Oral history of British science

Wickramasinghe, Chandra (10 of 13).  Science and Religion: Exploring the Spectrum. Life Story Interviews

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  • Subjects

    Science and Religion

  • Recording date

    2015-07-28, 2015-07-29, 2015-07-30

  • Recording locations

    British Library, London

  • Interviewees

    Wickramasinghe, Chandra, 1939- (speaker, male)

  • Interviewers

    Merchant, Paul (speaker, male)

  • Abstract

    Part 10: Comments on relations between work discussed at end of previous track on huge informational content of evolution of life on Earth, and own agnosticism concerning the existence of a God. Mentions FH's book 'The Intelligent Universe'. Comments on continued tendency to favour model of development of sufficient informational content over large time and space scales of the universe without the direction of a supreme being/intelligence. [4:07] Comments on role of Bill Bevan [BB] [Principal of University College Cardiff, 1966-1987] in appointment of self to establish new Department of Applied Mathematics and Astronomy [DAMA], 1973. Story of development/growth of DAMA. Comments on resistance to own changes of existing members of staff of former Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics; perception of racism in response to self. Mentions appointment of FH as Honorary Professor, DAMA. Comments on relations with Hans [Dieter] Pflug [HP] through his work on evidence for bacterial microfossils in meteorites, including visit of HP to Cardiff, co-authored publications. Mentions summer meetings arranged by self in Cardiff on topic of cosmic dust/interstellar molecules. [13:20] Comments on decisions made in appointing new members of staff to DAMA. Story of experience of racism/discrimination at UCC, especially after resignation [in 1987] of key supporter BB, particular hostility of new head of department of DAMA. [21:03] Comments on support of family/friends during this period; threats of arson/kidnap/murder delivered under the door of office in DAMA; involvement of police. [22:44] Brief comments on/discussion of own suspicions concerning the individuals responsible. [23:09] Story of events [in 1981] leading to own participation as witness for the defence in trial of Federal Government versus the State of Arkansas [SOA] [concerning Governor of Arkansas' passing of Act including the statement "Public schools within this State shall give balanced treatment to creation-science and to evolution-science"], including invitation sent to FH (passed on to self) inspired by SOA representatives' awareness of book EFS [1981]. Brief description of own contribution to this trial, including own position on problems with terrestrial-bound ENS, including content of single question asked by representatives of Federal Government, questioning own concerns about improbability of terrestrial ENS, with content of own response. Comments on the trial Judge's summing-up, in which own arguments were understood as a alternative to terrestrial ENS, but not supportive of creationism; view now that this association with creationists may have been unwise; experience of meeting creationists through this experience (including impression that their thinking was "convoluted" and "ridiculous" but correct in its intuition of improbability of origin of life on Earth unaided). [33:43] Comments on nature/extent of awareness of creationism before participation in the 1981 trial. [35:20] Description of layout/physical space of the trial. Comments on/discussion of extreme political conservatism and racism of representatives of SOA. [38:34] Discussion of negative/hostile reaction in British scientific community/media to own participation on side of SOA in the 1981 trail, including possible contribution to discrimination/racism experienced in UCC at this time. [41:48] Story of origins of own and FH's interest in possibility that the Archaeopteryx fossil held by the London Natural History Museum [NHM] is not genuine, including role of Israeli physicists Cyril Domb [CD] and Lee Spetner [LS], visit by self to BM to photograph the Archaeopteryx fossil, analysis of photographs indicating signs of forgery in apparent preservation of feather-marks, publication of paper in the 'British Journal of Photography' and in the book 'Archaeopteryx: The primordial bird - a case of fossil forgery' [1986]. [47:37] Story of response of NHM to this book and paper, including public exhibition. Mentions articles critical of own/FH's arguments in journals 'Nature' [and 'Science']. Story of CD/LS's analysis of sample of layer of clay in Archaeopteryx fossil which may have allowed impression of feathers to be overlain. Comments on NHM's refusal to engage in further relations with FH/self; effect of work on this fossil in increasing antipathy of "biological establishment" to own/FH's work; view now that the fossil is a forgery but that engagement in this argument was unwise. [52:28] Comments on criticism of self/FH in letters to 'New Scientist' and 'Nature'; content of NHM exhibition defending authenticity of Archaeopteryx fossil; tendency for Archaeopteryx fossil episode to be used to undermine other aspects of own work with FH. [55:47] Comments on FH's view of response to Archaeopteryx fossil work. [57:01] Comments on relations with parents during 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, including frequent visits to Sri Lanka. Story of invitation in early 1980s from President of Sri Lanka to help found and serve (in 1980) as first Director of an Institute for Fundamental Studies [IFS], Sri Lanka; founding of IFS with inaugural conference; decision to leave Sri Lanka due to civil unrest. Comments on publication arising from inaugural conference of IFS. [1:04:10] Comments on father's ambition, as a young man, to pursue academic career; suspicion that father may have regarded controversial aspects of own career as unwise/incautious. [1:06:22] Comments on reasons why FH did not appear with self in trial of Federal Government versus the State of Arkansas, 1981, including other commitments due to his involvement (including meetings with Margaret Thatcher) in successful efforts to secure funding for Anglo-Australian telescope [AAT]; FH's experience of administrative difficulties at UOC; conflict between FH and UOC radio astronomers led by Martin Ryle, including personal/personality differences. [1:08:57] Comments on experience of meeting well-known scientists in informal setting of FH's home, including Francis Crick [FC]; FC's published work on future genetic engineering that echoed own/FH's work on panspermia. Very brief discussion of extent to which FC might be considered an influence on self and FH. [13:08] Comments on differences between FC's conception of panspermia as directed and own/FH's conception of panspermia. [1:14:55] Story of rocket project in late 1950s/early 1960s to collect samples from the upper atmosphere of Earth which yielded microbial material, including sudden end to this project following publication of discoveries, with dismissal of findings by claiming contamination of samples.

  • Description

    Life story interview with Professor of Astrobiology, Chandra Wickramasinghe

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