Louis Pasteur (1822-1995) was a French biologist who is renowned for his contributions to medical science particularly in the field of vaccination. To him we owe the first vaccines for rabies and anthrax. His discoveries have saved the lives of millions. He is one among the founders of bacteriology and is known as the father of microbiology. In his early life he was only an average student. However, his subsequent achievements made him a professor of Chemistry at Strasbourg University.
There are differing opinions on the religious side of Pasteur’s life. It is now a confirmed fact that a statement attributed to Pasteur was purely apocryphal. The following false quotation appeared after his death: “The more I know, the more nearly is my faith that of the Breton peasant. Could I but know all I would have the faith of a Breton peasant’s wife.” Pasteur did not appreciate the uncritical mixing up of science and religion. He held the independence view of the interaction between science and religion. Though a Roman Catholic, his was a sort of spirituality more or less freed from the traditional structures of religion.
Pasteur did not hide himself from religion. As a young, he wrote to his sisters, “If by chance you falter on the journey, a hand will be there to support you. If that should be wanting, God, who alone would take the hand from you, would accomplish the work.” His grandson, Louis Pasteur Vallery-Radot, held the view that Pasteur only borrowed a spirituality from Catholicism without religious practice. However, there are differing opinions that he was an ardent Christian throughout his life.
His son-in-law wrote of Pasteur: “Absolute faith in God and in Eternity, and a conviction that the power for God given to us in this world will be continued beyond it, were feelings which pervaded his whole life; the virtues of the gospel had ever been present to him.” The Literary Digest published on 18 October 1902 makes the observation that he was a praying man even while working: “Posterity will one day laugh at the foolishness of modern materialistic philosophers. The more I study nature, the more I stand amazed at the work of the Creator. I pray while I am engaged at my work in the laboratory.”