Stephen Hawking’s Fairy-Tale Heaven


The Daily Telegraph reports that prominent English cosmologist Stephen Hawking has suggested that “heaven is a fairy story for people who are afraid of the dark.”

As I am both a lover of fairy tales and a believer in heaven, I am not sure whether this is an insult or a compliment. Although I do not believe heaven is a fairy tale, it is my love of fairy tales that makes me believe in heaven. Like G. K. Chesterton, I believe that fairy tales are (in their own way) more true than the barren facts of yesterday’s newspaper; and it is because of the solid truths of the fairy tales that I believe in the solid truth of heaven.

I use the word “solid” because I suspect what Hawking really means is that heaven is somehow insubstantial and unreal. It is, he would have us believe, a figment of our imagination — a product of wishful thinking on the part of those who are afraid of the darkness of death and ultimate annihilation.

But what makes fairy tales so concrete and real is that they are rooted in a world that is just. The wolf who devoured granny is chopped up and grandma is freed. Cinderella wins her prince. The wicked witch is pushed into the oven, and the big bad wolf gets boiled after he slides down the chimney. Fairy tales may be made-up stories, but the truths they reveal are not. They make me believe in justice, and therefore they make me believe not only in a heaven but in a hell.

Fairy tales teach us that goodness, truth, and beauty must one day be rewarded, and evil, lies, and brutality must one day be punished. We see that, in this life, justice is rarely done; and yet because there is such a thing as justice, so our hearts and minds demand that there be a place where justice is fulfilled. This is not wishful thinking: It is clearly, solidly, rationally, and soberly realistic. Expecting justice in the end is part of our nature: Good leads to life. Evil leads to destruction. Expecting justice to be the final result is as logical and sensible and scientific as expecting water to run downhill.

Hawking thinks that believing in heaven is wishful thinking. But he forgets that those who believe in heaven most often also believe in hell. They believe that each soul is answerable to God, that final, fearful Judge. If I were thinking wishfully, this is not what I would have wished for. To be honest, I would rather not have to give an account for myself to One who has every hair on my head numbered, and who does not miss even the fall of the smallest sparrow to the ground. Suddenly, the prospect of the afterlife is not so pleasant at all, and it is the person who tells himself that there is no afterlife or final judgment who is thinking wishfully.

If there is no hell to pay, then we may do as we like. We may live like the devil but never have to meet the devil. Instead, after a lifetime of crime, we may slip away into a peaceful final oblivion and never have to pay the piper. This, it seems to me, is wishful thinking in the extreme by those who are really afraid of the dark. Such folks, whether they be eminent cosmologists or errant criminals, should be reminded of the pithy wisdom of St. Padre Pio, who was once asked what he thought of modern people who did not believe in hell. He replied: “They will believe in hell when they get there.”

Rev. Dwight Longenecker


Rev. Dwight Longenecker is the parish priest of Our Lady of the Rosary parish in Greenville, South Carolina. His latest book is The Romance of Religion published by Thomas Nelson. Check out his website and blog at

  • Cord Hamrick

    To put it more succinctly (which is admittedly a bit out-of-character for me): “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

    Implicit answer: Yes, He will.

  • Lord Jesus Christ, in Mercy and in Justice You delivered us from sin and death by Your Agony on the Cross and You experienced our temptations and sufferings, especially the last agony; in Mercy and in Justice deliver the sinners Whom You have died for in their last agony from sin and death, grant them conversion and salvation!

  • Ismael

    I am really sad.

    I thought Hawkins was smarter and had more dignity than this.

    Instead he took the turn for “My scientific carreer is over let’s blast religion to be famous”-town.

    I wonder if people like Dawkins poisoned his mind (I would not be surprised).

    I still admire Stephen Hawking (as a scientist) but I think it’s sad how he’s now behaving.

