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Nobel laureate says religion and science aren’t enemies

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PROVO— Ordinary religion and ordinary science are neither enemies nor strangers, Nobel laureate William D. Phillips told students at the weekly Brigham Young University Forum.

Phillips was awarded the Nobel prize in physics in 1997 for his work with cooling and trapping atoms. He demonstrated that a beam of natural atoms could be slowed and cooled with radiation pressure from a laser.

During a press conference at that time he mentioned a belief in both science and God. Ever since then, he said, he has been branded as a "religious laureate."

Through a series of television news clips Phillips, a Methodist, showed how he responded to numerous press inquiries around the world about his belief in both religion and science. In Sweden, for example, the press played up his belief in God more than his belief in science. Many of the press interviews since he received the Nobel prize have been on the topic of conflict between religion and science. But he sees no conflict.

Science uses experiments to learn about truth, while religious belief is not scientific, he said.

"The odds against having the universe we have is absolutely astronomical," he said. "The universe is fine-tuned to allow life."

As for a good answer as to why the universe is the way it is: "God wanted it to be this way," he said.

Many scientists believe in God, which makes perfect sense to them. But others take an opposite view, he acknowledged. While science is based on evidence, Phillips said, religion is based on faith.

People look at life through various windows, he said. But different tastes in art, music and food is not scientific. To look at such things through the window of science would be dull. Likewise, the feelings of love between two people is not scientific, he said.

He labeled the common belief that to be a scientist is to be an atheist as nonsense."

Science answers questions regarding how things came to be, while religion deals with relationships between "us and our creator and our fellow creatures," he said.

Questions relative to science and questions regarding religion use different kinds of methods to arrive at the answers, Phillips told the audience.