Letter: The origins and purposes of National Science Week

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The Independent Online
Sir: One could take Bryan Appleyard's bleats against science more seriously if he had some credentials. But who is Bryan Appleyard?

Any author is vulnerable to folie de grandeur. The reason is simple. The press-cuttings agency sends him his own cuttings but no one else's. This naturally inflates the extent to which he thinks his book is talked about: 'Another Cabinet minister was involved in the fuss about my book.' What fuss? What book? 'Every attempt he has made in public to summarise my book has been wrong.' I should think that William Waldegrave has better things to do than summarise one's books. 'In one breathless sweep he took in all the greats: Aristotle, Gilbert Ryle, Joseph Conrad, Isaac Newton, Leonardo da Vinci and Bryan Appleyard.' Mr Appleyard tries to turn this into a joke, but it does not work. Believe it or not, this man takes himself seriously.

He attacks me, Peter Atkins and Stephen Hawking for over-reaching the legitimate bounds of science. Hawking is one of the most distinguished thinkers of our age and A Brief History of Time really is a prominent, talked-about book. Mr Appleyard has apparently read only one line of it, if he thinks that 'we would truly know the mind of God' is anything more than a picturesque figure of speech. It is no more about God than Einstein's 'He does not play dice.'

Peter Atkins's The Creation is not a 'dreadful' book, it is perhaps the most beautifully written work of prose poetry in all scientific literature. It is true that Dr Atkins and I go further than most scientists in attacking religion. The justification is simple. Religion does not confine itself to ethics and other non-scientific preserves: it strays massively and obtrusively into the territory of science. It has pretentions to explain life and the universe. A religion is therefore a rival scientific theory and it must be judged by the rigorous standards of science.

Religion can either claim immunity from scientific criticism - and drop its pretentions to explain anything. Or it can persist in its scientific ambitions - but then not squeal like a stuck pig when scientists subject it to the same critical scrutiny they would accord any scientific theory. You cannot have it both ways.

Yours faithfully,



24 March