British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking schmoozed with popes during his lifetime, even though he was an avowed atheist. The famous scientist, who died Wednesday in England at 76, was often asked to explain his views on faith and God. During interviews, he explained his belief that there was no need for a creator.
He said during an interview with El Mundo in 2014: “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.”
That followed comments made to Reuters in 2007 in which Hawking, who had lived with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease or ALS) since 1963, described himself as “not religious in the normal sense.”
“I believe the universe is governed by the laws of science,” he said. “The laws may have been decreed by God, but God does not intervene to break the laws.”
Because of his involvement in the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, which fosters “interaction between faith and reason and encouraging dialogue between science and spiritual, cultural, philosophical and religious values,” he visited the Vatican over the years. Hawking gave a talk on “The Origin of the Universe” during the group’s 2016 conference at the Vatican.
During those visits, he met with religious leaders, including Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI. In his comments to the Academy in 2010, Benedict XVI seemed to refer to Hawking, saying, “Scientists do not create the world; they learn about it and attempt to imitate it.”
“Because there is a law such as gravity, the universe can and will create itself from nothing,” the book states. “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 discussing the book, he told ABC News: “One can’t prove that God doesn’t exist. But science makes God unnecessary. … The laws of physics can explain the universe without the need for a creator.”
Hawking’s earlier best-selling cosmology book, “A Brief History of Time,” also discussed black holes and the big bang. The 1988 book offered his “theory of everything” that understanding the universe offers a glimpse of “the mind of God.”
He also explained throughout his life his thoughts on a possible afterlife, saying, “I believe the simplest explanation is, there is no God. No one created the 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.”
In 2011, his comments to the Guardian explained his stance further: “There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers; that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”
Hawking, who was born Jan. 8, 1942, and lived with his disease for much longer than expected, also said during the interview: “I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first.”
Correction: An earlier version of this report stated the incorrect date for when “A Brief History of Time” was published. The date was 1988. It also stated that Stephen Hawking had a condition much like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. The condition, in fact, was ALS.