British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking once said that before science, it was “natural to believe that God created the universe.”

“But now science offers a more convincing explanation,” Hawking said during an interview with El Mundo in 2014.

Yet the avowed atheist, who died Wednesday in England at 76, still schmoozed with popes during his lifetime, and he was often asked to explain his views on faith and God.

“I believe the universe is governed by the laws of science,” he told Reuters in 2007. “The laws may have been decreed by God, but God does not intervene to break the laws.”

The afterlife

Hawking was born in 1942, and he lived with a condition much like amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease or ALS) for much longer than expected.

When death came up in interviews, Hawking talked openly about it.

“I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die,” he told the Guardian. “I have so much I want to do first.”

He didn’t expect to go to heaven or hell. In fact, he didn’t believe in an afterlife:

“There is no heaven or afterlife for broken down computers,” he said. “That is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.”

Hawking’s atheism and the Vatican

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. He even spoke there in 2016.

During those visits, he met with religious leaders, including Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI. Pope Benedict XVI seemed to refer to Hawking in his comments to the Academy in 2010, saying, “Scientists do not create the world; they learn about it and attempt to imitate it.”

The Big Bang

In Hawking’s writing about the universe’s origin, he and co-author Leonard Mlodinow wrote in the 2010 book, “The Grand Design,” that the Big Bang was inevitable.

“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 2010, he discussed the book with 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.”

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