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.

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballGunners confirm signing from Manchester United
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
New Articles
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
News
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
i100
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Hare’s a riddle: Kit Williams with the treasure linked to Masquerade
booksRiddling trilogy could net you $3m
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
News
i100
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
booksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
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

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering