Nobel Laureate: No Inherent Conflict between Science and Religion


Author: Stephen Caesar
Subject: Intelligent Design
Date:  08/06/2005

On June 13, 2005, Nobel laureate Charles H. Townes, inventor of the laser, spoke before a full house at Harvard University’s Science Center on the topic “Logic and Mystery in Science and Religion.” The main thrust of his speech was that science and religion are not mutually antagonistic disciplines. During his 40-minute address he stated: “I look at science and religion as quite parallel, much more similar than most people think and that in the long run, they must converge” (Powell 2005: 5).

In his speech, Townes stated (as paraphrased by the Harvard Gazette) that both religion and science “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” (Ibid.).

The Gazette further reported: “Among the parallels cited in his talk, Townes said that science has proven that in the big bang, there was a ‘creation,’ though not one described in creation stories such as the Bible. He also said that there’s very little wiggle room in the laws of nature in order to allow life to arise, which prompts questions of why they are the way they are. Questions about free will, the nature of consciousness, the forces that caused the big bang—or even what came before the big bang, highlight the vastness of what humans don’t know about the universe—whether from a religious or scientific standpoint, Townes said” (Ibid. 6).

“Scientists, especially physicists,” Townes stated in his speech, “recognize that this is a very special world. Things have to be almost exactly as they are in order for us to exist. It’s a fantastically specialized universe, but how in the world did it happen?” (Ibid. 6).

Townes is no slouch when it comes to scientific achievement. He won the 1964 Nobel Prize in Physics while at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology “for fundamental work in the field of quantum electronics, which has led to the construction of oscillators and amplifiers based on the maser-laser principle” (Ibid. 5). Donald H. Menzel Professor of Astrophysics James Moran of Harvard, who introduced Townes’ speech, described him as “one of the founding fathers of radio-astronomy” (Ibid. 5).

Townes is one of a growing number of top-ranking scientists who have publicly dismissed the common claim that science and religion are necessarily and perpetually antagonistic. True, Townes has not embraced the Biblical version of the origin of the universe, but he has nonetheless demonstrated that an accomplished scientist need not reject religion out of hand.


Powell, A. 2005. “Laser’s inventor predicts meeting of science, religion.” Harvard Gazette, June 16.


Stephen Caesar holds his master’s degree in anthropology/archaeology from Harvard. He is a staff member at Associates for Biblical Research and the author of the e-book The Bible Encounters Modern Science, available at


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