The New York Times is reporting that Michael Heller, a Roman Catholic Priest and cosmologist from Poland, has won the 2008 Templeton Prize. The Christian Science Monitor offers some further details here.
In case you are unfamiliar with it, the Templeton Prize is a 1.6 million dollar (!!) prize given out to those attempting to reconcile science with religion. Typically it goes to people with genuine scientific credentials who are nonetheless willing to utter comforting bromides about how science and religion are two sides of the same coin.
I’m not familiar with Heller’s work, and short articles in mainstream newspapers are not the most reliable sources on these topics. Nonetheless, let’s have a look at a few nuggets.
In doing so, he has argued against a “God of the gaps” strategy for relating science and religion, a view that uses God to explain what science cannot.
Professor Heller said he believes, for example, that the religious objection to teaching evolution “is one of the greatest misunderstandings” because it “introduces a contradiction or opposition between God and chance.”
Standard boilerplate, but we shouldn’t let that last part go unnoticed. The apparent contradiction is between a view of things that says we are the purposeful creations of an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God, and a view that says that we are the chance result of tens of millions of years of bloody and violent evolution. Yeah, it’s real hard to imagine how anyone sees opposition between the two stories.
I’m assuming, incidentally, that by describing evolution as “chance” he has in mind the idea that human beings (or something near-enough to us) were not the inevitable end result of evolution. I’ll assume he is not making the childish error of thinking that evolution is a process that relies on blind chance to produce complex organisms.
The Christian Science Monitor serves up this one:
“Science gives us knowledge, but religion gives us meaning,” he says. “Science without religion is not meaningless, but lame…. And religion without science [slides] into fundamentalism,” he says.
Well, I like the implication that religion does not give us knowledge. The rest of it I’m not so sure about. In what possible sense is science lame without religion? Surely Heller is aware of the high percentage of atheists among professional scientists. Are they all doing it wrong? Is their work lame?
And in what sense deos religion give us meaning? Surely it only serves that function if we can be confident that its fact claims about God and His purposes are accurate. Does Heller have some way of establshing the correctness of such claims? If he does not, then I would suggest the meaning religion provides could be obtained more simply by making stuff up wholesale.
The Times observes:
The $1.6 million 2008 Templeton Prize, the richest award made to an individual by a philanthropic organization, was given Wednesday to Michael Heller, 72, a Polish Roman Catholic priest, cosmologist, and philosopher who has spent his life asking, and perhaps more impressively, answering, questions like “Does the universe need to have a cause?”
Don’t be coy! At least give us a hint as to what the answers are!