Here's Why Stephen Hawking Says There Is No God
Stephen Hawking believed that there is a "grand design" to the universe, but that it has nothing to do with God. In 1988, he spoke of God in his groundbreaking book A Brief History of Time, and said that if physicists could find a sound “theory of everything” they would understand “the mind of God.” He once believed that we would one day discover this unifying, coherent theoretical framework—like God—that explains the universe—but after studying Gödel, he decided that it would never happen. He said,
"Some people will be very disappointed if there is not an ultimate theory, that can be formulated as a finite number of principles. I used to belong to that camp, but I have changed my mind. I'm now glad that our search for understanding will never come to an end, and that we will always have the challenge of new discovery. Without it, we would stagnate."
Let's take a look at the life, work, and worldview of Stephen Hawking, who was widely acclaimed as one of the most brilliant minds in the world.
Stephen Hawking Says, “I’m an Atheist.”
Before his death at the age of 76 on March 14, 2018, Stephen Hawking was generally considered one of the smartest people on Earth. He was a world-famous theoretical physicist and cosmologist who received many honors for his work in the field of cosmology, quantum physics, black holes, and the nature of spacetime.
So, when Hawking said that God didn't exist and added the sentence "I am an atheist” to that statement, the world took notice.
Hawking made this controversial statement in 2014 during an interview with Pablo Jauregui, a journalist from El Mundo, a Spanish newspaper. Read the full quote below:
“Before we understand science, it is natural to believe that God created the universe. But now science offers a more convincing explanation. What I meant by ‘we would know the mind of God’ is, we would know everything that God would know, if there were a God, which there isn’t. I’m an atheist.”
When Did Hawking Become an Atheist?
Hawking was probably an atheist from an early age. His family was nominally Christian, but for all intents and purposes, they were intellectual atheists.
As a boy at St. Albans school, he argued with his classmates about Christianity. During his college years at Oxford and Cambridge, he was a well-known atheist.
His first wife, Jane, whom he married in 1965 and divorced in 1990, was a devout Christian. It is clear they were never on the same page about religious matters, and this was perhaps one of the reasons why the two decided to go their separate ways.
Hawking’s statement denying the existence of God should not have come as a surprise to anyone. Over the years, Hawking has made many statements in opposition to religious beliefs. A few are listed below:
What Did Stephen Hawking Say About God and Religion?
- “So long as the universe had a beginning, we could suppose it had a creator. But if the universe is really completely self-contained, having no boundary or edge, it would have neither beginning nor end: it would simply be. What place, then, for a creator?” (From A Brief History of Time,1988)
- “We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe. That makes us something very special.” (Der Spiegel, October 17, 1988)
- “Ever since the dawn of civilization, people have not been content to see events as unconnected and inexplicable. They have craved an understanding of the underlying order in the world. Today we still yearn to know why we are here and where we came from. Humanity’s deepest desire for knowledge is justification enough for our continuing quest. And our goal is nothing less than a complete description of the universe we live in.” (From A Brief History of Time,1988)
- “What I have done is to show that it is possible for the way the universe began to be determined by the laws of science. In that case, it would not be necessary to appeal to God to decide how the universe began. This doesn’t prove that there is no God, only that God is not necessary.” (Der Spiegel, October 17, 1988)
- “I think computer viruses should count as life. I think it says something about human nature that the only form of life we have created so far is purely destructive. We’ve created life in our own image.” (Speech given at Macworld Expo in Boston, August 4, 1994)
- “So Einstein was wrong when he said, 'God does not play dice.' Consideration of black holes suggests, not only that God does play dice, but that he sometimes confuses us by throwing them where they can’t be seen.” (Does God Play Dice? 1996)
- “We shouldn’t be surprised that conditions in the universe are suitable for life, but this is not evidence that the universe was designed to allow for life. We could call order by the name of God, but it would be an impersonal God. There’s not much personal about the laws of physics.” (Leaping the Abyss in Reason Magazine by Gregory Benford, April, 2002)
- “The life we have on Earth must have spontaneously generated itself. It must therefore be possible for life to generate spontaneously elsewhere in the universe.” (In an appearance on Alien Planet on May 14, 2005)
- “I’m not religious in the normal sense. I believe the universe is governed by the laws of science. The laws may have been decreed by God, but God does not intervene to break the laws.” (BBC News Interview, April 26, 2007)
- “I regard the afterlife to be a fairy story for people that are afraid of the dark” (In an interview with Charlie Rose, March 9, 2008)
- "There is nothing bigger or older than the universe." (TED Talk, 2008)
- “I have noticed even people who claim everything is predestined, and that we can do nothing to change it, look before they cross the road.” (In Black Holes and Baby Universes and Other Essays, April 5, 2008)
- “There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, and science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works.” (In an interview with Diane Sawyer on June 7, 2010)
- There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, and science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works.” (In an interview with Diane Sawyer on June 7, 2010)
- “One can’t prove that God doesn’t exist, but science makes God unnecessary.” (In an interview with Nick Watt on September 7, 2010)
- “God is the name people give to the reason we are here. But I think that reason is the laws of physics rather than someone with whom one can have a personal relationship. An impersonal God.” (Time Magazine, November 15, 2010)
- “I regard the brain as a computer which will stop working when its components fail. There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.” (Interview with Ian Sample in Guardian Magazine, May 15, 2011)
- “We are each free to believe what we want, and it’s my view that the simplest explanation is; there is no God. No one created our universe, and no one directs our fate. This leads me to a profound realization that there probably is no heaven and no afterlife either. We have this one life to appreciate the grand design of the universe and for that, I am extremely grateful.” (Discovery Channel, August 15, 2011)
- "I believe there are no questions that science can't answer about a physical universe." (NPR interview, September 13, 2013)
(This select, incomplete list is arranged chronologically.)
