Michael Heller, Professor in the Faculty of Philosophy at the Pontifical Academy of Theology in Cracow, Poland, is a cosmologist and Catholic priest who has developed sharply focused and strikingly original concepts on the origin and cause of the universe. Heller's examination of fundamental questions such as "Does the universe need to have a cause?" engages a wide range of sources, in mathematics, philosophy, cosmology, and theology, allowing each field to share insights that may inform the others without any violence to their respective methodologies. With an academic and religious background that enables him to move comfortably and credibly within each of these domains, Heller has given new and important consideration to some of humankind's most profound concepts.
Despite the active anti-intellectualism of the Communist regime that controlled Poland for the majority of his life, Heller established himself as an international figure among cosmologists and physicists through his prolific writings - he has more than 30 books and nearly 400 papers to his credit - on such topics as the unification of general relativity and quantum mechanics, multiverse theories and their limitations, geometric methods in relativistic physics such as noncommutative geometry, and the philosophy and history of science.
Simultaneously, as a Catholic priest, Heller surmounted the antireligious dictates of Polish authorities, opening new vistas for the faithful by positioning the traditional Christian way of viewing the universe within a broader cosmological context and by initiating what can be justly termed the "theology of science."
Born in 1936 in Tarnow, Heller and his family fled Poland in 1939 after his father sabotaged the chemical factory where he worked to keep it out of the hands of the Nazi invaders. By the time he was ten years old, the winds of war had uprooted his family from Poland and taken them to the present day Ukraine, to Siberia, to southern Russia, and back to Poland.
Heller earned a master of theology degree in 1959 from the Catholic University of Lublin in Poland, and was ordained a priest in April 1959, serving briefly in a local parish. He returned to the Catholic University in 1960, earning a master of philosophy in 1965 with a thesis on the philosophical aspects of relativity theory, and a Ph.D. in philosophy with a thesis in relativistic cosmology in 1966. Even though his studies were largely in physics, the authorities prevented the university from granting degrees in that discipline.
In 1969, Heller received a docent degree-an academic achievement above a doctorate-with a thesis on Mach's principle in relativistic cosmology. After more than a decade of delay, he obtained a passport in 1977 and served as visiting professor at the Institute of Astrophysics and Geophysics at Catholic University in Louvain, Belgium, and researcher at Oxford University and Leicester University in Britain. In 1985, he joined the faculty of the Pontifical Academy of Theology, where his scholarship in physics, logic, philosophy, and theology has influenced two generations of students. In 1986, Heller began research at the Vatican Observatory in Castel Gandolfo, Italy, where he has worked with George Coyne, the observatory's director emeritus, astrophysicist and theologian William Stoeger, and many others.
Despite the oppression of Polish Communist authorities against intellectuals and priests, the Church provided Heller with a sphere of protection. Among those fostering this atmosphere in the 1960s was Karol Wojtyla, the Archbishop of Cracow and the future Pope John Paul II, who invited Heller and other scientists, philosophers, and theologians to his residence to discuss their various disciplines. This group began calling itself the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies and was blended into the Theological Faculty in Cracow. When the Solidarity movement in the 1980s ushered in newfound freedoms for Poland, Heller's subsequent travels and the translation of his writings helped to quickly establish his reputation around the globe.
Heller's current work focuses on noncommutative geometry and groupoid theory in mathematics, which attempts to remove the problem of an initial cosmological singularity at the origin of the universe. "If on the fundamental level of physics there is no space and no time, as many physicists think," says Heller, "noncommutative geometry could be a suitable tool to deal with such a situation."