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Nobel Laureate Townes: “Intelligent design, as one sees it from a scientific point of view, seems to be quite real”

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Charles Townes

Charles Townes was the co-inventor of the laser and winner of the 1964 Nobel Prize in physics. Jason Rennie of the SciPhi Show had an absolutely marvelous interview with Townes recently. This interview had many quotable gems from Townes.

Here is the link:

Charles Townes

Do you have CD player or other optical device which uses a laser? You can credit Townes for that!

40th anniversary of the laser

Science Daily — SAN FRANCISCO — As part of its participation in the world’s largest technical conference on lasers and electro-optics, here this week, Lucent Technologies is celebrating the 40th anniversary of the publication of the scientific paper that described the concept and design for one of the century’s greatest inventions – the laser

Lasers today are used in communications, medicine, manufacturing, consumer electronics, scientific research and other areas. Telephone conversations, video, Internet traffic and other data are transmitted as beams of laser light through glass fibers, and the capacity of optical networks doubles every 18 months

There is a parallel interview with PZ Myers on the SciPhi show here. This is what PZ said of Townes in Townes and the Templeton Prize:

PZ writes:

Pious frauds are a dime a dozen, but pious frauds who have won a Nobel prize [i.e. Charles Townes]? They’re worth a million and a half dollars.

PZ calls Townes a fraud?

PZ appears to suffer from physics envy. Townes outshines PZ as a scientist and PZ doesn’t hold a candle to him. For that matter Townes towers over PZ, Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Charles Darwin combined. I guess it must get under PZ’s skin that Townes is a greater scientist than PZ. Not just greater, far greater.

[The quote in the title was from Charles Townes on evolution, intelligent design, and the meaning of life ]

