A Crick in the Neck of Religion

Chiropractor Kitteh got his degree by mail. It cost two boxtops.

Francis Crick co-discovered, with James D. Watson and Rosalind Franklin, the structure of DNA in 1953.

Wikipedia has an entire section of his article titled “Views on Religion”. That section starts off with:

Crick once joked, “Christianity may be OK between consenting adults in private but should not be taught to young children.”

To which I ask: How do we know he was joking?

The article mentions his book Of Molecules and Men:

[H]e wondered: at what point during biological evolution did the first organism have a soul?

This is one of my problems with Christianity. It places humans apart from animals as distinct and special. This belief then affects how we treat the other species we share the world with.

More specifically, can anyone answer the question? Were souls just floating around out in the ether waiting for humans to evolve?

If they weren’t waiting specifically for humans to evolve, then they must also latch onto any other passing organism, just like all other generalized parasites do.

If they were waiting specifically for humans, that would imply directed evolution or foreknowledge of events. I suppose if you’re religious, you can wave your arms and say “That’s it!” That answer doesn’t work for the rest of us.

And if souls were waiting for humans specifically, when did they jump in? Were they sitting around the African savannah watching our ancestors? Cheering and jeering them on?

“Evolve, dammit!”

“No! Not behind the bush! That’s where the lion is! You’ll never pass on your genes if you do that!”

The waiting must have been tedious:

“Well how about that one? It’s called ‘Lucy’. That’s a good name.”

“Nah. It only has a cranial capacity of 400 cc. Where would I hang the Van Gogh?”

Then later:

“Look! There’s a Homo!”

“They have as much right to marry as anyone else!”

“No! The others were Australopithecines. This one is more modern. Surely we can inhabit this one!”

“Maybe, but do you really want to live in something called Homo erectus?”

So if the souls were waiting specifically for Homo sapiens to evolve, when did they jump in? There are no sharp boundaries between species. The parents weren’t Homo erectus and their children Homo sapiens. It was a fluid and gradual transition. So how did the souls know when the species was ripe, and when did that happen?

Returning to the Wikipedia article, Crick wondered:

At what moment does a baby get a soul?

That, of course, seems to be the heart of the abortion debate. Fundies don’t seem to have a problem killing non-human life. They seem to use the alleged existence of the soul as the defining characteristic.

Crick stated his view that the idea of a non-material soul that could enter a body and then persist after death is just that, an imagined idea. For Crick, the mind is a product of physical brain activity and the brain had evolved by natural means over millions of years.

This view is held by many scientists, of course.

Crick felt that a new scientific world view was rapidly being established, and predicted that once the detailed workings of the brain were eventually revealed, erroneous Christian concepts about the nature of humans and the world would no longer be tenable; traditional conceptions of the “soul” would be replaced by a new understanding of the physical basis of mind.

The brain is amazingly complex. I’m not convinced we’ll ever have it completely figured out. Assume that we do. I know that won’t make “erroneous Christian concepts… [un]tenable”. We’ve known for quite a while that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old, but that hasn’t made young-Earth creationism go away.

Wikipedia also says:

Crick suggested that it might be possible to find chemical changes in the brain that were molecular correlates of the act of prayer. He speculated that there might be a detectable change in the level of some neurotransmitter or neurohormone when people pray.

This field of study is now known as neurotheology.

That Was All Foreplay

Anyway, all of the above is just background material to what I really wanted to write about: Sex!

I somehow came across a website called TheBestColleges.org. It’s an odd mix of useful info and trivia.

In the trivia department is an article titled “7 Generous College Donations (With Insane Strings Attached)”. I disagree. The strings aren’t insane, just a little quirky.

The last “generous” donation is by our old friend Francis Crick. They write:

Francis Crick, famed English molecular biologist and Nobel Prize winner for discovering the DNA molecule…

They have a factual error right out the gate. DNA was already known. He co-discovered its structure.

…was offered a fellowship (a senior office in British Universities) at the newly opened Churchill College, a constituent college of Cambridge University. However Crick, a staunch and rabid atheist…

Another error! People love to label any outspoken atheist as rabid. He was not. I happen to know he was vaccinated.

…only accepted the honor on the basis that a chapel would never be built at Churchill, a supposed center of science and technology. Much to his chagrin though, a donation was later made to the school for the sole purpose of establishing a place of worship on her campus which was accepted and Crick’s Nightmare was built.

