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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. Muneef

    Gift for you from Yemen.

    Few Words of Gold;

    -"Changing the face" can change nothing.But "Facing the Change" can change everything.

    -Don't complain about others;
    Change yourself if you want peace.

    -Every successful person has a painful story. Every painful story has a successful ending.

    -Accept the pain and get ready for success.

    -Don't compare yourself with any one in this world. If you compare,you are insulting yourself.

    -No one can go back and change a bad beginning;
    But anyone can start now and creat a successful ending.

    -If you miss an opportunity don't fill the eyes with tears. It will hide another better opportunity in front of you.

    -Mistakes are painful when they happen. But year's later collection of mistakes is called experience,which leads to success.

    -If a problem can be solved, no need to worry about it. If a problem cannot be solved what is the use of worrying?

    -Easy is to judge the mistakes of others. Difficult is to recognize our own mistakes. It is easier to protect your feet with slippers than to cover the earth with carpet.

    -Be bold when you loose and be calm when you win. Heated gold becomes ornament. Beaten copper becomes wires. Depleted stone becomes statue. So the more pain you get in life you become more valuable.

    -Life laughs at you when you are unhappy... Life smiles at you when you are happpy... Life salutes you when you make others happy...

    -No one will manufacture a lock without a key. Similarly God won't give problems without solutions.

    May 26, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
  2. 8ball

    Hawking is just another guy with an opinion. He offers no proof to back his claim that there is no heaven.

    May 26, 2011 at 8:25 am |
    • Jeff Bertram

      @8ball
      Exactly how would you have him prove a mythical place doesn't exist? You're an idiot.

      May 26, 2011 at 8:19 pm |
  3. Muneef

    They said;

    The Pope Has All  Power in Heaven and Earth and Can Change Divine Laws
         "The Pope is of great authority and power, that he is able to modify, declare, or interpret even divine laws. The Pope can modify divine law, since his power is not of man, but of God, and he acts as vicegerent of God upon earth...".

    They said;

    "The Pope takes the place of Jesus Christ on earth...by divine right the Pope has supreme and full power in faith, in morals over each and every pastor and his flock. He is the true vicar, the head of the entire church, the father and teacher of all Christians.

    The Quran said; 
    --
    [3:79] Never would a human being whom GOD blessed with the scripture and prophethood say to the people, "Idolize me beside GOD." Instead, (he would say), "Devote yourselves absolutely to your Lord alone," according to the scripture you preach and the teachings you learn.

    [3:80] Nor would he command you to idolize the angels and the prophets as lords. Would he exhort you to disbelieve after becoming submitters?
    -–

    [9:31] They have set up their religious leaders and scholars as lords, instead of GOD. Others deified the Messiah, son of Mary. They were all commanded to worship only one god. There is no god except He. Be He glorified, high above having any partners.
    -–

    [3:64] Say, "O followers of the scripture, let us come to a logical agreement between us and you: that we shall not worship except GOD; that we never set up any idols besides Him, nor set up any human beings as lords beside GOD." If they turn away, say, "Bear witness that we are submitters."

    May 25, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • Muneef

      Special Warning to the Leaders
      [19:68] By your Lord, we will certainly summon them, together with the devils, and will gather them around Hell, humiliated.

      [19:69] Then we will pick out from each group the most ardent opponent of the Most Gracious.

      [19:70] We know full well those who are most deserving of burning therein.

      Everyone Sees Hell*
      [19:71] Every single one of you must see it; this is an irrevocable decision of your Lord.

      [19:72] Then we rescue the righteous, and leave the transgressors in it, humiliated.

      May 25, 2011 at 5:54 pm |
    • LinCA

      Blah, blah, blah. TL;DR.

      The quran is just as much a fairy tale as the bible is. Same delusion, different book.

      May 25, 2011 at 6:54 pm |
    • Muneef

      Lin.CA

      How can you be so sure with out any doubt ?? Can you repeat same and let your heart be your judge??

      May 25, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
    • LinCA

      @Muneef. There isn't a shred of evidence that even suggests that, if there is a god, that he/she/it has any interest in meddling with the universe as we observe it. For all intents and purposes that is equal to: There is no god".

      The gods of the quran and the bible are both based on the writings of man. Both have mutually exclusive traits that proves that they don't exist as they are described.

      Not a doubt in my mind.

