Skip to comments.'Explore as much as we can': Nobel Prize winner Charles Townes on evolution & intelligent design
Posted on 05/16/2007 6:54:51 AM PDT by SirLinksalot
Charles Townes is the Nobel Prize Physics winner whose pioneering work led to the maser and later the laser.
The University of California, Berkeley interviewed him on his 90th birthday where they talked about evolution, intelligent design and the meaning of life.
I thought this would be good to share...
BERKELEY Religion and science, faith and empirical experiment: these terms would seem to have as little in common as a Baptist preacher and a Berkeley physicist. And yet, according to Charles Hard Townes, winner of a Nobel Prize in Physics and a UC Berkeley professor in the Graduate School, they are united by similar goals: science seeks to discern the laws and order of our universe; religion, to understand the universe's purpose and meaning, and how humankind fits into both.
Where these areas intersect is territory that Townes has been exploring for many of his 89 years, and in March his insights were honored with the 2005 Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities. Worth about $1.5 million, the Templeton Prize recognizes those who, throughout their lives, have sought to advance ideas and/or institutions that will deepen the world's understanding of God and of spiritual realities.
Townes first wrote about the parallels between religion and science in IBM's Think magazine in 1966, two years after he shared the Nobel Prize in Physics for his groundbreaking work in quantum electronics: in 1953, thanks in part to what Townes calls a "revelation" experienced on a park bench, he invented the maser (his acronym for Microwave Amplification by Stimulated Emission), which amplifies microwaves to produce an intense beam. By building on this work, he achieved similar amplification using visible light, resulting in the laser (whose name he also coined).
Even as his research interests have segued from microwave physics to astrophysics, Townes has continued to explore topics such as "Science, values, and beyond," in Synthesis of Science and Religion (1987), "On Science, and what it may suggest about us," in Theological Education (1988), and "Why are we here; where are we going?" in The International Community of Physics, Essays on Physics (1997).
Townes sat down one morning recently to discuss how these and other weighty questions have shaped his own life, and their role in current controversies over public education.
Q. If science and religion share a common purpose, why have their proponents tended to be at loggerheads throughout history?
Science and religion have had a long interaction: some of it has been good and some of it hasn't. As Western science grew, Newtonian mechanics had scientists thinking that everything is predictable, meaning there's no room for God so-called determinism. Religious people didn't want to agree with that. Then Darwin came along, and they really didn't want to agree with what he was saying, because it seemed to negate the idea of a creator. So there was a real clash for a while between science and religions.
But science has been digging deeper and deeper, and as it has done so, particularly in the basic sciences like physics and astronomy, we have begun to understand more. We have found that the world is not deterministic: quantum mechanics has revolutionized physics by showing that things are not completely predictable. That doesn't mean that we've found just where God comes in, but we know now that things are not as predictable as we thought and that there are things we don't understand. For example, we don't know what some 95 percent of the matter in the universe is: we can't see it it's neither atom nor molecule, apparently. We think we can prove it's there, we see its effect on gravity, but we don't know what and where it is, other than broadly scattered around the universe. And that's very strange.
So as science encounters mysteries, it is starting to recognize its limitations and become somewhat more open. There are still scientists who differ strongly with religion and vice versa. But I think people are being more open-minded about recognizing the limitations in our frame of understanding.
You've said "I believe there is no long-range question more important than the purpose and meaning of our lives and our universe." How have you attempted to answer that question?
Even as a youngster, you're usually taught that there's some purpose you'll try to do, how you are going to live. But that's a very localized thing, about what you want with your life. The broader question is, "What are humans all about in general, and what is this universe all about?" That comes as one tries to understand what is this beautiful world that we're in, that's so special: "Why has it come out this way? What is free will and why do we have it? What is a being? What is consciousness?" We can't even define consciousness. As one thinks about these broader problems, then one becomes more and more challenged by the question of what is the aim and purpose and meaning of this universe and of our lives.
Those aren't easy questions to answer, of course, but they're important and they're what religion is all about. I maintain that science is closely related to that, because science tries to understand how the universe is constructed and why it does what it does, including human life. If one understands the structure of the universe, maybe the purpose of man becomes a little clearer. I think maybe the best answer to that is that somehow, we humans were created somewhat in the likeness of God. We have free will. We have independence, we can do and create things, and that's amazing. And as we learn more and more why, we become even more that way. What kind of a life will we build? That's what the universe is open about. The purpose of the universe, I think, is to see this develop and to allow humans the freedom to do the things that hopefully will work out well for them and for the rest of the world.
