Weighing in on Catholic scientists, Christians on campus, and Jack Kemp Distinguished Lecturer Condoleezza Rice
Blinded by Science
Associate professor Andrew Shtulman is a victim of his own theory ("The Book of Shtulman," Spring). He desires to believe that science and religion are in conflict, despite historical and scientific facts to the contrary. He does not examine the hard sciences thoroughly before drawing some soft science conclusions that agree with a myth he bought into as an undergraduate.
Shtulman says, "Humans are a creature that's evolved to make do with reality, but not understand the way reality actually works. So we come into the world with concepts that help us deal with other people and deal with the environment, but those concepts don't necessarily help us understand what science has come to show us as the real workings of nature. And those kinds of concepts are the concepts that religion capitalizes on."
Catholics believe that God created the universe. His creative impetus set in motion all the laws of nature from which evolved particles, molecules, elements, suns, planets, plants, animals, and anything else out there in the cosmos which we have not found yet.
Throughout the ages man has studied physics, chemistry, and biology to figure out how God made the stuff of nature. Catholic scientists, among them many priests and some saints, have done their share to keep scientific discoveries moving forward. Since Shtulman particularly mentions evolution, let's look at a few Catholics whose studies helped develop the theory.
Blessed Neils Stenson (1638-1686), a Danish bishop, was the first to develop theories of fossils and geological strata leading to the revelation that the Earth was billions of years old.
John-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829), a French Catholic biologist whose theory of Inheritance of Acquired Characteristics led to the first theory of evolution in 1801. He had great influence on Darwin's theory written in 1859.
Gregor Mendel (1822-1884), a Catholic priest whose experiments with plants developed the mathematics of genetics and who is known as the "father of genetics."
As for the evolution of the cosmos, Georges Lemaitre, a Belgian priest physicist and contemporary of Einstein, is the father of the Big Bang theory.
From the beginning, the Catholic Church has never discouraged its members from accepting evolution as God's process for creation. Catholic schools teach evolution in their science curriculums. Shtulman's theory that religious people are ignorant of scientific reality and his implication that no scientists hold religious beliefs are wrong. It is especially worrisome that he is misleading his students and others who do not know the scientific and historic facts.
Kathy Whitney Barr M'78
A Case Study in the Liberal Arts
President Veitch's column in the Spring 2016 Occidental magazine ("'Tech's Hottest Ticket'? Your Degree") struck a chord. I have long been aware of the attitudes of some people regarding liberal arts education. These people are uninformed, both about the nature of a liberal arts education and the success that liberal arts graduates have had in our society. I suppose it is the job of people like President Veitch to educate these people, and his letter should be forwarded to newspapers and other forums where it can be read by the critics.
My personal experience as a liberal arts graduate supports President Veitch's arguments. First, after graduating from Oxy
in 1963 with an A.B. in physics, I entered UCLA. There I competed with baccalaureate graduates from places like Caltech, MIT, and Stanford. I found that I was never at a disadvantage in this competition. I did very well in my graduate-level courses in physics and mathematics. Of course, a primary reason for this was the fact that my Oxy physics professors were excellent.
Second, after receiving my Ph.D. from UCLA in 1970, I went on to a long career as a software and systems engineer. I did very little physics during this career; certainly my ability to solve problems was an asset. These problem-solving skills were born during my years at Oxy and then at UCLA. But I think one of my biggest assets was my ability to communicate, both in written and oral form. I was frequently called upon to write proposals for new work. I believe that my years at Oxy enabled me to use these skills. I believe it was these skills, along with my ability to organize information, that led to my positions in management.
When I worked at the Aerospace Corp., I became aware of the attitudes of some corporations regarding liberal arts educations. For example, Aerospace does not consider a B.A. (or A.B.) in physics to be a technical degree! That attitude is a manifestation of ignorance, and it needs to be corrected. I didn't have a problem with that attitude because of my M.S. and Ph. D.