      May 25, 2011 at 7:46 pm |
    • Muneef

      Lin.CA.
      As it is a faith in your heart that God does not exist...it is my faith that God,Angels,Holy Books,Prophets all exist with any doubt in my heart...so guess we both have beliefs to respect even if we do not agree with each other...you can not prove non existence and I cannot prove existence...so we are equal in doubts...

      May 25, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
    • Muneef

      Lin.CA.
      As it is a faith in your heart that God does not exist...it is my faith that God,Angels,Holy Books,Prophets all exist with out any doubt in my heart...so guess we both have beliefs to respect even if we do not agree with each other...you can not prove the non existence of God and I cannot prove the existence of God...so we are equal in our doubts...

      May 25, 2011 at 7:59 pm |
    • LinCA

      First, let me say that I don't dispute your right to believe as you see fit. If you live a fuller life, or are a better person because of it; more power to you.

      On my part there's no faith. Just facts and reason.

      I know for a fact that I don't know if there are any gods. The absence of proof doesn't prove absence. I can't prove a negative and I'm OK saying "I don't know (yet)".

      I also know for a fact that the gods as they are described in most holy texts can't exist because the descriptions contain internal inconsistencies. Mutually exclusive traits are assigned to these gods. Ergo, they don't exist. This could simply mean that the descriptions are incorrect. Either way, the texts are incorrect. They either describe non-existing creatures, or they describe existing creatures incorrectly.

      I can't prove that there aren't any pink unicorns in the center of black holes. But, since there's no evidence these pink unicorns affect our universe in any way, they serve no purpose in any theory regarding our universe, or anything in it. There is therefor also no reason to assume that they exist. The same goes for gods.

      Without evidence that gods exist they don't belong in any theory. To answer any question with "because god made it so" is intellectually dishonest. It's a cop-out. It means that you've given up trying to find out.

      May 25, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
    • Muneef

      LinCA.

      Dear thank you for acknowledging my right of belief...towards which I only try to be a reminder to whom would the reminder by a benefit..

      Dear LinCA God only proof of existence is the universe, the creations and the miracles we face within our personal or national life.... God will prove his existence to creations on resurrection and judgment date when no repentance and excuses are accepted for their rejection...

      During this life time it is more about acceptance of God in your life acknowledgment and acceptance the existance of the Unseen or unfelt or touched...all those are physical actions but what we speak of is spiritual experience that gets you closer to God by acceptance,by obedience to laws and by the strength of your internal demand to experience the feelings out of love to God and not out of aganostic doubts...
       
      Kindly read this and follow link;
      "God Almighty said: "My servant draws near to Me with nothing more loved by Me than the acts of worship that I have enjoined upon him. My servant continues to try to draw near to Me with more devotion, until I love him. When I love him, I will be his hearing with which he hears, his sight by which he sees, his hand with which he strikes, his feet on which he walks. When he asks Me for something, I will respond and when he takes refuge in Me, I will grant it to him. I do not hesitate in doing anything I intend to do as much as I hesitate in seizing the soul of My faithful servant; he hates death and I hate hurting him. But death is a must for him"."(narrated by Bukhari)

      http://www.islamicity.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=11752

      May 26, 2011 at 4:02 pm |
  4. Barry

    With all due respect Professor Hawking, I suggest that you stick to the field of mathematics and physics and leave matters of theology and faith to those qualified to discourse on such matters.

    Incidentally your assertions about there being no heaven would have come as a shock to the likes of Socrates, to his student Plato, and to his student Aristotle.

    May 25, 2011 at 10:02 am |
  5. Natalie

    Does it really matter whether god exist or not? Our acceptance and acknowledgement God or Universe regardless of exist or not (religion is much related to our culture) is nothing but a reflection of our HUMILITY that there is always a greater power above us. No one can stop death. As normal humans, we can not control when we come (birth) and when/where we go (death). Everything is transient. Today will be yesterday soon and later will be history. Its better to appreciate every moment rather than debate on matters that are unseen.

    May 25, 2011 at 9:45 am |
    • LinCA

      @Natalie. Whether god(s) exist is entirely irrelevant. It is fundamentally impossible to prove, or disprove, the existence of any god. And as there isn't a shred of evidence that, if a gos exists, he/she/it exerts any influence on the universe as humans experience it.

      The god as described by most christians on the other hand can be readily dismissed as it can not possibly exist. Mutually exclusive attributes make the christan god an impossibility.

      May 25, 2011 at 5:18 pm |
  6. Deanlow39

    Whats the hardest thing to eat on a vegtable?
    The wheelchair!!

