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'Explore as much as we can': Nobel Prize winner Charles Townes on evolution & intelligent design
UC Berkeley News ^ | 06/17/2005 | Bonnie Azab Powell,

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.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; Miscellaneous; Philosophy
KEYWORDS: charlestownes; evolution; fsmdidit; gagdad; id; intelligentdesign; templetonprize; townes
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To: MHGinTN; hosepipe; betty boop
Thank you so much for your engaging and informative post!

Seems to me that mathematics even more so than science except perhaps physics is especially advanced by such personal revelations. Mathematicians and physicists deal in theory and universals all the time.

As Wigner observed, mathematics is unreasonably effective in the sciences.

My favorite example is Reimannian geometry which was developed with no application for it. The geometry was envisioned in the mind of Georg Friedrich Bernhard Riemann and he described it, mathematically. And yet Einstein was able to pull Reimannian geometry off-the-shelf to describe the structure of space/time, i.e. general relativity.

621 posted on 06/13/2007 1:17:44 PM PDT by Alamo-Girl
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To: Alamo-Girl

And there is the example of Newton conceiving his mechanics, then developing the math to describe/mathematically express it. It always puts me in awe of the whole sheebang when I consider these sorts of examples. I find I wish I had the math background to express my ‘new paradigm’ for reality, my dimensions and variables and continua notion which considers life as sourced in a distinct dimension as real as space or time, and spirit sourced in a dimension as real as the others. It would make mathematical the concept of higher order beings, like humans, and Angels, etc.

622 posted on 06/13/2007 1:28:11 PM PDT by MHGinTN (You've had life support. Promote life support for those in the womb.)
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To: js1138
I think he was talking about the human genome....

Does the human genome have "pages?"

623 posted on 06/13/2007 1:34:57 PM PDT by betty boop ("Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind." -- A. Einstein)
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To: RightWhale
Progress as implying improvement

Progress as a word describing a process. I’m aware, however, that one man’s progress can be another man’s excrement sandwich. Motives and objectives define ‘progress.’ Progress can be used as a political tool (the Progressive Party or ‘progressive’ political policies contrasted to another’s ill-conceived or evil intentions) suggesting a superiority of political motives and goals. I’m sorry, but I just can’t get very enthused over ‘schools of thought,’ preferring ideas instead.

Darwin was mystified by the extension of his insight to things other than biological species

I’m not sure mystified, or simply horrified. In any event, I take it that he treated the interested attentions of Marx as though encountering a skunk under the front porch. Marx was thrilled to make a connection between Darwin’s science and Marxian political and economic theories. Darwin couldn’t see it, and refused to affirm the relationship. Avoided it like the plague, as a matter of fact.

624 posted on 06/13/2007 1:48:15 PM PDT by YHAOS
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To: MHGinTN; js1138

Fair answer.

But bad religion isn’t the only thing that threatens science. Science curriculum, especially in high school, is being overtaken by all sorts of oddities that don’t belong, e.g., sentimental ecology, race, and gender topics.

625 posted on 06/13/2007 1:50:45 PM PDT by cornelis
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To: Alamo-Girl; betty boop
"That is the point, suicide by neglect."

On that I believe we are all in accord.

626 posted on 06/13/2007 1:56:00 PM PDT by YHAOS
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To: MHGinTN; hosepipe; Alamo-Girl; betty boop; cornelis; RightWhale
Perhaps you asked the question in too broad terms for your intent to denigrate spiritual revelation, but here are a couple or three examples of what you asked for as 'personal revelation' ... the creative 'aha' phenomenon is precisely personal revelation, personal perspective upon the universe which brings our instruction in body, soul, and spirit:

At the same time it informs our values and cements our affections as a people, or a culture.

627 posted on 06/13/2007 2:31:46 PM PDT by YHAOS
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To: cornelis

That would be bad science in the sense that bad news is stuff on the news program that crowds out actual news.

628 posted on 06/13/2007 2:34:46 PM PDT by RightWhale (Repeal the Treaty)
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”Progress as implying improvement” Progress as a word describing a process.

Improvement is the meaning as used by sociologists such as Marx and by historians.

629 posted on 06/13/2007 2:38:03 PM PDT by RightWhale (Repeal the Treaty)
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To: MHGinTN; Alamo-Girl; betty boop; .30Carbine
[.. Jesus was describing a process He knew to be the evolutionary process God instituted, where a being is 'born' of the woman's body (exits the water world of the womb) and 'born' of the Spirit, to enter into the kingdom of God, the next reality of the Universe. ..]

Being "born again" like most spiritual things it is metaphorical.. Describing the "Spirit" or even the "spirit" in human language is weak it takes a word picture to approach showing the observation.. Being "born again" is a word picture of something else.. the term is pregnant..

630 posted on 06/13/2007 2:39:49 PM PDT by hosepipe (CAUTION: This propaganda is laced with hyperbole....)
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To: cornelis; MHGinTN; js1138
"But bad religion isn’t the only thing that threatens science."

It strikes me that bad religion is the least of the modern threats to science (in the Western classroom), yet it seems to draw the greatest attention and the greatest ire from the "Masters of the Universe." Why is that do you suppose, or am I mistaken?

