More Good Definitions Concerning Physics/Science

                    It is not logical to leap from unquestioning acceptance of all experts to the dubious
                    virtue of always challenging authority and taking unpopular views.  Since the
                    1960s, it has seemed fashionable to assume authority wrong because it is
                    authority, and to feel that, if someone is not precisely correct in some particular, all
                    his or her statements are self-serving lies.  Unfortunately, blindly rejecting authority
                    can lead to the same types of problems as blindly following it.  Challenging proof,
                    demanding understandable explanations (while pursuing knowledge to further
                    understanding), and rigorously analyzing arguments are the stuff of intellectual
                    curiosity and progress.  Refusing to believe when you don't know any more than
                    the other person seems to me to be oppositional rather than intellectual. 

                    The Kansas State Board of Education, creationists in general, and Jamal (as
                    described by Singham) are not particularly shining examples of critical thinking,
                    careful weighing of evidence, intellectual curiosity, and rejection of intellectual
                    coercion. 
                                                                      W. C. Morrey
                                                            Florida Atlantic University
                                                                        Boca Raton 


                    Science does not operate through belief but through proof, experimental and
                    mathematical.  Once proof has been achieved, belief becomes irrelevant.
                    Therefore, it is not necessary to "achieve belief" or to use propaganda for that
                    purpose.  What is important is to teach the fundamentals of the scientific method. 
                    Belief is antithetical to the scientific search for evidence.  The believer is not
                    concerned with evidence except as it reinforces the belief.  The choice between
                    believing in science and believing in pseudoscience is no choice at all.  One should
                    believe in neither, but instead look for the evidence.  Even Galileo did not stand up
                    for what he believed--he only stood up for what he could prove. 

                    Because science is a collective, rather than an individual, endeavor, we can relate
                    to scientific issues that are beyond our current comprehension.  Specializing in
                    applied optics, I have lost intimate contact with the physics and mathematics of
                    cosmology, and I read the same popularized accounts that are available to the
                    layperson.  How then do I draw conclusions about cosmology?  The answer is
                    twofold.  First, I accord my cosmology colleagues the same respect and skepticism
                    that I expect from them.  Their conclusions, published in reputable, peer-reviewed
                    journals and not yet refuted, stand as the best that we currently know about the
                    topic.  Second, I do not necessarily accept these conclusions as ultimate truth,
                    since even peer-reviewed conclusions must also pass the test of time.  This may
                    take decades or centuries, but eventually, a surviving theory is established as fact. 

                    What distinguishes science from philosophy or theology is that the debate ends
                    conclusively at some point.  We know that Earth is not the center of the universe,
                    and we can describe planetary motions through Newtonian mechanics and even
                    apply relativistic corrections--such matters are no longer in doubt.  If students
                    cannot fully comprehend them, that does not mean that they are free to believe in
                    alternative theories.  That is what Singham should have told his creationist student,
                    rather than saluting his independent spirit.  Anyone ruled by a belief is the opposite
                    of an independent spirit.  And the students who accepted what Singham taught
                    were not necessarily dolts, but perhaps they suspected that the conclusions of
                    science were more likely to be correct than the pronouncements of
                    pseudoscience.  Perhaps they applied the same probabilistic judgment that we all
                    must apply when faced with issues beyond our ken. 

                    The corollary of the preceding is that teaching orbitals to 10th graders or the Big
                    Bang to college sophomores is a bad idea.  Students at those levels do not have
                    the background knowledge to appreciate such concepts.  "Introductory" modern
                    physics courses wrongly pretend to be science courses.  They should be thought of
                    as liberal arts courses, in which the students receive a necessarily superficial
                    overview to satisfy their curiosity about current topics and to expand their
                    imaginations.  Real science courses should be taught only when students have the
                    background to appreciate and understand the material, not when they must accept
                    what is presented by an act of faith.  We need to remove fluff and reinstate rigor in
                    science instruction.  Otherwise, fewer and fewer people will be able to distinguish
                    between the methods of science and those of creationism or other pseudoscience. 
                    And we scientists will have contributed by failing to understand and properly
                    propagate the scientific method. 
                                                                  Pantazis Mouroulis
                                                                Pasadena, California