APS News


Religion is Not the Same as Superstition
Both as a religious person and as a scientist, I find myself wholeheartedly agreeing with Lawrence Krauss's position in the April Back Page on so-called Intelligent Design. What I find grossly unacceptable is the gratuitous attack on "religion". The issue is not religion, but superstition. There is a difference between the two.

To the overwhelming majority of modern religious Jews, together with thoughtful people in other religions, it is clear that a sort of complementary principle holds for religion, that religious belief cannot incorporate aspects that are in contradiction to scientific knowledge. As a simple example, a Jewish tradition forbids one to pray for something to not have occurred after the fact, because a request for divine intervention to undo a consequence of nature is considered blasphemous. Human beings have thought about religion for several thousand years longer than anyone has thought about physics. There is far more to "religion" than the claims made in its name by the Taliban or by the intelligent design proponents.

I am offended by the self-righteous arrogance of many of my colleagues, especially in physics, who make derogatory statements about things about which they have obviously not thought enough and about which they are inadequately informed. I doubt that Krauss would attempt to perform neurosurgery with what he knows, or whether he would be able to pass peer review for a biology grant. As much as I concur with his damnation of ID, I still question whether he understands evolution sufficiently well to provide a cogent summary of why it is the only scientific explanation or what exactly it explains.

When someone talks about "religion" and selects the most brutish and the most ignorant people claiming to be religious to stereotype religion in general, we are not faced with science; we are faced with demagoguery. I seriously doubt whether any self-respecting editor of a peer-reviewed scientific publication would recommend publishing unsubstantiated statements about religion based on a sample that is as biased as the worst examples of superstition.
Walter Schimmerling
Arlington, VA

Scientists' Arrogance Makes Matters Worse
It seems to me that Lawrence Krauss (APS News Back Page, April 2006) wishes to add to the controversy which he denies exists. The public perception that there is a controversy is documented by the statistics he quotes. The arrogance of scientists, illustrated so well by this essay, fuels the "controversy" and adds to the public distrust of science and scientists. Is it to much to ask that scientists admit that there are things unknown to science, that there are limits to the scope and depth of science, and that evolutionary theory is incomplete in its detail, particularly with respect to the descent of Man. One problem is the time scale of the evolutionary process. It is simply impossible to repeat the process of the evolution of the universe, including that of earth, and its inhabitants. The archeological record is incomplete and the gaps must be filled with reasonable speculation. If the goal is to educate the public, the public must be treated as a partner in the education process, not as backward bumpkins.

The public (mis)understanding of science is due, in large part, to the manner in which science is presented by our system of education. Try to do something about that, but don't claim infallibility; that claim is usually made by clerics. Lighten up, Mr. Krauss. We are all truth seekers! And we are not about to blow up the Supreme Court Building.
Fletcher Gabbard
McKee, KY

Origin of Life Still Controversial
Several times in his April Back Page article, Lawrence Krauss states that there is no controversy in the Darwinian theory of evolution. How can anyone claim that there is no controversy when the theory of how life originated on Earth, the very first step in the process of evolution of the species, is unresolved, with no convergence in sight among the diverse theories. The Oparin-Haldane hypothesis, tested by the Miller-Urey experiments, is now in disfavor, because there is no evidence that 3.86 billion yrs ago ( when over 30 life forms emerged rather rapidly), the Earth did not have a reducing atmosphere, there is no evidence of a prebiotic soup, and the earth was under heavy meteoritic bombardment during that period, hostile to life. A recent edition of Science (Vol 312, 14 April 2006, pg 179) reports on the current debate whether deep sea vents, or warm little ponds and any number of other chemical stew pots could have assembled molecules leading to life. And then come the astrobiologists who speak of panspermia, with meteorites bringing to Earth the first amino acids. This not considered controversy?

Add to this the next big puzzle: where, when and how (and even if) the earliest hominids became homo sapiens with "a living soul", and you would immediately be getting into another major controversy between ontological naturalism and a religious world view.

Science continually raises philosophical questions that go beyond the competence or purview of science, specially those dealing with origins.

