Stephen Hawking in 2010.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
British astrophysicist Stephen Hawking confirmed Sunday that he is an atheist, after years of speculation.
"Before we understood science, it was natural to believe that God created the universe, but now science offers a more convincing explanation," he said.
Hawking's public admission came about when Spanish journalist Pablo Jáuregui of El Mundo
asked Hawking to clarify a phrase from his 1988 book A Brief History of Time
, where he wrote that scientists would "know the mind of God" if a unifying set of principles were discovered.
"What I meant by 'we would know the mind of God' is we would know everything that God would know if there was a God, but there isn't. I'm an atheist."
In the past, he gave the public impression that he was neither a strong believer nor disbeliever in a higher power.
"I believe the universe is governed by the laws of science," Hawking said in a 2007 interview. "The laws may have been decreed by God, but God does not intervene to break the laws."
He did not say whether or not this admission was the result of a change of heart or a long-held belief that he held back from the public.
In his 2010 book The Grand Design
, he states that the laws of physics were enough to trigger the Big Bang that made the expanding universe and that God was not needed for this.
“That makes the coincidences of our planetary conditions – the single Sun, the lucky combination of Earth-Sun distance and solar mass – far less remarkable and far less compelling evidence that the Earth was carefully designed just to please us human beings,” writes Hawking.
Prof. Jacob Bekenstein, a physics professor at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem that studied black hole thermodynamics at the same time as the British scientist, said in 2010 that Hawking's belief in atheism is nothing new.
"He is a known atheist, from the time I first met him in the 1970s when he was able to communicate by saying ‘Yes’ and ‘No.’"
Judy Siegel-Itzkovich contributed to this report.