Humanist Profile: Francis Crick 1986 Humanist Distinguished Service Awardee

The Humanist, September-October 2004 | Go to article overview

Humanist Profile: Francis Crick 1986 Humanist Distinguished Service Awardee


"We must face the fact that scientific knowledge has led us into ways of thinking which are only partly in harmony with our genetic heritage. Are we prepared to face up to this very difficult problem?"--Francis Crick in the July/August 1986 Humanist

In 1953 Francis Crick and James Dewey Watson discovered the double-helix structure of deoxyribonucleic acid, or DNA. The two scientists subsequently received the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology in 1962 for their cornerstone scientific achievement. Crick then set to work to find the relationship between DNA and genetic coding. He was a visiting lecturer at the Rockefeller Institute in 1959 and a visiting professor for Harvard University in 1959 and 1960. In 1966 he wrote Of Molecules and Men, describing the implications of the recent revolution in biochemistry. In 1981 he wrote Life Itself'. Its Origin and Nature in which he pursued the hypothesis that the seed for life on Earth could have come from another planet.

Crick had studied physics earlier in his career but in his last decades he switched to neuroscience and was widely quoted regarding his nontheistic examinations into the border between living and nonliving. Indeed, Cricks reputation as an atheist and Humanist created controversy but he acknowledged that his rejection of a religious worldview helped form his reasons for investigating questions about life and consciousness. By 1986, when he accepted the Humanist Distinguished Service Award of the American Humanist Association, he was prepared to say, "It seems probable that brains are nothing more than neuronal machines. …

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