I wonder if the real driving force behind ID-ers is not whether it should be called science or not, but rather the fact that evolutionists like Dawkins, and many others, use evolution to make philosophical statements, such as "the Darwinian world view makes belief in God unnecessary or impossible". The issue is not between creation vs evolution but rather creationism vs evolutionism, neither of which is science!
Kenell J. Touryan
Indian Hills CO

Occam's Razor Cuts Out Intelligent Design
Advocates of creationism and intelligent design accuse science of assuming methodological naturalism (the view that natural effects must have natural causes) a priori, thereby unfairly excluding their own ideas without a hearing. Lawrence M. Krauss (The Back Page, April 2006), rather than debunk this accusation, concedes their point by equating methodological naturalism with the scientific method.

However, the scientific method does not limit the kinds of causes that it can invoke when arriving at a theory. To choose among alternative theories that explain the same observations, science applies Occam's razor and adopts the most parsimonious. This "metaphysically neutral" criterion is one that creationism and intelligent design fail to meet.

So a theory is not scientific because it is based on "natural" concepts like matter and energy. On the contrary, such concepts have come to be regarded as "natural" because they are endorsed by science.
John G. Fletcher
Livermore, CA

Science is Trying to Silence Religion
The April Back Page headline, "When Worldviews Collide: Science and Religion Face Off Again", implies the face-off is between science and religion. The face-off is really between the secular and the religious citizens of our society.

I am a Christian, a Protestant with Calvinist roots (the worst kind), and have always believed that God reveals himself through his works in nature and in special revelation, for me the Bible. Since these revelations must be compatible, I have never had a problem with applying the scientific method to evolution or any other matter of science.

What really is going on in our society is that citizens with a secular bias are trying to silence citizens with a religious bias, even though our Constitution guarantees free exercise of religion for the religious and, I suppose, freedom from exercising religion for the secular.

The article in question admits, "science is not inherently atheistic. The existence of God isn't a scientifically testable proposition." If this is correct, God may or may not exist, and Evolution and Intelligent Design as a result are on an equal footing as far as science is concerned.
George A. Kuipers
Pittsford, NY

Evolution is not Dogma
In his April Back Page article, Lawrence Krauss says, "People who oppose evolution are really trying to take a stand against science and rationality." It's difficult for me to believe that he really means this. I know many people who do not believe in evolution. All are perfectly sane, many impress me with the depth of their understanding of life, and some are scientists (in various fields) who have a respectable list of accomplishments. They have no problem with science in general and have great respect for scientific methodology. They have one characteristic in common, however. They refuse to march in lock-step with a theory that they believe has not yet been fully tested.

The article's general belligerence doesn't help. A temperate approach in any discussion always makes it more believable. When science becomes an emotional issue, objectivity is lost. The great danger in an emotional embrace of any theory is that if a crack appears in the theory it is not noticed. Emotion blinds one from seeing its faults. What if Newton had demanded that his laws of motion be enshrined and never be challenged? The answer is simple: we would have never seen Einstein's theory of relativity.

Science has a very strong case for evolution. The evidence is impressive. Science doesn't have to depend on hyperbole to make its case. And science needn't be as nervous as Krauss makes it appear to be. Let's not blow it by becoming hysterical. Religion, if we dare use this term in a collective manner, has a difficult time proving its case. Its evidence is purely subjective–which doesn't mean that it is not true–and each person must judge Bible creation for himself or herself and come to his or her own conclusion. As Krauss accurately states, its rightness or wrongness cannot be fought out in the scientific arena. But let's not elevate the theory of evolution into being dogma so we defend it by edict and not by test. That would not be following scientific methodology.
Leonard C. Aamodt
Harrisonburg, VA

Intelligence Fellowships Go Back to 1979
I was pleased to learn from the article "APS Member Honored for Intelligence in the April APS News that Dwight Williams of Defense Intelligence Agency's MASINT organization received a DNI Fellowship for 2006, and applaud APS News for recognizing the honor. However, I would like to point out that although these Fellowships have just been designated "DNI Fellowships," there have existed "DCI Fellowships" since 1979. "DCI " designates the Director of Central Intelligence, who was both the Director of CIA and the overseer of all 15 Intelligence Agencies prior to Congress creating the DNI position in 2004. Many scientists (some APS members) have benefited from these fellowships over the 27 years of the program. Both myself and Dr. L. Dudley Miller (no relation) of the Army's National Ground Intelligence Center were DCI Fellows in the 1983 - 1985 fellowship period. Based largely on knowledge and experience gained during my fellowship tenure, I went on to chair the Intelligence Community's Directed Energy Weapons Subcommittee from 1990 to 1998, and was awarded the National Intelligence Medal in 1999 for work done while in that position. Hopefully, more physicists will be selected for this honor and its unique training experience.
Ronald I. Miller
Huntsville, AL
Editor's Note: Our sources in the DNI's office tell us that the DNI Fellowship is not simply the DCI Fellowship with a new name. It is a new program with different rules.

