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Professor Sir Harold Kroto FRS

Nobel Prize winner, Professor of Chemistry and Patron of Humanists UK

I fully support the aims of the Association and am happy to do what I can to further them as I feel they focus on some of the serious issues that confront us now and will continue to confront us in the 21 st century.

In these disturbing times in which the political leaders of the USA, UK and Germany (Blair, Bush and Merkel) as well as countless organisations, using massive financial resources, strive to drag us all back towards the mind-set in which the Dark Ages were mired, the Champions of the Enlightenment are the freethinking Humanists. The challenge is however to maintain our democratic secular values, firmly set in doubt and rational argument, but still remain tolerant and steadfast in interactions with those who seek to undermine these values.

Harold Kroto was born in 1939 in Wisbech, Cambridgeshire, his parents having come to Britain as refugees from Germany in the late 30s. He was brought up and went to school in Bolton, Lancashire, and then graduated in Chemistry at the University of Sheffield in 1961. In 1996 he was knighted for his contributions to chemistry and later that year, together with Robert Curl and Richard Smalley (of Rice University, Houston, Texas), received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for the discovery of C60 Buckminsterfullerene, a new form of carbon.

As well as being a supporter of Humanists UK, Harold Kroto supports Amnesty International and founded the Vega Science Trust, which give scientists who are experts in their fields a broadcasting platform to inform students, teachers and the public directly about scientific matters that are exciting and also are of concern. His advice to potential scientists is “to do something which interests you or which you enjoy… and do it to the absolute best of your ability… Having chosen something worth doing, never give up and try not to let anyone down.” (From Les Prix Nobel, The Nobel Prizes 1996, Editor Tore Frängsmyr, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1997 – see below.)

On religion and ethics he has said:

At no point do I ever remember taking religion very seriously or even feeling that the biblical stories were any different from fairy stories. Certainly none of it made any sense. By comparison the world in which I lived, though I might not always understand it in all aspects, always made a lot of sense. Nor did it make much sense that my friends were having a good time in a coffee bar on Saturday mornings while I was in schul singing in a language I could not understand. Once while my father and I were fasting, I remember my mother having some warm croissants – and did they smell good! I decided to have one too – ostensibly a heinous crime. I waited for a 10 ton “Monty Python” weight to fall on my head! It didn’t. Some would see this lack of retribution as proof of a merciful God (or that I was not really Jewish because my mother wasn’t), but I drew the logical (Occam’s razor) conclusion that there was “nothing” there. There are serious problems confronting society and a “humanitarian” God would not have allowed the unaccountable atrocities carried out in the name of any philosophy, religious or otherwise, to happen to anyone let alone to his/her/its chosen people. The desperate need we have for such organisations as Amnesty International has become, for me, one of the pieces of incontrovertible evidence that no divine ( mystical ) creator (other than the simple Laws of Nature) exists.}

The illogical excuses, involving concepts such as free will(!), convoluted into confusing arguments by clerics and other self-appointed guardians of universal morality, have always seemed to me to be just so much fancy (or actually clumsy) footwork devised to explain why the fascinating and beautifully elegant world I live in operates exactly the way one would expect it to in the absence of a mystical power. Of course the excuses have been honed and polished over millennia to retain a hold over those unwilling or unable to accept that, as a Croatian friend of mine once neatly put it, “When you’ve had it you’ve had it”.

The humanitarian philosophies that have been developed (sometimes under some religious banner and invariably in the face of religious opposition) are human inventions, as the name implies – and our species deserves the credit. I am a devout atheist – nothing else makes any sense to me and I must admit to being bewildered by those, who in the face of what appears so obvious, still believe in a mystical creator. However I can see that the promise of infinite immortality is a more palatable proposition than the absolute certainty of finite mortality which those of us who are subject to free thought (as opposed to free will) have to look forward to and many may not have the strength of character to accept it.

… I have very serious personal problems when confronted by individuals, organisations and regimes which do not accept that these freedoms are fundamental human rights. I feel one must oppose those who claim that the “good” of the community must come before that of the individual – this claim is invariably used to justify oppression by the state. Furthermore there has never been any consensus on what the “good” of the community actually consists of, whereas for individuals there is little difficulty. Thus I am a supporter of Amnesty International, a humanist and an atheist. I believe in a secular, democratic society in which women and men have total equality, and individuals can pursue their lives as they wish, free of constraints – religious or otherwise. I feel that the difficult ethical and social problems which invariably arise must be solved, as best they can, by discussion and am opposed to the crude simplistic application of dogmatic rules invented in past millennia and ascribed to a plethora of mystical creators – or the latest invention; a single creator masquerading under a plethora of pseudonyms.” (From Les Prix Nobel, The Nobel Prizes 1996 , Editor Tore Frängsmyr, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1997 – see below.)

On accepting Humanists UK invitation to become “a Patron of Humanism”, he wrote: “I fully support the aims of the Association and am happy to do what I can to further them as I feel they focus on some of the serious issues that confront us now and will continue to confront us in the 21 st century.”

In July 2001 Kroto was one of the signatories to a letter published in The Independent which urged the Government to reconsider its support for the expansion of maintained religious schools.

In July 2009 he joined other eminent scientists and educators calling for vital changes to the proposed science curriculum for primary schools in England in a letter to the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families.

In March 2010 Kroto protested against the NAS (National Academy of Sciences) in the US hosting the Templeton Foundation’s infamous annual prize for ‘scientific’ research on the “spiritual dimension”. Kroto said, “For the National Academy of Sciences to get involved with an organisation like this is dangerous … The National Academy should look very carefully at what the majority of its members feel about the apparent legitimising of the scientific credentials of the Templeton Foundation.”

See also
His Sussex University profile
Autobiographical piece from Les Prix Nobel, The Nobel Prizes 1996 , Editor Tore Frängsmyr, [Nobel Foundation], Stockholm, 1997
Interview in New Humanist, November-December 2010.

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