    May 25, 2011 at 7:37 am |
  7. Steve Baran

    Yep, just like Santa bringing all the goodies down the chimney.... tales of heaven and an afterlife are of the same ilk. People just to not like the unknown so they'll invent things to comfort themselves. Religion has a lot of good things going for it and a not-so-admirable string of bad as well. We're all humans. What often separates us and puts us at odds with one another is religion. I only hope that someday humans on this planet will act as Earthlings and not as separate groups with conflicting interests. Dreaming on.....

    May 24, 2011 at 10:43 pm |
  8. Muneef

    Too much gravity on earth got mankind physically unable to flow, only if spiritually capable can spirit flow to where physically unable to go...!

    May 24, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
  9. Jennifer C

    Finally a man who is not afraid to write or speak the truth. Stephen I couldn't agree with you more.

    May 24, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
  10. Jeannie 807

    Finally someone got it right. I can't believe that anyone could believe in the concept of heaven or hell. Steven Hawking is
    a great physicist. I've read some of his books but most of them are beyond my comprehension.

    May 24, 2011 at 6:34 pm |
  11. HeavenSent

    Has Hawking considered the idea that he is like he is because he is not right with Jesus? You want to walk? Repent then!
    Amen.

    May 24, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
    • Bob

      That is wrong in so many ways it doesn't even merit a response.

      May 24, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
    • Steve Baran

      I suppose infants born with debilitating bodily issues are just because God decided to hate them for no good reason.

      Religion is a mental illness.

      May 24, 2011 at 10:47 pm |
  12. Josh

    None of you who responded came even close to answering my main question (which is requisite if you wish to even dignify a discussion). I wrote, "Why is spontaneous creation believable and the existence of God unbelievable? Both require an equal measure of faith, because both are incomprehensible by the human mind. Yet, somehow, the former receives far more love than the latter from this so-called scientist."
    So, why? Why is spontaneous creation (something coming of nothing) believable, and God (whose existence is derived from the same concept) so unbelievable? If we are to establish that this–even THIS ("this" referring to something coming from nothing) is possible, then that means anything and everything is possible. Why Hawking selectively excludes God from this 'anything and everything is possible' mentality is beyond me. He's making an exclusion that his own logic qualifies. In short, he obviously has a vested interest in God not existing, not a scientific one.
    Truth is truth, regardless of whether or not a flawed man renowned by other flawed men believes contrary to it.

    May 24, 2011 at 4:20 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      Why do you insist that creation must be "spontaneous?" Why do you insist there at some point there was "nothing." And why does god become the only other explanation you have? It's not an either/or proposition, regardless of how much you'd like that to be the case.

      Our best answer right now is, "We don't know," and that's really the only answer worth embracing. I'm sorry that makes you feel unimportant; but that's your failing, not that of Dr. Hawking or the universe.

      May 24, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
    • Bob

      Religion is arbitrary. People tend to be whatever religion their parents raised them to believe. It is based on old fables that have never been proven (and many of which have been disproven based on anachronism and the accounts of historical scholars). Science, on the other hand, is based on EVIDENCE and FACTS.

      May 24, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
    • Clifford Rosario

      If spontaneous creation is the reason for everything around us, then Stephen Hawking maybe right while at the same time contradicting himself. In other words, he may be right and wrong. If you apply his concept to the existence of God Himself, then why not apply this to God's very existence itself. The catalyst in your understanding of either is your faith. Whether you are an atheist or whether you believe in God.

      May 24, 2011 at 4:52 pm |
    • Clifford Rosario

      REPHRASE:

      If spontaneous creation is the reason for everything around us, then Stephen Hawking maybe right while at the same time contradicting himself. In other words, he may be right and wrong. Why not apply this to God's very existence itself. The catalyst in your understanding of either is your faith. Whether you are an atheist or whether you believe in God.

      May 24, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
  13. PaulWisc

    Connie, that you need a crutch is no reason for belief in a mythology.

    Josh, you need to read more carefully before going off on a rant. aardman wrote "There's at least one three year old child", not "one in three". All your angry insults are more appropriately applied to yourself. You make the claim for the existence of a god. It is up to you to prove it, not for others to disprove it.

