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More from Nobel Laureate Charles Townes on Scientific Evidence of Design and Purpose in the Cosmos

Casey Luskin


Earlier I noted the passing of Dr. Charles Townes, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist. In case you wondered if Townes’s comment on intelligent design in cosmology, which I quoted, was just a stray remark not representative of his general thinking, in fact he made a number of comments over the years that are clearly favorable to a design perspective. He told Esquire magazine:

The laws of physics are very special, and the creation of human life is really quite striking. One has to believe that either it was planned or it was a fantastically improbable accident.

(Charles Townes, quoted in Scott Carrier, “What I’ve Learned: Charles H. Townes,” Esquire (November 30, 2001).)

Likewise, in accepting the Templeton Prize in 2005, he stated:

Increasingly, science is showing how special our universe and we are, which has raised questions about whether it was indeed planned or influenced — one of many examples where science and religion naturally interact. The British physicist, Fred Hoyle, who was skeptical that there was any creation of the universe, nevertheless wrote, after he discovered how remarkable nuclear properties produced important chemical elements, “Would you not say to yourself, ‘some super-calculating intellect must have designed the properties of the carbon atom?’ Of course you would. A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that some super intellect has monkeyed with physics — and there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature.”

(Charles Townes, “Comments at the Templeton Prize Press Conference,” New York City (March 9, 2005).)

Note how he cites Fred Hoyle. How ironic that recent critics of Eric Metaxas excoriated him for quoting Hoyle — the very same quote used by a Nobel laureate physicist in support of cosmic design.
Townes was also a man with a deep Christian commitment who believed that faith was vital to practicing good science, and that faith deserves credit for rescuing humanity from superstition:

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. Without this confidence, 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 to the days of superstition, when man thought capricious forces manipulated his universe. In fact, it is just this faith in an orderly universe, understandable to man, which allows the basic change from an age of superstition to an age of science, and has made possible our scientific progress.

The necessity of faith in science is reminiscent of the description of religious 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, “The Convergence of Science and Religion,” IBM’s Think Magazine, Volume 32, pp. 2-7 (March-April, 1966).)

Townes said something similar when accepting the Templeton Prize:

My own view is that, while science and religion may seem different, they have many similarities, and should interact and enlighten each other. … If the universe has a purpose or meaning, this must be reflected in its structure and functioning, and hence in science. In addition, to best understand either science or religion, we must use all of our human resources — logic, evidence (observations or experiment), carefully chosen assumptions, intuition, and faith. … Many people don’t realize that science basically involves assumptions and faith…We must make the best assumptions we can envisage, and have faith. And wonderful things in both science and religion come from our efforts based on observations, thoughtful assumptions, faith, and logic.

It’s true that Townes apparently accepted standard scientific views about biological evolution. But when it came to the origin of the cosmos, he argued that the best scientific, not religious, explanation was intelligent design.

Image source: 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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