How do you categorize your religious beliefs?
I'm a Protestant Christian, I would say a very progressive one. This has different meanings for different people. But I'm quite open minded and willing to consider all kinds of new ideas and to look at new things. At the same time it has a very deep meaning for me: I feel the presence of God. I feel it in my own life as a spirit that is somehow with me all the time.
You've described your inspiration for the maser as a moment of revelation, more spiritual than what we think of as inspiration. Do you believe that God takes such an active interest in humankind?
[The maser] was a new idea, a sudden visualization I had of what might be done to produce electromagnetic waves, so it's somewhat parallel to what we normally call revelation in religion. Whether the inspiration for the maser and the laser was God's gift to me is something one can argue about. The real question should be, where do brand-new human ideas come from anyway? To what extent does God help us? I think he's been helping me all along. I think he helps all of us that there's a direction in our universe and it has been determined and is being determined. How? We don't know these things. There are many questions in both science and religion and we have to make our best judgment. But I think spirituality has a continuous effect on me and on other people.
That sounds like you agree with the "intelligent design" movement, the latest framing of creationism, which argues that the complexity of the universe proves it must have been created by a guiding force.
I do believe in both a creation and a continuous effect on this universe and our lives, that God has a continuing influence certainly his laws guide how the universe was built. But the Bible's description of creation occurring over a week's time is just an analogy, as I see it. The Jews couldn't know very much at that time about the lifetime of the universe or how old it was. They were visualizing it as best they could and I think they did remarkably well, but it's just an analogy.
Should intelligent design be taught alongside Darwinian evolution in schools as religious legislators have decided in Pennsylvania and Kansas?
I think it's very unfortunate that this kind of discussion has come up. People are misusing the term intelligent design to think that everything is frozen by that one act of creation and that there's no evolution, no changes. It's totally illogical in my view. Intelligent design, as one sees it from a scientific point of view, seems to be quite real. This is a very special universe: it's remarkable that it came out just this way. If the laws of physics weren't just the way they are, we couldn't be here at all. The sun couldn't be there, the laws of gravity and nuclear laws and magnetic theory, quantum mechanics, and so on have to be just the way they are for us to be here.
Some scientists argue that "well, there's an enormous number of universes and each one is a little different. This one just happened to turn out right." Well, that's a postulate, and it's a pretty fantastic postulate it assumes there really are an enormous number of universes and that the laws could be different for each of them. The other possibility is that ours was planned, and that's why it has come out so specially. Now, that design could include evolution perfectly well. It's very clear that there is evolution, and it's important. Evolution is here, and intelligent design is here, and they're both consistent.
They don't have to negate each other, you're saying. God could have created the universe, set the parameters for the laws of physics and chemistry and biology, and set the evolutionary process in motion, But that's not what the Christian fundamentalists are arguing should be taught in Kansas.
People who want to exclude evolution on the basis of intelligent design, I guess they're saying, "Everything is made at once and then nothing can change." But there's no reason the universe can't allow for changes and plan for them, too. People who are anti-evolution are working very hard for some excuse to be against it. I think that whole argument is a stupid one. Maybe that's a bad word to use in public, but it's just a shame that the argument is coming up that way, because it's very misleading.
That seems to come up when religion seeks to control or limit the scope of science. We're seeing that with the regulation of research into stem cells and cloning. Should there be areas of scientific inquiry that are off-limits due to a culture's prevailing religious principles?
My answer to that is, we should explore as much as we can. We should think about everything, try to explore everything, and question things. That's part of our human characteristic in nature that has made us so great and able to achieve so much. Of course there are problems if we do scientific experiments on people that involve killing them that's a scientific experiment sure, but ethically it has problems. There are ethical issues with certain kinds of scientific experimentation. But outside of the ethical issues, I think we should try very hard to understand everything we can and to question things.
I think it's settling those ethical issues that's the problem. Who decides what differentiates a "person" from a collection of cells, for example?
That's very difficult. What is a person? We don't know. Where is this thing, me where am I really in this body? Up here in the top of the head somewhere? What is personality? What is consciousness? We don't know. The same thing is true once the body is dead: where is this person? Is it still there? Has it gone somewhere else? If you don't know what it is, it's hard to say what it's doing next. We have to be open-minded about that. The best we can do is try to find ways of answering those questions.
