is it possible to still imagine that humanity, left to his own devices, will achieve universal peace and harmony?It's as nebulous as believing in heaven. Human nature will always produce Hitlers and Stalins. And scientists will always provide them with weapons to subjugate us all.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
  7. Jesus Freak

    I am saddened by the fact that so many people see Christians as those who will condemn them to hell. True followers of Christ understand that we have no control nor knowledge of who is or isn't going to hell. We can only attest to our own relationship with our Lord and Savior and belief that He lived, died for our sins, rose from the dead and will come again. Beyond that we are making assumptions we are just not equipped to make. I pray that Mr. Hawking is able tofind peace before his life is over.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • Nick Webber-Agneu

      Sounds to me like he is at peace without relgion

      May 17, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
  8. Sheila

    Just because Stephen Hawkngs says something doesn't make it fact. It's what he believes. I don't believe that "spontaneous creation" is responsible for all the different flowers, animals (including humans), trees, etc. When the atheists say "No God, No Problem," I say "No God, No Hope."

    May 17, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • Stevie7

      I'm an atheist and I have hope. I don't see how the two are mutually exlusive. Religion does not have a monopoly here – I don't need the comfort of an afterlife to have hope.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:01 pm |
  9. SavedByJesus69

    Look, if you're inside a computer simulation, you can't say there is not a programmer outside. You can't say anything about "outside". You don't even know what "outside" is. That is the concept of "supernatural". Something that is "outside" of the natural. Now, I don't mean chupacabra amazon zombies from outer space, what I mean is just a set of rules that reside somehow outside the realm of the natural but define it. It isn't so crazy. There are computational theories of the universe, there are theories that define it as a hologram, etc. It is speculation, sure, but it scientifically sound. It is curious to me then, how somebody can just rule out the existence of the supernatural. After all, a theory that says there are multuiple universes already says there is something outside. In reality, you just can't say anything.

    In the computer simulation scenario, there won't be a lick of "scientific evidence" unless the programmer wants to make himself known.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
  10. Bill, Bloomington Il

    Just crazy that people who cannot believe in a creator will believe in spontaneous creation. Hawking will know for sure soon enough.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • Nacho1

      He is well overdue...................

      May 17, 2011 at 3:20 pm |
  11. Clint

    Steven: I respect you for your expertise in your field. You should keep your observations to your field of expertise.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • Nacho1

      Hawking likes to stir the pot to see what comes out of it................secretly and behind closed doors he believes in much of what he claims disbelief in and he disbelieves most of what he claims belief in............he is probing at best..............he is hoping to trip over something affirmative..............he may someday do that.............especially with his time will reverse itself theory...........if time does in fact reverse itself...........Hawking is hoping to go from 69 to 68 to 67 to 66 .....etc.............he claims to believe in nothing yet he believes in time reversal and time management.............interesting scientist........

      May 17, 2011 at 3:19 pm |
  12. Wilben

    Boy this will be a lively debate. Myth verses Fact. We can devide into two groups. One that has no knowledge of religion and one that has no knowledge of science. How many know that early word of an Egyptian culture existing more than 4,000 years ago was suppresed by the churches? When the truth became overwhelming, the churches quit suppressing the news. How many remember when preachers told the world that man or anything going into orbit was impossible, because man would be free of the Earth? They have quit saying that, or has anyone noticed?

    May 17, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
  13. Mickle

    Ok Christians, a little challenge for you. Take two minutes and pretend that there is no God and look at your religion, beliefs and rituals from this perspective. Don't worry, nobody will know. If you still believe after two minutes of SINCERE reflection and consideration God will forgive you for having such blasphemous thoughts.

    Your faith is strong enough to withstand such a test right? Dare ya.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
  14. Jim

    "Kill the messenger!" Thats the motto of these so-called Christians. The argument that it is because I say it is, is truly juvenile and not tautological. Only a child or a child-lile mind, could possibly believe that an invisible man lives in the sky and watches over them.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • Nacho1

      Simple solutions.....................we need to get rid of all religions because they create fantasy....................we need to get rid of all science that delves in negatives and no positives.............rid us of both and we can probably come closer to finding the truth through positive exploration............

      May 17, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  15. Richard

    He may be the smartest man alive, but there is no proof that he could offer. God may or may not exist and that is about how far we can take it at this point. Atheism is just another religion. It would have been a much greater service to society if they were honest and would simply say we don't know.

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

      Believing in fairy tales and believing in reason and critical thinking cannot be likened. One is not like the other.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • JohnRJ08

      Jim –– "Critical reason" cannot be applied to the unknowable. That's the mistake that Hawking is making. I found his comments on Heaven to be incredibly egocentric and self-contradictory. The more we peel back the layers of the onion that is "existence", the more we realize that the ultimate answers lie outside the capabilities of the intellect. The mystique looks at the Universe and sees a perfect circle. Science looks closer at that circle and discovers that it is made of measurable straight line segments. It isn't a circle at all, but a polygon. The problem with Hawking is that he sees the Universe as that polygon and concludes there's no such thing as a perfect circle.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:12 pm |
  16. jessie

    How do you explain doctor at scene verified experiences where clinically dead patient's consciousness left their body, they observed happening in a distant room, and upon wakening spoke of such?

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

      It's called hypoxia...

