RIP Charles Townes, Brilliant Physicist, Man of Faith
Yesterday, Nobel Prize winner Charles Townes died at the age of 99. He invented the laser and discovered the black hole at the center of the galaxy, and spent many decades on the vanguard of scientific inquiry.
He also seems to have been a tremendously approachable and genial man, and was very open about his Christian faith -- and about the natural cooperation between faith and reason, religion and science. In a 2005 interview with National Public Radio, he said:
Consider what religion is. Religion is an attempt to understand the purpose and meaning of our universe. What is science? It's an attempt to understand how our universe works. Well, if there's a purpose and meaning, that must have something to do with how it works, so those two must be related.
In an interview with UC Berkley News in 2005, he expounded on this idea:
[S]omehow, 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.
Later in the interview, he expresses his frustration with the idea that evolution and intelligent design (rightly understood) contradict each other:
Some scientists argue that "well, there's an enormous number of universes and each one is a little different. This one just happenedto 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.
More and more, we see faithful people rejecting science, and science-minded people rejecting religion. How refreshing to hear the words of this man who so readily integrated his love of God and his curiosity about the created world. In fact, Townes saw faith as an indispensible motivator for scientific inquiry. In "The Convergence of Science and Religion" (THINK Magazine, 1966), Townes said:
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.
The idea that faith and reason are inevitably at odds with each other is one of the most persistent and least defensible myths of modern times. RIP, Charles Townes.