Hawking invoked the name of God in his seminal book A Brief History of Time, writing that if physicists could find a “theory of everything” — that is, a cohesive explanation for how the universe works — they would glimpse “the mind of God.”
But in later interviews and writings, such as 2010’s The Grand Design, which he co-wrote with Leonard Mlodinow, Hawking clarified that he wasn’t referring to a creator in the traditional sense.
“Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist,” he wrote in The Grand Design. “It is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.”
Using language about God, Hawking told TIME after the book’s release, is more figurative than literal.
“God is the name people give to the reason we are here,” he said. “But I think that reason is the laws of physics rather than someone with whom one can have a personal relationship. An impersonal God.”
Hawking considered himself an atheist
Hawking spoke more plainly about his thoughts on God in an interview with Spanish publication El Mundo.
“Before we understand science, it is natural to believe that God created the universe. But now science offers a more convincing explanation,” he said. “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.”
But still thought the universe had meaning
Though Hawking rejected the conventional notion of God or a creator, he fundamentally believed that the universe and life have meaning, according to the New York Times.
“Remember to look up at the stars and not down at your feet. Try to make sense of what you see and wonder about what makes the universe exist,” Hawking said of the meaning of life. “Be curious. And however difficult life may seem, there is always something you can do and succeed at.”
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