Are Science and Religion Compatible?

Have you ever been in the presence of a genius? I never imagined I’d be interviewing a Nobel Laureate – someone who has advised the government on moon landings and consulted with presidents- but, that’s exactly the opportunity that came my way a couple years back.

The man I interviewed, Charles Hard Townes, was a visionary physicist who invented the maser (an instrument that harnessed microwave-emitting radiation). His research led to the development of the laser, making it possible to play CDs, scan prices at the supermarket, measure time precisely, survey planets and galaxies, and even witness the birth of stars.

The technological revolution spawned by lasers, laying foundations for much of the gadgetry and scientific knowledge the world now takes for granted, was given enormous momentum by Mr. Townes’ and his colleagues’ discoveries.

He saw scientific revelations and religious ones as “not very far apart”. He believed the order of the universe and the meaning of the universe were equally important worthy topics to explore.

Back in 2012, I had the honor of meeting Charles Townes. I was hired to conduct a video interview with him about his research on Science & Religion for a non-profit called VR Foundation in Austria. The VR Foundation invited him to be present at the conference but he couldn’t make it due to his busy schedule. Although he was 97 at the time of this interview, he was still on staff at the University of California- Berkeley Physics Department.

This past Tuesday, January 27, 2015, Charles Townes passed away at the age of 99. He remained on staff at UC Berkeley until last summer when he retired.

Watch the edited interview below.

What I admired most about this interview was his humbleness and patience. He was whip smart, yet he had exuberant energy and showed up to work diligently every day to “explore, explore, explore”.

I remember speaking to his assistant who had worked with him for at least a decade. She said he had an entire room at University of California- Berkeley that stored his research findings. She couldn’t keep up with the ongoing need to keep cleaning out the space by shipping his research papers to the Library of Congress. Despite his old age, she said he loved to travel and had just returned from Europe. He wanted to the attend the VR Foundation’s conference in Austria but had other travel obligations for the remainder of the year.

His scientific discoveries will be celebrated for a long time. Every time I play a CD or buy something at the supermarket I will bow my head in reverence for this great man.

His message about science and religion will continue to resonate widely with diverse groups of people.

May we all be so dedicated to discovery and exploration!

Share your thoughts below on science and religion. What can we learn about the intersection of science and religion?

Warm regards,

Sarah Fisher
Blue Lotus Films

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