Monday, September 13, 1999

Science and Religion

In " Science and ethical values" (July 24, 1999), I wrote about Battersby's criticism of Feynman's words, "ethical values lie outside the scientific realm." We find a similar debate in Holden's article "Science and religion: Searching for answers to cosmic questions" [1]. Holden reports about an event held in April of this year at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation and co-sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The purpose of the event was to exchange views among scientists and theologians about the questions: "Did the universe have a beginning?" "Was the universe designed?" and "Are we alone?"

Reading about opposing views is interesting. For example, the physicist Steven Weinberg says, "The laws of nature are cold and impersonal," but the physicist and theologian John Polkinghorne, "The world is shot through with signs of mind." About the "anthropic principle," Anna Case-Winters, a professor of theology, argues, "Both the universe's 'intelligibility' and its 'suitability' for life are evidence of the hand of God," but the physicist Alan Guth of MIT, "You can't talk about odds-defying circumstances when you have a sample of only one universe." And about applying theology to ethical debates in science, the paleobiologist Stephen Stanley of Johns Hopkins University says, "It will simply complicate an already complex issue," but Guth, "Much of the brainpower that has been thrown at ethical questions in science has come from theologians, so it is good for scientists to stay in touch."

I like the latter view on the application of theology or religion in the ethical problems of science. Bertrand Russell wrote in his book [2] about "one aspect of the religious life, and that perhaps the most desirable, which is independent of the discoveries of science, and may survive whatever we may come to believe as to the nature of the universe." It is to feel "deeply the problems of human destiny, the desire to diminish the sufferings of mankind, and the hope that the future will realize the best possibilities of our species." This religious feeling, independent of the discovery of science in the sense that it is irrelevant to the creeds of the existing religions about the birth and development of the universe, is important to help humans solve ethical problems of science. Directly with regard to these problems, John Polkinghorne writes [3] that one aspect of religious thought "relates to how all people of goodwill should seek to tackle the moral problems posed by the growth of science."
  1. C. Holden, Science, Vol. 284, p. 1258 (1999).
  2. B. Russell, "Religion and Science" (Oxford University Press, London, 1961; first published, Home University Library, 1935).
  3. J. C. Polkinghorne, "Belief in God in an Age of Science" (Yale University Press, New Haven, 1998).
Read essays related to Richard Feynman: "What Do I Care What Mr. Feynman Thinks?"

Tuesday, September 07, 1999

Atomic Bombing and Japan's Surrender: Letter to American Friend of Mine

Dear J,

I read your World War II experience and told my digested version to my wife Tei in Japanese. We were quite impressed by learning how you had overcome hard days and bravely fought against Nazi Germany.

As for Professor K's affirmative statement about atomic bombing, I'm afraid that it is too naive a thought. We find the following descriptions in Robert Jungk's historical work on the atomic bomb, "Brighter than a Thousand Suns":
The intelligence services of both the Army and the Navy of the United States were in fact at this date [note by T. T.: July 1945] already convinced that the final downfall of Japan could only be a question of a few more weeks. [After this sentence, the words of recollection by Alfred MacCormack, Military Intelligence Director for the Pacific Theatre of War, follows. (Page 188, Penguin English edition)]

The American historian Robert J. C. Butow, who has made a comparative study from both American and Japanese sources of the events that preceded the collapse of Japan, is of the opinion that at this period the war could very well have been brought rapidly to an end by diplomatic measures, ... But probably the main reason why the American government remained blind to the possibility of such measures was the knowledge that it possessed the atomic bomb. [Pages 189 and 190]
Not so small a number of conscientious and keen Japanese people in those days seem to have been noticing the same things as above at that time.

I also know a description similar to Professor K's statement, but consider that it was made by a superficial observation. The following is a passage from "The Making of the Atomic Age" written by the English nuclear chemist Alwyn McKay:
"Even after Nagasaki and the further blow of the USSR's entry into the war against them, the Japanese Army still refused to give in. The war was nevertheless ended by the personal intervention of Emperor Hirohito on 14 August. ... It certainly seems to be the case that the second atom bomb was necessary to ensure surrender." [Oxford U. P. (1984) page 117]
By the way, I exchanged letters with Dr. McKay, a retiree from AERE, and visited his home on the occasion of my academic trip to Europe in 1989 (he lost his wife a little before that time).

Best regards,


Note added later: In the millenium-essay column of a recent issue of Nature, Kurt Gottfried writes an article entitled "Moral calculus and the bomb" [1]. His opinion is well summarized in his last paragraph:
The use of the bomb in the Second World War illustrates the obvious in the starkest terms: moral calculus does not lead to unambiguous answers. And the whole history of the nuclear age shows that the combination of new science with the abandonment of a profound moral principle — in this case that civilian should not be military targets — can lead to awesome dangers that could not have been imagined at the outset.
In the above quotation, I would like to say "But" instead of "And." The awsome danger caused by the abandonment of a moral principle should be fed back to help unambiguously determine the answer to the question if the use of the atomic bomb was good or bad.
  1. K. Gottfried, Nature Vol. 401, 117 (1999).