Another Reason Why Atheists Should Be Respected: Their Commitment to Science

Science recently found a vaccine for the dreaded coronavirus. Its a modern miracle especially when you consider that it took Jonas Salk seven years to find a vaccine against polio. This blog wants to acknowledge atheist and their commitment to science.  Some of the most successful researchers and scientists have been atheist. Their work has bettered humankind and this blog would like to pose the question. Would they have made scientific breakthroughs if they were wrapped up in religious dogma? 

“I have never seen the slightest scientific proof of the religious ideas of heaven and hell, of future life for individuals, or of a personal God.” 

Thomas Edison 

Jonas Salk

I grew up in a medical family. My father practiced medicine while my Mom who worked in nursing dedicated herself to raising me but still kept herself certified and did her regular medical training so she could resume work if she wanted to do so. From time to time my Dad mentioned the name of what he considered to be one of the most respected men in modern medicine. His name was Jonas Salk and he invented the polio vaccine. Starting in 1941 he began to study flu viruses at the University of Michigan. In 1947 he accepted a professorship at the School of Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh. It was here that he started to research and study the polio virus. He accepted an award from the National Center for Infantile Paralysis shortly after starting his research and became convinced that a vaccine could be created. He discussed it with his team and committed it to research on finding a vaccine to solve a modern scourge at the time – polio. Polio was a disease that wrecked havoc in the United States at the time. It had left Franklin Delano Roosevelt who would become the United States President in 1933 in a wheel chair after being diagnosed in 1921. When Salk thought he had a vaccine a field trial was set up. It involved 20,000 physicians and public health officers, 64,000 school personnel, and 220,000 volunteers. In the polio epidemic of 1952 there were 3,145 people who died and over 21,269 who were in some form of paralysis. Salk’s vaccine worked and the news of the success was first reported on April 12, 1955. Salk made a conscious decision not to patent the vaccine or seek any profit from it. Instead he gave it away so that many countries could maximize global vaccination. His work led to the eradication of polio in the United States. In 1963 he founded the Salk Center for Biological Research in La Jolla, California. And for the remainder of his life, until his death in 1995, focused on finding a vaccine against HIV. My father revered Jonas Salk and talked about how his contributions to modern medicine bettered the United States and society. Its a story of how science improved the quality of life. The American Humanist Association whose goal is to teach people that you can be good without God awarded Jonas Salk the Humanist of the Year in 1976 for his medical research. 


The COVID-19 Vaccine and Reflecting on Atheist Commitment to Science 

It took seven years for Jonas Salk to find a vaccine for polio. For the coronavirus modern science has found a vaccine in less than one year. That is a miracle and for me it is an amazing development of science. Once again science has delivered and proven itself. My private hope in this pandemic is that the COVID-19 vaccine will inject hope and a new commitment to science and medical research. This pandemic is a once in a lifetime event, and to be able to witness this development is quite encouraging. When the vaccine is available I will take it and this blog encourages everyone who reads it to take the COVID-19 vaccine. When it comes to science this blog would like to acknowledge and draw attention to the atheists who have long dedicated themselves to science and scientific research in multiple disciplines. These are some of atheists over the course of time who improved the human race. 

  1. Thomas Edison who invented the light bulb. 
  2. Andrei Sakharov a Soviet nuclear physicist who invented the atomic weapon became a free speech advocate and opposed Soviet tyranny. He was targeted by the KGB and was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.   
  3. Alfred Kinsey pioneered work into human sexuality. 
  4. Rosalind Franklin whose work became crucial to the discovery of the discovery of the DNA double helix structure.
  5. Alan Turing who is the founder of computer science. He cracked German codes in WW II that helped the British war effort. 
  6. Stephen Hawking is known for his work on the universe. 
  7. Isaac Asimov is known for his work in biochemistry. 
  8. Sigmund Freud who was an Austrian neurologist who invented psychoanalysis. 
  9. Johannes Kepler who was a German astronomer and mathematician. 
  10. James Watson who did work on genetics. 
  11. Edward O Wilson whose work in biology has led many to call him the Charles Darwin of the 21st century. 

This blog could go on with a long list but I think I have made my point. Some of the most brilliant scientists have been atheists. Would they have been who they are if they were religious? Would they have achieved the same goals and breakthroughs in physics, medicine, astronomy, psychology, biology and more if they were consumed by religious dogma? This blog does not think that would happen. Again the atheist commitment to truth and science should be respected and modeled. And for those of you who doubt the importance of science maybe the COVID-19 pandemic will have given you some fresh reasons to appreciate science anew and to cherish it. Either way this blog celebrates the contributions by atheists and looks forward to more over the passage of time. 

3 thoughts on “Another Reason Why Atheists Should Be Respected: Their Commitment to Science

    • Yeah. Kepler was actually a monk or cleric, as those were the only professions of the time where someone would be able to be an educated astronomer.

      As for Asimov, I don’t know if he actually did any science other than his non-fiction science writing as well as his Golden Age SF. Asimov was always very full of himself and in the SF litfan grapevine was known to be an intellectual snob and womanizer (to the point of groping women in con hotel elevators, though that didn’t become general knowledge until after his death). Incidentally, Asimov died of AIDS contracted from a blood transfusion during surgery (this was before they had the ability to routinely screen blood donations).

      As for Dr Salk, he was Jewish (a culture with great respect for intelligence and learning and emphasis on the here-and-now, the opposite of Evangelicalism), though I don’t know how practicing he was. On one of my jaunts to AnthroCon in Pittsburgh, I toured the city museum near the convention center and they had a whole floor dedicated to an exhibit on Dr Salk and his polio vaccine. This was Pittsburgh and (like Misterogers) he was a local boy who made good.


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