On this date in 1929, Lewis Wolpert was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. He earned a degree in engineering from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg in 1950, and graduated from King’s College at the University of London with a Ph.D. in cell biology in 1961. He was a lecturer in zoology at King’s College from 1960 to 1964, and became a professor of biology as applied to medicine at The Middlesex Hospital Medical School beginning in 1966. He is currently an Emeritus Professor in cell and developmental biology at London’s Global University. He has written six books, including The Unnatural Nature of Science (1992), Malignant Sadness: The Anatomy of Depression (1999), and Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast: The Evolutionary Origins of Belief (2006). Wolpert was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1990. His wife, writer Jill Neville, died of breast cancer in 1997.
Wolpert grew up in a Jewish family, but became “a reductionist, materialist atheist,” according to an April 11, 2006 Guardian article. He wrote about his deconversion in Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast: “I was quite a religious child, saying my prayers each night and asking God for help on various occasions. It did not seem to help and I gave it all up around 16 and have been an atheist ever since.” In the book, he states that religion arose from humans’ evolutionary predisposition to look for cause and effect relationships. In his 2006 interview with the Guardian, Wolpert explained: “Once you had that concept which enabled you to manufacture complex tools, you then wanted to understand other things as well – why we got ill, what happened when we died, why the sun shone or disappeared. Those, too, must have causes. And that’s the origin of belief.” He is vice president of the British Humanist Association.