You'll turn 90 on July 28. What's the secret to long life?
Good luck is one, but also just having a good time. Some people say I work hard: I come in on Saturdays, and I work evenings both at my desk and in the lab. But I think I'm just having a good time doing physics and science. I have three telescopes down on Mt. Wilson; I was down there a couple nights last week. I've traveled a lot. On Sundays, my wife [of 64 years] and I usually go hiking. I'd say the secret has been being able to do things that I like, and keeping active.
'Faith is necessary for the scientist even to get started, and deep faith is necessary for him to carry out his tougher tasks. Why? Because he must have confidence that there is order in the universe and that the human mind in fact his own mind has a good chance of understanding this order.'
-Charles Townes, writing in "The Convergence of Science and Religion," IBM's Think magazine, March-April 1966
Who created us? U.S. vs. UC Berkeley beliefs
A Nov. 18-21, 2004 New York Times/CBS News poll on American mores and attitudes, conducted with 885 U.S. adults, showed that a significant number of Americans believe that God created humankind. UC Berkeley's Office of Student Research asked the same question on its 2005 UC Undergraduate Experience Survey, results for which are still coming in. As of June 8, 2,057 students had responded.
CLICK ABOVE LINK FOR THE TABLE THAT SHOWS THE RESULT
Yes, that is one of the standard “tricks” of evolutionists. If an advocate of ID (or creationism, for that matter) quotes an evolutionist criticizing the ToE, that is considered “quote mining” because the quoted scientist actually “believes” in the ToE. Apparently they consider the quoted scientist’s personal “beliefs” more important than a frank and honest statement.
I will agree that it is possible to quote someone “out of context,” and anti-evolutionists probably do it occasionally (as do evolutionists), but they don’t do it anywhere near as often as they are accused of it. In the vast majority of cases, the charge is a red herring.
DR Laughlin does not have a problem with ToE itself He has a problem with the way some people use ToE.
And how do you know that. You tried to speak for Isaac Newton earlier in this thread. Are you speaking for Prof. Laughlin now? Or do you know him personally?
Because Dr. Laughlin has quoted Pauli and said that people who abuse ToE are "Not even wrong."
I think you misunderstood Laughlin’s quote (which I posted earlier in this thread). He wrote:
“Evolution by natural selection, for instance, which Charles Darwin originally conceived as a great theory, has lately come to function more as an antitheory, called upon to cover up embarrassing experimental shortcomings and legitimize findings that are at best questionable and at worst not even wrong.”
He was referring to “experimental shortcomings” that “are at best questionable and at worst not even wrong.”
He was not saying that the ToE is “not even wrong.”
When he uses the expression “not even wrong,” he does not mean “right.” He means “worse than wrong,” i.e., “meaningless.”
OK, let me try that one more time. Laughlin’s quote is a bit confusing. His use of the phrase “not even wrong” applies to “findings,” — not to the Darwinian ToE itself. And as I wrote above, his phrase “not even wrong” means “worse than wrong.”
So the bottom line is that, in taking that quote an an endorsement of the ToE, I think you misunderstood it on two counts.
Guns do not kill. People use guns to kill. The Theory of Evolution is not wrong. People who abuse the Theory of Evolution are wrong.
(YOU)If you Google Dr. Laughlin's quote you will each and every reference to it is using it to support ID. (Every one except the stand alone reference on RussP's Great Quotes page and now RussP's repeat of the quote on FR). (emphasis mine)
Do you (in this context) equate endorsement with support? If you do, then I must inform you that I do not. We can offer a quote in support of a position, or some aspect of a position, without representing the quote as an endorsement of said position. You seem to implicitly acknowledge this fact when you exempt RussPs use of the quote from your general observation about its use otherwise in all of Googleland. I must say that I am not ready to accept the idea that in all instances of the quote in Google are we to admit the term support and the term endorsement as having the same meaning, but neither is it worth the exhaustive effort of running down and analyzing every instance of the use of the good Professors quote. Nonetheless, I cannot help but note the irony of the fact that, by exempting RussP from your general citing of Google, you have fairly laid yourself open to the charge of taking him out of context.