I suspect that much of the conversation about education really has to do with the majors people select. Someone with a major in French, for example, could just have easily have graduated from UCLA as from Oxy. Certainly people with degrees in some majors have more difficulty finding jobs. My example (physics) is probably not typical. But the point about liberal education is about the breadth of the educational experience beyond the major—in my opinion, Oxy students get a much broader educational experience than, say, an undergraduate at UCLA. Add to that the small class size, and the quality of education at a small liberal arts college is hard to beat.
It is ignorant to suggest that liberal arts education is a "luxury" that society cannot afford. I believe that more people ought to be getting liberal arts educations, not fewer. If that were so, perhaps our political discourse would be more informed and polite.
Jim Craft '63
Christians on Campus
Because College leadership, during the presidency of John Slaughter, put Occidental's Christian founding and history in the closet—the final and most symbolic act being the removal of the cross from the renamed Herrick Interfaith Center—I was quite surprised to see three photos of Chinese international students involved in Christian activities on campus, camouflaged by the use of the word "InterVarsity" for each, in "American Dreamers" (Spring).
Given this recent College history, it's not surprising that there is no description or discussion of these particular participants' or others' adaptation experiences and the role Christian activities and fellowship played in them. As part of that, it would have been nice to know whether these students were Christians before they came to this country, or became believers either through these activities or otherwise after their arrival.
Because of the importance of "the fellowship of believers" in Christian life, I would expect that these students might have had a more positive adaptation journey, and not felt the alienation and loneliness that others might have. It would be a nice piece of research to do, but I'll bet that if it were, the results would never be published in anything other than a Christian journal.
Rosemary Allen Ph.D '62
The Rice Side of History
I read with great consternation and disappointment your article on Condoleezza Rice's visit to Oxy ("State of the Union," Spring). Rice, along with her former bosses Dick Cheney and George W. Bush, is virtually synonymous with the Iraq War, a clearly unjustified war of aggression. Notwithstanding the catastrophic outcomes (for example, ISIS) of this trillion-dollar war, the most damning statement for its perpetrators hearkens back to the post-World War II Nuremberg Tribunal.
U.S. Chief Prosecutor Justice Robert Jackson termed a war of aggression "the greatest menace of our times," while the Tribunal's judgment called such wars "the supreme international crime." As such, it strikes me as truly odd that not only would Oxy see fit to invite and honor a principal protagonist of such a war but that your magazine would then choose to mention this grotesque aspect of her record in only passing terms about a handful of silent protesters among the audience at her speech!
Double standards, selective principles, and relative morality are the bane of our otherwise free, open, and progressive society, and it seems that even the best among us are sometimes guilty of the practice. Truly sad.
Saif M. Hussain '77
After reading "State of the Union," I wondered if the Jack Kemp Distinguished Lecture Series had any other criteria for inviting speakers, other than "to engage the Oxy community in dialogue on public policy issues"?
Condoleezza Rice's tenure as secretary of state was riddled with catastrophic foreign policy decisions that led to an abundance of negative consequences regionally and globally, much of which the United States and the rest of the world is dealing with to this day. She freely admits that "Europe is in a governance crisis right now" due to an influx of Syrian refugees, but does not connect the dots to the Middle East crisis her policies helped create.
The only silver lining in the article was that "about 30 protesters … silently turned their backs to her" during her lecture. May I suggest that the committee charged with inviting future Kemp lecturers poll Oxy students about who they would want to hear from regarding public policy issues?
Shandiz Tehrani '00
Congratulations to the enlightened protesters who turned their backs on Condoleezza Rice, who was a ritual part of an administration crawling with mass murderers and war criminals. She is one of them! The misery and death they left behind just goes on and on. She has a lot of gall to show her face!
Anne Follis Huebner '51
Professor Lewis J. Owen (In Memoriam, Spring) was an outstanding and brilliant Renaissance scholar. His dramatic readings brought Elizabethan heroes to life, and showed the power of teaching as art. He will be missed.
Luis A. Cespedes '74
In "Looking for Consensus" (Spring), a photo of 3rd L.A. panelist Catherine Gudis, associate professor of history at UC Riverside, was misidentified as LA84 Foundation President Renata Simril. (Thanks to Ana Ramos-Sanavio '93 for noting our error.)