The late return to the faith of a Nobel Prize

Richard Smalley, 1996 Nobel laureate in chemistry, shown in 2003
(Image in the Wikimedia Commons public domain)


Several times a year, some atheists and others triumphantly throw in my face the fact that most of the elite members of the National Academy of Sciences are not religious.

In this context, I was interested some time ago to know a little more about Richard Smalley, former Hackerman professor of chemistry as well as professor of physics and astronomy at Rice University in Houston. Smalley, who died in 2005 of leukemia at the relatively young age of 62, was honored upon his death by a United States Senate resolution as the “father of nanotechnology”. In 1996, he shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of a new form of carbon, dubbed (in humorous homage to R. Buckminster Fuller) “buckminsterfullerene” or, colloquially, “buckyballs”.

He was, of course, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, having been elected in 1990.

Smalley came from a religious background, but he clearly rejected his faith early on. According to at least one source, he has long become a vocal critic of Christianity. And then he wasn’t.

Here is an interesting passage from Professor Smalley, reflecting on his own chemical specialty in the study of carbon:

I know that apart from carbon, there would be no life in the universe. Without this atom, there would be no life. Well, why? When you think about it, it gets scary. Meeting these molecules are similar spiritual experiences to what I remember in church as a child, except that they are more serious.

Shortly before his death, he wrote a fascinating letter, from which the following is extracted:

As of this writing, I am at the MD Anderson Cancer Center, a few miles from my home in Houston, TX. I am imbued with a modern miracle, a stroke of nanotechnology called Rituxan. It is a monoclonal antibody that is part mouse, part human and with great purity and reliability targets cancer cells in my body and marks them for graceful death. MD Anderson’s motto is “Making Cancer History,” and I have no doubts that over the next 20 years they and other scientists around the world will do just that: they will develop cures for the major forms of cancer that afflict humanity since the dawn of history. Hope to see all of this happen, and I’m coming back to Hope for my 60th reunion to tell you about it. . . .

Recently, I have regularly returned to church with a new goal of understanding as best I can what makes Christianity so vital and powerful in the lives of billions of people today, even though nearly 2,000 years have passed. since the death and resurrection of Christ.

Although I suspect that I will never fully understand, I now think the answer is very simple: it is true. God created the universe about 13.7 billion years ago and, out of necessity, has been involved in its creation since then. The purpose of this universe is something that only God knows for sure, but it is increasingly clear to modern science that the universe has been finely tuned to allow human life. We are somehow critically involved in His purpose. Our job is to feel this purpose as best we can, to love each other and to help it accomplish this work.

Critics will respond, of course, that Dr Smalley’s return to Christianity was the desperate act of a mortally ill man. Belief, they will say, comes from emotional and non-rational sources – such as fear of death – when apparently disbelief is purely rational. But couldn’t it be said with equal probability that his return to church came because after decades of intense involvement in scientific research, he had just powerfully remembered his mortality and the general human condition? ?

Why is the faith of religious scientists considered by some to be insignificant, when these same people often trumpet the lack of faith of disbelieving scientists as indicative of the true character of the universe?

I have posted quotes from Nobel Laureates and other eminent scientists on this blog quite frequently. Some have assumed that I intended to prove the truth of theism in this way. They are wrong. I post such quotes mainly because I often thought they brought out important points. But I have also posted them, simply, to illustrate the indisputable fact that more than a few eminent scientists see no incompatibility between religious faith and rigorous science.

Caltech’s Kip Thorne, who shared the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics, comes from a Latter-day Saint background although unfortunately he currently describes himself as an atheist. But he rejects the idea, argued by many much less important scientific lights (and, very often, by people who are not at all scientific), of an absolute opposition between theistic faith and scientific reason: “He There are, says Thorne, a lot of my best colleagues who are very godly and believe in God, ranging from an abstract humanistic God to a very concrete Catholic or Mormon God. There is no fundamental incompatibility between science and religion.

But what is he to know?


How embarrassing. And yet the star of the series does not seem to be embarrassed. For the sake of my adopted country, however, I’m glad he moved to Puerto Rico.

Tech Director Spit Toxic Waste Long Before Anti-Semitic Email: Software Entrepreneur Dave Bateman Sent a Conspiratorial Screed This Week Alleging Jews Behind a Plot to Wipe Out Billions of people. “

“The founder of Entrata who sent an anti-Semitic email will sell his stakes in the company”


Here are a few posts from Kerry Muhlestein that I think you might like – or that, if you’ve got a certain mindset, I think you will absolutely to hate:

“How did we get the book of Abraham”

“Wrong Assumptions About the Book of Abraham”


I just watched a CNN special on James Taylor and Carol King, two of my favorite singers since my late teens. Great stuff. It really brought me back. And that’s a very long distance to go.


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