    Besides fairy-tales are hardly ‘reassuring’. If you ever read the Grimm Bros. or H.C. Andersen you’ll find out that many fairy-tales are quite disturbing (think about how the real story of the little meremaid ends…) and you’d not think they are children tales.

    That is because we now lost the value of the fairy-tale. These tales were menat to teach moral and life lessons and were sometimes even scary, because the world can be a scary place and they teach that if you do bad things you might pay for it direly.

    Now fairy-tale is thought of as the sugary mush that Disney dishes out, but the original fairy-tales were NOT sugar coated at all.

    That is why I LOVE fairy-tales! They show many things about the culture they are written in, they present often very valuable moral lessons, they teach about life dangers, even if often in an allegorical or metaphorical way.

    They are a valuable piece of literature, now being corrupted by the ‘sugar coated’ ways of Disney & Co. that think kids are too fragile or stupid to learn real lessons from a tale.

  • Mary

    I would love to be able to tell Stephen Hawking a true story about my family and, in return, hear his brilliant mind’s explanation for what happened. Many years ago, when I was a child, my father loaded me, my three brothers, our picnic basket, and our new fishing poles into our car. We were headed out to the lake while my mother stayed at home to do laundry (there was plenty of it; we kids were 7, 8, 9 and 10 years old). It so happened that a man from the neighborhood was going in the same direction and was not far behind our car. A few short miles from home, a speeding truck, loaded with scrap metal, broadsided our car. My 9 yr. old brother Andy was killed instantly, impaled on a steel pipe that went through his chest. The rest of us were severely injured. At that moment, while my mother was at home in our backyard, hanging laundry on the clothesline, an angel appeared to her (she always assumed it was her Guardian Angel) and told her that Andy had died, that all was in God’s hands, that she must accept it, and that everything would be all right. Back at the scene of the accident, the man who was following along behind us was able to call for help. As we were loaded into the ambulances, he headed back to tell my mother what had happened. What a task that poor man had! He pulled in the driveway and saw my dazed mother standing there. As he walked toward her, calling her name, she said “You don’t have to tell me. I know.” And then a parade of 5 ambulances drove past, on their way to the hospital. My mother would recount this story to me from time to time, over the next 51 years, until she died at the age of 94. The first time I heard the story, I was 7 years old. The last time I heard it, I was 58. It never changed. How would Mr. Hawking explain an angel appearing to my mother, giving her knowledge she had no way of obtaining, and speaking of God, if there is no God, no Heaven, and no angels? By the way, the accident did take a terrible toll on our family, but we knew we had our very own Saint in Heaven. Another St. Andrew. What a gift in the midst of tragedy.

    • Harry Rovers

      Wonderful story! Thanks for sharing it.

    • I’m so sorry you lost your brother so young. Thank you for sharing this moving story. What a gift for your mother to have that visitation — a consolation for the rest of her life, and for all of you in the midst of hardships you all endured.

  • Other Joe

    Fairy tales for adults are provided by TV, theaters, stages, paperback and electronic books. The human need for justice is so insatiable that people spend hours each day of their lives waiting to see the bad guys pushed into the back of a patrol car or blasted to bits. This is in contrast to the “reality” shows that demonstrate how difficult it is to sort through lies to get at the truth of human depravity in an actual courtroom. We are surrounded by lies and yet we crave truth and justice as much as we crave love. Poor Mr. Hawking casts his eye as wide as the universe and misses the point.

  • elilb

    Visions of our Faith within each of us bring us our Heaven in the end.

  • In my childhood school days I loved fairy tales, the originals, not the sanitized versions. In fact, I don’t believe the sanitized versions had yet caught on. Teachers read them to us. I found them at the library. My dad read them to me and my siblings.

    Later in life, when I was a teacher I decided to read some to my 4th grade students. Soon the school principal got a call from a parent saying her son couldn’t sleep at night because of what I was reading. He had nightmares, so, I had to cease and desist.

