APS News


Stronger Stand Needed on Evolution

I have just read the APS News for April, 2004 and was interested in the article "APS Helps Local Organizers in State Battles on Evolution" beginning on page 5.

Particularly, the sentence on page 6 caught my eye: "Though evolution is a topic in biology, not physics, it's an issue that all scientists can get involved in."

The debate involves more than just biologists and geologists. Creationists, relying on a literal interpretation of scripture, estimate the age of the earth at little more than 6,000 years. This does violence to the considerable evidence from physics and astronomy of a much older earth, namely 4.5 billion years, and an even older universe, 13.7 billion years.

Moreover, anyone who has had the misfortune of being drawn into a debate with creationists will recognize the lengths they will go to distort information about the magnetic field of the earth (they assume a uniform decrease in B without the well-documented oscillations), and entropy.

The sentence in the article, though true, is too weak. This is an issue that is crucial to physicists and astronomers. I applaud the APS for taking a leadership role in this discussion.

Mary Lu Larsen
Towson, MD

Suppression of Thought is Alarming

Evolution is clearly evident everywhere in our environment, but I believe that true understanding demands that one start at the beginning and try to comprehend the cause of the universe, as well as the cause of its evolutionary changes over the 13.7 x 109 years of its existence. Students should be encouraged to think for themselves, to remain open minded, and to examine any explanation that is not shown to be fallacious.

It is incomprehensible to me that something has suddenly appeared without cause from nothing in a "big bang," and has spontaneously evolved in complexity over millions of years without intelligent direction from a "point" into the immense universe now observed.

In light of the second law of thermodynamics, it is equally incomprehensible that intelligent life has evolved spontaneously. One might expect that the course of evolution would be toward entropy—increased disorder—and chaos, rather than toward increased order, regularity and life.

Stephen Weinberg's testimony for suppressing any view other than evolution is perplexing. I believe that we should suppress nothing relevant, but instead encourage thoughtful students to decide complex matters for themselves on the basis of credible evidence.

Before "creationism" is dismissed with derision, a more plausible cause of the existence of the universe should be proposed and justified. Let us not abandon causality to defend atheism. I, for one, am not "fearful of intelligent design." I am more alarmed about suppression of thought.

William G. Pettus
Monroe, Virginia

Sleep-Retardant Column OK with Her

Since you printed two negative letters regarding the Zero Gravitycolumn "The Sleep-Retardant Properties of My Ex-Girlfriend" [February APS News], I assume that's predominantly what you received. Technically, I'm neither a subscriber nor a physicist. (I read my husband's copy of APS News.)

Perhaps I'm missing some nuances or subtleties they teach in quantum mechanics or particle theory, however, as an economist and a woman, all I can say is, lighten up! This was a darling column which I passed on to the stats teacher at our high school. I seriously doubt it will discourage any of the girls from continuing in math or encourage any of the couples to sleep together. But it might help them learn some basic principles of statistics. (Nothing motivates quite like wanting to get the joke.)

Marlys Stapelbroek
North Tustin, CA

Orodruinium: the Story Continues

The April "Zero Gravity"was incomplete in its consideration of the optical properties of Orodruinium. There is another exemption from invisibility in addition to cited case of D. L. Sauron. The additional exemption is T. Bombadil who surprised F. Baggins by not vanishing when he put on the ring. T. Bombadil also detected and 'saw through' whatever optical obscurity Orodruinium produces. This was demonstrated when F. Baggins put on the ring and tried to walk away. T. Bombadil's reaction was "Where be you a-going? Old Tom Bombadil's not as blind as that yet." Perhaps T. Bombadil's vision covers wavelengths not accessible to others.

Larry Crooks
Richmond, CA

Who Sponsors Bob Park?

As an acute reader of Bob Park's "What's New" email column I notice that the rejoinder about not being the opinions of the APS, "but they should be", no longer appears—only the University of Maryland.

In the past I have found Park's material to be a bit contentious, if generally correct. Recently I have found that I am in even stronger agreement with everything he writes.

We are living in times when the iconoclastic opinions of one who might be considered a maverick sound more and more like simple truth (of course, in my opinion). I find myself very pleased that APS continues to sponsor his provocative and useful column, and am equally happy that he longer needs that awkward rejoinder.

Benjamin Bederson
New York, NY

Editor's Note: Indeed, the awkward rejoinder no longer appears, but neither does the APS name as a sponsor. The University of Maryland has become the primary sponsor of "What's New". This should give Bob Park broad leeway to continue to express opinions in a column that has entertained many of us over the years.

APS encourages the redistribution of the materials included in this newspaper provided that attribution to the source is noted and the materials are not truncated or changed.

Editor: Alan Chodos
Associate Editor: Jennifer Ouellette