    May 24, 2011 at 1:31 pm |
    • John

      Wrong.proof is the currency of a scientist and is a construct of man. It has nothing in common with matters of God and is therefore irrelevant. there are places in the universe where proof doesn't apply (black holes) therefore is not a universal truth. Proof cannot be applied to help one see God

      May 24, 2011 at 3:51 pm |
    • Josh

      None of you who responded came even close to answering my main question (which is requisite if you wish to even dignify a discussion). I wrote, "Why is spontaneous creation believable and the existence of God unbelievable? Both require an equal measure of faith, because both are incomprehensible by the human mind. Yet, somehow, the former receives far more love than the latter from this so-called scientist."
      So, why? Why is spontaneous creation (something coming of nothing) believable, and God (whose existence is derived from the same concept) so unbelievable? If we are to establish that this, yes, even THIS ("this" referring to something coming from nothing) is possible, then that means anything and everything is possible. Why Hawking selectively excludes God from this 'anything and everything is possible' mentality is beyond me. He's making an exclusion that his own logic qualifies. In short, he obviously has a vested interest in God not existing, not a scientific one.
      Truth is truth, regardless of whether or not a flawed man renowned by other flawed men believes contrary to it.

      May 24, 2011 at 4:18 pm |
  14. anon

    Hawking errs as gravity would not have existed in the beginning. There was no such force or any causality for such a force if we are speaking specifically about physics. Without the movement of large massive objects, there is no need for gravity. Even a layman knows that if you subscribe to the big bang theory, it required that two infinitely small units of matter with infinite mass collided at an almost infinite speed. For this to happen, the universe would have had to have been no wider than the two units of mass that collided. Also, for "spontaneous creation", as hawking himself stated, that if possible, it would require gravity. Before the two small units of matter existed, there would have been no gravity as gravity is caused by the movement of massive objects that already exist. Therefor the original units of matter would have never come to be without some force or being intervening. If the universe was wider than the two units of matter, then these two units of mass would have never have collided, unless the universe wraps back into itself. But this is not the case as scientists have found that the universe is expanding in all directions. It's not shrinking in some areas while expanding in others. Also, where did the two units of mass originate? Scientists have suggested that there are multiple dimensions and that the units of mas that created our universe simply came forth from another dimension. They speak of multiple dimensions, but exclude the possibility of Heaven, which is itself another dimension. When you look at all of the evidence that man has been given the privilege of discovering, there is no way for a reasonable person to deny that something set everything in motion. They also claim that a single formula will be discovered that will explain all of the secrets of the universe, but they refuse to believe that the singularity is actually GOD. Also, mathematics prove the existence of a higher being. If the universe were nothing but chaos, then man never would have discovered mathematics. Don't fool yourself into thinking that man created mathematics. Did man also create DNA and all of the parameters that control the unraveling of the DNA and the results of the process? And many still follow the theory of evolution that requires that thousands of species evolved within their own specific evolutionary chain and with extremely similar results. Compare the eyes of humans, whales, etc. Also, find the original species that contained all of the qualities that all species have now, which everything would have had to evolve from to allow these thousands of species to evolve in an extremely similar manner and I might consider that evolution was involved in the development of the species on Earth, but you can and will never rule out the existence of GOD.

    May 24, 2011 at 12:56 pm |
    • PaulWisc

      Gibberish.

      May 24, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
    • John

      Very interesting. Some very forward thinking here. I am not qualified to reply on either end but I appreciate the thoughts. It's good to read people using their minds heart and soul to ponder these things. The guy that said "gibberish" is simply the kind of person who blindly follows or blindly denies. He isn't relevant in the discussions of these things.

      May 24, 2011 at 3:47 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      @John: I'm sorry that you're not as important as you believe is warranted.

      May 24, 2011 at 3:57 pm |
    • John

      Seannj. How exactly does that generate any heat? You should've just written "gibberish" and saved yourself a few seconds. If you were looking to insult me you need to change your course of study. There is no self in my importance to ridicule.

      May 24, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      @John: It wasn't intended as an insult. I am truly sorry that you place a lot of your self-worth in the idea that you were created by a supernatural being. That's a horrible way to live. I hope you find a way to get past that someday. I don't have high hopes, but I have hopes.

      May 24, 2011 at 4:33 pm |
    • LinCA

      @anon. You are correct in saying that you cannot rule out a god. But you can't rule him/her/it in either since there isn't a shred of evidence suggesting that, if there is a god, that he/she/it has any interest in meddling with the universe as we observe it.

      Unless there is evidence that the force that you describe and label as "god" actually exists, invoking it is intellectually dishonest. So, to use the force "god" in a scientific theory, you'll have to create an experiment that shows whether that force actually exists.

      Until you do, anytime you use the answer "god" for any scientific problem, I will know that you either gave up trying, or you didn't understand the question.

