ResponseToScienceAsReligion.PJS

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Fri Mar 10 18:06:03 EST 2017


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The following first appeared in the private email list IVy-subscribers,
which is available to all those who subscribe to the
printed magazine, International Viewpoints.
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$cience: the 20th Century Religion, Part 19
by Tom Fielder
7 Oct 00

Dear All for One and One for All,

I awoke this morning to a quiet, overcast Saturday morning, here at 
my humble abode in west Anaheim.  No one else in the family will be 
up anytime soon, but I had slept enough and was curious to see what 
that marvelous scientific invention of the Internet had deposited in 
my email folder since last I looked.

I see now that the good Mr. Spickler (with tireless assistance from 
his better half, Julie, no doubt) has leapt ahead in the Great 
Science Debate with a wonderful account of his absolutely marvelous 
surroundings on the campus of one of the pre-eminent academic 
institutions of our time.  Phil, I envy your circumstances.  I must 
drive for nearly half an hour (and more during rush hour, that 
oxymoron for the 7-8 hours during the day when no one, with the 
possible exception of the California Highway Patrol, can rush 
anywhere on our freeways, because there are too damn many other 
people, in that marvelous scientific invention, the automobile, 
trying to rush somewhere at the same time) to my job at the 
University of California at Irvine, to even come close to 
experiencing what you described in your latest missive.

I can whole-heartedly vouch for what Phil has written about the 
academic environment.  The opportunities for learning, experiencing, 
witnessing, and otherwise participating in a vast array of 
educational and entertaining (not to mention, for the most part, 
free) activities is surely unsurpassed in any other venue.  This is a 
large part of why I have continued to be drawn to these environments 
throughout my life, starting as an undergraduate at the University of 
Illinois, then graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison 
(a place which, if it could be transported intact to the west coast, 
would rank as one of the best places on Earth to live), follwed by 
employment at the Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, the City of Hope 
Medical Center, and finally UC-Irvine.

Yes, the activities, seminars, concerts, plays, etc., are wonderful 
perks of the academic scene, but for me, the main attraction has 
always been the people.  You find at these places the most vibrant, 
thoughtful, energetic, and creative folk that I have ever known, from 
the freshest of freshmen undergraduates to the most hoary professors 
emeriti.  Very few of them (there are *always* exceptions) are of 
such one-track minds that they do not delve into a wide range of 
accomplishments.  I have friends and acquaintances who are gourmet 
cooks, accomplished yachtsmen, symphony-level musicians, art 
historians, Olympic-class athletes.  They partake of the finest 
literature and ponder the deepest philosophical questions.  And, 
during their day jobs (which, incidentally, often run deep into the 
night as well), they also happen to be world-class scientists with a 
marvelous command of all the intellectual knowledge and skills which 
are essential for advancing the frontiers of human knowledge about 
the physical universe.  Incidentally, their ranks include Christians, 
Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Jews, and probably even one or two 
Jainists. :-)

Now it may come as something of a surprise to you, dear readers, that 
these scientists, whom I admire and am privileged to call friend, 
are, almost to the last man and woman, fairly normal human beings. 
(I hesitate to vouch for some of them, but only because I don't know 
them well enough.  Others seem to have achieved an intellectual 
prowess of such magnitude that perhaps they should be classified as 
another species altogether.)  They experience emotions, often of the 
"mis-" variety.  They raise children and commiserate over the trials 
and tribulations of said offspring.  They contend with backed-up 
toilets and recalcitrant motor vehicles.  They go to movies and shop 
at malls and vacation at mountains and beaches.  Some of them suffer 
from chronic diseases, both physical and mental.  They get sick and 
die.

Some of them, and I really should warn the more faint at heart that 
this will come as some shock, commit crimes and break moral and 
ethical codes.  Some cheat on their spouses, or their taxes, or both. 
Some have probably, from time to time, parked illegally, because a 
good parking place has become a rare commodity on many college 
campuses these days.  UC-Irvine has been the unwelcome host of 
several widely-reported scandals recently.  One involved a couple of 
scientists who allegedly stole the fertilized eggs of some patients 
at the campus fertility clinic and used those eggs to impregnate 
other patients, unbeknownst to both parties.  You can bet the 
University had some pretty embarassing egg on its face after that 
story hit the media!

So I will not argue with Dear Phil about the transgressions of 
scientists.  I will concede that Einstein encouraged the building of 
atomic bombs, although I could argue, rather successfully in all 
modesty, that Einstein's motivation, namely to prevent the Nazis from 
taking over the world, was fundamentally moral and ethical and was 
simply a case of self-defense.

I will concede that Edward Teller was one strange dude, that Werner 
von Braun was an unprincipled hired gun, and that a few Nazi 
scientists and doctors committed unspeakable atrocities.  Although I 
cannot provide any specific references, there were undoubtedly some 
Nazi scientists and doctors who were appalled at the actions of their 
comrades, and may have even tried to stop them, or at least defected 
in protest.

The examples of von Braun and the other evil doctors and scientists 
Phil described serve to illustrate an important point:  scientists 
are, first and foremost, human beings.  As such, you will always find 
amongst their ranks representatives of nearly every kind of human 
being that you can find in the general population.  There are 
scientists who are drug addicts, who suffer from severe mental 
illnesses, who are sociopaths.  There are scientists who are nuns and 
monks, who give all their earnings to charity, who work tirelessly to 
right wrongs and fight injustice, discrimination, pollution, and all 
the other evils that humans perpetrate on this world.  There are 
scientists who are sinners and scientists who are saints.  And you 
could make the same statements about any other occupation on this 
planet.

Where does all this leave us, dear reader(s)?  What are we to 
conclude from this seemingly endless debate about the moral and 
ethical standing of scientists?  Should we conclude that, through 
some mysterious process, humans who decide, often as very young 
children (as in my case), to become scientists, automatically 
metamorphose into inherently evil persons, bent on destruction? 
Perhaps we are supposed to conclude that, *because* of some 
pre-existing fundamental character flaw or implant or restimulated 
engram, these people were pre-destined to become scientists, because 
that was the only way they could legally go about committing the 
atrocities they so longed to carry out.

I will leave you to reach your own conclusion, since I have no other 
choice but to do so.  I suggest that, in doing so, you remember that 
atrocities similar to the ones which Phil so eloquently abhors have 
been committed by members of many other professions besides that of 
scientist.  That perhaps the defining characterisic is not 
"scientist", but "human being".  If scientists seem to be an easy 
target, it is only because they are the ones who have enabled the 
technological development of things like bombs and other destructive 
devices.  But do not lose sight of all the good and wonderful things 
their accomplishments have led to as well, not least of which is the 
computer on which I am composing this message.  Decry our lack of 
moral and ethical development as a species, if you will, but do not 
hold scientists, collectively, to blame for that, any more than you 
would hold every other person to blame.

And now I shall bring this message to a close, knowing full well that 
I have already exceeded my allotment of electrons for one morning.  I 
will leave to another day the subject of animal experimentation which 
Dear Phil has broached, a subject about which I have a few things to 
say, being a member of that group of scientists whom Phil has 
advocated as being the most appropriate source of experimental 
subjects to replace said animals in said experiments.

It's time to feed my kids and my cats, so I bid you all a good day, 
and until next time, I remain your faithful compatriot,

Tom Fielder

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Learning across a Distance implies Learning by Being an Effect.
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