Now, what stood out as unusual was that the story was about his receiving the "Templeton Prize" for his work in the field of religion.
What stuck out in my mind was Townes' comments on what one might call "cosmological intelligent design" (see the last paragraph of this Cornell news story. Basically, like aficionados of "intelligent design" as a stealth way of inserting religion into the biology curriculum, he reasons that the universe must have been designed with life in mind, because it is so improbable that the universe's physical laws would turn out "just right" for life to arise. In fact, it is true that physicists don't currently know why various underlying physical constants have the values they do, thought only fairly narrow ranges would produce universes suitable for life.
This is an old argument against science in general and evolution in particular: that since we can't explain everything right now, that must mean that God set things up. Besides the logical fallacy, there is a fundamental probabilistic fallacy in this. Let's imagine that many, many universes could be created, and only a small fraction would have physical laws suitable for life. to make things concrete, I'll use 0.0001 as a small probability, but any number would work. So, the probability of a suitable universe is P(S) = 0.0001. Let's also assume that, even if the universe is suitable, the probability of life arising is small, too (again, the number actually doesn't matter). This is a conditional probability, the probability of life given we know the universe is suitable, P(L|S) = 0.0001. We also know that life cannot arise if the universe is not suitable, P(L|~S) = 0. So, the a priori probability of life occurring in a universe, before we checked to see if the universe is suitable, is P(L) = P(S) P(L|S) = 10^-8.
What we want to know is the probability that the universe is suitable, given that there is life in it. This is exactly what Townes is having a problem with -- we've already seen that P(S) and P(L) are very small, so there's no way that this suitable universe could have happened "by chance". (Of course, we don't know that it was by chance, but that's beside my point here.) Actually, however, that is not true -- given that we exist (otherwise, we wouldn't be around to be amazed by this improbable-seeming universe), the probability that the universe is suitable is 100%, P(S|L)=1. There are a variety of ways of arriving at this; I'll use Bayes' rule (not the simplest way to do it), but it's really a tautology of the math.
Bayes' rule allows us to reason from evidence back to cause, given that we understand ahead of time how the cause relates to the evidence. For our suitable universe, the rule is:
P(S|L) = P(L|S) P(S)/P(L) = (0.0001)(0.0001)/(10^-8) = 1
As we can see now, the numbers don't matter because P(L) = P(L|S) P(S), which is true because P(L|~S) = 0. In other words, of course we see that the universe is suitable for life; if it weren't suitable, we wouldn't be here! The same reasoning can be applied to evolution. It doesn't matter how improbable the evolution of intelligence is, the fact is that only intelligent life can ponder such matters, and so all such conditional probabilities are actually certainties.
Note added 3/11/2005: There's a great FAQ on the "Anthropic Principle" that you should read, if you're interested in this sort of thing.