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Charles Townes, RIP: Nobel Laureate Who Endorsed Intelligent Design in Cosmology


Physicist and Nobel laureate Charles Townes, who argued for intelligent design at the level of cosmology, has passed away at the age of 99. Dr. Townes shared a Nobel Prize in 1964 for research that led to the invention of the laser.

He earned a PhD at Caltech and then worked at Bell Labs during World War II where he designed radar systems. He joined the faculty of Columbia University in 1948. In 1961 he moved to MIT, and finally settled at UC Berkeley in 1967, where he taught and researched in the Space Sciences Laboratory for a half century.

In addition to his major career achievements, Townes is noteworthy for candid remarks supporting intelligent design in cosmology, comparing its scientific credibility, which he said appears to be “quite real,” with “fantastic” speculations about a multiverse.

In 2005, he said the following:

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.

(‘Explore as much as we can’: Nobel Prize winner Charles Townes on evolution, intelligent design, and the meaning of life,” by Bonnie Azab Powell, UC Berkeley NewsCenter (June 17, 2005).)

Townes won the Templeton Prize in 2005, and seems to have accepted conventional views on biological evolution. But when it came to the origin of the cosmos, he said that the best explanation was intelligent design.

Some contemporary New Atheists, such as Lawrence Krauss in his current quarrel with Eric Metaxas, would have the public believe that mainstream physicists reject ID. But of course this is wrong. There have been, and continue to be, prominent and credible physicists like Townes who affirm intelligent design in their field as a scientific, not religious, theory. I suspect that Dr. Townes’s legacy will continue to be appreciated in many ways and for many years to come.

Image credit: UC Berkeley NewsCenter.

Casey Luskin

Associate Director, Center for Science and Culture
Casey Luskin is a geologist and an attorney with graduate degrees in science and law, giving him expertise in both the scientific and legal dimensions of the debate over evolution. He earned his PhD in Geology from the University of Johannesburg, and BS and MS degrees in Earth Sciences from the University of California, San Diego, where he studied evolution extensively at both the graduate and undergraduate levels. His law degree is from the University of San Diego, where he focused his studies on First Amendment law, education law, and environmental law.



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