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
Perhaps nothing that you would credit, RightWhale -- as long as you hope to apply the scientific method to problems of human creativity: Wrong tool, wrong language!!!
FWIW, the "what else?" would be mind and soul. But since we cannot put these "under a microscope," perhaps you will not consider them to be real entities.
There is only revelation. Nothing else. That much falls out of claustral philosophy so far. Give it certainty and highest priority, but it comes with that whether we decide so or not.
If that is the case, you should never attempt, nor even offer opinions, in the field of science. You lack the qualifications.
There is no human creativity. All creativity is Divine. What else you got?
Goes for that opinion, too. The only creativity is Divine. Neither Mozart nor Sagan need think about that: it happens anyway.
It’s probably just terminology, but I would say function or process rather than spiritual. Like I say, this claustral philosophy is, while far from new, relatively undeveloped as such and the concepts will sound somewhat odd at first.
you: If that is the case, you should never attempt, nor even offer opinions, in the field of science. You lack the qualifications.
In your view, only atheists can "do" or "comment on" science and presumably, mathematics. How funny!
A long illustrious line of Christian and Jewish scientists and mathematicians who went before you - and are in the field today - would no doubt be amused.
Amen. If I know nothing else at all, I give thanks that I know this.
The most certain - and therefore, highest priority - type of knowledge for me is divine revelation.You have, by your statement, disavowed the scientific method. Why should you then feel qualified to offer opinions in the field of science?
(Mathematics is not a science.)
Time to discard Gregor Mendel's studies then, as he lacked the qualifications. (I bet he didn't spend 6 years to finish grad school either)
Did Gregor Mendel use divine revelation as his source of knowledge, or did he use the scientific method?
With the advent of Christ and spiritual regeneration for the individual human spirit within the human soul (behavior mechanism = soul; humankind have the added instructor of spirit complimenting our animal soul), an evolving of spiritual consciousness is happening, but, like evolution of species, this change is so minor when placed against the backdrop of the history and 'aliveness' of the entire species, we fail to see it for what it is, change, growth on a spirit level.
The left is seeking to bring change/evolution also, but the increments appear to be counter to the over-all welfare of the species and certainly inhibiting to the individual ... spiritually of course, when/if compared to the teaching and example of Our Lord.
In deference to Coyoteman, it may well be that the anchoring effect of scientific inquiry will tend to hold culture together as the left seeks to divide and segment and obliterate that which speaks of competition, growth, superior results-oriented behaviors. Science is not the enemy of philosophy, being but one brilliant child of same. Science may turn out to be the stronger child, the one which offers the protections and environment under which individuation can continue despite the leftists tendency to obliterate competition and individuation.
If it is the case that we as a species are evolving on a level not readily sensed in our familiar spacetime, then it will go on regardless of the piddling efforts of humans to direct or thwart it in paroxysms of pride.
That doesn't follow although I suppose one could say instead that she has disavowed the scientific method as the most certain source of knowledge.
An interesting point of view. So what aspect of humans is supposedly in God's image?
That's an encouraging word to me particularly, on a spiritual level actually, and I'm glad you included me in the ping to your whole post!
There was no disavowing in her post. You read into her post what you see due to your preconceived denigrating notions of people of faith. ... I use the occasional pneumatic nailgun, though I own more than four good hammers for various tasks.
So I guess Mozart and Sagan are personally dispensable. Their only meaning and value consists in their function as dumb and blind vessels of divine will.
Is that what you're getting at, RightWhale?
edsheppa got it right, i.e. I do not embrace science as the most certain source of knowledge.
Modern science has limited its inquiry by methodological naturalism. By definition, it doesn't look for - or (allegedly) form conclusions about - anything that is not knowable and predictable and thus can be explained as caused by something which is natural, material or physical.
Science excludes miracles by definition, i.e. every phenomenon must have a physical cause to fall within the reach of science. That does not mean ipso facto that everything has a physical cause though certainly some scientists think so (Dawkins, Lewontin, Singer, Pinker, et al.)
Divine revelations are beyond the boundaries of science. They are miracles per se. For those of us who have experienced a divine revelation, it is the most certain knowledge of all.
God's ways are not our ways, His thoughts are not our thoughts. Science can't "lay a glove" on Him.
I am amused by metaphysical naturalism. How arrogant of man to presume that if he cannot perceive it with his senses or mind, or put it to a test, it doesn't exist. [visions here of deep sea creatures having the same attitude, being astonished later on to discover there is life beyond the water...]
I catch a whiff of nihilism in RightWhale's remarks.... I can't imagine what revelation he is plugged into.
As you say, we have an "observer problem" here -- with RightWhale, you, and me, three different observers. Funny thing is, you and I see the same world virtually always. But I don't see RightWhale's world at all.
I wish he could explain it to me.
I bet miracles work by the same method, if we could but see it. And I think revelations and the fulfillments of visions/dreams are made of the same stuff - numbers in right sequence all down the line (: It hasn't been given to us to see or measure these, which is why it's called faith, for sure, but to my thinking it is not less "reasonable" than the math that is "measurable".