Did Hawking Ever Believe In God?
Hawking did make some ambiguous statements about God during his lifetime, which some have translated as proof of belief. For example, in his 1988 book, A Brief History of Time, he discusses what it would mean if we were to ever discover why we and the universe exist. He wrote, “It [finding a unifying theory] would be the ultimate triumph of human reason–for then, we would know the mind of God.”
This statement has been misinterpreted by some to mean the Hawking believed in God. In the El Mundo interview, Hawking made clear that this quote was only a metaphor: “What I meant when I said we would know 'the mind of God' was that we would know everything God would know if there were a God, which there isn't."
So it's unlikely that Hawking ever believed in a God in the traditional sense, and when he spoke of God, he was not claiming any faith in a divine Creator. Church was never a part of Hawking's life, although he did meet with popes, and his first wife was Catholic. Although Hawking did talk about God, he was not using the word's traditional meaning, but instead likened God to a unifying theory of physics. So for Hawking, the word "God" sometimes meant something different than how most dictionaries define the word.
Do Scientists Tend to be Atheists?
In his atheism, Stephen Hawking had lots of company among his peers. Research suggests as many as 93% of top-tier scientists do not believe in God. In comparison, about 83% of Americans do believe in God.
Nature magazine conducted a survey in 1998 among members of the National Academy of Sciences, a prestigious group of top scientists. They found that only 7% of these scientists believed in God. Further, they showed the group of believers was shrinking when they compared their study to prior studies of a similar nature (28% in 1914 and 15% in 1933), so perhaps the proportion of believers is even lower today. (Nature 394,313:23 July 1998)
A similar study was conducted among British scientists, specifically the Fellows of the Royal Society of London. Among the British population as a whole, 42% believe in a personal God, but among British scientists, only 5% do. (Evolution and Outreach, December 2013 6:33)
Did ALS Influence Hawking’s Religious Beliefs?
Hawking was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) at the age of 21. ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. This causes the brain to be unable to initiate and control muscle movement. It eventually leads to total paralysis.
At the time of diagnosis, Hawking was given only two years to live. He defied that prediction and lived to the age of 76. During the latter half of his life, he was almost totally paralyzed and used a voice synthesizer to speak, which he controlled with a cheek muscle.
Some have said that Hawking’s long life was a "miracle." Hawking did not believe this, saying, “Religion believes in miracles, but they are not compatible with science.”
Thus, Hawking's illness played no part in his views on God: just as he did not need God to explain the existence of the universe, he did not need God to explain his survival. Hawking attributed his longevity to a fierce will to live and a stubborn desire to not let his illness keep him from having a full life. Hawking said: “However bad life may seem, there is always something you can do, and succeed at. While there's life, there is hope.”
Adhering to this motto, Hawking lived his life as "normally" as possible. He had three children with his first wife, Jane, remarried in 1995 to his caretaker Elaine Manson (they divorced in 2006), and continued to write, teach, and lecture up until his last days. Hawking received numerous awards and honors for his work, and authored several books intended for a general audience, including an autobiography.
Although his atheism was not affected by his illness, his life certainly was, and his scientific achievements may also have even been fostered by his illness. Being unable to live a normal physical life meant he could devote himself to the inner life of the mind. Also, the feeling that he did not have long to live likely spurred him to work harder in order to accomplish as much as possible in the time he had.
