In Wikipedia and many other sources copying it, it is claimed that Lev Landau was an atheist (I have no problem to believe the claim), however the (two) sources are not satisfying at all, to me.

I would like to know whether Landau wrote something about God and/or atheism, or to read sources that mention his atheism other than "he was an atheist". I have found none thus far.

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    $\begingroup$ Sorry, but off-topic. The correct answer so far as science & math goes is "who cares?". $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 23, 2019 at 13:45
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    $\begingroup$ @CarlWitthoft I do, and the (currently) 3 anonymous people who upvoted. If you think the question does not belong in this stack exchange website, would you please recommend me a better suited one? $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 23, 2019 at 14:06
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    $\begingroup$ Can you explain why you think it matters? $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 23, 2019 at 16:24
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    $\begingroup$ @CarlWitthoft He is one of the greatest physicists and knowing details of his life can be interesting to many people (in particular physics students). This can help people make their mind. If that did not matter, many biographies would not matter either, I believe. The fact that Landau was atheist certainly does influence some people on their decision with their (a)theism. $\endgroup$ Commented Jan 23, 2019 at 18:34
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    $\begingroup$ I edited the question to make it more compatible with our on-topic rules: having some relation to the person's scientific work. You can roll back the edit if it does not reflect your wishes. $\endgroup$
    – Conifold
    Commented Jan 23, 2019 at 22:27

1 Answer 1


Short answer, yes. The lengthiest quote of Landau's on religion that I know of comes from his article The Bourgeoisie and Modern Physics, which I doubt has been translated into English. Here is the Russian source, originaly published in Izvestia VCIK in 1935. My edited Google translation of the relevant passages is below:

"However, one should not think that idealism is found only among pseudo-scholars. The physicists themselves are not consistent materialists. Their materialism is limited to a narrow area of ​​directly scientific work, and already their statements about physics contain idealistic nonsense and are almost indistinguishable from the usual arguments of bourgeois intellectuals. The only effect of the aggressively materialistic content of modern physics is the steady spreading of atheism among physicists. There is practically no major physicist who would not be an atheist. Of course, their atheism is not militant, but calmly gets on with the most benevolent attitude towards religion. Most of them lack the courage to openly admit that religion is against science.

Among physicists of the average hand, religious elements are more common, and it is not surprising that their fame exceeds their scientific value. This is the reason for the extraordinary popularity among non-physicists of the names of Eddington, Jeans and Abbot Lemaitre. Eddington and Jeans owe their fame not to insignificant (and far from always correct) scientific works, and not even to really nice popular books written by them, but to the fact that in these books they connect God to modern physics in every possible way.

Preaching physicists are an exception, but atheists do their best to confuse the situation also. It is difficult to describe all the various types of idealistic utterances that can be heard from them about physics.

[...] However, in their science, real physicists are constrained by the need to solve real problems and cannot afford the luxury of too much incomprehension. In relation to other sciences, they behave much freer. If we do not count history, the ideas about ​​which are, understandably, childishly naive (of course, in the bourgeois style), then biology is the one that gets it the most.

One of the most brilliant physicists of the world, Niels Bohr, recently published the book "Light and life", where he tries to convince the reader that modern physics is consistent with the unknowability of life. Needless to say, Bohr’s arguments do not stand up to either physical or logical criticism. It is surprising that a person who understands physics so deeply in scientific work could compromise it so much when it comes to biology."

The publication date, and the writing style, may sow doubt as to the sincerity of the views expressed. Almost everybody had to be an atheist and a Marxist in the Soviet Union of 1935. However, Landau was not one to just carry the Communist Party's tune. In April 1938 he was arrested for comparing Stalinism to Nazism, and was only released after Kapitsa, in a letter to Stalin, threatened to quit the Soviet atomic bomb project otherwise.

Moreover, Landau's atheist views are confirmed by his wife of many years, Kora, who, in her memoirs, relates a private conversation from after Landau's release in 1939. The Russian text of the relevant chapter is here, again I doubt it has been translated into English. My edited Google translation follows (Dau is Landau's nickname, Lifshitz is his well-known friend and co-author):

"Zhenka Lifshitz rushed after me. His first words to Dau: “Now do you understand what an ass you were to come back from your last foreign trip? What magnificent conditions the British offered you, along with the Americans, but you returned to your free country and got prison! Tell me honestly: do you regret that you returned to the Soviet Union?"

Daunka looked at Zhenka in surprise. “Have you fallen off the moon?” No! I do not regret and I will never regret! I look at my imprisonment simply as a nationwide natural calamity. In the Soviet Union, I met Kora. I divide my life into two epochs: before meeting Kora, the first, and the second - after meeting Kora. And then, despite the various distortions in the government system of our state, our socialist system is the fairest on the planet. Understand the main thing: Marxism denies all religions, and capitalism encourages the too multi-faced religion. You are a scientist. Try to combine science with religions. Science and religion are incompatible to the highest degree [literally, on the international scale]! Religions are the fooling of workers all over the planet."

  • $\begingroup$ "average hand" -> "average kind"? $\endgroup$
    – njuffa
    Commented Jan 23, 2019 at 23:21
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    $\begingroup$ @njuffa "Average ability", the Russian idiom literally says "hand". $\endgroup$
    – Conifold
    Commented Jan 23, 2019 at 23:25
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    $\begingroup$ I wouldn't consider Kora a reliable source. Besides, there was no atomic program yet. You might be interested in Feinberg's memoir $\endgroup$
    – user58697
    Commented Feb 1, 2019 at 20:51

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