It does point to a large body of Nobel Laureates who are explictly religious. It does stand against the oft cited figure about the number of atheists in the NAS.
Two points: First, Jason, your question to Dr. Townes asked, IIRC, for his opinion about the large percentage of scientists who did not profess religious belief. This distribution of religious belief/nonbelief is an interesting feature of the community of scientists, and pointing to a number of distinguished scientists who do profess Christianity, without indicating the size of the whole population, is nonresponsive to a question about the significance of the apparent predominance of scientists who do not. Second, I have a particular problem with Townes' use of the word "fraction." I think that a scientist has a particular obligation to promote careful thinking, and that obligation is neglected by using a mathematical term in the absence of information that is crucial to its definition. A similar transgression (although its perpetrators are not at the level of esteem due to Dr. Townes) is the touting of the 700-or-so PhD "Dissenters from Darwinism." How many science PhD's are there in America? mgarelick
Jason, I guess I didn't remember the Towne's quote correctly. So ~10% are Christians. Are you the one who interviewed him? If so, you would know better than me. Anyway, it would be interesting to see how the numbers break down by field. I'm guessing hard sciences would see more theists. In my own field of physics, I see more christians than other fields like biology. DrDan
I think it is better to say that there are atleast ~10% enthusiastic about religion. He said a book of 50, not a book of every theist that won a nobel- Wikipedia has a list of some nobel laurettes by religion- Though I don't know if I honestly trust wikipedia for it's trustworthiness. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Christian_Nobel_laureates http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Muslim_Nobel_laureates http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Hindu_Nobel_laureates I am not sure about the jewish list, I know many Jewish people are secular yet retain a jewish identity. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Jewish_Nobel_laureates bork
It would also be interesting to see this brokendown by field. After all hard sciences like physics/mathematics tend to be more theism friendly than the soft sciences like biology or sociology. Jason Rennie
"So less than 10% are not opposed to religion" No that doesns't follow at all. It says that 10% are enthusiastic for religion. Jason Rennie
Regarding the number of total nobel prize winners. 5 subjects times 100 years = 500 nobel prize winners (roughly). So less than 10% are not opposed to religion. Economics was added in 1968 so its more like 550 nobel prize winners. DrDan
Regarding the list of 50 nobel laureates, consider this alternative listing by Loennig (courtesy Bill Dembski): Nobel Laureates for ID And let us not forget Richard Smalley: Nobel Laureate given standing ovation after slamming Darwinism during a graduation ceremony scordova
"Fifty out of how many?? This is not a “fraction,” it’s a number with no connection to any meaningful reality. " What does this mean? It means just what it says, you can be smart and believe in a God. You can be a great scientist and believe in God. Are they considered a lesser scientist because they believe in God? If this is so, are agnostic scientists lesser scientists because they don't subscribe to positive atheism? bork
"this showed that a substantial fraction of scientists were not opposed to religion. Fifty out of how many?? This is not a “fraction,” it’s a number with no connection to any meaningful reality." It does point to a large body of Nobel Laureates who are explictly religious. It does stand against the oft cited figure about the number of atheists in the NAS. The NAS is supposed to be the "elite of scientists" but what exactly are Nobel Prize Winners then ? Jason Rennie
Townes said at least one thing on the show that struck me as fundamentally unscientific. He was asked about why, as statistics seem to show, most scientists are not religious believers. Instead of answering that question, he disputed the premise, and said that over fifty recent nobel prize winners had said that they were Christians (I may have remembered this actual quote imprecisely) and this showed that a substantial fraction of scientists were not opposed to religion. Fifty out of how many?? This is not a "fraction," it's a number with no connection to any meaningful reality. mgarelick
"Evolution is here, and intelligent design is here, and they're both consistent." Townes That is nice. idnet.com.au
After reading Charles Townes' interview, he sound more like an theist evolutionist. Here a couple of his responses to the question about evolution: "... 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." and, "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... [I]t's just a shame that the argument is coming up that way, because it's very misleading. " eduran
"Nobody cares what PZ has to say anymore, except idiots and his disciples - but I repeat myself!" Oh I thought he was interesting to talk too. Although I think the best part of the two interviews, which became apparent when I edited them down, was the way Dr Townes basically contradicted everything PZ had to say about the relationship between science and religion and its value. Jason Rennie
PZ who? Nobody cares what PZ has to say anymore, except idiots and his disciples - but I repeat myself! Borne
(Have you ever interviewed Dr. Dembski?) I've tried to get him on a couple of times for different things but he is always busy. Although I did get a favourable response to an interview request with Richard Dawkins' people after mentioning the interview with Charles Townes. Not a yes, but a "Dr Dawkins is currently travelling, get back to us in a week and we will see what we can arrange". Jason Rennie
Calling him a fraud is really uncalled for - I think it shows that PZ is really more concerned about a person's beliefs than his actual contribution to science. (ie. scientists are repectable people. However, when we happen to discover that one professes a religion, he must be a fraud) WinglesS
grendelkhan, PZ called Townes a fraud. Even if Pauling and Shockley were mistaken, calling them frauds is ridiculous. A fraud is someone with intent to commit fraud and deceive. That is different than someone who is mistaken. You're cutting PZ way to much slack for an outrageous and mean-spirited comment. scordova
Scientists who didn't have two Nobels criticized Linus Pauling's weirdness with the megadoses of Vitamin C. Scientists who didn't invent the transistor criticized William Shockley's racism. Did they do so only out of petty jealousy? Scientists aren't priests or rockstars. Anyone can knock down their ideas, so long as they have the chops to. A Nobel prize means that the winner has done great work; it does not mean that they're beyond error. grendelkhan
jb, re: comment 12: I used to read a lot of JP Holding stuff online in my college days. I'll have to listen to that sci-phi show podcast. I also came to a similar conclusion about the nature of faith in relation to facts, as I summarized in a blog post on myspace: facts vs. faith. (Just some observations and thoughts on the topic.) Atom
I continue to be amazed at the number of rather high-profile figures that Jason is able to bring onto his show for interviews. Keep up the good work, Jason! (Have you ever interviewed Dr. Dembski?) jb
myself @ 11: "He [Dawkins] has no evidence that this will happen, but based on his presuppositions..." I just realized that the way I worded this is somewhat inconsistent with my assertions. I should have said "He [Dawkins] does not have PROOF that this will happen, but based on SOME evidence, presuppositions, etc...." jb
