Much of Linus Pauling’s immense success as a scientist can be attributed to his analytical approach toward the world. As a boy, in addition to participating in typical childhood activities, he often entertained himself by furthering his knowledge of the world. He became an avid reader at a very young age and collected rocks and insects with enthusiasm. The uncannily intelligent Pauling meticulously classified these collections, and always closely scrutinized what he read.
At times, these traits caused Pauling to form opinions that clashed with ideas that he had been raised to believe, and this led to a life crisis on at least one occasion. When he was eleven years old, Pauling spent some time reading the Bible and concluded that the stories related there must not be true. This resulted in him becoming an atheist – a conversion that he kept to himself for many years.
Although Pauling decided to keep religion out of his personal life, he undoubtedly encountered individuals from all types of faiths during his lengthy, prolific and very public career. One interesting and timely example of this is Pauling’s contact with Scientology in the 1960s. Scientology was founded in 1954 by L. Ron Hubbard, who would have celebrated his centenary birthday on March 13, 2011.
Hubbard was born in 1911 in Tilden, Nebraska. In 1930 he enrolled in George Washington University, where he studied civil engineering for two years before dropping out. In 1934 he embarked upon a career as a pulp and science fiction writer and, with time, became rather successful. He served in the Navy during World War II, and after his transfer to inactive duty in 1946, his life took a rather tumultuous turn when his first marriage dissolved and he encountered money problems.
By 1950, however, Hubbard was more or less back on his feet and his book, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, was published. This manuscript put into words a self-improvement process that Hubbard had been refining for much of his life, and which would later form the basics of Scientology.
In 1954 Hubbard established the Church of Scientology. The faith grew slowly at first, but eventually attracted a large following, and by the 1960s, Scientology – as well as Hubbard himself – had begun to attract a fair amount of controversy, derided by some as a cult or even a financial pyramid scheme.
With time the controversy increased, and in 1980 Hubbard disappeared from public view. It was rumored that he had died, but he was actually traveling around the Pacific Northwest in a recreational vehicle. In 1983 he settled in Creston, California, where he died on January 24, 1986 from a stroke. He was 74 years old. Today, Scientology remains a controversial subject but continues to be quite popular, particularly among celebrities.
Record of Pauling’s interaction with Scientology comes primarily in the form of two series of letters that he exchanged with different members of the church. Given his religious background, it comes as little surprise that Pauling was not particularly impressed by the tenets of the faith. In the first of the two correspondences – a letter sent to one Prentiss Choate on September 4, 1962 – Pauling writes:
I may say that I have read a certain amount of material in this field. It has, however, made a rather poor impression up on me. I don’t mean to say that there might not be some people would benefit by this sort of treatment, but I doubt that I could become convinced that it is worth-while – even though I am interested in mental disease.
His second exchange with a Scientologist serves to reiterate his disinterest. In a letter written on October 4, 1967, Pauling states unequivocally:
. . . I must say that I am not interested in Scientology and I never have been interested in Scientology.
In this same letter, however, Pauling mentions that there had, in fact, been a minor link between himself and Scientology.
My only connection of any sort with Scientology has been that some years ago I checked up on some statements about the connection of L. Ron Hubbard with the California Institute of Technology and with Washington University.
The incident that Pauling was addressing occurred in 1963 when he was reading the book All about Radiation, which features excerpts from lectures delivered by Hubbard in April 1957. In this book, Hubbard mentions that in 1945, he and another man went to Caltech to “organize these people so that some sort of sensible control could be monitored across the [atomic] bomb.”
This statement as well as others that portrayed Caltech scientists in a slightly negative manner understandably piqued Pauling’s interest. However, in looking in to Hubbard’s visit, he found no evidence that it had actually occurred.