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What price more food?

What price more food?

See newscientist.com for letters on: ● What price more food? ● Locust lunch ● Farmers’ 40 factor ● Saving savants ● You’re so special science – as if...

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See newscientist.com for letters on: ● What price more food? ● Locust lunch ● Farmers’ 40 factor ● Saving savants ● You’re so special

science – as if science could ever threaten anyone’s faith! How is it that scientists who are usually so careful to make statistically significant claims in their own field never bother to do so when speaking about religion? Christianity has to a great extent moved beyond the Middle Ages and incorporated modern thinking. I am a Christian and a scientist. I can think of plenty of brilliant Christian scientific minds – not to mention the medieval Muslim scientists without whom we would not, for example, even have zero. Krauss’s argument that faith prevents religious people from tackling climate change is appallingly mean and unfounded. The proof of human-induced climate change is so very obvious that no Christian would dare deny it. On the contrary, we see preservation of nature as an urgent duty. Chippenham, Wiltshire, UK From Richard Kubiak Lawrence Krauss’s brilliantly succinct, cogent and intelligent statement of the facts regarding the contrast between the breathtaking wonder of the universe we live in, and the limited, parochial and frankly self-obsessed view peddled by all the major religions (and political groups) was inspirational, if not radically new. I say this as someone baptised into the Catholic faith at the age of a few weeks – clearly at a time when my intellectual and spiritual development were at their height. When the world and humanity are facing unprecedented problems of global warming, overpopulation, inadequate food provision, AIDS, and the burgeoning capabilities of science to improve our lot or do it terminal harm, we need clear, rational, moral and scientifically informed thought of the kind Krauss promotes. We do not need doctrinal imperatives imposed from “above” (whether human or divine). Usk, Gwent, UK www.newscientist.com

You’re so special From Eric Erickson If nothing else, Christine Kenneally’s article “So you think you’re unique” (24 May, p 28) demonstrates our unique ability to assume that we are unique, and that the others, to their credit, overlap us in some degree. But suppose that this inquiry had been undertaken by geese. They would find that although humans can swim, they are not nearly as accomplished as the paddling geese. Diving under the water to catch a meal in a beak is quite out of our range. As individuals, we cannot fly. We fail miserably on goose measures of uniqueness. Each species can only be judged with respect to its own niche and its own ability to survive. Most do quite well, thanks; they just have different goals, and have no need for our specialisations. Durham, North Carolina, US From Tim Wells I find it laughable that because chimps and crows use bits of stick and grass as tools, some conclude that humans are less special or no longer unique. Show me a chimp which has designed, made and used a pair of pliers, and I will have more respect for this view. It is not the lumping together of all these things as “tools” which makes us similar, but the huge gap in technological capability and sheer brainpower that makes us different. Wootton Bassett, Wiltshire, UK From Fransje van Riel With regard to religion and the assumption that non-human animals do not have the capacity to believe in the supernatural, I suggest that religious teachers try to instil one specific theme: that human beings can effectively still the mind and live in the here and now. Peace prevails when these teachings are adopted. What these wise leaders are in fact telling us is to adopt an

attitude to life like that of animals. Surrendering to the moment and living in the present, without fear, worry or incessant thought preoccupying a large part of our lives, is most certainly unique to non-human animals. They therefore do not need religion. They really are so much more advanced. Cape Town, South Africa

Sailing into harm’s way From David Hankey Paul Marks points out the significant risks posed by the US fitting many more naval ships with highly enriched uraniumfuelled reactors in response to the rising cost of oil (14 June, p 24). But there is a third way. Naval vessels

research in one field can often be put to “good” or “bad” uses: in microbiology, for example, to warn us of an influenza epidemic or to produce organisms for biological warfare. This led the late Joseph Rotblat to propose the equivalent of a Hippocratic oath for scientists. Martin Rees, in Our Final Century, suggests that there should be constraints on scientific research. But it is surely not a contradiction to look forward to humankind as a global society. It will need a well-educated and stable population (lower than today’s) with adequate food and housing – and much less inequality. There must be universal access to healthcare, and to modern methods of contraception in particular. As Grayling notes, this can only be achieved by small steps over many years, but it is achievable. It does not need armies but does need education – and learning from experience – to change attitudes. London, UK

Henge bodge can be powered quite effectively using very low enriched uranium fuel, and run for over 15 years without refuelling, as shown in a paper entitled “An Integrated PWR for Marine Propulsion”, presented in June at the International Congress on Advances in Nuclear Power Plants. This promises to be safer, much more affordable and a less attractive target for terrorists. Market Drayton, Shropshire, UK

For better or worse From Douglas Holdstock, Medact A. C. Grayling identifies contradictory human endeavours, such as constructing weapons of war and rescue work (31 May, p 52). The underlying difficulty is that

From Ron Impey Mike Parker Pearson suggests Stonehenge was built, or rebuilt, to revere the dead (7 June, p 11). I suppose that there is no possibility that the buried ashes were the result of industrial accidents during its construction? Such losses would be likely in such a major operation – and this would be consistent with the dating of the remains. Perhaps there were hasty cremations before the health and safety executive of the day came round? Ipswich, Suffolk, UK Letters should be sent to: Letters to the Editor, New Scientist, 84 Theobald’s Road, London WC1X 8NS Fax: +44 (0) 20 7611 1280 Email: [email protected] Include your full postal address and telephone number, and a reference (issue, page number, title) to articles. We reserve the right to edit letters. Reed Business Information reserves the right to use any submissions sent to the letters column of New Scientist magazine, in any other format.

5 July 2008 | NewScientist | 21