How Did Hawking Explain the Creation of the Universe?
In his 2010 book , written with co-author and physicist Leonard Mlodinow, Hawking took the reader on a journey from the earliest beliefs about the creation of the universe to the cutting edge of modern cosmology, which includes quantum physics, string theory, multi-verses, and M-theory. Together, these theories are bringing us close to what scientists call “The Theory of Everything," one theory that unifies all. The Grand Design
This book doesn’t play coy about belief in God. Right away, on page 8, Hawking writes “M-Theory predicts that a great many universes were created out of nothing. Their creation does not require the intervention of some supernatural being or God. Rather these multiple universes arise naturally from physical law.”
Something from nothing? It doesn’t immediately make sense. We have this reaction because, at the level that humans experience the universe, we see cause and effect. But cause-and-effect does not exist on the quantum level in the same way that we experience it.
At the end of the book on page 180, Hawking sums everything up:
“Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist. It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”
In the El Mundo interview, Hawking said:
“When people ask me if a God created the universe, I tell them that the question itself makes no sense. Time didn’t exist before the Big Bang, so there is no time for God to make the universe in. It’s like asking directions to the edge of the earth; The Earth is a sphere; it doesn’t have an edge; so looking for it is a futile exercise.”
What Was the Response From the Religious Community?
As might be expected, there was a huge outcry from religious leaders offering vigorous rebuttals to Hawking’s statement that God did not necessarily create the universe. Their arguments were weak, petty, and often showed little to no understanding of science. They even sometimes misquoted Hawking in order to set up a "straw man" to knock down. The rebuttals boiled down to, “God exists because I say so.”
The Arch Bishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, said, “Belief in God…is the belief that there is an intelligent, living agent on whose activity everything ultimately depends for its existence. Physics on its own will not settle the question of why there is something rather than nothing.” (DailyMail.com 9/23/2010)
The Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, Lord Jonathan Sacks, said, “Science is about explanation. Religion is about interpretation. The Bible simply isn't interested in how the universe came into being." (DailyMail.com 9/23/2010)
Some make a big deal about the idea that Hawking never disproved the existence of God, but this comes as no surprise. No one can prove or disprove the existence of an immaterial, invisible being. What Hawking did was show how the universe could come into existence without a Prime Mover to set things into motion.
Others said that you cannot get something from nothing and everything has to have a cause... with God being that cause. These critics probably didn't read Hawking’s book, because he explains these points.
There were some Christian publications which took aim at scientists themselves, claiming that God is merely the laws of the universe as physicists understand them. The Christian Post wrote: “Hawking’s redefinition of ‘nothing’ in no way removes God (and actually introduces us to something like God), but instead only reacquaints us with the standard debate between two eternal ‘somethings’—the uni/multiverse and God.”
Some pointed out that string theory and M-theory are not accepted by all scientists. This is true, but that doesn't mean that Hawking was wrong. Many scientists do accept these cutting-edge theories, and the fact that some do not does not disprove them. The methodology of science is based around postulation and experimentation.
Finally, some have tried to discredit Hawking by attacking his character rather than his work. For instance, Hawking has said life might exist on other planets, and that these "aliens" might be hostile to Earthlings. His antagonists retort that there is no proof of this, so everything Hawking says must be wrong. They try to conflate mere musings (that many other scientists have also speculated about) with his scientific work.
Should Hawking Have Stuck to Science and Left God to Theologians?
Some critics have stated that Hawking should have stuck to science and left God to theologians.
But Hawking did stick to science.
His views about God are informed by his study of science. Hawking was not discussing theology, which would encompass issues like whether God is one or three, whether God cares about the eating of pork, or how many angels can dance on the head of a pin. Hawking had nothing to say about theological issues, for theological issues assume the existence of God or gods.
Hawking’s opinion about God is a scientific opinion. Since the laws of physics can explain the creation of the universe, there is no need to have a Supreme Being to create it. Hawking explains that we do not need a God who is outside spacetime and who Himself was created from nothing to create the universe. God is superfluous.
Brief Answers to the Big Questions
Why Was Hawking’s Funeral at a Church?
There were 500 invited guests at Stephen Hawking’s funeral held on March 31, 2018, at St Mary the Great Church in Cambridge, England. Although Hawking was an atheist, his children Lucy, Robert, and Tim chose St Mary the Great, the church of Cambridge's prestigious university, to say their farewell. The family chose the Church of England funeral service customarily given to longtime fellows at Cambridge University. (Hawking did his graduate work at the University and was a fellow at the University for 52 years.) About 1000 people lined the streets to view his funeral procession.
