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Letters, PHYSICS TODAY 19 November 1999
American Center for Physics
One Physics Ellipse
College Park, MD

Of all the professions that should be able to pride itself in its pursuit of accuracy, I would think the physics community should lead the list. However, that does not appear to be a rigorous priority with Jean Kumagai when it comes to reporting on the Creation/Evolution debate (Physics Today, November 1999, "Physics Community - Scientists View Kansas Board's Decision as a Wake-Up Call").

In the article, there is nothing tongue-in-cheek about claiming that the Bible gives the value of Pi as "exactly 3", when in fact a simple reading of the appropriate passage yields:

1 Kings 7:23,26 -

He made the Sea of cast metal, circular in shape, measuring ten cubits from rim to rim and five cubits high. It took a line of thirty cubits to measure around it... It was a handbreadth in thickness, and its rim was like the rim of a cup...

Not only does the passage refer to the appropriate length of the measuring tape to use to measure the circumference rather than trying to define Pi exactly, but which diametral measurement would Kumagai like the author of 1 Kings to use when it comes to the continuously flared nature of the rim of the basin? Perhaps Kumagai can come up with a way of not only defining Pi to sufficient precision (by whose definition?), but also at the same time express all the defining dimensional parameters of a flared basin in less than 50 words. Of course the problem here is that these "one-liner" attacks against religious writings are e

xactly what people remember later, and unfortunately what they then use to form their opinions.

The late Carl Sagan attacked the same passage in the Bible in his book "Contact", along with several other spurious topics that any theologian could have instantly given him the correct answer to, had he really wished to engage debate. Kumagai, in Physics Today, certainly could have done without the adversarial references to the Bible in the full two-page article critical of Kansas educators. But instead, Kumagai further aggravates the animosity by the second example quoted where apparently the Bible is extremely bad science when it refers to the "four corners" of the Earth. Perhaps the Physics Police could detain us all the next time we wake up in the morning and exclaim "What a lovely sunrise", as we should really be declaring "What a lovely earth's rotation".

Come on fellow scientists. Let's tangle with each other over the science of Creationism/Evolution, not over spurious examples like those cited in the article. If Physics Today wants to be critical of those who do not automatically buy into the evolutionary teachings, then let's do the science in Physics Today. The common person in Kansas and every other state knows that NO scientist uses Darwinian evolution to solve physics problems in the laboratory. Random chance always gets the wrong answer. You might quibble with the dogma of the previous sentence, but no one quibbles with the percentage accuracy. And the public knows by common sense that this is what is at the heart of the debate. By ordinary real-life experiences, the public knows that the probability of anything complex self-organizing is vanishingly small. Only in Biology are we to believe that somehow random chance can actually defy the odds.

In my field of optical design, there is not enough time or space in the entire universe to randomly examine all of the possible design configurations for a straight-forward six-element lens system (called a double Gauss). For any real-world reasonably complex system we would care to examine, Nature does not have enough time or space either to sort through all the possible combinations. No researcher nor Nature, by random chance alone, can produce any meaningful improvement in a complex process. If you doubt this, then try it in your own field of expertise, and you will certainly get a much better feel for what the word "never" means (see for example: Thinking Like a Physicist, N. Thompson, Problem #35).

For those who don't believe that random chance produces garbage rather than ever-increasingly organized systems (e.g., life), let's debate the science, and the math, and the probabilities in the open forum. Let's do it in the schools too. That, fellow scientists, is what Kansas is trying to do. If the odds are with evolution scientifically, then science has nothing to fear from the open debate and the open learning process. If the odds show the current evolutionary thinking to be poor science, then the scientists can continue to search for better explanations without ridiculing others who think they have found one. Either way, the debate produces a better educated student and public.

David E. Stoltzmann

Optical Engineering of Minnesota
368 N. Ninth Street
Bayport, MN 55003