“I want to give examples of two atheists.
The first is Lev Landau, the most brilliant Soviet physicist of this century.
He was the author of many famous books with his coworker Lifchets. I actually used some of these books as a student at M.I.T.
This is a story about Landau from his good friend and biographer Kolotnikov. This appeared in Physics Today. This is a story from the end of Landau’s life.
“”The last time I saw Landau was in 1968 after he had an operation. His health had greatly deteriorated. Lifchets and I were summoned to the hospital.
We were informed that there was practically no chance he could be saved. When I entered his ward, Landau was lying on his side with his face turned to the wall.
He heard my steps, turned his head, and said, “Kollat, please save me.”
Those were the last words I heard from Landau. He died that night.”"
Chandrasekhar was a famous astrophysicist. He won the Nobel prize in physics in 1983. He was a faculty member at the University of Chicago for many years. At the back of his biography is an interview. Chandrasekhar says,
In fact, I consider myself an atheist. But I have a feeling of disappointment because the hope for contentment and a peaceful outlook on life as the result of pursuing a goal has remained largely unfulfilled.
His biographer is astonished. He says:
What? I don’t understand. You mean, singleÃ¢â‚¬â€œminded pursuit of science, understanding parts of nature and comprehending nature with such enormous success still leaves you with a feeling of discontentment?
Chandrasekhar continues in a serious way, saying:
I don’t really have a sense of fulfillment. All I have done seems to not be very much.
The biographer seeks to lighten up the discussion a little saying that everybody has the same sort of feelings. But Chandrasekhar will not let him do this, saying:
Well that may be, but the fact that other people experience it doesn’t change the fact that one is experiencing it. It doesn’t become less personal on that account.
And Chandrasekhar’s final statement:
What is true in my own personal case is that I simply don’t have that sense of harmony which I’d hoped for when I was young. I’ve persevered in science for over fifty years. The time I’ve devoted to other things is miniscule.”