A Polish priest and physicist who was a friend of Pope John Paul II has been awarded the 2008 Templeton Prize, the world’s largest monetary annual award, for his theology of science.

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For more information – visit http://www.templetonprize.org/bios.html

I always wanted to do the most important things, and what can be more important than science and religion? Science gives us Knowledge, and religion gives us Meaning. Both are prerequisites of the decent existence. The paradox is that these two great values seem often to be in conflict. I am frequently asked how I could reconcile them with each other. When such a question is posed by a scientist or a philosopher, I invariably wonder how educated people could be so blind not to see that science does nothing else but explores God’s creation….

It is in the human brain that the world’s structure has reached its focal point the ability to reflect upon itself. Science is but a collective effort of the Human Mind to read the Mind of God from question marks out of which we and the world around us seem to be made. To place ourselves in this double entanglement is to experience that we are a part of the Great Mystery. The true humility does not consist in pretending that we are feeble and insignificant, but in the audacious acknowledgement that we are an essential part of the Greatest Mystery of all of the entanglement of the Human Mind with the Mind of God.
Michal Heller

Templeton Prize

Father Michal Heller, who conducted his research on the origins of the universe and the relation between science and religion while living under Soviet oppression, was awarded the 1.1 million Templeton Prize by Prince Phillip at a ceremony in May at Buckingham Palace.

“Michal Heller’s quest for deeper understanding has led to pioneering breakthroughs in religious concepts and knowledge as well as expanding the horizons of science,” said John Templeton, Jr., head of the Templeton Foundation and son of the global investor and philanthropist who started the award.

The Templeton Foundation said Heller’s examination of questions such as “Does the universe have a cause?” has given Christians a theology of science in which to consider the great blueprint of God’s thinking.

John Templeton, Sr., who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1987, deliberately set the value of the Templeton Prize higher than the value of the Nobel because he believed that the benefits of spiritual study outweigh those of other human endeavours. The Templeton Prize has been awarded since 1973.

Religion and Science

In an interview with Ecumenical News International the day before the 12 March announcement, 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”

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 otherwise in common, the John Templeton Foundation said in announcing Heller’s winning of the prize.

Father Heller, 72, is a professor of philosophy at the Pontifical Academy of Theology in Krakow and an adjunct professor at the Vatican Astronomical Observatory in Italy.

The priest has a religious and academic background that allows him to examine religion, physics, mathematics, cosmology, philosophy, and history.

“It iss my little joke that my main drawback is I am interested in too many things,” Father Heller told the Ottawa Citizen in an interview. “So my talents, if I have any, are too-easily dissipated into too many things.”

The priest-physicist has examined quantum physics, general relativity, the historic interaction between science and religion, the foundations of physics, and the evolution of the universe.

His academic work was carried out under the aggressive anti-intellectualism of the Communist regime that governed Poland for most of Father Heller’s life.

Background

Father Heller was born to a religious intellectual family in 1936 in the Polish town of Tamow. He was ordained in 1959 and after serving as a parish priest he returned to academic studies. He was encouraged by the Archbishop of Krakow, Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II. Archbishop Wojtyla would invite Father Heller and other scientists, philosophers, and theologians to his residence to discuss their fields of study.

The future Pope also convinced Polish authorities in 1977 to allow Father Heller to travel to the west to attend conferences and meet foreign experts. Father Heller’s travel requests had been denied for the previous decade.

Father Heller said he plans to use the prize money to create a centre for research into science and theology.