Letters

Readers respond to Farhad Manjoo's review of "Isaac Newton."


Salon Staff
June 6, 2003 11:00PM (UTC)

[Read the review.]

"How do we know, when we launch a rocket to the moon Monday morning, that it'll be there, precisely, by happy hour Friday afternoon? We know it because the universe follows a few basic rules, everywhere and always. And is this not proof of some intelligence in the works?"

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The fact that rules govern the behavior of matter and energy in predictable ways doesn't indicate to me that someone had to design the rules. And the fact that humanity's further understanding of those rules lead to more complex and intricate predictions doesn't indicate (let alone prove) the rules had to be designed either.

But don't take my word for it. Edward J. Larson and Larry Witham (Nature, Vol. 394, No. 6691, 23 July 1998, p. 313) surveyed members of the National Academy of Sciences and found that among these greater scientists only 7 percent believed in a personal god. Biological scientists had the lowest level of belief in a personal god -- 5.5 percent as compared to 7.5 percent among physicists and astronomers.

That belief statistic is down from the last time Nature magazine published the beliefs of eminent scientists in 1934 and found only 15 percent believed, which was down again the previous study in 1914 that found 30 percent of eminent scientists believed in god.

It seems the more you know about science, the less likely you will need a creator.

-- Jason Freund

Farhad Manjoo's review of James Gleick's new book is generally excellent, although he commits two errors. The first is that Newton's second law does not state: "A body in motion carries a force, a measurable quantity," but rather that the acceleration of a body is proportional to the force applied and inversely proportional to its mass. In mathematical terms, accel=Force/mass. The usual form is Force=mass*accel, or F=m*a.

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The second error is in the sentences: "Why can everything that moves be mapped and measured and, stranger still, predicted? ... We know it because the universe follows a few basic rules, everywhere and always. And is this not proof of some intelligence in the works?"

This is not any sort of scientific evidence of intelligence behind the curtain, as it were, but rather an expression of religious faith, specifically deism.

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-- Brian Gregor

I generally enjoyed Mr. Manjoo's review of James Gleick's new book. However, I was a bit irritated at a few inaccuracies his physics and his philosophizing about the existence of God or gods.

First Mr. Manjoo's version of Newton's three laws were oversimplified and in the case of the second law, wrong.

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Second, Newton's laws are a model of how the universe functions mechanically. These laws fall apart when we observe the extremely small and the extremely fast. The study of these extremes have resulted in the sciences of quantum mechanics and relativity.

As to the divinity of these laws: If they are not correct, then it would follow that they are not divine. If they are not divine, then they cannot be used to prove or disprove the existence of God or any other divine being.

-- Sean Manion

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