Quark-Gluon Liquid Report Contains Flaws
The piece "An Ocean of Quarks" in "Physics News in 2005", (pdf) included in the February, 2006 APS News contains some small errors.

In central collisions at RHIC, the total collision energy is at most 36 TeV, rather than the 40 TeV given in the article.

In addition, the references given are a poor match to the content of the item. The 4 experimental "white papers" were largely written in 2004 and do not claim the observation of a quark-gluon liquid. That claim is newer, most notably from the talks, press conference and press release at the April, 2005 APS meeting.
Spencer Klein
Berkeley, CA

Show Us the Evidence
James Hansen's Viewpoint column in the April 2006 APS News had a nice, but misleading and quite inadequate, graph of annual mean global temperature change showing measured temperature changes from about 1960 to present and projections to 2020. If he would really like to destroy Michael Crichton's objections to the projections for global warming, he should display a graph showing calculations that incorporate the known atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide since about 1800. Assuming that the period from, say, 1800 to 1900 could be used to establish the fine tuning needed to duplicate mean temperatures for that period, then the model should be able to predict what has happened since 1900. A duplication of known histories is always a firm requirement for the oil and gas reservoir simulations that I have done. The economic stakes are so very much larger for simulations of our climate system that it will be difficult to obtain the level of cooperation needed for greenhouse gas control without compelling evidence that the climate models are right. If we have the evidence, let's show it!
Stan Robertson
Weatherford, OK

George Valley Worthy of Commemoration
I was delighted to see the article on the George Valley Prize and the rather brief note of his contributions to the Radiation Laboratory. He was a "systems man" being essential to a number of important projects, particularly in the translation from the laboratory groups Receiver Components and Precision Circuits. He was a particular leader in the first radar bomb sight that alleviated Hap Arnold's inexperience of bombing through overcast; it provided a relatively accurate bombsight to the 8th Air Force Pathfinder planes, which previously could only drop bombs on "targets of opportunity" with the Norden optical bombsight. George was an organizer also of the Radiation Laboratory series of books. The APS Prize is most appropriate and much appreciated.
Britton Chance
Philadelphia, PA

Can DNA Code Rewrite Itself?
In his book Darwin’s Black Box, M. J. Behe describes frustration with trying to get the requirement that evolutionary molecular processes be randomly generated in infinitesimal degrees to agree with experimental observations. Those observations suggest that the evolutionary processes observed when unicellular organisms mutate occur too rapidly to be random and that the changes appear to be in groups of simultaneous changes.

I was impressed with the similarity of the behavior of the immune system with the kind of computer code that generates "popups" on an internet web site. If simple binary code run on a simple silicon-based CPU can rewrite itself under the influence of someone's mouse clicks, why couldn't the more sophisticated code in molecular systems rewrite itself in response to environmental stress? Why couldn't the "intelligent design" be in the cells as part of the DNA-RNA interaction with the chemical and physical environment? Why not hypothesize that a living cell could recreate itself by rewriting its DNA much like it rewrites an isolated portion in order to create an antibody? Perhaps biological states are selected by environmental inputs. This hypothesis is testable.

Isn't there anyone out there who thinks this is a fascinating possibility? If only I were younger!
J.W. Lane
Tallahassee, FL

Unexpected Bonus
My partner and I both enjoyed playing "Find the Physicists" in the April issue of APS News. But it turns out the story has an unexpected extra: Bethe appears twice, not once: "Lomb BET HE could..." and "could BE THE judge..."–kudos to the authors for this pleasant way to pass an hour (or so)!
John Bechhoefer
Burnaby, British Columbia


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
Staff Writer: Ernie Tretkoff