Stephen Hawking: Heaven is “a Fairy Story for People Afraid of the Dark”
The more scientific knowledge you possess, the less likely you are to believe in fairy tales. Among members of the National Academy of Sciences, for example, 93% expressed “disbelief or doubt in the existence of god.” Among members of the Royal Society, a fellowship of the world’s most eminent scientists, 91% are atheists.
It should come as no surprise, then, that renowned British scientist Stephen Hawking, the world’s most renowned physicist, has opined that heaven does not exist and that notions of the afterlife are mere “fairy stories” that may provide comfort for us mortal humans but have no rational basis in scientific fact.
In an interview with the Guardian, Hawking discussed his own mortality, the concept of the heavenly afterlife, the purpose of human life, the potential for scientific discovery to explain the mysteries of the universe, and much more.
Hawking, age 69, was diagnosed with an incurable motor neurone disease when he was 21. He wasn’t expected to live more than a few years, but here he is, still going strong. If anyone could have taken comfort in the promise of a godly heaven, it’s Hawking. “I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years,” he explained. “I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first.”
Instead of feel-good make-believe, Hawking regards death and what happens afterward in a matter-of-fact, clinical way. “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail,” he stated. “There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”
Of course, people of faith can make the seemingly valid argument that despite his scientific genius, Hawking can no better understand what happens after death than the most ordinary among us since, like us, he has not died yet. But if I were to tell you that after you die, you move on up to a deluxe apartment in the sky with George and Weezie in an endless loop of Jeffersons re-runs, you’d be right to call me crazy. But what evidence is there that that scenario is any more accurate than conventional Christian notions of the afterlife? If you’re honest with yourself, you’ll admit that they are equally ridiculous.
So what about finding purpose in life? The idea that there is no afterlife and, therefore, no reckoning for our earthly actions, is highly disturbing for many folks. If there’s no heaven or hell, these folks ask, then what’s to stop us all from running around, raping, thieving and pillaging? When asked how humans ought to live, Hawking simply replied that “we should seek the greatest value of our action.”
Hawking firmly believes that scientific discovery holds the key to understanding the mysteries of the universe. The Holy Grail (no pun intended) of such discovery would be the development of a grand “theory of everything” that would explain all matter and energy that exists. “It would be the ultimate triumph of human reason,” Hawking wrote in his 1988 bestseller A Brief History of Time, “for then we should know the mind of god.” In that book, Hawking went so far as to suggest that the the concept of a divine being was not necessarily incompatible with science.
But by 2010, when he published The Grand Design, Hawking argued that there is no place for god in scientific theories on the origins of our universe. His eminently reasonable assertions came under fire from religious leaders, who prefer unthinking devotion to faith-based dogma devoid of scientific fact.
Theirs is not to reason why, but with clasped hands and upon bended knee to blindly pray to the sky.
(Here is an ABC News interview with Hawking from last year in which he discusses science and religion):
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