Ive pinged RussP in order to offer him the opportunity of correcting any misimpression I may have regarding his thoughts or attitudes respecting this issue.
No exhaustive efforts are required. Just use the Google searach term:
"the Darwinian theory has become an all-purpose obstacle to thought rather than an enabler of scientific advance" -gilder
Every reference to the quote comes from Gilder. Every reference except for RussP's references.
Do you (in this context) equate endorsement with support?
Laughlin's quote does not endorse ID. Gilder uses (abuses) Laughlin's quote to support ID.
I’d be interested in knowing who you think “abuses” the ToE and how, if you care to tell us. Do you think, for example, that Richard Dawkins abuses it?
We are talking about people that Dr. Laughlin says abuse ToE, not people who I say abuse ToE. Quite frankly I do not know who, specifically, he is talking about.
Oh, good. A misapprehension entirely of my fault, Im sure. I was under the impression there was a veritable Google sea of misapplied quotes of Dr. Laughlins out there, much like the wave after wave of broomsticks carrying buckets of water in The Sorcerers Apprentice, each one (the quotes, not the broomsticks) requiring analysis of the context in which it was used, to determine whether or not it was a genuine instance of being out-of-context.
Speaking of which:
Laughlin's quote does not endorse ID. Gilder uses (abuses) Laughlin's quote to support ID.
Non-responsive, Sir. I asked, Do you (in this context) equate endorsement with support? Just in case there is any confusion, that question was a request for clarification. Repeating an assertion does not clarify. It may well be that it fits your purpose to remain suitably vague. That is your prerogative, and that is fine. In either case I shall have had my answer.
Neither have you thrown any light on why you cite the use of Laughlin quotes on Google, which you condemn as abusive, but then explicitly exempt RussPs use of the quote from that general category. If RussP is exempt, why are these other quotes included in your discussion with him?
Now it develops in your last message that the use of the quote you cite as being abusive comes not from all of Googleland but from but one person (Gilder). So, is it merely Gilder v RussP? Was there a wider context, which youve now chosen to narrow? As before, it is your prerogative to answer, just as it is my prerogative to raise these troublesome issues.
No. The words have different meanings. This is why I used two different words rather than one word. To further clarify my intended communication:
Dr Laughlin's quote neither supports nor endorses ID. Gilder abuses Dr. Laughlin's quote to both support and endorse ID.
explicitly exempt RussPs use of the quote from that general category
I said that "each and every" Google reference to the quote uses the quote to support ID. The "each and every" would not be correct unless I exempted to the two Google references created by RussP.
I have exempted RussP because he has stated that he is not using Dr. Laughlin's quote to support or endorse ID. While he did bring up the quote in a thread about ID, I have to take him at his word. He said he is mearly quoting Dr. Laughlin because he read it somewhere and liked it. He said he read it somewhere other than from Gilder thus further dissociating himself from the use of the quote to support or endorse ID. Finally, his use of the quote on his web page does, indeed, stand alone and aside from any discussion of ID.
RussP: If my conclusion is not correct If you really are using the quote to endorse or support ID, please feel free to correct me. If RussP does say I am mistaken then I will revise my mistake and remove the RussP exclusion from the "each and every" statement about the Google references.
Fascinating interview and article!
I was using the Laughlin quote to criticize the Neo-Darwinian ToE. I’ll leave it to the reader to decide whether such criticism is equivalent to “supporting ID.”
I actually think it is. But that doesn’t mean that I misused the quote in any way. Am I only allowed to criticize the ToE if I am not supporting ID?!
You are using the quote to criticize the Neo-Darwin ToE. Dr. Laughlin's uses the quote to criticize people who abuse ToE. There is a significant difference.
Am I only allowed to criticize the ToE if I am not supporting ID?!
Certainly. Since you are citicizing the ToE do you have an alternative explaination for life that does not derive from ToE?
I show up on occasion. But most of these threads have fewer occasions for Calvin and Hobbes or bad puns, so I mostly stay quiet.
Did you see my ping to you about the Chinese cat that sprouted 'wings' wrt "hopeful monsters"?
Seems to me the humanities got left in the dust first.
I beg to differ; it tends to reflect poorly on them. Like the old joke about peeing on yourself while wearing dark pants--it gives you a warm feeling but nobody notices.
Only with that crowd, they're wearing light khaki.
Ever hear of the "correspondence principle" ?