For the love of God... scientists in uproar at £1m religion prize

 

The astronomer Royal has won this year's £1m Templeton Prize, an award denounced by many atheist scientists as an underhand attempt to promote religion by linking it with science.

Martin Rees, the former president of the Royal Society and master of Trinity College, Cambridge, was given the award for "exceptional contributions to affirming life's spiritual dimension" through his research and writings on cosmology. Lord Rees of Ludlow, who has said he holds no religious beliefs, defended the prize on the grounds it was awarded by a foundation which has given money to fund important science projects at respectable research institutions, including Cambridge.

"I would see no reason to be concerned because they support a variety of interesting and worthwhile research projects in Cambridge University and many other places," the 68-year-old said. "The fact they have given this award to me, someone who has no religious beliefs at all, shows they are not too narrow in their sympathies. I feel very surprised because I really thought that I didn't have the credentials, but obviously I'm extremely pleased because I'm joining a roll call of distinguished previous winners, including six members of the Royal Society."

The award was established in 1972 as the Templeton Prize "for progress in religion" by the late Wall Street financier John Templeton, who died in 2008, aged 95. Its first recipient was Mother Teresa of Calcutta. The Templeton Foundation is worth about $2.1bn (£1.3bn) and each year hands out about $70m in grants, about half of which goes to scientific fields.

In the 1980s, the Templeton Prize switched its focus more towards science, emphasising the spiritual dimension of research that has a wider significance in terms of explaining the human condition. But this has only infuriated its critics, who believe the prize is a not-too-subtle attempt to inveigle respectable scientists into the sphere of religion.

"That will look great on Templeton's CV. Not so good on Martin's," said Professor Richard Dawkins, of Oxford University, who has been an outspoken critic of the Templeton Foundation.

Harry Kroto, a British Nobel laureate at Florida State University in Tallahassee, was equally scathing: "There's a distinct feeling in the research community that Templeton just gives the award to the most senior scientists they can find who's willing to say something nice about religion."

Jerry Coyne, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Chicago, said the Templeton Foundation is "sneakier than the creationists" by introducing the idea of faith into a discipline where faith is anathema. "Religion is based on dogma and belief, whereas science is based on doubt and questioning. In religion, faith is a virtue. In science, faith is a vice," he said. The philosopher Anthony Grayling, of Birkbeck College, London, also has misgivings about the aims of the Templeton Foundation, which, he believes, should not pretend that questions of religion are on the same level as those of science. "I cannot agree with the Templeton Foundation's project of trying to make religion respectable by conflating it with science; this is like mixing astrology with astronomy or voodoo with medical research," he said.

Nevertheless, distinguished scientists such as the cosmologists Freeman Dyson and Paul Davies have accepted the prize in previous years.

Travel
travel
News
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014
peopleTim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
News
Jamie and Emily Pharro discovering their friend's prank
video
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift crawls through the legs of twerking dancers in her 'Shake It Off' music video
musicEarl Sweatshirt thinks so
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Radcliffe and Zoe Kazan in What If
filmReview: Actor swaps Harry Potter for Cary Grant in What If
News
Our resilience to stress is to a large extent determined by our genes
science
Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
sportBesiktas 0 Arsenal 0: Champions League qualifying first-leg match ends in stalemate in Istanbul
News
Pornography is more accessible - and harder to avoid - than ever
news... but they still admit watching it
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Arts and Entertainment
The eyes have it: Kate Bush
musicKate Bush asks fans not to take photos at London gigs
News
i100
Extras
indybest
Sport
Manchester United are believed to have made a £15m bid for Marcos Rojo
sportWinger Nani returns to Lisbon for a season-long loan as part of deal
News
news
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Marketing & Commnunications Executive, London

£30000 - £34000 per annum: Charter Selection: This highly successful organisat...

C# .NET Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript HTML, CSS) Finance

£60000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Develo...

MI Analyst-Reporting-Bank-Edinburgh-£260/day

£230 - £260 per day + competitive: Orgtel: MI Analyst-Reporting-Bank-Edinburgh...

Junior Database developer (SQL, T-SQL, Excel, SSRS, Crystal rep

£25000 - £30000 per annum + bonus+benefits+package: Harrington Starr: Junior D...

Day In a Page

Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

But could his predictions of war do the same?
Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

Young at hort

Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

Beyond a joke

Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

A wild night out

Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

Besiktas vs Arsenal

Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment