15 Replies to “Charlie Townes on ID

  1. 1
    Charlie says:

    An excellent article.
    A little prickly for me on evolution as he called people like me “stupid”, but perhaps I had it coming.
    Maybe it’s just that we have different definitions of evolution, but I rather think not.
    Regardless, well worth reading and hearing from yet another man of faith who has made a real scientific contribution.
    Add “lasers” to your list of things created by religious scientists.

    “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).”

  2. 2
    DaveScot says:

    Amazing interview. Echoes of my own thoughts abound in it.

    Just a few:

    Townes:

    we don’t know what some 95 percent of the matter in the universe is

    One of my favorites examples. Speaking of cosmology and physics read a few of the hits from this search:

    http://www.google.com/search?b.....harmonics+

    Think “voice of God” when you read them. Think God ***spoke*** “let there be light”.

    I feel the presence of God. I feel it in my own life as a spirit that is somehow with me all the time.

    Me too, Charlie. I can’t scientifically quantify or characterize it so I seldom mention it but it’s there nonetheless and there’s no denying it.

    But the Bible’s description of creation occurring over a week’s time is just an analogy, as I see it.

    Some remarkable non-intuitive points in the analogy. The Big Bang came as a great surprise for science. Something from nothing is not intuitive. Yet there it is in Genesis thousands of years before science confirmed it. Now much more recently analysis of minute variance in cosmic microwave background radiation has found the variance matches the spectral characteristics of what musicians call “pink noise” and associated harmonics. If you ask me that’s the voice of God. It’s pretty non-intuitive that in the beginning God spoke and things happened. Now it turns out sound waves rippling through the early universe is what caused matter to clump the way it did instead of being evenly distributed. I don’t mean to imply I’m a Genesis literalist but I do give credit where credit is due and there’s some amazing credits there.

    Speaking of the Big Bang, it’s a widely held misconception that it was an explosion. Energy simply appeared out of nowhere and it appeared everywhere in the universe all at once. Think of it as an empty vessel suddenly become filled in an instant. The energy didn’t explode outward from a point and never has since then. The vessel has been growing larger and the contents become more dilute as time passes. There’s an excellent recent article in SciAm about widely held Big Bang misconceptions:

    http://www.sciam.com/article.c.....414B7F0147

    I found at least one misconception in the SciAm article and (frustratingly) couldn’t get it corrected. The authors talk about photons losing energy as the universe expanded ie the CMBR going from 3000K blackbody radiation to 3K as the universe expanded 1000 fold during that time. The authors mistakenly try to treat photons propagating through a vacuum as particles. That’s a mistake. Photons exhibit wave-particle duality. Sometimes they feel like a wave and sometimes they don’t. I asked the authors “if photons lose energy travelling through a vacuum where does the energy go and what form does it take?”. They dithered with gravitational energy, kinetic energy, and frames of reference. The blunt fact of the matter is that photons as particles are immortal and unchanging until they interact with matter. That’s why the CMBR photons are still around today – most of them have never struck a bit of matter. A photon gives up energy only when it strikes matter then it’s converted to kinetic, heat, or some other form that’s no longer a photon. If you simply treat photons as waves then the explanation is simple and straightforward. As the universe expanded 1000 fold the waves become longer by a factor of 1000. Duh. One might try to explain via particle behavior as the particles being smeared over a larger volume of space without losing energy but that’s stretching the definition of a particle. I don’t know why the authors were so stubborn in not acknowledging wave-particle duality.

    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.

    Now we get to the meat of it. Probabilities. Or rather improbabilities. “Remarkable” is a vast understatement. “Practically impossible” would be much closer to the truth. Intelligence beats impossible odds. Nothing else does. A plethora of scientific disciplines are uncovering so many instances of practically impossible odds being beaten there’s just no other explanation. The game was rigged for life to win. Anyone who argues with that is either uninformed or in denial.

  3. 3
    DaveScot says:

    Astronomy, cosmology, and space exploration are my first loves. Micro-biology would be second. Every month when I get my SciAm in the mail before reading sequentially from front to back I’ll turn straight to any article in those areas. If only there’d been more money to be made in astronomy I’d be an astronomer today. As it turned out when I was in college trying to decide what I wanted to be when I grew up it turned out that I could afford to build my own micro-computer which allowed me to compete with the big boys in the comfort of my home while owning my own Mt. Palomar scale telescope and/or electron microscope was out of reach. The rest is history. 🙂

  4. 4
    DaveScot says:

    Charlie (the commenter above):

    Townes called the argument stupid, not the people who hold it. That’s dissembling though. I find it difficult to separate the person from the beliefs they hold for if we aren’t what we believe then what are we?