That’s so typical. There’s always somebody out there who is so massively offended by the existence of a public institution that isn’t contaminated by religion that they have to do the infecting themselves. We need a vaccine for that.

Anticipating Crick’s tempter tantrum…

Don’t you love how they characterize his objections?

…Winston Churchill himself (the chairman) attempted to smooth things over by advising him that no one need enter the chapel unless they wished to do so and thus the building could simply be ignored. Crick replied to that letter with a donation to the school of 10 guineas for the establishment of a brothel to operate under the same logic which, sadly for future generations of Churchill’s students, was denied.

Seems logical to me.

9 Responses to “A Crick in the Neck of Religion”

  1. James Thompson Says:

    That is really funny at the end!

  2. Parrotlover77 Says:

    …I know that won’t make “erroneous Christian concepts… [un]tenable”. We’ve known for quite a while that the Earth is 4.5 billion years old, but that hasn’t made young-Earth creationism go away.

    The fundies will be fundies no matter what, but even the moderate Christians will find new ways for god to fill in the gaps. You can’t beat them all with historical or scientific facts alone.

  3. Jeff Says:

    Goddidit! What’s the matter with you?

    Meanwhile, that first quote is very good. I have to save that one.

  4. CriticalThinking1 Says:

    Many solid truths are uttered in Jest!

  5. Francois Demers Says:


    I do not know of any nation where separation of church and state truly exists. Where tried, the state failed (I live in the ex-Soviet Union, which would probably still exist if Lenin or Stalin had been clever enough to promote christianity: its system of ethics fits communism perfectly.)

    Science is not equipped to discuss theology. Theology is not equipped to discuss science. Why bother?

  6. Ron Britton Says:


    Science is equipped to discuss theology, at least part of it, as mentioned in the post above.

    Secondly, the failure of the Soviet Union had nothing to do with the separation of church and state. It failed due to an unviable economic system and an unsustainable Cold War.

    We mostly have church/state separation here. It’s not complete. It probably never will be, but it is worth fighting to keep what we have and to prevent further erosion.

  7. Parrotlover77 Says:

    I would take one step further back and say the Soviet Union’s economic system failed due to corruption. That’s not to say that I think central planning is ideal or that I even like it. But I do think that it has the potential to work better than the Sovient Union did, at least at smaller scales, if controlled by a democratic process where interests are more evenly represented.

    Dictatorships and corrupt governing entities are unsustainable. That has been and will conintue to be the downfall of many religions and religious sects, as well as governments.

  8. Ron Britton Says:


    Corruption can cause any government to fail. That’s why “banana republic” is a derogatory term.

    Don’t forget, though, that corruption doesn’t always occur in the classical bureaucrat-on-the-take format. Why is Medicare so much more efficient than our private medical insurance system? When a democracy allows a private industry to control a public need with no effective oversight, corruption is guaranteed.

    Nevertheless, top-down governance is usually less efficient than bottom-up governance. That’s why the Republicans shot themselves and their rich cronies in the foot by fighting health care reform as hard as they did.

    I really don’t care what form it takes. In fact, I’d be perfectly willing to accept some sort of 100%-private system, with government oversight, that covered everybody. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see that system cost less in the long run (even with profit being skimmed off the top) than what we ultimately ended up with (because capitalism is amazingly creative when it needs to be). I’d bet that a competitive, regulated, free-market system could have solved this problem.

    But the Republicans were so eager to protect their fatcat buddies’ obscene profits that they allowed the government to take a chunk of their market away. A fair slice of a giant pie may be bigger than a fat slice of a smaller pie.

  9. Parrotlover77 Says:

    Ron – Amen to all of that. I like the idea of a truly public insurance, a la France’s system, but a highly regulated private system apparently works extremely well in Germany. To me the most important factor is quality of care, not cost. But for the bean counters, cost seems to fall in line just fine with systems that focus first and foremost on quality of care.

    So, knowing that, I was not ready to go down in flames on the public option as many other liberals were. I just wanted a system that focused on mandating quality of care and regulated expenses as best as possible. We got somewhere further toward that goal, even if it’s not perfect, and for that I am thankful. There is still work to be done.

    Speaking of obscene profits, the insurance companies are already whining about the 80/85 spending requirement (depending on the entity, 80-85% of revenue must be spent on actual medical payouts and not ads, clerical work, forms, bonuses, etc.). If you ask me, that’s pretty lax considering that Medicare, if I remember correctly, only has about a 5% overhead. The ACA is allowing private insurers triple to quadruple the non-medical expenditure of Medicare.