Nobel laureate and laser inventor Charles H. Townes told a packed Science Center lecture hall Monday (June 13) that science and religion are parallel, rather than antagonistic, disciplines and that he sees them ultimately coming together.
“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,” Townes said in his 40-minute talk.

Townes’ speech, “Logic and Mystery in Science and Religion,” coincided with a weeklong conference at Harvard on recent advances by a new astronomical facility, the Submillimeter Array on the slopes of Hawaii’s highest volcano, Mauna Kea.

Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) Director Charles Alcock said that Townes was in Cambridge to deliver technical talks for the conference and was asked to address the more general topic in a public lecture.

The Submillimeter Array examines light at wavelengths invisible to the human eye, combining signals from eight 6-meter antennas to gather very high-resolution images of the universe.

The array has been able to observe objects billions of light years away, allowing it to essentially look back in time. It has already helped identify distant, dusty galaxies too faint for the Hubble Space Telescope to see clearly, and to show that they are undergoing bursts of star formation.

The talk was sponsored by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics and by the Academia Sinica Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics.

In describing religion and science as parallel, Townes rejected the often hostile relationship between the two, evidenced today in the ongoing battle over teaching evolution in schools and by religious objections to certain scientific procedures, such as stem cell research.