    I take it your belief is that God created the universe in-place and the apparent age in billions of years is an artifact.

    Logically I can’t dispute that. An omnipotent creator by defintion can do anything He pleases. Logically I can’t dispute that the universe was created yesterday or was never created at all. Reality might be an illusion. As well, the idea behind “The Matrix” that we are living in a synthetic computer generated world and are being fed information that creates an artificial reality cannot be disputed by logic as far as I can tell. JA Davison gets hopping mad when I go philosophical about the nature of knowledge like that on him. 😉 At some point one has to draw a line and adopt a philosophy of what is real and what isn’t. I’ve chosen the philosophy of science to define those bounds for me but I totally respect other veiwpoints on the nature of reality as long as they’re logically consistent. Illogic annoys me. That’s why Darwinian apologists annoy me. Intelligent design is logical and there’s plenty of empirical evidence to support the position. It might be mistaken somehow but it can’t be ruled out. I view your position (if I have your position correctly) in the same light – it can’t be ruled out.

    Maybe someday I won’t be such a hopeless agnostic. There’s always hope, right?

  5. 5
    PaV says:

    Dave: you wrote “Illogic annoys me. That’s why Darwinian apologists annoy me. Intelligent design is logical and there’s plenty of empirical evidence to support the position.”

    I couldn’t agree with you more. When I read the “Origins of Species” for the first time I nearly sent the book flying to the other side of the room: Varieties are incipient species?!!? When I read Ernst Mayr’s “What is Evolution?”, that went flying to the other end of the table. Drives me nuts.

    All good things to him who waits. Darwinism seems at the brink of collapsing. If only it would hurry up and collapse!

  6. 6
    DaveScot says:

    PaV

    If you read Origen of Species in the context of the times it was a really solid bit of work. Specific bits of context to consider:

    1) Darwin was a Lamarckist that believed acquired characters were heritable. It’s not unreasonable to presume, for example, that a fish chasing prey onto the land would evolve limbs and lungs out of fins and gills in a reasonable amount of time if bone breakage and callouses and such from such behavior were heritable. Or if antelope stretching their necks to reach higher branches directly caused their progeny to have longer necks. This would have greatly accelerated natural selection. As it turns out Lamarckian heritability was falsified at least in eukaryotes. There’s some emerging evidence it may be operative in prokaryotes.

    2) No one back then had a good handle on the age of the earth and the universe. Time and chance will produce any physically possible result given enough time. Now that we have a better idea of temporal constraints on evolution it doesn’t appear there’s been anywhere near enough time, especially absent Lamarckian inheritance.

    3) Darwin didn’t try to explain abiogenesis. Back then it was thought that cells were simple blobs of protoplasm. As it turns out evolution of species isn’t nearly as difficult as evolution of (myriad and diverse) cell structure.

    4) Darwin reasonably assumed that the fossil record was incomplete and would eventually be found to perfectly support gradualism – bottom up evolution from a continuum of nearly identical forebears. As it turns out the fossil record was complete enough back then and the lack of transitionals was a real lack. As it stands today it’s a testimony to saltation and top down evolution from forebears that appeared in an already well diversified state.

    Subsequently Darwinian theory, which began as a valid scientific theory, has been falsified over and over in exactly the ways Darwin predicted it could be falsified (and some ways he didn’t predict). Instead of being abandoned as all falsified theories in science should be abandoned it has been propped up with ad hoc hypotheses after the fact. Time and chance have been granted omnipotent status. Karl Popper is undoubtedly rolling over in his grave at this turn of events.

  7. 7
    jasonng says:

    “Darwin was a Lamarckist that believed acquired characters were heritable.”

    This was very interesting when I first found out about this. My biology teacher contrasted Darwin and Lamarck, specifically pitting Lamarck’s “use and disuse” against Darwin’s natural selection. My textbook also gave the impression that Darwin opposed Lamarck’s ideas. Is there a problem with letting students know that Darwin was wrong too, or will that distort our views on the rest of Darwin’s theory somehow?

  8. 8

    “My textbook also gave the impression that Darwin opposed Lamarck’s ideas.”

    My zoology book did the same thing. It was long after I had completed the course until I actually learned that Darwin believed in Lamarkian inheritance.

    Incidentally, my zoology book stated that Bishop Ussher *showed* that the Bible says the Earth was created in 4004 B.C. A zoology book talking about theology?!? It was hard to believe. But it also hit on one of my biggest pet peeves.

