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Thursday, June 16, 2005

logic and mystery in science and religion

That's the title of a talk given by Nobel laureate Charles H. Townes to a packed Science Center lecture hall at Harvard, as reported by Alvin Powell in the current issue of the Harvard University Gazette. Townes, who won the 1964 Nobel Prize in Physics, is the inventor of the laser. From the article:
In describing religion and science as parallel, Townes rejected the often hostile relationship between the two, evidenced today in the ongoing battle over teaching evolution in schools and by religious objections to certain scientific procedures, such as stem cell research.

Instead, Townes said, science and religion are both efforts to understand the universe. Science seeks to understand how the universe works and how humans work, while religion is an attempt to understand the meaning and purpose of the universe and of humankind, which requires an understanding of their workings.

Both deal with large, unproved mysteries, and operate on the best knowledge available today. Faith is a central tenet of religion, but Townes said a certain amount of faith is also shown by scientists, applying theories that they know have shortcomings in an effort to understand the vast amount of the universe that remains unknown.

"Scientists, especially physicists, recognize that this is a very special world. Things have to be almost exactly as they are in order for us to exist," Townes said. "It's a fantastically specialized universe, but how in the world did it happen?"

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