Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Templeton to Townes

Perhaps you've already seen that Charles Townes won the Templeton Prize. I'll have to look more into his ideas. From the LA Times news article, it sounds like he has some good things to say.

The co-inventor of the laser, Townes, 89, said no greater question faced humankind than discovering the purpose and meaning of life — and why there was something rather than nothing in the cosmos.

"If you look at what religion is all about, it's trying to understand the purpose and meaning of our universe," he said in a telephone interview from New York this week. "Science tries to understand function and structures. If there is any meaning, structure will have a lot to do with any meaning. In the long run they must come together."

Townes said that it was "extremely unlikely" that the laws of physics that led to life on Earth were accidental.


In 1964, while a professor at Columbia University, Townes delivered a talk at Riverside Church in New York that became the basis for an article, "The Convergence of Science and Religion," which put him at odds with some [other] scientists.

From Beliefnet:
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."

I'll need to read "The Convergence of Science and Religion," more carefully, but the concluding paragraph is promising:

Finally, if science and religion are so broadly similar, and not arbitrarily limited in their domains, they should at some time clearly converge. I believe this confluence is inevitable. For both represent man’s efforts to understand his universe and must ultimately be dealing with the same substance. As we understand more in each realm, the two must grow together. Perhaps by the time this convergence occurs, science will have been through a number of revolutions as striking as those which have occurred in the last century, and taken on a character not readily recognizable by scientists of today. Perhaps our religious understanding will have also seen progress and challenge. But converge they must, and through this should come new strength for both.


From science and heaven to the science of the heavens....

This story is not exactly on-topic for this blog, but it is interesting nontheless: President Bush has broken a regrettable precedent by nominating an actual science Ph.D. to be NASA Administrator. Michael D. Griffin is currently head of the space department at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md. The NY Times article included a couple of remarkable comments:

A native of Aberdeen, Md., Dr. Griffin earned a B.A. in physics from Johns Hopkins University and a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from the University of Maryland. He also holds five [!] master's degrees.

In April 2004, Dr. Griffin took his current post as head of the space department at the Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, where he had worked in the early 1980's. In 1986, he joined the Pentagon's "Star Wars" program, which was aimed at developing a missile defense shield.

Dr. Griffin worked at NASA from 1991 to 1994 before moving on to posts in private industry, going to Orbital Science Corporation in Dulles, Va. He also worked for Computer Science Corporation in El Segundo, Calif.


Dr. Howard E. McCurdy, a professor in the department of public administration at American University, said that the appointment of Dr. Griffin was a shot across the bow of companies like Boeing and Lockheed that have received the lion's share of space work. "His nomination signals that it's more wide open than that, that there may be new players," Dr. McCurdy said.

Sounds like a good man. NASA suffers from grave problems, most notably its subjection to conflicting political pressures. It will be interesting to see what Griffin can do.

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