631 posted on 06/13/2007 3:05:15 PM PDT by YHAOS
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To: RightWhale
"Improvement is the meaning as used by sociologists such as Marx and by historians."

Yes, I understand that is the meaning they wish to convey, but it is an excrement sandwich to some, just the same.

632 posted on 06/13/2007 3:15:09 PM PDT by YHAOS
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To: betty boop
Does the human genome have "pages?"

What's your point? Are you maintaining your assertion that he was talking about the Bible?

Do I need to drag out the full context of the quotation?

For Collins, unravelling the human genome did not create a conflict in his mind. Instead, it allowed him to “glimpse at the workings of God”.

“When you make a breakthrough it is a moment of scientific exhilaration because you have been on this search and seem to have found it,” he said. “But it is also a moment where I at least feel closeness to the creator in the sense of having now perceived something that no human knew before but God knew all along.

“When you have for the first time in front of you this 3.1 billion-letter instruction book that conveys all kinds of information and all kinds of mystery about humankind, you can’t survey that going through page after page without a sense of awe. I can’t help but look at those pages and have a vague sense that this is giving me a glimpse of God’s mind.”

Collins joins a line of scientists whose research deepened their belief in God. Isaac Newton, whose discovery of the laws of gravity reshaped our understanding of the universe, said: “This most beautiful system could only proceed from the dominion of an intelligent and powerful being.”

633 posted on 06/13/2007 3:51:38 PM PDT by js1138
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To: js1138; Alamo-Girl; hosepipe; .30Carbine; cornelis; YHAOS; MHGinTN
What's your point? Are you maintaining your assertion that he was talking about the Bible?

Yes, I maintain that.

Yet even if Dr. Collins were referring to the genome, my point would be made. I do understand, you see, that Dr. Collins is a recovered atheist....

I thank you for dragging out the full context. Like Einstein, Dr. Collins seems to resonate with the sort of thing presented here:

“Through faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of the things which do appear.”
— The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews 11:3

And then, there’s this:

“For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and four-footed beasts, and creeping things.”
— The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Romans 1: 20–23
All italics in the above are mine.

Just the merest suggestion of scripture about which we might reflect this evening. Or not, as the case may be.

Thanks so much for writing js1138!

634 posted on 06/13/2007 4:18:11 PM PDT by betty boop ("Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind." -- A. Einstein)
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To: Coyoteman
Did Gregor Mendel use divine revelation as his source of knowledge, or did he use the scientific method?

The question is not if he used the scientific method, but if he held divine revelation above that of science (given that he was a monk, it's safe to assume he did). From what you have said, his findings should be discarded.

635 posted on 06/13/2007 4:36:31 PM PDT by Hacksaw (Appalachian by the grace of God! Montani Semper Liberi)
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To: betty boop

The very first wording in Genesis conveys ‘With wisdom God created’ ... BUr’aShYTh. Information preceded space and time and matter ... and the Mind of God preceded information on the order of the universe as God deunified to allow dimensions to express and the universe to manifest and then become aware of itself and thus of God.

636 posted on 06/13/2007 4:46:50 PM PDT by MHGinTN (You've had life support. Promote life support for those in the womb.)
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To: Hacksaw
Did Gregor Mendel use divine revelation as his source of knowledge, or did he use the scientific method?

The question is not if he used the scientific method, but if he held divine revelation above that of science (given that he was a monk, it's safe to assume he did). From what you have said, his findings should be discarded.

False. The method you follow determines what you are doing.

If you follow the scientific method, you are doing science. If you allow divine revelation to supersede your scientific findings you are certainly not doing science no matter what your scientific credentials may be.

637 posted on 06/13/2007 4:47:29 PM PDT by Coyoteman (Religious belief does not constitute scientific evidence, nor does it convey scientific knowledge.)
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Thank you so much for your insights and for the example of Newton!

It seems to me that the will to live is field-like in its behavior, i.e. fecundity principle or life principle. The universe, biosphere, collectives of organism, individual organisms, functions within organism – and individual cells – all struggle to survive and hierarchically at that.

The functions of an organism (e.g. cardiovascular) cooperate and the organism survives, individual organisms (e.g. army ants) cooperate and the collective survives, etc.

This behavior is also mentioned in Romans 8, the willful creature.

For the earnest expectation of the creature waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God. For the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of him who hath subjected [the same] in hope, Because the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now – Romans 8:19-22

If there exists such a field it is likely expanded from the big bang – instead of compactified (Kaluza/Klein) in which case, the math would be akin to this: Five dimensional relativity and two times

It may be inter-dimensional as Lisa Randall suggests gravity might be.

Any hoot, that’s what I would expect.

638 posted on 06/13/2007 9:11:33 PM PDT by Alamo-Girl
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Indeed. Well said.
639 posted on 06/13/2007 9:18:38 PM PDT by Alamo-Girl
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To: hosepipe
Describing the "Spirit" or even the "spirit" in human language is weak it takes a word picture to approach showing the observation..

Very true. Language fails. The only way to know the Holy Sirit is to know Him, to experience Him.

640 posted on 06/13/2007 9:20:39 PM PDT by Alamo-Girl
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