HIs children issued a statement saying, "Our father's life and work meant many things to many people, both religious and non-religious. So, the service will be both inclusive and traditional, reflecting the breadth and diversity of his life."
The Hawking family arranged and paid for a three-course Easter weekend meal for the homeless at the Wesley Methodist Church in Cambridge served on the day of his funeral. The tables were adorned with flowers and a card reading, “Today’s lunch is a gift from Stephen…. From the Hawking family.”
Hawking was cremated and a memorial service was held on June 15, 2018. His ashes were interred at London’s Westminster Abbey near the remains of the renowned scientist lsaac Newton.
What Do You Believe?
Which of these statements comes closest to your own beliefs?
A Video of the "El Mundo" Interview in which Hawking Talks about His Atheism
Questions & Answers
If time didn't exist before the Big Bang (and I'm not arguing that), how is it possible that anything happened in no time? If God can't create it because there was no time to, how could the laws of physics create it in no time?
I'm not a physicist, but I don't think Hawking is saying that the "laws of physics" created the universe. I think Hawking is saying that the universe, time, and the laws of physics are all part of the "Big Bang."
It is hard for most of us to understand this because we are used to "cause and effect." But quantum physics goes against everything we "know" in our everyday life. And the idea of a multi-verse which creates new universes is mind-boggling. The fact that the universe is expanding is mind-boggling.
I wasn't trying to explain astrophysics in this article. I was only trying to discuss Hawking's beliefs about God and religion. If you want to understand astrophysics a bit better, read Hawking's books or the books of other theoretical physicists or astrophysicists.Helpful 45
If there is no God, please explain how can so many people be wrong? Statistically, it is not possible.
First, statistics has nothing to do with it. We do not take a poll to determine what is true and what is false.
Second, throughout history, the vast majority of people have believed things to be true that today have been proven false. For instance, the earth is not flat, and it is not even spherical. (There is a bulge around the equator.) Also, the sun does not revolve around the Earth, and the Earth is not the center of the universe. And spontaneous generation, the idea that living things can emerge from non-living things, once widely believed, is now known to be impossible.
Further, lightning bolts do not strike Earth because some God or other is angry. At one time, the atom was thought to be the smallest constituent of matter, but we now know there are many subatomic particles. I could go on, but by now you should have gotten the idea.
Many people have very different ides about God from what presume your idea is. Over one billion people are Hindus who believe in multiple gods and goddesses. Half a billion people are Buddhists who do not believe in any god. (Buddha is not a god, but a teacher.)
In what is called "the Western world," there are many atheists/agnostics. In France, about 40% of people do not believe in God. In the United Kingdom, the percentage is 30%. In the United States, it is a much smaller percentage--about 8%. The statistics can vary a lot depending on what country you are looking at. You can see for yourself in this article from "Psychology Today." https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-secula...
It seems that Stephen Hawking was far from alone when he said he did not believe in the existence of God.Helpful 29
I believe that Steven Hawking was correct. If mankind did not exist, there would be no God; therefore, it is fair to say God equals mankind. As it is mankind that has everlasting life and we are the body of mankind, we are made in the likeness of mankind. All that matters is your life and to live a purposeful life is our value to mankind. Is this what he meant to say?
No, Hawking wasn't saying that at all. Hawking was a theoretical physicist, not a philosopher or a theologian. Hawking meant to say exactly what he did say and that is what he said in his book "The Grand Design" and elsewhere. The universe can exist with the need of a supernatural "First Mover."
I don't know if Hawking agrees with your theory or not because he has never said anything about it.
I am not saying that your idea is a bad idea, just that you can not attribute it to Hawking.Helpful 25
Is it right to question the existence of God?
Yes it is just fine for people to question the existence of God. Just as it is right to question the existence of leprechauns and Abominable Snowmen. Everything should be subject to rational examination.
Scientists, especially, must question everything. Do quarks exist? Show me why you think they exist. If a scientist can question the existence of quarks, why not also question the existence of God?Helpful 24
Religion believes in miracles, but science doesn't according to Hawkins. Isn't getting something from nothing a miracle?
You are correct--science does not believe in miracles. Hawking is not talking about everyday life; he is talking about the creation of universes. I have summarized Hawking's explanation in the article. You can read Hawking's books for more details or any science book about astrophysics.
Actually, it is not important to understand the details. It is only necessary to know that Hawking was satisfied that our universe could be created without God.Helpful 10
© 2017 Catherine Giordano