Francis Crick, OM, FRS (1916 – 2004)

Distinguished scientist and humanist

Humanists UK was sorry to hear of the death of distinguished scientist, Nobel Prize- winner and humanist Francis Crick, in July 2004.

Francis Crick, with James Watson, discovered the double-helix structure of D NA in 1953. It became one of the most influential discoveries of our time – providing an explanation for the mechanism of genetic inheritance, and the basis of biotechnology, gene therapy and the forensic uses of DNA .

Crick lost his religious faith as a boy: “I realised early on that it is detailed scientific knowledge which makes certain religious beliefs untenable,” he said. His atheism was a strong influence on his life and career.

In 1960 Crick accepted a fellowship at Churchill College, Cambridge on condition that no chapel was built in the college; as a member of the Cambridge Humanist Society, he suggested as the title for an essay competition “What can be done with the college chapel?” and provided a prize for the best essay.

His work often took him into fields which had hitherto seemed more religious than scientific. Late in his career he moved into neurobiology and consciousness, arguing that our minds can be explained by the behaviour of billions of nerve cells and that his work in this field discredited the idea of the “soul”.

Like many humanists he was concerned about the rise of creationism, and in 2003 he joined many other distinguished humanists in signing a letter from Humanists UK calling for a new public holiday on 12 February to celebrate the birth of Charles Darwin.

See also some of his many obituaries: