[asa] American Phghsical Soceity News--April 2009 (Volume 18, Number 4)

From: Alexanian, Moorad <alexanian@uncw.edu>
Date: Mon Apr 06 2009 - 11:00:48 EDT


Back and Forth on Faith and Physics

What was APS News thinking in preparing its February issue? Almost an entire page is boldly devoted to "Faith and Physics"<http://www.aps.org/publications/apsnews/200902/profiles.cfm> by Alaina Levine, highlighting particular religious views of physicists Rabbi Kopelman and Reverend Heller. Why should their views on faith trump news of other things physical, as in American Physical Society News?

One could expect to read views like these in religious-tract magazines and perhaps even in many Sunday newspapers, but they do not belong in APS News unless there are plans to replace the "P" in APS with an "F."

Harry A. Schafft
Silver Spring, MD

I read with interest the article on Finding Sanctuary in Faith and Physics<http://www.aps.org/publications/apsnews/200902/profiles.cfm>, by Alaina Levine. Chief among the points made in the article is that there is no conflict between science and religion, as shown by Kopelman and Heller active engagement in both, and that there is no contradiction between them, in fact they can be considered as two sides of the same coin. I agree with the author on the conflict issue. There can be no intellectual conflict between two very different things, one giving limited but certain knowledge, shared by all human beings, the other providing opinions and moral rules, changing in time, changing for different ethnic groups, and all based on faith. I understand that religion and spiritual beliefs can motivate some scientists in their search to explore the beauty of the universe. At the individual level religion can be a strong, and sometime positive, force to motivate a human being, as can be other philosophical beliefs. Epicurus encouraged his followers to study natural philosophy to escape superstition and live with peace of mind. However at the social level-and we should not forget that all that we do has a social dimension-science and religion are very different. In our societies religions are powerful and rich organizations, and their representatives have different motivations in their actions from those of scientists. At the social level religion and science are often in conflict, as shown through past and very recent history. Compare the power and social impact of churches of any denomination with that of the American Physical Society. The bloodiest war in Europe, in terms of devastation and percentage of people killed, was the war of religions between Protestants and Catholics in the 17th century. Which is exactly why I am very happy to be a member of APS, while I am not a member of any church. Near the end of the paper Ms. Levine gives a quote from a 1940 Einstein paper: " ... science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind." But in a letter to Eric Gutkind in 1945 Einstein wrote: "... The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish. No interpretation no matter how subtle can (for me) change this."

Claudio Pellegrini
Los Angeles, CA

With all due respect to Reverend Heller and Rabbi Kopelman<http://www.aps.org/publications/apsnews/200902/profiles.cfm> (APS News, February 2009), it's a waste of time (mine, other readers), and space (yours), to try one more time to rationalize science and religion. It's really very simple logically: if "A" is contained within a circular boundary, then "NOT A" is outside of it! There is physics, and NOT physics, i.e. metaphysics. The former is independent of language, culture, religion-and usually politics! (The Bible falls with the same acceleration as anything else if released in the gravitational field.) The latter clearly is not. Anything contrived by man's primal imagination and fear, those metaphysical "things" outside of the circle, are all logically equivalent: if you accept at all, anything to do with those anthropomorphic male characters up there somewhere, then you might as well accept witches, demons, trolls, fairies (the one for the teeth comes to mind), etc. not to mention Santa Claus among other "things" (the list is endless as I'm sure you can appreciate). And as for the gobbledygook about "how" vs. "why," well-mathematics satisfies the first, again it's just pure logic, and the conservation laws answer the second. PLEASE, no more holy rationalizations, just "shut up and calculate" (so to speak).

Peter Hansen
Torrance, CA
Profiles in Versatility, Finding Sanctuary in Faith and Physics<http://www.aps.org/publications/apsnews/200902/profiles.cfm> by Alaina G. Levine was very interesting. But I am surprised that neither Rabbi Kopelman nor Reverend Heller touched upon some of the bridges between physics and religion which add strength to their convictions. For instance, if one was to assume that the theory of the Big Bang is correct, then one only has to look at the typical answer that physicists give to the question: "What caused the Big Bang?" The standard answer is that a physicist cannot answer that question. As it is the nature of physics to study only what can be measured and since one cannot measure what caused the Big Bang, that is out of the realm of physics. Hence we have come to a bridge between physics and religion or between physics and philosophy if you will. In this case one completes the other. Religion can go where science cannot dwell and the picture is complete.

Joseph R. Tatarczuk
Poestenkill, NY
Very glad to read the article "Finding Sanctuary in Faith and Physics"<http://www.aps.org/publications/apsnews/200902/profiles.cfm> by Alaina Levine in the February APS News.

The rational views of both Rabbi-Physicist Kopelman and Priest-Physicist Heller are similar and can be summarized as "they do NOT see a conflict between religion and physics."

As an atheist since my first day of Sunday school at age 6, my conclusion is similar. For a long time, there have been conflicts between religion and science. But I do not see them as necessary. Science and religion can remain true to their own separate domains without conflict.

The essence of religion is to establish a code for human behavior. Examples are the Ten Commandments and philosophical phrases such "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." This is essentially philosophy which does not have to be based upon anything but acceptance, belief or faith. No data or evidence is necessary. Dinosaurs are not relevant. Flat vs round Earth is not relevant. The motion of the Solar System is not relevant. Religious philosophy should be based on faith and belief, independent of extraneous factors.
The essence of science is to compile data about natural phenomena and try to describe them systematically and self-consistently. The ultimate goal is the universal description of all phenomena in this fashion, but that lofty goal is a long way off.

Any data and/or theory is under constant scrutiny and reassessment to be altered, changed, expanded, discarded or replaced in response to new and better input or insight.

There are no absolute truths in science, only an approach constantly seeking more accurate truths.

The two disciplines are in totally separate domains which do not overlap. Conflicts should be avoided by each discipline by remaining confined to its own separate domain. The World would be a much better place.

Chuck Gallo
Lake Elmo, MN

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Received on Mon Apr 6 11:01:56 2009

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