Charles Townes, a Nobel laureate who helped invent the laser and was an early pioneer in merging science and religion, has won the 2005 Templeton Prize and the more than $1.5 million that comes with it.
“Charles Townes helped to create and sustain the dialogue between science and theology,” David Shi, the president of Furman University, Townes' undergraduate alma mater, said in nominating Townes for the honor.
The prize, which carries a cash award of 795,000 British pounds-more than $1.5 million-was announced March 9 at the Church Center for the United Nations in New York. In a prepared statement, Townes, a University of California, Berkeley physics professor, said, “Science and religion have had a long history of interesting interaction. But when I was younger, that interaction did not seem like a very healthy one.”
A South Carolina native who grew up as a progressive Baptist, the 89-year-old Townes said he would accept the award-the full title of which is the Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries About Spiritual Realities-with humility. He described himself as a “minor figure” in an area that has grown increasingly prominent in recent years.
Others would disagree. For decades he has been among the most fervent advocates for dialogue between scientists and theologians.
In 1964, while a professor at Columbia University in New York City, Townes delivered a talk at the city's Riverside Church that became the basis for a groundbreaking and seminal article, “The Convergence of Science and Religion,” which appeared in an IBM journal.
In the article, Townes said it was time for the seemingly irreconcilable fields of science and religion to find common ground, noting “their differences are largely superficial, and … the two become almost indistinguishable if we look at the real nature of each.”
He said he regrets that there are still scientists who are as “rigidly fundamentalist” as some religionists. Scientists, he said, must be mindful that “no scientific results are fully provable-they are based on reasonable assumptions, and we have to recognize that.”
That is a theme Townes addressed in his prepared remarks, noting that “science basically involves assumptions and faith.”
Religion News Service