(Theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking speaks at Perimeter Institute For Theoretical Physics in Kitchener, Canada, June 20, 2010/Sheryl Nadler)

Heaven is a fairy story for people afraid of the dark, the eminent British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking said in an interview published on Monday. Hawking, 69, was expected to die within a few years of being diagnosed with degenerative motor neurone disease at the age of 21, but became one of the world’s most famous scientists with the publication of his 1988 book “A Brief History of Time”.

“I have lived with the prospect of an early death for the last 49 years. I’m not afraid of death, but I’m in no hurry to die. I have so much I want to do first,” he told the Guardian newspaper. “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.”

Hawking gave the interview ahead of the Google Zeitgeist meeting in London where he will join speakers including British finance minister George Osborne and Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz. Addressing the question “Why are we here?” he will argue tiny quantum fluctuations in the very early universe sowed the seeds of human life.

His 2010 book “The Grand Design” provoked a backlash among religious leaders, including chief rabbi Lord Sacks, for arguing there was no need for a divine force to explain the creation of the universe.