Truly, all Christians have experienced at least one divine revelation, i.e. when it dawned in us that Jesus Christ is Lord. (I Cor 12:3) After that one, we just can't seem to get enough. LOL!
And I would agree that, at the root, there is a mathematical structure related to every phenomenon. That is, btw, the basis of Max Tegmark's Level IV Universe model.
No intrusion, MHGinTN -- you are most welcome!
Your objection has legs. I was painting with too broad a brush, toward the end of falsifying the notion that human nature is not essentially distinguishable from animal nature, and certainly not different than that of our putative immediate ancestors, the great apes.
Of course there is spiritual evolution! I just take that for granted. I have direct evidence of it in my own life; plus as a student of culture, I know that man from the dawn of human history has been trying to understand the Cosmos and his place in it. In the process, certain great spiritual themes or truths have emerged that are astonishingly durable over time. They are so essentially basic, that each age reimagines them in its own way, building on the past with a view toward the future.
God is the ultimate symbol. Christianity is its greatest articulation. I am speaking abstractly here, although God is not an abstraction for me!
There is our risen Lord Jesus Christ, and His Holy Spirit. If human nature "evolves," it is by His ministrations, His workings in us, His drawing of us to Himself....
Thank you so much for your excellent essay/post, MHGinTN!
Duly noted, dearest co-author!
That is the hope of each of us, dear sister in Christ, God willing! :^) Thank you so much for your kindly words and support!
Thank God that will continue no matter what the leftists (or any thing or one) may accomplish. LOL!
And thank God, the Alpha and Omega, the First Cause and the Final Cause - for the purpose of all it, the new heaven and earth, His family - for that is when the spiritual evolution will be complete.
I do not embrace science as the most certain source of knowledge.
Why stop with divine revelation? When you reject science and the scientific method there are so many other sources of "knowledge" to choose from: magic, superstition, wishful thinking, old wives tales, folklore, what the stars foretell and what the neighbors think, omens, public opinion, astromancy, spells, aching bunions, Ouija boards, anecdotes, tarot cards, sorcery, seances, black cats, table tipping, witch doctors, crystals and crystal balls, numerology, palm reading, the unguessable verdict of history, tea leaves, hoodoo, voodoo, and all sorts of other weird stuff.
And if you reject science, just what method are you going to use to differentiate between these sources of "knowledge?"
Probably turn out that ‘you’ are the revelation, nothing but revelation.
There are no good translations of the Bible in English.
They have no inherent meaning nor value. Those are things we do, name things and assign value for our moral judgements.
Whatever whiff you catch is up to your sensory network. Whatever meaning you name is what you do. Funny thing, the Sultan of Istambul said once that most all lives are the same; maybe he was saying the same thing you said, but he also was making a pattern since there are no patterns in nature and the Sultan must decide many things every day. Some equate pattern and process. I see relation rather than pattern, many kinds; there are many but none in nature.
Amen, my dearest sister in Christ! All thanks, praise, and glory be His, now and forever! Amen.
But what is the basis of our "moral judgments?" Why do we feel impelled to "name things" and "assign value?" Why/how are such things relevant in your universe? Especially when you've already suggested that man is an entirely passive vehicle for divine will. So man doesn't have to make these distinctions at all. All he has to do is submit to being a passive tool. What moral judgment does a tool need?
IMO there is no knowably certain knowledge (yes, I do recognize the amusing self application). But history shows we can aspire to increasingly reliable knowledge. Naturalistic methods have a very good track record of creating it, divine revelation a very bad one. You are foolish to trust it.
He’s trying to blame positivism on the Thomists cuz they read too much King James English!
Well jeepers, dear cornelis, that just about explains everything! LOL!!! :^)
So, how long have you had that problem?
Truth is, great literature written for beginners and the advanced.
That's one way of looking at it.
To reflect his attributes. Sovereignty is a big one. We are all gods, you know. But they say God is love. The power of love can make a blind man see.
Well, we’re getting a little far afield. The 200 milliseconds is the anchorpoint and what we build on that will have to answer the usual problems such as whether today is a good day to go to the mall. Most of the thirty or fifty final judgments of the nature of reality still remain as they were depending on the school. The brain prepares itself for action and the claustrum is the locus where either permission is granted to go ahead or not. Usually not or we would be simple creatures such as microbes that just follow the food gradients.
Yes, being able to good naturedly acknowledge a jibe at your own expense is a good thing even when the humor is weak.
Humor? Plotinus is the jokester! RightWhale is a runner-up.
Ask Paris. She'll have a couple suggestions for what doesn't work.
Well, the parallel becomes even better when you consider what ended up happening to the existing inhabitants and dominant culture, upon passage of said 'closed-door, bipartisan etc. etc.' ;-)
Thx for pointers; the more so about ocular preservation.
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