APS News Online

From: Alexanian, Moorad <alexanian@uncw.edu>
Date: Wed Dec 07 2005 - 23:30:36 EST

December 2005 Issue

Students Asked to Take Science on Faith

It is a mistake to identify the motivation to do science with the science itself. After all, Newton proceeded from a deeply religious point of view, and would likely assert a belief in intelligent design. Such an assertion is not science, but may be the inspiration to do science. Religion can motivate both art and science, but only the arts have made religion the subject of the discipline. Science has had very little to say about religion in any constructive sense. However religion cannot ignore science the way science ignores religion. Religion cannot ignore the fact that science continues to make statements about the world which turn out to be true. Intelligent design has nothing to say about global warming, but science is fully expected to yield useful results in the long run. Because science solves difficult problems which religion cannot, it is easy to see science as a competing, and more effective, religion. (See "Philosophy, Rhetoric, and the End of Knowledge" by Steve Fuller.)

The physics community contributes to this image when it puts forward the Bernoulli explanation of the picture on page 1 of the October issue of APS News. If the student blowing on the ping pong balls walks away with the idea that high velocity causes low pressure, she is infected with a magical view of the world. With such a view, she cannot understand; she can only hope to ask authority.
John W. Dooley
Millersville, PA

Many Scientists are Religious, Too

Regarding the comment by Steven Weinberg in the "Members in the Media" section of the October 2005 APS News: while his anecdotal experience of scientists not being religiously inclined may not be disputable, several studies have shown that it is not necessarily accurate on the large scale. Larson and Witham reported in Nature in 1997 that 39% of scientists believe in a personal God. An article in the Washington Times in the same year reported that "many scientists see God's hand" in evolution and cosmology. As a religious person and a scientist myself, I will add my own anecdotal experience of being acquainted with many scientists of a religious persuasion, including an entire organization, the American Scientific Affiliation.
Brian Thomas
Topeka, KS

Scientists: "Smarter Than Thou"?

Marshall Berman's back page article raises three important questions. (1) Why are Americans so anti-science? (2) Why is the furor focused upon the theory of evolution? And (3) what, if anything, should members of APS do about any of this? Here are my opinions.

People resent being coerced or ridiculed. Evolution is a required topic in a required subject in a required public education. Controlling biological texts is coercion. Evolution has been deliberately used to ridicule certain religious ideas, and vice versa. None of this helps anyone.

Scientists are perceived as having "smarter than thou" attitudes, which invokes either a "so who elected you God" or a "don't question authority" response. The result is a mean-spirited public exchange between those who insist evolution is bunk and those who insist evolution is fact.

The hallmark of theological statements is unchanging truth. By definition, a fact does not change, but theories are supposed to be subject to change. When a scientific theory is presented to the public as "fact," the public hears this as a theological statement and responds accordingly. Evolution is the only theory being defended as not subject to change. I think that is why it has attracted the furor.

Unless we teach the public the difference between a theory and a fact, and make it clear that even the most accepted theory (including evolution) is subject to change when new facts are discovered, things will get worse.
J.W. Lane
Tallahassee, Florida

Religious Bathwater May Contain Scientific Baby

The October 2005 Back Page article by Marshall Berman on opposing the Intelligent Design (ID) movement-which threatens to destroy science, secular democracy and public science literacy - prompted me to write this letter. I wish to aid Berman's holy cause by critically examining and expunging the so-called contributions to physics of ID-quacks, since believing in a designer obviously invalidates all of one's scientific ideas.

Faraday and Maxwell were devout Christians who believed in a Creator, so remove electricity and magnetism. Newton wrote extensively about his scientific findings glorifying the Great Designer, so calculus and mechanics and gravitation have to go. Even Einstein talked a lot about the "old one." Just to be careful, in case he was a closet ID guy, we'll expunge his contributions to physics, too. One must also worry about Galileo and Kepler, but I'm running out of space.

After getting rid of ID-tainted ideas, our remaining physics will be ideologically pure, democracy will be safe for our time, and public science literacy can only improve by not being hampered anymore with the crackpot ideas of scientific imposters like Kepler, Galileo, Newton, Faraday and Maxwell.
Edward J. Garboczi
Gaithersburg, Maryland

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Editor: Alan Chodos
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Received on Wed Dec 7 23:33:06 2005

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