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Monday
May162011

Heaven a 'Fairy Story' to Stephen Hawking, Not to Many Americans

Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage(LONDON) -- British physicist Stephen Hawking may think that heaven is a mere "fairy story," but he's hard-pressed to find those who share his perspective on this side of the pond.

This weekend, the U.K.'s The Guardian newspaper published an interview with Hawking in which the celebrated scientist said "there is no heaven....that is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark."

Hawking has expressed similar beliefs in books and previous interviews, but the statement sparked headlines in the U.S., where a large percentage of the population believes in a religious afterlife -- both good and bad.

The 68-year-old Hawking, who was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease, when he was 21, is not unfamiliar with contemplating the possibility of an afterlife. He told The Guardian that he's lived with the prospect of an early death for nearly five decades.

But the internationally known scientist and author said, "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."

In a 2010 interview with ABC News' Diane Sawyer, when asked if there was a way to reconcile religion and science, he said, "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."

While Hawking's views on religion and heaven may be relatively consistent with the views of his countrymen, research from The Pew Research Center's Forum on Religion & Public Life suggests he's at odds with the prevailing American perspective.

According to a 2007 Pew study of religious beliefs across the country, 92 percent of Americans said they believe in a god or universal spirit and 74 percent said they believe that there is a heaven. When asked about their views on an afterlife, 74 percent of Americans affirmed their belief, with 50 percent saying they believed with "absolute certainty."

But other studies show that the world doesn't necessarily share the United States' frenzy for faith. A 2010 Pew survey found that while 58 percent of American respondents said religion was "very important" to their lives, just 17 percent of British respondents gave the same reply.

Heaven is also apparently more popular than hell. While 74 percent of Americans believe in heaven, just 59 percent believe hell, said Greg Smith, a senior researcher at Pew.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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