RIP Charles Townes, Nobel Prize-Winning Physicist Who Supported Intelligent Design in Cosmology

Charles H. Townes, Columbia University professor and Nobel Laureate, explains his invention the maser during a news conference in New York City, Jan. 25, 1955. The maser, microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation, uses directly the energy radiated by molecules of ammonia gas.

By Casey Luskin Published on January 28, 2015

Charles Townes, the physicist who shared the Nobel Prize in 1964 for research that led to the invention of the laser, has died at age 99. 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 where he did his Nobel Prize-winning work. He also taught at the University of Paris, the University of Tokyo, and the University of Michigan, and in 1961 he moved to MIT where he served as Professor of Physics and Provost. He later moved to UC Berkeley where he taught for decades.

Townes is also noteworthy for speaking of intelligent design of the universe:

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.

He likewise 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.

He was also a man of deep Christian faith 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.

Townes won the prestigious Templeton Prize in 2005, where he stated:

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.

Dr. Townes apparently accepted common scientific views about biological evolution. But when it came to the origin of the universe, he argued that the best explanation was intelligent design. At that same Templeton conference, he went on to say:

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.”

Some new atheists, like Lawrence Krauss in his current dispute with Eric Metaxas, would have the public believe that virtually all physicists reject design. But there have been, and continue to be, prominent and credible physicists like Charles Townes who show that this simply is not true. Indeed, Townes showed that it is possible to be an elite scientist and quite comfortably believe that God has created the universe for a purpose — a purpose not hidden from our gaze, but made manifest in the heavens above.

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