Simon conveys his "strong impression that we must now begin an active campaign to counteract popular belief in supernatural
power." He suggests that Nirenberg, as a Nobel laureate, make some kind of public statement regarding the "incompatibility
between natural law as discovered by application of the scientific method, and the experience of supernatural power."
Number of Image Pages:
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1987-05-23 (May 23, 1987)
Nirenberg, Marshall W.
Reproduced with permission of Ralph Simon.
Beyond the Laboratory: Professional, Personal, and Political Life, 1967-2002
I, a retired physicist, am writing this letter to all American Nobel Laureates in physics, chemistry and physiology or medicine
whose addresses I could find, to convey my strong conviction that we must now begin an active campaign to counteract popular
belief in supernatural power.
Fundamentalist religions may have served some useful purposes in the past, and still continue to do so in certain limited
areas. On balance, however, I believe they are now becoming a major impediment to the progress of the human species toward
a world that is relatively free from military conflicts and in which political, social, economic and environmental problems
can be investigated and solutions proposed and tested in a rational manner.
We find today in the United States, in a society that is scientifically and economically advanced, a strong resurgence of
religious fundamentalism. The advocates of this movement are becoming ever more powerful politically and their voices reach
a friendly ear in the White House. They cry out for such measures as the legalization of prayers in the public schools and
for the teaching of "creation science*' on an equal basis with evolution. Recently a federal judge in Alabama ruled
that textbooks which cover rational approaches to social or moral problems were advocating the particular "religion"
of secular humanism, and are therefore unconstitutional. Fundamentalists claim that the "absolute truths" regarding
such matters are revealed in religious dogma.
What all this is leading up to is very frightening. Why bother to make arms limitation agreements with the Soviets, to protect
the environment, or to pursue vigorously physical, chemical or biomedical research? Since the apocalyptic destruction of the
world is coming soon anyway, the only truly meaningful activity is the seeking of personal salvation.
My suggestion for an initial step to counteract this growing mania is for you, as a Nobel Laureate, to make some kind of public
statement regarding the incompatibility between natural laws as discovered by application of the scientific method, and the
existence of supernatural power. Since the general public understandably has a great respect for Nobel Laureates, such a
statement should help considerably to halt the current spread of religious fanaticism.
I would appreciate receiving your comments regarding the above suggestion, or any other ideas for a course of action that
you feel might be more appropriate and effective. We must do something; we cannot let human civilization, which has shown
such great strides in the last two centuries mainly because of scientific progress, go down by default.