Natalie Angier (1958)
It was on this date, February 16, 1958, that nonfiction writer and science journalist Natalie Angier was born in New York City. After studying physics and English at Barnard College, she graduated with high honors in 1978. Angier wrote about biology for Discover Magazine, then worked as science writer for Time magazine. As science reporter for the New York Times, Angier won the 1991 Pulitzer Prize for beat reporting, then the American Association for the Advancement of Science Kavli Science Journalism Award the next year.
Angier has written several books: Natural Obsessions (1988), with insights on the process and personalities in cancer research, The Beauty of the Beastly (1995), about the power of symmetry in sexual relations in the animal world, Woman: an Intimate Geography (1999), a stereotype-debunking tour female anatomy and physiology, and The Canon: A Whirligig Tour of the Beautiful Basics of Science (2007), a layperson’s guide to science literacy.
True to her discipline, Angier refuses to go beyond evidence and empiricism, even in matters of religion and society. In a 2004 essay, Angier says,
Science can’t tell you whether God exists or where you go when you die. … Science trades in the observable universe and testable hypotheses. … Scientists, however, are a far less religious lot than the American population, and, the higher you go on the cerebro-magisterium, the greater the proportion of atheists, agnostics, and assorted other paganites. … Yet only a flaskful of the faithless have put their nonbelief on record or publicly criticized religion. … So, what keeps most scientists quiet about religion? It’s probably something close to that trusty old limbic reflex called “an instinct for self-preservation.” … After all, academic researchers graze on taxpayer pastures. If they pay the slightest attention to the news, they’ve surely noticed the escalating readiness of conservative politicians and an array of highly motivated religious organizations to interfere with the nation’s scientific enterprise.*
And in a 2001 essay, Angier admits,
So, I’ll out myself. I’m an Atheist. I don’t believe in God, Gods, Godlets or any sort of higher power beyond the universe itself, which seems quite high and powerful enough to me. I don’t believe in life after death, channeled chat rooms with the dead, reincarnation, telekinesis or any miracles but the miracle of life and consciousness, which again strike me as miracles in nearly obscene abundance. I believe that the universe abides by the laws of physics, some of which are known, others of which will surely be discovered, but even if they aren’t, that will simply be a result, as my colleague George Johnson put it, of our brains having evolved for life on this one little planet and thus being inevitably limited. I’m convinced that the world as we see it was shaped by the again genuinely miraculous, let’s even say transcendent, hand of evolution through natural selection.**
In the same essay, Angier muses on the social isolation of atheism: “Among the more irritating consequences of our flagrantly religious society is the special dispensation that mainstream religions receive. We all may talk about religion as a powerful social force, but unlike other similarly powerful institutions, religion is not to be questioned, criticized or mocked.”
Believing that students in school need a moment of science, Natalie Angier began a six-year appointment as an A. D. White Professor-at-Large at Cornell University in 2007. She is still a science journalist for the New York Times. It was Natalie Angier who said, “I may not believe in life after death, but what a gift it is to be alive now.”
* “My God Problem,” Free Inquiry magazine, Volume 24, Number 5, reprinted from The American Scholar 72, no. 2, Spring 2004.
** “Confessions of a Lonely Atheist,” in New York Times Magazine, January 14, 2001.
Originally published February 2011 by Ronald Bruce Meyer.