2008 Templeton Prize

The 2008 Templeton Prize was announced today. It goes to Michael Heller, a Polish cosmologist, philosopher and Catholic priest, for “sharply focused and strikingly original concepts on the origin and cause of the universe.” The full name of the Templeton Prize is the “Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries About Spiritual Realities” Its goal is to promote bringing science and religion together by awarding a prize of 820,000 pounds sterling, the single largest award given to an individual. Prince Philip somehow gets into the picture too, since he will be presenting the prize to Heller in a private ceremony at Buckingham Palace in early May.

In recent years Heller has been interested in non-commutative geometry as way to study quantum gravity and cosmology. According to Heller, the crucial question of cosmology is “Can the Universe Explain Itself?”, and associated with the awarding of this prize, the Templeton Foundation will be hosting a discussion of the associated question “Does the Universe Need to Have a Cause?”.

The Templeton press materials describe Heller as “initiating what can be justly termed the ‘theology of science.'” His nomination for the prize says that:

It is evident that for him the mathematical nature of the world and its comprehensibility by humans constitute the circumstantial evidence of the existence of God.

I’m rather dubious about the way Heller mixes theology, philosophy and cosmology, but, unlike much harder-nosed physicists these days, at least he seems to recognize the problems with the Multiverse.

Heller intends to use the prize money to create a Copernicus Center in Cracow to further research and education in science and theology.

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13 Responses to 2008 Templeton Prize

  1. Thomas Love says:

    Don’t forget that the Big Bang Theory was formulated by Abbe George Lemaitre, a Belgian priest and mathematician. So there has been a mix since the beginning.

  2. According to the New York Times, it’s Prince Philip, not Prince Charles, who will do the awarding.

  3. Peter Woit says:

    Thanks Steven, fixed.

  4. !?! says:

    820,000 pounds? Now I understand the meaning of papers like:

    Does God so love the multiverse? arXiv:0801.0246

  5. chris says:

    actually, the paper you refer to makes a lot of sense to me. and i don’t find any metaphysical speculations there.

    it’s actually kind of funny that these days physicists construct wild untestable speculations about the universe and have to be reminded about the empirical basis by theologists. well, philosophers at least.

    actually, thinking twice, this is rather depressive than funny.

  6. Yatima says:

    Not directly related, but in the department of dubious claims we have this:

    Physicists Make Artificial Black Hole Using Optical Fiber

    I can imagine that the mathematical description of an electromagnetic wave in fiber may have some analogue to the equations of a GR static black hole, but still it is not a GR black hole.

    “It is much easier to use these objects for observations instead of their astronomical counterparts,” says Grigori Volovik of Helsinki University of Technology, in Finland, who has found other analogues of cosmological phenomena in laboratory condensed-matter physics.

    Mistaking the map for the terrain I would say.

  7. anonymous says:

    Peter,

    can I just say that as a long time reader of this blog who is familiar with your frustrations, I admire the fairness and restraint that you showed in this post when you wrote:

    ”I’m rather dubious about the way Heller mixes theology, philosophy and cosmology, but, unlike much harder-nosed physicists these days, at least he seems to recognize the problems with the Multiverse.”

  8. also anonymous says:

    If any of you commenting/blogging had a look at Heller’s publication list (or better still, spared a moment to find some of his recent physics publications on arxiv) he would notice M.H. does not “mix” physics and theology – at least in what he himself put in section “physics” – he does both physics and theology. And that is a big difference. The word ‘frustration’ is quite appropriate in context of this posting, I’m afraid…

  9. Peter Woit says:

    AA,

    The writings of Heller linked to from the Templeton web-site very explicitly are a mixture of theology and physics. I doubt that he would object to this kind of characterization, based on his own comments about his intellectual history and interests. I see no evidence at all that he sees theology and science as two completely separate things.

  10. Andy says:

    Anonymous — I don’t see any postings of M. Heller on the arXiv. There are a large number of papers by Urs M. Heller, but he is a different person (his institutional affiliation is the American Physical Society in New York).

    I must say, however, that M. Heller’s critique of the multiverse displayed a rather good understanding of the philosophy of science and of the underlying scientific issues. Certainly he is no Fritjof Capra or Gary Zukav!

  11. Peter Woit says:

    Andy,

    There are quite a few papers by Michael Heller on the arXiv, see

    http://arxiv.org/find/gr-qc/1/au:+Heller_M/0/1/0/all/0/1

    It’s true that these papers have no theological component, also true that he has written many other papers explaining how he sees his scientific work as inspired and related to his theology.

  12. Angel says:

    @ all,
    The extent to which Heller ‘mixes’ science and theology is described in detail in his forthcoming book ‘A Comprehensible Universe’
    See: http://www.springer.com/philosophy/philosophy+of+sciences/book/978-3-540-77624-6

  13. alex says:

    Don’t forget that the Big Bang Theory was formulated by Abbe George Lemaitre, a Belgian priest and mathematician. So there has been a mix since the beginning.

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