Religion and science are not at odds, says winner of Templeton Prize

Published May 1, 2008

Rev. Michael Heller, winner of the 2008 Templeton Prize, speaks at a news conference in New York.

New York
Rev. Michael (Michal) Heller, a Polish Roman Catholic priest and cosmologist whose intellectual and religious life has been grounded in the insights of both science and religion, has won the 2008 Templeton Prize.

Mr. Heller, 72, who teaches at the Pontifical Academy of Theology in Cracow, was awarded the prize of £820,000 ($1.66 million Cdn) for his work in connecting the realms of physics, cosmology, theology and philosophy.

In an interview, Mr. Heller reiterated his belief that the oft-described “two worlds” of religion and science are not at odds, saying that without the meaning afforded by religion, “science would be meaningless.”

Mr. Heller has had a long interest in examining such questions as “Does the universe need to have a cause?” and he has engaged sources from different disciplines that might otherwise have little in common, the John Templeton Foundation said.

“Michael Heller’s quest for deeper understanding has led to pioneering breakthroughs in religious concepts and knowledge as well as expanding the horizons of science,” John M. Templeton Jr., the president of the John Templeton Foundation, said in a statement in conjunction with the announcement of the award at the Church Center for the United Nations.

Mr. Heller told ENI the grounding for his beliefs came in part from the background of his parents. His father, Kaziemierz, was an electrical and mechanical engineer as well as a painter, who instilled in his son a sense of the unity of science and religion.

This happened at a time when the family was trying to find its bearings after being first deported, like some one million other Poles, to Siberia under orders of Joseph Stalin, followed by war-time transfers to the Volga region of the Soviet Union and then to western Poland.

The experience of the Second World War gave Mr. Heller a sense of a higher calling. “Without higher motives, life is vegetation, it’s not human life,” observed Mr. Heller in describing how his determination to excel academically led him on a path that combined the priesthood and academia.

Mr. Heller said he plans to use the Templeton money to help create a centre that, in conjunction with Jagiellonian University and the Pontifical Academy of Theology in Cracow, will promote science and theology as an academic discipline.

The priest will formally receive the 2008 Templeton Prize – the full name of which is the Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries About Spiritual Realities – on May 7 at Buckingham Palace. The John Templeton Foundation has awarded the prize since 1973.


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