A conversation with dr. presbi: Fiber-optics, intelligent Design, and the big bang

This past Thursday, May 13, 2021, Valley Torah students gathered in the outdoor Beis Midrash tent for a talk with world-renowned physicist Dr. Chaim Presby regarding an array of topics ranging from his work with fiber-optics to his viewpoint on macroevolution and intelligent design.

Dr. Presby is a senior lecturer for outreach programs associated with Gateways and has been a distinguished member of the technical staff at Bell Laboratories for over 30 years. At Bell Labs, Dr. Presby pioneered research and development efforts in Photonic Applications with a specialty in Optical Fiber Technology. He holds over 200 patents in the field of photonics and has published over 180 papers on the topic in leading scientific journals. After his work with Bell Laboratories, Dr. Presby held the position of Research Architect for the Terabeam Corporation and became a Fellow of the Optical Society of America. Early on, Dr. Presby worked as a research scientist at Columbia University and an assistant professor of physics at the Belfer Graduate School of Science of Yeshiva University. Today, in addition to speaking for Gateways, Dr. Presby works as a free-lance consultant and spends much of his time giving Torah classes on Talmudic topics in his hometown of Highland Park, New Jersey.

The conversation with Dr. Presby started with his work in the field of fiber-optics. As Dr. Presby explained, an optical fiber is a thin fiber of glass (with roughly the same width as a strand of a human hair) that can carry light from one end to the other. Fiber-optic communication is a method of transmitting information from one place to another by sending pulses of infrared light through an optical fiber. The light is a form of the carrier wave that is modulated to carry information. This type of communication can transmit voice, video, and telemetry through local and long distance networks. Japanese telecommunication companies have spearheaded the development of fiber-optic communication for years but have only managed to capture roughly 40% of information-carrying light ( which is highly inefficient). Within two weeks of experimenting with this technology, Dr. Presby and his team were able to achieve 100% efficiency of captured light and have reached a record bandwidth–distance product of over 100 petabit × kilometers per second.

Along with his theoretical team, Dr. Presby discovered that if they were to fabricate a specially shaped lens on the very tip of the fiber, the design would allow 100% of light to flow through the lens and into the fiber. The team used laser micromachining to attach a hyperbolic lens to the end of the fiber and directed pulses of infrared light. (A gross oversimplification of the technological breakthrough.) When asked by journalists what his inspiration was, Dr. Presby unequivocally and firmly responded: “the idea came from heaven; it was God-given.”

Intrigued that a highly regarded member of the scientific community would credit his innovation to God, students earnestly listened on. 

Dr. Presby delineated the marvelous progress of recent technological advancement and the phenomenal growth in scientific knowledge but explained at length as to why he believes these advancements reinforce the notion of an “intelligent design”- i.e., the existence of God.

“If there’s anything that science is showing us, it’s showing us the presence of God.”

-Dr. Presbi

As the conversation continued, Dr. Presby provided reasoning for his stance on intelligent design based on his work with physical cosmology. Otherwise known as astrophysics, physical cosmology is a branch of physics that deals with the study of the physical origins of the Universe and its nature on a large scale. Dr. Presby explained that the preceding conventional scientific theory for the origin of the Universe was that an origin never existed. The steady-state theory governed the field of cosmology for decades and proclaimed that the Universe has no explicit beginning or end in time. (A theory that directly contradicts the notion of a creator of the Universe.) During the later half of the 20th century, however, cosmologists observed data that indicated that, in fact, the world was changing: quasars and radio galaxies were only detected in substantially distant areas, but not in closer galaxies, thus making those galaxies exist only in the distant past. The data proved that the Universe does exist within the boundaries of time and the Universe must have originated at some point. Contemporary scientists abandoned the now-obsolete steady-state theory and instead came up with a more complementary one- the Big Bang theory.

Nobel Prize laureate Arno Allan Penzias is the American physicist and radio astronomer who, along with Robert Woodrow Wilson, discovered cosmic microwave background radiation, which subsequently helped establish the Big Bang theory. Penzias and Wilson had constructed a large radio telescope antenna that, wherever pointed, picked up the same noise-like microwave radio waves. These waves turned out to be cooled-down remnants of the enormous energy radiated at the moment of the Earth’s origin. 

“What the Big Bang theory established is that the Universe has a definitive origin, a definite moment in history where the universe came into existence.”

-Dr. Presby

Dr. Presby personally worked with the two physicists (even carpooling with Penzias) at Bell Laboratories, and explained his viewpoints on the theory: “What the Big Bang theory established,” Dr. Presby explained, “is that the Universe has a definitive origin, a definite moment in history where the universe came into existence.” And that very moment, Dr. Presby argued, is when God created the world. 

At Bell Labs, Dr. Presby once asked Robert Wilson what he believed to be the origin of the Big Bang and Wilson responded “I refuse to think about it.” Presby explained that in his field of study he has met with numerous scientists that unrelentingly refuse to accept the notion of the existence of a greater being despite the logical conclusions that lead to that deduction. Dr. Presby explained: “Intelligent Design is nothing new. For centuries, thinkers from Plato to Aquinas to Newton all argued that the natural world manifests the design of a preexistent mind or intelligence – a Creator… Refusal accept arose during the late nineteenth century when many scientists began to reject this previously simply accepted fact. The Enlightenment awakened in Western civilization a reverence for man’s power of reason, and our ability to understand and control our world. Scientists could not bear the thought of a natural phenomenon that could not be explained. At the forefront was Darwin’s Theory of Evolution through natural selection, which portrayed nature as a self-creating and self-existent machine – one that does not show any evidence of design by a directing agency or intelligence.”

Dr. Presby concluded with a response to a question regarding his stance on macroevolution, which he responded by saying: “There is no evidence that indicates a change from one species to another species. There is an indication of microevolution (as the Ramban asserted years ago) which records changes within a species, but no experimentation has yielded corroborative evidence that macroevolution exists.” Intelligent Design, on the other hand, posits that biological life is so incredibly complex and intricate that it must have been designed by an intelligent source.

To Dr. Presby, God is a part of the Universe and God’s existence does not conflict with the study of science; rather, science explores the methods employed by God through which God created the Universe.

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