Professor Charles Hard Townes died at the age of 99 on January 27. He was a physicist who basically discovered the laser beam and black holes. Not bad at all. In fact, he was one of the most prestigious scientists in the world (check out TownesBio) though you wouldn’t guess that by his simple and open attitude. I got to meet him at his 99th birthday party (balloons and all) on the University of California, Berkeley campus last summer. Since I am definitely not a scientist, I had not heard of him, but the UCal website mentioned his birthday party, and since I like a good party, I decided to go. I learned in the process that he earned not only the Nobel Prize for physics (1964) but also the Templeton Prize (2005) for his views on the dialogue between science and religion. One of his famous quotes on this matter is, “science and religion [are] quite parallel, much more similar than most people think and that in the long run, they must converge” (given at a 2005 Harvard lecture).
Back to the party. I decided to get in line and meet Dr. Townes, and as I got closer to him, I realized that he was very happy to greet all sorts of people, and even when his personal nurse suggested that they move out of the sun, he made it clear that he wanted to keep greeting well-wishers. When it was my turn, I tried to think of something intelligent (I don’t know many Nobel laureates) and thanked him “for all the work he had done” (pretty safe statement) then I risked it, and told him I was a theologian who was grateful for his efforts to maintain a dialogue between faith and reason. He liked that, and he blessed my work. Here you go, Dr. Townes, Requiescat in pace, and enjoy your die natalis!