  • I agree and couldn’t put it any better. The fairytale story is subjective until we quantify the principle by practice that purifies the temple…

    Mr. Hawkins needs to practise his belief and he too will notice the difference.

  • Steven P. Cornett

    This, it seems to me, is wishful thinking in the extreme by those who are really afraid of the dark.

    Is it the dark Hawking is afraid of? I rather think it is the light, for if there is light at the moment of death, and the light is God (as it is), then all things are seen in it.

    Men that love evil hate the light.

  • Teresa W

    I think C.S. Lewis says it best in Mere Christianity when he writes,”There is no need to be worried by facetious people who try to make the Christian hope of ‘Heaven’ ridiculous by saying they do not want ‘to spend eternity playing harps.’. The answer to such people is that if they cannot understand books written for grown-ups, they should not talk about them.”

  • David

    Based on Hawkins notariety, narcissism has come to the forefront and he has chosen to take a position perceived as beneficial, at the expense and comfort of others. It’s time for him to go away. I see little difference between Hawkins and another radical who was recently killed with porn on his computer. Similar in their regard to others and history. One based on religious fanaticism, the other based on scientific fanaticism.

    • Cherie

      The dead radical with porn reference was completely lost on me… but if the word “narcissism” makes your point, then I wholeheartedly agree.

  • Mike Malone

    I feel for people like Dawkins and Hitchens…..’cause they got a big surprise acomin’

  • Howard Kainz

    And Hawking’s theory that the universe just developed by lucky chance out of nothing is not a fairy tale??

    • Francis Wippel

      Apparently. I’ve always thought that true atheists needed more faith than true Christians.

      To believe that the universe and everything in it happened by a pure accident of nature? That’s like believing that the faces on Mount Rushmore were carved by natural forces.

      Intelligent Design or pure chance. Which is harder to believe?

  • Cherie

    Society turns to Stephen Hawking as sole possessor and interpreter of precious, mysterious knowledge about the “true nature of things” and has done so for many years now. Under these conditions, it takes only a tiny seed of narcissism to yield magnificently smug, myopic blooms of “I am the smartest person of all; anything others claim to know or understand, that I do not know and understand, must not exist” like the one shown here.

    I was particularly disappointed when a Nobel laureate physicist spoke similarly in an otherwise lovely talk about the beauty and intuitiveness of the mathematics underpinning modern physics at a lecture at my Jesuit university a few years ago.

    I do wish God would raise up some humble scientists in the public eye, who were willing to study His handiwork without falling into this kind of hubris. (I am sure plenty exist, but can’t I see one on TV?)

  • Mark

    “I do wish God would raise up some humble scientists in the public eye, who were willing to study His handiwork without falling into this kind of hubris.”

    You might find this interesting:

    Francis Collins, a medical doctor, is director of the National Human Genome Research Institute and passionate about science. But the self-described Bible-believing Christian is just as passionate about his faith, which he came to after reading C.S. Lewis and seeing how religion sustained his gravely ill patients.

  • MP Ryan

    Father, I think you will like this quote from Czeslaw Milosz:

    “Religion, opiate for the people. To those suffering pain, humiliation, illness, and serfdom, it promised a reward in the afterlife. And now we are witnessing a transformation. A true opium for the people is a belief in nothingness after death – the huge solace of thinking that for our betrayals, greed, cowardice, murders we are not going to be judged.”

  • Brian

    Much as I disagree with Prof. Hawking’s statements, in his case, at least, I can see how he might have come to his (non) beliefs.

    It must be a terrible cross to bear to be saddled with Lou Gehrig’s disease. To have to be fed, bathed, and cared for constantly – not even to be able to speak. Perhaps at one point he held out hope for a cure, but now he has lost that. What a tragedy that, with his brilliant scientific mind, he has also been immersed in the scientific-materialist worldview which says that this world is all there is.

    It seems like he is a very bitter, angry man who has lost all hope for a cure in this life, and has lost all faith in a better life to come. We should pray for him.

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