Arthur Holly Compton (10 September 1892 – 15 March 1962) was an American physicist. In 1927, he won the Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery of what is called the Compton effect, in which a photon can interact with an accelerated particle. From 1941 to 1945, he directed a program to produce plutonium for military use within the scope of the Manhattan Project. He had ethical and religious doubts about continuing the project; yet, he did go on to participate with Enrico Fermi in achieving the first nuclear reactor, deciding that producing the atomic bomb would bring the war to a close more quickly. His work The Atomic Quest (1956) delves into the issues surrounding the production of the atomic bomb.
He was also interested in philosophical problems involving science, becoming vice-president of the American Philosophical Society. Among his interdisciplinary works are The Freedom of Man (1935) and The Human Meaning of Science (1940). He was the son of a Presbyterian pastor from whom he inherited a deep religious faith.
From 1938 to 1947, he was Protestant Co-Chairman of the National Conference of Christians and Jews, an important interfaith organization founded in 1927 as a united front to combat bigotry and promote understanding, and he served three terms on its Board of Directors after the war.
In his book The Freedom of Man, he said:
“We could, in fact, see the whole great drama of evolution moving toward the making of persons with free intelligence capable of glimpsing God’s purpose in nature and of sharing that purpose. In such a case we should not look upon consciousness as the mere servant of the biological organism, but as an end in itself. An intelligent mind would be its own reason for existence. “ (p. 140)
In 1957, he stated in :
“The great task is nothing less than developing a civilization in which men grow in true liberty, in order to be worthy of their magnificent heredity as sons of God”“Lebengestaltung und Menschheitsziele im Atomzeitalter,” in Universitas. Zeitschrift für Wissenschaft, Kunst und Literatur, Stuttgart 1957, 6, p. 613.
Recommended further reading:
Edward B. Davis, Three part series: Prophet of Science: Arthur Holly Compton on Science, Freedom, Religion, and Morality (available on ResearchGate)