      May 25, 2011 at 7:37 pm |
  15. Luis R

    Exsitentialist I agree 100%

    May 24, 2011 at 11:22 am |
  16. Luis R

    Yes Josh. Spontaneous creation can and does exist! Given that gravity exists, that the Universe is infinitely spacious and it's been around for eons. You might be able to understand just how life can be formed. Sadly, ALL RELIGION HAS NO LEGITIMATE PROOF!!!It's all he said she said.Written by the hand of man. Unprovable, non evidential. Fortunately science DOES have proof. Maybe not to how EXACTLY we came to be (yet). How about this analogy? If you could travel at the speed of light and you try to drop a quarter on a stationary target. The odds of you actually hitting the target would be 1 out of a ridiculously large number. Just as life in the universe. Understand. It's all a matter of CHANCE. Not DEVINE.

    May 24, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • John

      Scientists have an actual name for a number that is ridiculously impossible, as to where it's as close to impossible as a number can be. Theyve assigned that number to the possibility of spontaneous life. Look it up.

      May 24, 2011 at 10:54 am |
    • Exsitentialist

      Not to be a nit picker (becasue I WHOLE HEARTIDLY agree with your post), I think the latest thoughts on the universe is that it is not infinite. It has no edge, but is finite. (Sort of like walking on a sphere. You never get to the end, but you can keep on going.) At least that is what is in Dr. Hawking's book (from what I understand of it 🙂

      May 24, 2011 at 11:07 am |
  17. KC

    Stephen Hawking is a brilliant man–but here's the bottom line. He doesn't know any more about whether God exists than anyone else. He's just speculating as we all are.

    May 24, 2011 at 10:46 am |
    • Jamie Ohan

      Well said!

      May 24, 2011 at 10:51 am |
    • Exsitentialist

      Except he has theoretical data to back it up. Did you read his book? The main issue is that for a long time, we thought (through our theoretical math) that we had only one universe. Why only one? In the realm of the infinite, that doesn't make sense. Even if the probability of something is ridiculously small, it still should happen an infinite amount of times. (Infinity multiplied by anything is infinity). See what I'm saying? The book addressess that in saying that the are, mathematically, probaly multiple universes. Dr. Hawkings tries to condese the math/physics to help the lay person (like me) understand. Just because YOU don't understand, don't say "He has no proof. God this and God that blah blah blah..." Just becasue you don't understand it, doesn't mean it's MAGIC or unproovable.

      My thoughts on religion and god: "What can be asserted without evidence can also be dismissed without evidence".

      May 24, 2011 at 11:04 am |
  18. pearlly

    For an extremely intelligent being...Mr. Hawkins seems pretty closed minded–seems to me he also suffers the tunnel vision effect because he may be feeling cheated due to his health disposition...whatever it may be it truly saddens me...all you ever need to do as a being is believe...if you don't have a soul then don't...know God is.

    May 24, 2011 at 6:50 am |
    • PraiseTheLard

      Why don't you believe in pin unicorns?

      May 24, 2011 at 11:09 am |
    • John

      Praise the lard. You have created an avatar which specifically states your ridicule of religion. Your post shows this to be true. So you are expending energy to convince a religious person of why they are wrong. What is there to gain? I hate baseball, I don't sit outside stadiums telling people baseball stinks. I'd rather be home kickin it. What's in it for you? I don't understand. If you are free from the shackles of religion how have you become enslaved again to religion?

      May 24, 2011 at 3:56 pm |
  19. Josh

    So, wait. The universe came into existence via spontaneous, magical, inexplicable-by-your-own-'science is our basis' hermeneutic creation, however, did NOT come into existence via a God that exists just as inexplicably? Why is spontaneous creation believable and the existence of God unbelievable? Both require an equal measure of faith, because both are incomprehensible by the human mind. Yet, somehow, the former receives far more love than the latter from this so-called scientist.
    Interesting... the same criteria by which he dismisses the existence of God he confirms his own theory of how the universe came into existence. For all you self-proclaimed intellectual 'free-thinkers' out there, Webster's dictionary has a word this type of mindset: hypocrisy (n.).
    The worst is that he doesn't even pretend to hide it:
    "Spontaneous creation is the reason why there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist."
    Don't worry, you don't have to understand the above statement–you just have to believe it. Where have I heard THAT before?
    Hypocrite.

    May 24, 2011 at 2:43 am |
  20. Kirk Cameron

    I'm going to grunt and throw dung to show my intelligence. Grunt, grunt. Squirt.

    May 23, 2011 at 3:59 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.