Linus Pauling

On this date in 1901, scientist and peace activist Linus Carl Pauling was born in Portland, Ore, to Herman and Lucy (Darling) Pauling. His parents, of German Lutheran background, weren’t especially active in church affairs. His father died when Pauling was 9. He studied chemistry at Oregon Agricultural College, where he met his future wife, Ava Helen Miller, with whom he would have four children. In 1922 he enrolled at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), where he earned a Ph.D. in chemistry and then joined the faculty.

He would go on to become the only person to receive two unshared Nobel Prizes: Chemistry (1954) and Peace (1962) and is considered a founding father of quantum chemistry and molecular biology. His crowning achievement was to explain the carbon bonding in molecules such as methane. He later taught at the University of California-San Diego and at Stanford University.

The advent of the nuclear age turned the Paulings into peace activists who traveled and spoke widely. They eventually joined the Unitarian Church but Pauling was not interested in theology. On “The Phil Donahue Show” in 1967, Donahue asked him if he believed in God. Pauling replied, “No, I do not.”

In accepting the Nobel Prize for Peace for 1962, he said, “The only sane policy for the world is that of abolishing war.” The award recognized his six-year campaign to persuade the U.S., Great Britain and the Soviet Union to sign a nuclear test ban. Minimizing suffering was the key to ethics, he believed. He was named Humanist of the Year by the American Humanist Association in 1961.

He died of prostate cancer at age 93 at home in Big Sur, Calif. (D. 1994)

Freedom From Religion Foundation