    Firstly, Ussher made a genealogical estimation to the time of Adam (presumably Homo sapien). Furthermore, the estimation is now rejected by many biblical scholars.

    Secondly, the word “day” was not written in English! The word translated into English as “day” is the Hebrew word yom. This word has three literal contexts:
    1.) It can be used to indicate the time between daylight and nighttime
    2.) It can describe a 24 hour period or
    3.) It is used to express a period of unspecified duration

    To me, it is obvious that the 3rd context was used because other biblical passages strongly imply we are still in the seventh “day” of creation.

    (Sorry for the rant but, of course, I wouldn’t want to bring my religion into the science classroom by defending it.)

  9. 9
    DaveScot says:

    I think it drastically weakens Darwin’s theory. He didn’t pin the whole theory on use/disuse but he clearly labeled it as the primary means of giving natural selection something to select. Natural selection is useless without something to select. The difference between directed mutations caused by use/disuse and undirected mutations caused by random errors is the difference between night and day.

    I have no idea how anyone who’s actually read Origin could have missed Darwin’s Lamarckian beliefs. It’s spelled right out in chapter 1 then again in chapter 5.

  10. 10
    doran29 says:

    Come on Dave. Now Darwin is a Lamarckian. Jason your textbook got it right and Dave has come convoluted view of history and what Darwin actually says. Darwin does not say that giraffes grow their necks longer to reach the tops of trees and then these long necks are passed on to offspring. Darwin states that selection pressures for animals with longer necks will over time produce in the species a group of animals with long necks. Jason, please go read http://www.pandasthumb.org or http://www.talkorigins.org if you want to have a decent explanation of the difference between Darwin and Lamarck.

  11. 11
    jasonng says:

    I think people are trying too hard to give the impression that Darwin was right but also that science changes over time. If textbooks mention punctuated equilibrium as a better explanation of the fossil record than gradualism, why can’t they say that Darwin’s Lamarckian ideas were corrected after the discovery of genetics? They’re obviously trying to defend Darwin when instead they should focus on defending the current theory. I wonder why they would do that…

  12. 12
    jasonng says:

    Even better, let’s see what Darwin had to say about this:
    http://www.literature.org/auth.....er-05.html

    “From the facts alluded to in the first chapter, I think there can be little doubt that use in our domestic animals strengthens and enlarges certain parts, and disuse diminishes them; and that such modifications are inherited. Under free nature, we can have no standard of comparison, by which to judge of the effects of long-continued use or disuse, for we know not the parent-forms; but many animals have structures which can be explained by the effects of disuse.”

    Darwin clearly states that use and disuse has been proven and there is little doubt. He doesn’t use the giraffe example but if you continue reading he has many other examples of use/disuse. You can twist those words all you want, but you can’t deny that Darwin advocated use and disuse very strongly. But then again, why do you even need to defend Darwin? People should be defending modern evolutionary theory…

  13. 13
    DaveScot says:

    Doran29

    Go read “On the Origin of Species” if you want to know what Darwin said.

    Use the link kindly provided by jasong. And tell your friends at pandasthumb.com and talkorigins.com to read it too. Evidently very few of them have. It’s really frustrating trying to reason with Darwinists who haven’t read Darwin.

  14. 14
    Charlie says:

    For even more frustration, has anyone tried reasoning with the gang over at

    seabed.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/forum.tmpl?issue_id=20041101&forum_index=1

    ?
    The talk.origins crowd has been defending that turf for almost 8 months ( since the release of the NAtional Geographic story “Was Darwin Wrong?”) with an almost unbelievable hostility and illogical zeal.

  15. 15
    Rubble says:

    I note that Townes signed the amicus curiae brief in re: Edwards v. Aguillard 1986 (http://www.talkorigins.org/faq.....icus1.html). Quoting from that brief, “[the] evolutionary history of organisms has been as extensively tested and as thoroughly corroborated as any biological concept.” Note also (in note #21, attributed to Stebbins and Ayala), regarding the actual discussion of evolutionary theory within the scientific community: “At the outset it must be said that … none of these challenges denies that evolutionary change occurs, that current species have descended from common ancestors or that Darwinian natural selection plays an important part in the process. The disputes are conflicts of degree and emphasis within a shared evolutionary outlook.”

    Of course, Townes may have changed his mind since signing that brief two decades ago. However, I see no reason to conclude that he has done so. Those who reject evolutionary common descent would do well to avoid citing Townes as a Nobel Laureate in support of such rejection.

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