Stanford University will officially announce later today the founding of a new research institute, with major funding from the John Templeton Foundation. Many of the faculty and research staff of the new institute will come from the present Institute for Theoretical Physics which will be shutting its doors.
Co-directors of the new institute will be Stanford faculty member Leonard Susskind, and Gerald Cleaver, who is currently head of the Early Universe Cosmology and Strings Group at Baylor University. Susskind, who is one of the co-discoverers of string theory, has in recent years been the most prominent promoter of the theory of the “multiverse”, which he describes in a recent interview. Later this month he will be giving the Einstein lecture at Brown University on the topic of String Theory and Intelligent Design. He is widely considered to be the leading candidate for next year’s Templeton Prize. Cleaver, a prominent string theorist who was a student of John Schwarz (the co-discoverer of superstring theory) at Caltech, has published more than 40 important research articles on string theory. Like Susskind, his recent interests have been in the area of string cosmology.
Next year the institute will open its doors with a year-long program on the topic of the multiverse, led by theoretical cosmologist George F. R. Ellis visiting from the University of Cape Town. Ellis, the 2004 Templeton Prize winner, explains that the traditional view of an opposition between faith and science has been made obsolete by the latest research in string theory and cosmology. Says Ellis, “In the end, belief in a multiverse will always be just that — a matter of belief, based in faith that logical arguments proposed give the correct answer in a situation where direct observational proof is unattainable and the supposed underlying physics is untestable.”
The new institute will be named the Stanford Templeton Research Institute for Nature, God and Science (STRINGS) and will collaborate with other related Bay Area organizations, including Stanford’s own KIPAC (Kavli Institute for Particle Astrophysics and Cosmology) and Berkeley’s CTNS (Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences). Steve Kahn, the director of KIPAC, welcomed the formation of the new institute saying “We’re very pleased to have such a major institution on campus led by two such prominent physicists working on cosmology. In this era of declining NSF and DOE budgets, we need to branch out from traditional approaches to science. We expect to collaborate with the new institute to help us seek funding from sources such as the President’s FBCI initiative.” Besides the physicists, several faculty from other Stanford departments will be affiliated with the Templeton institute, including computer scientist Donald Knuth, author of the recent book Things a Computer Scientist Rarely Talks About.
According to Dr. John M. Templeton, Jr., president of the Templeton foundation, “the idea for the institute grew out of our involvement with a series of lectures at Stanford in the area of biology. At those lectures the biologists pointed out to us that it was the physicists on campus who were doing work most closely related to our foundation’s interests, something we had already noticed through our Cosmology and Fine-tuning Research Program. As the latest cutting-edge research in physics has caused physicists to rethink what it means for a theory to explain experimental data, the wedge driven by Galileo between science and religion has begun to close. We’re very proud to be able to support and encourage this trend.”
Encouragement also comes from some other members of the Stanford physics department. Nobel-prize winning theoretical physicist Robert McLaughlin was quoted as saying “theoretical particle physics is just getting old and losing its youthful good looks. Even Ed Witten has given up on it. This latest plan for the cosmology/multiverse/string theory crowd to join up with Templeton reminds me of a woman deciding to become a nun when she gets too old to attract men. But if it gets them out of the physics department, I’m in favor of it. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out, guys.”