APS Should Be Neutral in Religion
The Viewpoint by Freeman Dyson entitled "Science and Religion can Work Together" (APS News, November 2000) makes a good point. Science and religion should work together. However, I would like to make a few observations.
As a professing Christian, I see no opposition between science and religion, between the Bible and the theory of evolution. God uses both general revelation (science) and special revelation (the Bible) to communicate with his creatures, and there can be no contradiction between them. Some Christians do a better job of harmonizing these revelations than do others.
But the issue lurking in the background is whether or not God exists, and if I had to make a choice between six-day creation with god and evolution without god, I would choose the former. Furthermore, whether "the scientific revolution brings benefits to everybody rather than widening the gap between rich and poor" depends entirely, in my mind, on belief in the existence of God.
I would like the APS to maintain a neutral position on this matter, as has the Constitution of the United States. These issues should be worked out in the private sector.
George A. Kuipers
Pittsford, New York
Website Borders on Racism
Thank you very much for printing Dwight Walsh's letter ("Help for Displaced Scientists," APS News, December 2000), which brought to my attention the fascinating website on US underemployment at www.zazona.com. As a Canadian citizen currently doing post-doctoral research here in the States (on a TN visa), I particularly enjoyed the "severed head dripping blood" graphics and the extensive, almost completely anecdotal, evidence.
Although I have a great interest in fair labor practices, and certainly would not support the wholesale transfer of American jobs to foreign economies, I must admit that the web site seemed more concerned with communicating that a large number of H1 visa holders were Asian, than with showing what impact the H1 visa has on the overall job market. I heartily encourage the APS to use APS News to stimulate debate. However, I must question their decision to publish this particular letter, which advertises a web site whose alarmist and almost exclusively non-quantitative content seems to run counter to the very ideals that the APS has recently enshrined in their mission statement. Indeed, the web site Mr. Walsh mentions seems to me (a male Caucasian of North American descent) to border on racist.
I would remind Mr. Walsh that the H1 visa comes with time limits. Furthermore, the same NAFTA agreement which allows me to work in the States, allows him to work in Canada - which, I believe, is in need of technical workers at the moment. In any event, I'm certain Mr. Walsh will be relieved to know that I'm presently looking for a permanent job - and that, despite the wonderful and informative years I've spent here in the States, that job will almost certainly be in Canada.
Lane Will Be Missed
Neal Lane's Back Page article on the new security environment in the January APS News was insightful, forthright and very much to the point. He will be greatly missed in Washington, not only for his exemplary service as head of the NSF and as Presidential Science Advisor, but also as one of the few physicists whose first and last names are anagrams of one another. The new administration would do well to find someone with this rare attribute to succeed him.
Loco Road, Colorado
Religious Insights Purely Metaphorical
Stephen Brush's thought provoking article scared the daylights out of me in as much as it illustrates the extent to which human error and lack of precision of thought can have potentially dire consequences for large segments of mankind. The examples given by Professor Brush of 'creationist' thought and motivations must make us wonder how fragile human reason really is.
t does not seem reasonable to argue with people who have no wish to discuss matters with a modicum of logic. Another gaping fallacy of many creationists (from the 'Bible belt') that Professor Brush does not discuss is that they seem to think that the Bible is the only true authority about the 'facts' that govern the Universe and the beings that live in it! Surely Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic, Mayan and a myriad other cultures past and present would have a thing or two say about such narrow-minded dogmatism, and advance their own vision of Creation and 'Supreme Being' as the 'real theory' of the Universe? Are various Educational Boards required to decide who is right by majority voting? This lack of uniqueness of description alone should be sufficient reason for regarding religious 'insights' (from whatever religion) to be regarded as purely metaphorical in content, possibly valuable as illustrating the depth and complexity of the human psyche, but not directly to do with the nuts and bolts of the Universe.
The beauty of scientific theory lies in the fact that it is governed only by the criteria of Occam's Razor, predictive power and the ability to withstand all experimental tests of falsification designed specifically to interrogate its validity. In the past, scientific theories (subsequently shown to be invalid) have sometimes been propounded and defended with religious zeal by misguided enthusiasts. Some of them (eg. racial supremacy of 'aryans', or Lysenkoism) have even inflicted incredible suffering on millions. The well-known instance of zealots harming the proper development of mathematical education in Eighteenth century England (in comparison with the rest of Europe) by a mistaken and slavish adherence to Newton's notation of 'fluxions' tells us that people can do lasting damage to a whole generation if allowed to go unchallenged.
The problem then has little to do with the obvious fallacies of creationism but about what people can do in a democracy when a small bunch of committed people start hijacking the educational system by practising a form of intellectual intimidation and terrorism sustained by spreading propaganda of the crudest nature among the nonspecialist public. A political/educational system which is unstable to such perturbations surely needs to be looked at again from a critical point of view, and if necessary, redesigned to avoid egregious outcomes such as those mentioned.
UKAEA Fusion, Culham Science Centre, United Kingdom