      May 17, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
    • TheGrim

      Cool story. Not true though. How bout siting a source?
      That's not a link to some pseudoscience outfit.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • Ken


      May 18, 2011 at 9:30 am |
  17. Bruce

    I got married in the Catholic church. Prior to the wedding I asked the priest about a child going to purgatory of they died before being babtised. He response was to look me in the eye and say "we don't beleive that anymore". Really? Did you guys get a memo for them CEO or something? No? OK, so you did research and found evidence that convinced you your earlier position was wrong and corrected yourself? No? (IRONY ALETE: That's basically what Hawking did with black holes). Nope, the church just decided to believe in something else. I was young and on the fence but that statement sealed it for me. Religion is just something that men make up to explain away things they don't understand. "I don't understand how the universe was created so it must have been cooked up by a god."

    May 17, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • Doubtful1

      "Religion is just something that men make up to explain away things they don't understand."

      – and more dangerously, Religion is used by those morally corrupt individuals to subvert the weak minded and control the masses....

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

      You should have asked a good theologian priest. It isn't that the Church changed it's belief, it clarified it. Purgatory is something implicated in the Bible out of God's mercy it's not a punishment, it's a chance to free yourself from your attachments to sin. But out of God's mercy we believe that the infant would not need it.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:09 pm |
    • killyourgod

      Rrro-isn't that always the way religious cults justify their incongruities and mistakes? they weren't wrong, they just needed to "clarify" their position. do you believe everything you are told?

      May 17, 2011 at 3:32 pm |
  18. Buruti

    Psalm 14:1 says:

    The fool* says in his heart,
    “There is no God.”
    They are corrupt, their deeds are vile;
    there is no one who does good.

    May 17, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • Stevie7

      Yup, Bill Gates, atheist and founder of one of the world's largest charities, doesn't do any good.

      Doesn't your book also say that even the devil can quote scripture for his own purposes?

      May 17, 2011 at 2:59 pm |
    • stejo

      Stevie, I think that was Shakespeare in The Merchant of Venice.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:14 pm |
  19. eastwood1379@gmail.com

    “During his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in Physics, Abdus Salam quoted the following verses from the Quran:

    "Thou see not, in the creation of the All-mercif­ul any imperfecti­on, Return thy gaze, see thou any fissure. Then Return thy gaze, again and again. Thy gaze, Comes back to thee dazzled, aweary." Quran Chapter 64

    He then said:
    This, in effect, is the faith of all physicists­; the deeper we seek, the more is our wonder excited, the more is the dazzlement for our gaze.”

    May 17, 2011 at 2:52 pm |
    • Nacho1

      As I said previously...........Mr Hawking is very contradictory................he is brilliant in a dimentia sort of way............

      May 17, 2011 at 3:08 pm |
  20. Madtown

    "Hawking says in the book "The Grand Design" that given the existence of gravity, "the universe can and will create itself from nothing."
    I just finished reading this book. I'm certainly no genius, but was unsatisfied with the reasonings provided to support the conclusion of spontaneous creation. Probably a result of the limitations of my human intellect, but I just can't wrap my head around the notion of "something out of nothing". Even if there were spontaneous creation of this and other universes, what about the volume of space they were created in? The 'box' where creation occured, how did that get there? Just too many remaining questions.

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

      You are not alone in this. No one understands it at this point which is why we study it. The danger is to assume that since I don't understand it today then it is unknowable and therefore requires a god to reconcile. Take 10 seconds to look around you and count the number of items that only 100 years ago would have been inconceiveable by the Average Joe. The farther you go back in time the more the everyday things in our life appear god-like to our ansestors. If the Apollo 11 capsule landed in ancient Greece they would have been seen as gods. We can not possbile image what will learn in the future that may appear god like to us in our current primative state.

      I don't know the answer DOES NOT EQUAL god made it so.

      May 17, 2011 at 2:57 pm |
    • Nacho1

      Nothing is created out of nothing and something is created out of something..............basic physics..............space is not created by space...........each time a new planet is created it is created from another planet.........we really do not know if God exists but we like to think God exists because it is something positive to cling to.............as to no afterlife I must disagree with that theory because it has been proven time and time again that ghostly apparitions do exist...........dimensions exist or if not.........nothing has dimension and therefore nothing exists..........a rabbit exists because it is created out of nothing however the rabbit has limitations and a human exists and is able to create and drive a car unlike a rabbit because nothing has ordained that the human is special above and beyond the rabbit...........Hawking is a wonderfully probing and opinionated physicist.......but then again he is the same man who opinionated that time is going to reverse it self once the space clock resets itself..........and time will move backward..........and this was created by nothing? He has a tendency to contradict his own theories.................interesting guy but he talks in incomplete thoughts..........he questions everything that is illogical and states only logic............the unknown is not logical.............it is unknown...........we will never know the truth till we reach the unknown and that goes for Mr Hawking also.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
    • Madtown

      You are not alone in this. No one understands it at this point which is why we study it. The danger is to assume that since I don't understand it today then it is unknowable and therefore requires a god to reconcile. Take 10 seconds to look around you and count the number of items that only 100 years ago would have been inconceiveable by the Average Joe. The farther you go back in time the more the everyday things in our life appear god-like to our ansestors. If the Apollo 11 capsule landed in ancient Greece they would have been seen as gods. We can not possbile image what will learn in the future that may appear god like to us in our current primative state.
      I don't know the answer DOES NOT EQUAL god made it so.
      I agree Bruce, 100 yrs from now things will look a lot different. But, I'm not sure we'll still have an answer for how "something comes from nothing", without the notion of a first mover or first action. Who knows, maybe in 100 yrs we'll have discovered that our universe is really the result of some kids school science experiment, and we all really exist in a fishbowl displayed on his teachers desk. That'd be kinda neat.

      May 17, 2011 at 3:11 pm |
    • Brendan

      When Hawking doesn't really know the answer, that DOES NOT EQUAL God doesn't exist.

      May 17, 2011 at 4:22 pm |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76
About this blog

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.