Korean evangelist Sun Myung Moon fled through the back door of a heavily guarded hotel here Saturday morning as former followers turned critics picketed outside.

The protesters, bundled against the cold and rain, brandished placards blasting the Moon's Unification Church members for spreading a "horrible social disease" - their religious cult.

The demonstrators, many of them former "Moonies," and people from anti-cult coalition, distributed leaflets decrying "mind control" tactics - brainwashing, starvation and torture - they claimed are used to gain members for the Unification Church.

Inside, Moon had spoken in a passionless voice of love, values and scientific accountability to about 500 scientists - including five Nobel laureates - attending the seventh International Conference on the Unity of Sciences, which was set up and funded by the Moon organization.

Earlier in the week, as macabre accounts of cult violence in Guyana were being reported, some of Moon's harshest critics called a statehouse press conference here urging scientists not to attend the symposium and warning of ominous similarities between the Peoples Temple cult led by the Rev. Jim Jones and the Rev. Moon's more expansive Unification Church.

"I've worked with hundreds of Moonies and they say they're willing to die for Father Moo: they would also kill for him," said Jean Merritt, an expert on cults and a professor at Boston University.

Scientists who attended the three-day event that ended yesterday were "legitimiing demogogue and lending credence to a movement whose goals and methods find their most cogent parallel in the National Socialist movement in Germany under Hitler," former Unification Church official Allen Tate Wood told reporters.

Their participation in the conference was "equivalent to the nations of the would attending the Olympics in Munich in 1936," he said.

"Science is valid in any forum no matter who sponsors it - as long as it's free and open," countered Pulitzer Prize-winning Harvard historian Oscar Handlin, a speaker at the conference. "I'm not afraid of being corrupted; I'd speak to the Ku Klux Kalan if they let me."

It was Moon's first public appearance in the United States since a congressional investigation committee released its report Nov. 1, which found that Moon's multimillion-dollar operation has systematically violated tax, immigration, baking, currency, and foreign agent laws in his effort to build a global empire.

The committee, after an 18-month probe, also found the International Cultural Foundation, a part of the Moon empire that stages scientific gatherings, is one of several cultural, religious and political groups designed to "gain legitimacy for the Moon organization and expand its contacts with influential segments of society."

The committee's findings, however, were generally unknown or viewed with apathy or scorn by most scientists at the convention - all of whom reportedly received free transportation and room and board.

The scientists, nearly all of whom were heavily lobbied by Moon's opponents not to attend, said in interviews they either approved of the Unification Church, were unfamiliar with it or simply did not care about Moon's affiliation with the scientific symposium.

Eugene P. Wigner, a Nobel laureate in physics and professor emeritus at Princeton, said: "I don't know much about [Moon's] church but it seems like he's trying to make people kinder and more loving anf that's very nice."

"Moon's sponsorship has in no way affected the value of this conference; it's the most valuable, significant conference I have ever attended," said Dr. Daniel Lerner, a psychologist on leave from MIT, who said Moon's followers are "among the greatest young people we have today."

Other speaker as well as sponsors of the convention also characterized those attending as being "great minds and experts in their fields."

However, veteran science writer, Robert Cooke said, "That's not true, most of the scientists involved are - with a few exceptions - either retired, semi-retired or are not the leading" authorities in their fields.

"The only real purpose for this convention is as a public relations event for Moon," a source said.

The only cameras allowed on the main floor of the convention during Moon's speech were his own. The press was shunted off to the balcony and barred from the main floor to "maintain the dignity of this international gathering," according to officials.

It was a smoothly run operation, with dozens of Moon's guards - dubbed "hospitality" hosts - everywhere, barring doorways during his speech.

The Unification Church says Moon's critics have attempted to mar the altruistic purpose of the scientific conference by "feeding on the hysteria on the American people."