Francis Crick

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Francis Crick : biography

8 June 1916 – 28 July 2004

Post-World War II

In 1947, Crick began studying biology and became part of an important migration of physical scientists into biology research. This migration was made possible by the newly won influence of physicists such as Sir John Randall, who had helped win the war with inventions such as radar. Crick had to adjust from the "elegance and deep simplicity" of physics to the "elaborate chemical mechanisms that natural selection had evolved over billions of years." He described this transition as, "almost as if one had to be born again." According to Crick, the experience of learning physics had taught him something important—hubris—and the conviction that since physics was already a success, great advances should also be possible in other sciences such as biology. Crick felt that this attitude encouraged him to be more daring than typical biologists who tended to concern themselves with the daunting problems of biology and not the past successes of physics.

For the better part of two years, Crick worked on the physical properties of cytoplasm at Cambridge’s Strangeways Laboratory, headed by Honor Bridget Fell, with a Medical Research Council studentship, until he joined Max Perutz and John Kendrew at the Cavendish Laboratory. The Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge was under the general direction of Sir Lawrence Bragg, who had won the Nobel Prize in 1915 at the age of 25. Bragg was influential in the effort to beat a leading American chemist, Linus Pauling, to the discovery of DNA’s structure (after having been ‘pipped-at-the-post’ by Pauling’s success in determining the alpha helix structure of proteins). At the same time Bragg’s Cavendish Laboratory was also effectively competing with King’s College London, whose Biophysics department was under the direction of Sir John Randall. (Randall had turned down Francis Crick from working at King’s College.) Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins of King’s College were personal friends, which influenced subsequent scientific events as much as the close friendship between Crick and James Watson. Crick and Wilkins first met at King’s College and not, as erroneously recorded by two authors, at the Admiralty during World War II.

He married twice, fathered three children and was the grandfather of six grandchildren; his brother Anthony (born in 1918) predeceased him in 1966 Francis Crick: Hunter of Life’s Secrets by Professor Robert Olby, Timeline, page ix,

  • Spouses: Ruth Doreen Crick, née Dodd (b. 1913, m. 18 February 1940 – 8 May 1947), now Mrs. James Stewart Potter; Odile Crick, née Speed (b. 11 August 1920, m. 14 August 1949 – 28 July 2004, d. 5 July 2007)
  • Children: Michael Francis Compton (b. 25 November 1940) [by Doreen Crick]; Gabrielle Anne (b. 15 July 1951) and Jacqueline Marie-Therese [later Nichols] (b. 12 March 1954, d. 28 February 2011) [by Odile Crick];
  • Grandchildren: Alexander (b. March 1974), Kindra (b. May 1976), Camberley (b. June 1978), and Francis (b. February 1981), Michael & Barbara Crick’s children; Mark & Nicholas, the late Jacqueline and Christopher Nichols’ children.Francis Crick: Hunter of Life’s Secrets by Professor Robert Olby, page 505

Views on religion

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

In his book Of Molecules and Men, Crick expressed his views on the relationship between science and religion.Of Molecules and Men (Prometheus Books, 2004; original edition 1967) ISBN 1-59102-185-5. A portion of the book was published as "" in Saturday Review (1966): 53–55. After suggesting that it would become possible for people to wonder if a computer might be programmed so as to have a soul, he wondered: at what point during biological evolution did the first organism have a soul? At what moment does a baby get a soul? 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. Crick felt that it was important that evolution by natural selection be taught in schools and that it was regrettable that English schools had compulsory religious instruction. 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. He was sceptical of organized religion, referring to himself as a skeptic and an agnostic with "a strong inclination towards atheism". — Crick described himself as agnostic, with a "strong inclination towards atheism".