Apparently these interviews with Townes and Myers was part of a mini-snapshot on the relationship of science and religion. This was the first time I ever heard Myers. I found him to be quite charming "in person" versus in print. I can understand why Paul Nelson had the same observation about Myers. If he wants to maintain his reputation for being militant steel-toed boot wearing rabid atheist and beater of ID proponents and puppies, he might decline future interviews because he comes across "in person" as being an awfully sweet guy. I mean real milk toast material. :-) Myers mentions how his first date with Mrs. Myers was a church date and how much he liked people in the church. He spoke kindly of his former pastor. He believes people are inherently good. If I'm not mistaken, I seem to recall Mrs. Myers does not share PZ's views. Myers relates his Lutheran background and how he lost faith. Unlike Dawkins, Myers didn't have flashes of nastiness in person, which Dawkins often has. Myers suggested an impetus for the US eugenics movement was not Darwin but farmers in the midwest. [it would be better to listen to how he explains that one] I'm grateful he granted an interview. scordova
Townes via scordova @ 2: "The esssential role of faith in religion is so well known that it is usually taken as characteristic of religion..." Slightly off-topic, but related to Comment 2: did you also notice the Sci Phi interview that preceded the PZ Meyers interview? It is with J.P. Holding regarding the definition of faith. Holding has done a good job on his web site and in some audio lessons in articulating the distinction between the true definition of faith versus how it is portrayed. Many people think "faith" is simply blind, gullible cedulity (that is how Dawkins seems to define it). Holding, on the other hand points out that faith--as the term is used in the New Testament--is instead "loyalty." I guess the idea is that it is more a sense of "faithfulness" rather than just mere belief. Of course belief of some sort is a pre-requisite to faith, but it is much more complex than many people realize. To paraphrase something I heard Richard Swinburne say in a lecture, belief is one thing, but "faith" is what you actually DO with the belief. And there is no indication that "faith" is to be held with absolutely no evidence; in fact faith is based on evidence, past performance, past experience, etc. It is, however, true that once having built a level of faith (in God, in the Bible, in Science, in mankind, one's self, or whatever it is one places their faith in), that faith can sometimes help you jump over the occasional gap that may appear in the evidence. Like when Dawkins expresses certainty that we will one day have the evolutionary tree all figured out--maybe not next year, but in 50 years, or whatever--he is expressing "faith" in Science. He has no evidence that this will happen, but based on his presuppositions, experience, etc. he is confident that this will be the case. Likewise a Christian might not be able to PROVE with 100% certainty that Jesus rose from the dead, but given the historical evidence combined with some presuppositions, philosophical reasoning, experience, other evidences (like Thomistic arguments for the existence of God, Intelligent Design, etc.), efficacy of the overall worldview, etc., faith can help one to step over the areas of uncertainty. Although faith might involve some areas of uncertainty, it need not be (and SHOULD not be) a baseless, irrational leap in the dark. jb
PZ and his ilk are just looking to pick a fight. Which is strange given they are all pencil-neck geeks. And they want to pick a fight because they have realized they don't stand a chance if it is left to the scientific data alone- not that they stand a chance in any actual fight. If science is interested in reality, and reality says we exist, how can ID be anything other than scientific (seeing that it seeks to explain that existence)? Joseph
Bork, as a former atheist, I think I and most atheists I knew were like PZ. I would say the most vile and crude things about religious people, and Christians in particular (My friends and I would have contests to see who could come up with the most offensive comments towards Christians-and believe me they were bad). We would constantly talk about Christians and how stupid they are. How could anyone possibly believe that? They must be ignoring "the evidence". They're ignorant and stupid. The fact that they have a Nobel prize was irrelevant because only a moron would believe what they believe. When evidence seems so overwhelming to you, and you don't try to understand what the other side is saying, it's very easy to dismiss them as fools. DanielJ
Cool stuff. He mentions a book coming out that talks about nobel lauretes and their faith- anyone know what it is? I won't bother with PZ. His statements are quite vicious and I don't think characterize most atheists- I don't want to think of atheism in a negative light. bork
That PiZza Myers has the audacity to call a Nobel Laureate a fraud is undeniable evidence of his unbridled hubris. The scariest thing is the number of sheep who mindlessly follow folks like PiZza, hanging on his every word, considering both him and themselves to be smarter than everyone else, even Nobel Laureates. Of course, Townes is in an even more elite fraternity, having won both the Nobel AND Templeton Prizes. The Scubaredneck The Scubaredneck
The Sci Phi Show is one of the best things on the web right now. Kind of like Larry King with better guests and topics. Looking forward to listening to this. nullasalus
I am still out on the intelligent design idea... However, it is quite reassuring to see such an intelligent chrisitian... even though I am not one. I will listen to the MP3 when I get the next chance. bork
If you have a Nobel prize, you can talk. But if you are trying to get a tenure, better be silent. A Chinese paleontologist says, "In China you cannot criticize the government, but you can criticize Darwinism. In US, you can criticize the government, but not Darwinism". Support Gonzalez. Support academic freedom.The Privileged Planet;Observational Astronomy Combat materialism. Read more on ID MatthewTan
I actually got to shake Townes hand when I graduated from Berkeley in 98. I wasn't a Christian then and didn't know he was either. Some of the quotes written above are incredibly insightful on the faith committment that it takes to be a scientist. In fact, because the christian/jewish world view emphatically did not worship nature ,and in fact took the mythology out of nature, scientists knew for sure that they could study it without the wrath of nature herself exacting capricous revenge. That is why modern science was born out of the late medeval/Renescance in Europe, where the christian worldview was dominant. DrDan
A breath of fresh air. mike1962
The esssential role of faith in religion is so well known that it is usually taken as characteristic of religion, and as distinguishing religion from science. But faith is essential to science too, although we do not so generally recognize the basic need and nature of faith in science. Faith is necessary for the scientist to even get started, and deep faith necessary for him to carry out his tougher tasks. Why? Because he must be personally committed to the belief 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. Without this belief, there would be little point in intense effort to try to understand a presumably disorderly or incomprehensible world. Such a world would take us back ot the days of superstition, when man thought capricious forces maniupulated his universe. In fact, it is just this faith in an orderly universe, understandable ot man, which allowed the basic change from an age of supersitioun to an age of science, and has made possible our scientific progress. Charles Townes Making Waves p 161
The necessity of faith in science is reminiscent of the description of religous faith attributed to Constantine: "I believe so that I may know." But such faith is now so deeply rooted in the scientist that most of us never even stop to think that it is there at all. Charles Townes Making Waves p 162
an atheist but good physicist firend who knew of my religious faith, facetiously asked me, "Did God ever really help you in the laboratory?" And I said, "Yes, I think so." Charles Townes Making Waves p 197

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