I picked up an interesting and somewhat unusual new book recently, Science and Religion: 5 Questions. The editor, Gregg D. Caruso, posed five questions on science and religion to thirty three different authors and scholars covering a broad range of viewpoints. Respondents include Daniel C. Dennett, Michael Shermer, William Dembski, John Polkinghorne, and Rabbi David Wolpe and many more.
The five questions:
1. What initially drew you to theorizing about science and religion?
2. Do you think science and religion are compatible when is comes to understanding cosmology (the origin of the universe), biology (the origin of life and the human species), ethics, and/or the human mind (minds, brains, souls, and free will)?
3. Some theorists maintain that science and religion occupy nonoverlapping magisteria – i.e., that science and religion each have a legitimate magisterium, or domain of teaching authority, and these two domains do not overlap. Do you agree?
4. What do you consider to be your most important contribution(s) to theorizing about science and religion?
5. What are the most important open questions, problems, or challenges confronting the relationship between science and religion, and what are the prospects for progress?
These questions introduce the speakers (especially 1 and 4), and touch on the major issues of origins (2). Given my current interest in Stephen Jay Gould’s proposed NOMA as sketched in his book Rocks of Ages, the third questions in particularly interesting. Many of the respondents don’t seem to have actually taken the time to understand his proposal. The final two questions are open ended and provide for interesting individual responses.
From time to time I will dip into this book and consider come of the various responses offered.
Charles Townes. One of the interviews is with a man who isn’t a household name, but perhaps should be. Charles Townes shared the Nobel Prize in 1964 for “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” (Nobel Prize page). I heard him speak earlier this year at a symposium in memory of his former student, James P. Gordon, who was first author on the paper with Townes and reporting the success of the maser in 1955. Charles Townes is still impressive at 99 years of age. For those who might not know, maser stands for microwave amplification by stimulated emission of radiation. The more familiar laser operates on the same principle at shorter wavelengths (light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation).
Oh yeah, and he is a life-long Christian, a member of the United Church of Christ.