User blogs

Tag search results for: "walter kohn"
Author/Compiler: Tihomir Dimitrov (; also see


Nobel Prize: Walter Kohn (born 1923) won the 1998 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on the development of the density functional theory, which fundamentally transformed scientists’ approach to the electronic structure of atoms and molecules.

Nationality: Austrian; later American citizen

Education: Ph.D. in physics, Harvard University, 1948

Occupation: Professor of Physics at the University of California, San Diego (1960-1979); Director of the Institute for Theoretical Physics, University of California, Santa Barbara (1979-1984); Professor of Physics at the UCSB, Santa Barbara (1984-1991); Professor Emeritus of Physics and Research Professor at the UCSB, Santa Barbara (1991-present).


1. In the interview, entitled “Dr. Walter Kohn: Science, Religion, and the Human Experience” (July 26, 2001), Dr. Kohn stated:

“I am Jewish and have a strong identification with Judaism. I would say I see myself as religious simultaneously in two ways. One is that I have found that religion, specifically the Jewish religion, has very much enriched my own life and is something that I have conveyed to my children and feel their lives also have been enriched by.

Secondly, I am very much of a scientist, and so I naturally have thought about religion also through the eyes of a scientist. When I do that, I see religion not denominationally, but in a more, let us say, deistic sense. I have been influenced in my thinking by the writings of Einstein who has made remarks to the effect that when he contemplated the world he sensed an underlying Force much greater than any human force. I feel very much the same. There is a sense of awe, a sense of reverence, and a sense of great mystery.” (Kohn 2001a).

2. To the question, “When you refer to yourself as a deist, I understand deism to mean the belief that some divine force set the universe in motion, but after that it’s basically a hands-off relationship. Is that what you mean by deism?” Dr. Kohn replied:

“It includes that. I see no reason to believe that every once in awhile the laws of nature, that as scientists we study, are suspended by divine intervention. But at the same time I do not see the universe as necessarily proceeding in a simple, totally predictable, mechanistic fashion. There continue to be very deep epistemological questions about the significance of sharp scientific laws like the laws of quantum mechanics and the laws that govern the nature of chaos. Both of these fields have irreversibly shaken the 18th and 19th centuries’ purely deterministic, mechanistic view of the world.

These are my reactions to your question as to how I see deism and your statement - to paraphrase what you said – that the world is set in motion by some divine force and now it runs on its own. I’m trying to say it’s not quite so simple. It’s incredible, one struggles for the right word. One feels awe and reverence for the world of experience and the world of science.

In any case there’s a sense of a world that to an amazing extent yields to our comprehension, but fundamentally remains incomprehensible. And because it is manifestly such a wonderful thing, it leads one – I follow here in Einstein’s footsteps – to sense some Force that can take responsibility and credit for it.” (Kohn 2001a).

3. To the question, “What do you think should be the relationship between science and religion?” Walter Kohn replied: “Mutual respect. They are complementary important parts of the human experience.” (Kohn 2002).

4. And to the inquiry, “What do you think about the existence of God?” Walter Kohn gave the following answer: “There are essential parts of the human experience about which science intrinsically has nothing to say. I associate them with an entity which I call God.” (Kohn 2002).

5. In his lecture Reflections of a Physicist after an Encounter with the Vatican and Pope John Paul II (April 20, 2001, University of California, Santa Barbara) Dr. Kohn said:

“Certainly science, especially physics and chemistry, is a very important part of my identity. But I also consider myself a religious person, and in two senses: one, based on my liberal Jewish upbringing which I have passed on to my children; the other, a kind of non-denominational deism which springs from my awe of the world of our experiences and is heightened by my identity as a scientist. It also includes a conviction that science alone is an insufficient guide to life, leaving many deep questions unanswered and needs unfulfilled.” (Kohn 2001b).