It is no surprise to discover that many Nobel Prize winners do not believe in a higher authority, and today we will discuss the 15 most famous atheist Nobel prize winners. The Nobel Prize is awarded to people with the highest intellectual levels, where such minds are used to promote science, peace or literature. And whether it’s correlation or causation, a significantly high number of Nobel prize winners are atheists, or at least non-religious, with 10.5% being atheists, agnostics or non-religious, according to Baruch Aba Shalev’s ‘100 years of Nobel Prizes.’ If you are more interested in learning about scientists who converted to religion after initially being non-believers, you can head on over to 6 Atheist Scientists Who Now Believe in God.
According to the aforementioned source, over 20% of the Nobel prize winners are Jewish, which is an astonishing statistic considering that worldwide, there are only 14 million Jews in the world, or 0.2% of the entire population. There can be no denying that Jews have made immense contributions to the world in various fields, having won in all the Nobel prizes categories that are offered each year, with 190 awards being won by Jews over the years.
In stark contrast, Muslims, with a population exceeding 1.6 billion, have only managed a total of 12 Nobel awards, with the most recent one being awarded to Pakistani Malala Yousufzai, who was awarded the Peace Prize at the tender age of 17. It is important to note that of the 12 prizes won by Muslims, 7 were in the Peace category, which may be evidence that maybe Muslims are not as bad as they are made out to be. The number of wins by Muslims can be compared to the number of wins by India, which with a population of 1.2 billion, also has 12 winners.
Of course, it is unsurprising that the vast majority of the winners are Christians, with Baruch Aba Shalev claiming that over 78% of all Nobel prize winners are Christians, with perhaps Martin Luther King Junior, who won the Nobel Peace Prize award in 1964, being one of the most famous Christians to have won the award.
It is important to note that there is a difference between an atheist and an agnostic; an atheist is sure that God does not exist while an agnostic believes that there is no evidence regarding the existence or non-existence of God. For our list of 15 most famous atheist Nobel Prize winners, we have only included the staunch atheists, which is why we had to leave out perhaps the most famous Nobel Prize winner of all time in Albert Einstein, who may have often identified as agnostic or non-religious, but was always opposed to being called an atheist. For our list of most famous atheist Nobel prize, we searched various websites such as Biography, and Time, to name a few, and from their lists, we extracted the winners who identified as atheists.
15. Wole Soyinka
Wole Soyinka is one of the most famous playwrights and poets currently alive, and was, in fact, the first African to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, in 1986. While you might think that Soyinka must have a lived an easy life, he actually actively participated in Nigeria’s movement to attain independence from Great Britain and had to suffer for his actions as well.
While Soyinka grew up in a Catholic background, he is now an atheist and is critical of organized religion, especially Islam considering the brutality being carried out in the name of the religion. In fact, he said that he would be happy if there was no religion in the world.
14. Pierre Curie
A French physicist who is perhaps less famous than his wife Marie Curie, Pierre and Marie won the Nobel Prize in physics along with Henri Becquerel for their research on radiation. Since the effects of radiation were not yet known, Pierre and Marie worked with radioactive substances without any protection whatsoever, and had Pierre not died due to an accident, he would likely have not lived a long life due to the level of exposure to radiation. Pierre did not believe in religion and his marriage to Marie was considered to be a secular one.
13. Mikhail Gorbachev
Gorbachev was the last ruler of the Soviet Union and was the leader of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, which dissolved when the Soviet Union did. It was Gorbachev’s policies of reform and openness which led to the end of the Cold War with the US, though it also inadvertently led to the collapse of the Soviet Union. However, the world recognized his attempts to stop the war and hence, awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990. When some magazines claimed that he had converted to Christianity in 2008, Gorbachev maintained that he was an atheist.
12. Hermann Joseph Muller
An American geneticist who was known for his outspoken political beliefs and inclinations, Muller is perhaps most famous for his testing of the effects of radiation on genetics, which earned him a Nobel Prize in 1946 for Physiology or Medicine. He remained an atheist throughout his life after becoming one in high school.
11. Francois Jacob
While Jacob was born to a Jewish family and raised with the religion, he did not ascribe to it and soon after his bar mitzvah, he announced that he was an atheist. For his work as a research biologist which saw him discover the effect of E Coli on the enzymes, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1965, along with his colleagues, Andre Lwoff and Monod.
10. Francis Crick
A biologist, biophysicist, and neuroscientist, he was one of the founders of the DNA molecule, a discovery which saw him win the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962 along with his co-founders. Crick was always an outspoken of organized religions and was a staunch atheist.
9. Paul Dirac
The number 9 on our list of most famous atheist Nobel prize Paul Dirac. His influence in the field of Physics is extremely high, as evidenced by the fact that he was credited as the founder of quantum physics, with his work in the field leading to a shared Nobel Prize in Physics in 1933. He was an outspoken atheist who criticized religion vehemently.
8. Pablo Neruda
We are continuing our list of most famous atheist Nobel prize with Pablo Neruda that was a Chilean poet, whose incredible works earned him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. He was described as an atheist in the book Pablo Neruda: A Passion for Life.
7. Jean-Paul Sartre
Sartre is probably one of the most famous atheists in the world and was a prolific novelist, political activist, philosopher, and playwright. Even though he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1964, he refused to accept the award, stating that it was against his beliefs to accept awards for his work.
6. Peter Higgs
Founder of the Higgs Boson particle, or the God particle as it came to be popularly known, Peter Higgs, also one of the most famous atheist Nobel prize won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2013 for his work and has been particularly annoyed by the name “God particle,” since he is an atheist himself.
5. Bertrand Russell
One of the most famous philosophers and mathematicians in recent history, Bertrand Russel was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950 for his writings. Russell’s writings often focused on religion as well, and while he often debated whether he was agnostic or an atheist, he accepted that he was an atheist in his biography.
4. Ernest Hemingway
We are continuing our list of most famous atheist Nobel prize with Ernest Hemingway that had a talent for writing that comes along once in a century. His writings earned him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1954 for his “mastery of the art of narrative.” While he was raised in a religious family and went to church regularly in childhood, Hemingway was not a religious man, according to his biographer, who even said that Hemingway was completely against organized religion.
3. George Bernard Shaw
One of the most famous and influential playwrights in history, George Bernard Shaw, number 2 on or list of most famous atheist Nobel prize was also an atheist, who had many quotes regarding religion. His incredible and thought provoking plays earned him the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1925.
2. Marie Curie
The more famous of the Curies, Marie Curie is one of the pioneers of radioactivity research, and has several records to her name, which includes becoming the first woman to win the Nobel Prize, the only person to win Nobel Prize for two different sciences (Physics and Chemistry) and is still the only woman to have won it twice. However, the accolades came at a cost, as she succumbed to diseases brought on by her exposure to radiation during her research. Like her husband, Marie was an atheist.
1. Linus Pauling
Topping the list of the 15 most famous atheist Nobel Prize winners, Pauling dabbed in multiple professions throughout his life and was a chemist, peace activist, biochemist, educator and an author at different points in his life. You can understand the value of his contribution by the fact that he wrote over 1,200 papers during his career, with over 850 being related to scientific subjects. While you might consider winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry a crowning achievement, which Pauling managed in 1954, that was not enough for this man. In 1962, he earned himself a Nobel Peace Prize because of his work as a peace activist, thus making him the only person in history to have two unshared Nobel prizes in his name, and one of only two people to have two Nobel Prizes in different fields.
While he was initially a Christian, he became a staunch atheist later in his life.