Charles H. Townes, plus some science news

Charles H. Townes, plus some science news March 9, 2018


Charles Townes, when he won the Nobel Prize
Dr. Charles H. Townes (1915-2015)
A 1964 photograph taken by Roy Kaltschmidt for the Nobel Foundation


“At least this is the way I see it. I am a physicist. I also consider myself a Christian. As I try to understand the nature of our universe in these two modes of thinking, I see many commonalities and crossovers between science and religion. It seems logical that in the long run the two will even converge.”

“Many have a feeling that somehow intelligence must have been involved in the laws of the universe.”

“I strongly believe in the existence of God, based on intuition, observations, logic, and also scientific knowledge.”

“Science has faith. We make postulates. We can’t prove those postulates, but we have faith in them.”

Charles H. Townes (Nobel Prize in Physics, 1964)


Dr. Townes believed that “science and religion [are] quite parallel, much more similar than most people think and that in the long run, they must converge.”  “Science,” he wrote, “tries to understand what our universe is like and how it works, including us humans. Religion is aimed at understanding the purpose and meaning of our universe, including our own lives. If the universe has a purpose or meaning, this must be reflected in its structure and functioning, and hence in science.”

“He was one of the most important experimental physicists of the last century,” Dr. Reinhard Genzel, a professor of physics at the University of California at Berkeley, remarked upon the death of Dr. Townes.  “His strength was his curiosity and his unshakable optimism, based on his deep Christian spirituality.”


“Scientists come in two varieties, hedgehogs and foxes. I borrow this terminology from Isaiah Berlin (1953), who borrowed it from the ancient Greek poet Archilochus. Archilochus told us that foxes know many tricks, hedgehogs only one. Foxes are broad, hedgehogs are deep. Foxes are interested in everything and move easily from one problem to another. Hedgehogs are only interested in a few problems that they consider fundamental, and stick with the same problems for years or decades. Most of the great discoveries are made by hedgehogs, most of the little discoveries by foxes. Science needs both hedgehogs and foxes for its healthy growth, hedgehogs to dig deep into the nature of things, foxes to explore the complicated details of our marvelous universe. Albert Einstein and Edwin Hubble were hedgehogs. Charley Townes, who invented the laser, and Enrico Fermi, who built the first nuclear reactor in Chicago, were foxes.”
Freeman Dyson, “The Future of Biotechnology,” A Many-Colored Glass: Reflections on the Place of Life in the Universe (2007), 1.




“Juno is finding weird things in Jupiter’s vast cyclone clusters: We don’t know much about the inner structure of the gas giant, but these findings from the Juno probe are letting us peek beneath the planet’s clouds for the first time”


The most important finding, in my opinion, is the fact that the surface of Jupiter — to the extent that we can really speak of a “surface” (Jupiter is essentially a ball of gas, after all) — looks very much like a giant pepperoni pizza.




Some of you may be aware of Lawrence Krauss, a prominent physicist who has been a very vocal critic of theistic belief:


“ASU professor Lawrence Krauss on paid leave amid allegations of sexual misconduct: An ASU statement said Krauss has been placed on paid leave after allegations of sexual misconduct”


Please note that I have not said that Krauss’s position is proved wrong by these allegations.  Nor have I said whether the allegations are true.  I have no idea whether they’re true or not.  This is simply news about a name that comes up very frequently in connection with issues of science and religion.


A columnist for the Guardian takes strong issue with atheist icon Steven Pinker’s new book (and with the cult of celebrity that, he thinks, accompanies it):




A bit of forensic anthropology in the news:


“Bones found in South Pacific ‘likely’ Amelia Earhart’s, researcher says”


And some current archaeology:


“Rome’s Subway Project Keeps Digging Up Archaeological Marvels”



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