The religious faith of two Nobel laureate physicists

The religious faith of two Nobel laureate physicists November 18, 2019


Laser stuff
An only slightly relevant public domain laser illustration from Wikimedia Commons


The fact that many highly successful scientists are also people of faith doesn’t, of course, demonstrate in and of itself that there is a God, that theism is true.  However, it does strongly seem to suggest that facile claims that theism is flatly contradictory to science might not be true.


Here are a couple of examples of what I have in mind:


N. F. Mott, Nobel physics laureate
Sir Nevill Francis Mott
Nobel Laureate in Physics, 1977
(Wikimedia Commons)


Sir Nevill Francis Mott (1905 -1996), a British physicist, won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1977 for the work that he had done on the electronic structure of magnetic and disordered systems, and especially on what are called “amorphous semiconductors.”  He shared the prize with the American theoretical physicist Philip W. Anderson (b. 1923) and the American mathematician and physicist J. H. Van Vleck (1899-1980), who had conducted research that was loosely related to his. Mott and Anderson, in particular, clarified why magnetic or amorphous materials are sometimes metallic and sometimes insulating.


Sir Nevill was apparently a half-way decent scientist, and he was most definitely a believer:


“I believe in God, who can respond to prayers, to whom we can give trust and without whom life on this earth would be without meaning (a tale told by an idiot). I believe that God has revealed Himself to us in many ways and through many men and women, and that for us here in the West the clearest revelation is through Jesus and those that have followed him.”


W. D. Phillips, Nobel laureate
William D. Phillips won the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics.
(Wikimedia Commons)


William Daniel Phillips (b. 1948) is an American physicist who shared the 1997 Nobel Prize in Physics with his fellow American Steven Chu (who later served 2009-2013 as the United States Secretary of Energy) and the French physicist Claude Cohen-Tannoudji for their work on the laser cooling and trapping of atoms.


Dr. Phillips is evidently both a reasonably good scientist and a believer.


In a letter to T. Dimitrov dated 19 May 2002, Dr. Phillips replied to several questions. To the inquiry, “What do you think about the existence of God?” he gave the following answer:


“I believe in God. In fact, I believe in a personal God who acts in and interacts with the creation.  I believe that the observations about the orderliness of the physical universe, and the apparently exceptional fine-tuning of the conditions of the universe for the development of life suggest that an intelligent Creator is responsible. . . .  I believe in God because of a personal faith, a faith that is consistent with what I know about science.”



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