June 9, 1957 – Mike Wallace Interviews Dr. Ralph Lapp

Ralph Lapp

Nuclear physicist Dr. Ralph Lapp

On June 9, 1957, nuclear physicist, Manhattan Project participant, and advisor to the US War Department Dr. Ralph Lapp appeared on The Mike Wallace Interview on ABC.  In his introduction, Wallace explained that Dr Lapp had given up his research to crusade against nuclear bomb testing, the fallout from which he believed led to unacceptable levels of risk for cancer and birth defects.  There was disagreement within the Atomic Energy Commission and the scientific community over whether fallout was dangerous for the general population and Mike and Ralph discussed this issue in depth.  Other topics covered in the interview included the role of bomb testing as a counter to the military threat of the Soviet Union, how Dr Lapp felt personally about participating in the creation of the atomic bomb, his semi-serious proposal for creating sperm banks, and whether scientists were, or should be, religious men.

Dr. Lapp had the following to say:

On fallout testing: “If I say that the risk of inducing leukemia in a population is 100th of 1 percent, that may seem a relatively small risk.  . .  Although the relative number is small, the absolute number is large . . . a man who holds human life in great regard . . . views the absolute number as most significant.”

On the threat of the Soviet Union: “I have made this statement many times, that if we, the United States, were to cease our tests, unilaterally, I believe it would be interpreted as a weakness by the Soviet Union and I think eventually we would be ground under their heel.”

On his role in the Manhattan Project: “It is difficult to explain to a person who has never done creative research . . . the thrill that you get when you do something for the first time.  I think it is one of the greatest rewards that a scientist can have.  But we did hold meetings . . . when we talked about what the consequences of this would be.  On the basis of the intelligence given to us . . . we felt that we were in a race to beat the Germans to this weapon . . . Our worry was where would the United States be if Hitler turned up with this weapon and we did not have it?”

On the possible conflict between science and religion: “I would like to say that I think both strive for the same thing, which is the search for truth.  I believe that [scientists] are no more or less religious than ordinary groups, but my own feeling is that a scientist ought to be . . . when one penetrates into the mystery of science, you see so much.  The scientist has the key to open the door to a vaster understanding.”

Image Credit: International Magazine Services archive

Vintage 1957 – Church Membership Growing

Harrisena Community Church, Queensbury, New York, 1957. Photo: Harrisena Community Church

Harrisena Community Church, Queensbury, New York, 1957. Photo: Harrisena Community Church

On this autumn Sunday in 1950s America, church attendance was increasing steadily. The newly-published 1958 Yearbook of American Churches presented the most recent church membership statistics for the major faith traditions across the land. Three hundred million new members had joined a local congregation over the past year, expanding enrollments to a record-high 103,224,954 adults. Sixty-two percent of Americans claimed church affiliation, a booming post-World War II trend.

The change in membership figures from 1955 to 1956:

Protestant: 58, 448, 567 to 60, 148,980 (2.9% increase, 36% of US population)
Roman Catholic: 33,396, 647 to 34,563,851 (3.5% increase, 21% of US population)
Jewish: 5,500,000 to 5,500,000 (unchanged, 3.3 % of US population)
Eastern Orthodox: 2,754,315 to 2,949,123 (7.1% increase, 1.8% of US population)
Buddhist: 63,000 to 63,000 (unchanged, 0.04% of US population)

In 1957, Islam was not a major religion in America. Between the 1870s and 1924, a large number of Muslim immigrants arrived from the Middle East looking for greater economic opportunity. They settled predominantly in the Midwestern states. Detroit’s Ford Motor Company hired a great many of these early Muslim immigrants. The US essentially closed the country to immigration from 1924 until 1952. During this time, the US-resident Muslims built numerous communities and mosques. When immigration began again, a new wave of Muslims began to arrive from Palestine, Egypt, and Iraq. As of 1956, their numbers were too small to appear on the Yearbook of American Churches’ roster of major denominations.