NEW YORK, MARCH 8, 1995 — Paul Davies, a mathematical physicist whose wide-ranging inquiries into the workings of the universe breach the barrier between science and religion, has won the 1995 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. The announcement was made today at a press conference at the Church Center for the United Nations in New York.
Davies, 48, Professor of Natural Philosophy at The University of Adelaide in Australia, has developed several important contributions to theories concerning black holes, the nature of time, the beginning of the universe and other monumental questions of modern physics. In the process, he has forged scientific concepts that extend well into the theological realm.
The Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion is the world’s largest annual award, this year valued at 650,000 pounds sterling, about one million dollars. Begun in 1972 by the renowned global investor Sir John Templeton, the prize is given each year to a living person who has shown extraordinary originality in advancing humankind’s understanding of God and/or spirituality.
Davies joins a distinguished league of scientists who have won the Templeton Prize, including Thomas F. Torrance (1978), Ralph Wendell Burhoe (1979), and Sir Alister Hardy (1985). Davies becomes the third physicist, along with Stanley Jaki (1987) and Carl Friedrich von Weizsacker (1989), to win the Templeton Prize. The most recent scientist to receive the award was L. Charles Birch, an Australian geneticist and biologist who won in 1990.
Other winners of the Templeton Prize include Mother Teresa in 1973, Rev. Dr. Billy Graham in 1982, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in 1983. In 1993, the prize was awarded to Charles Colson, the former Watergate figure who went on to establish Prison Fellowship, the largest prison ministry in history. Last year’s winner was Michael Novak, a religious philosopher whose writings on free society have influenced political and social movements around the world.
Among the findings for which Davies was honored is his contention that humankind’s ability to understand math and science — which, in turn, allow for comprehension and calculation of the physical universe — evidences purpose and design to human existence. His stance is not dissimilar from that advocated for centuries by the world’s major religions.
Born in North London in 1946 and a resident of England until moving to Australia in 1990, Davies has long been a fixture in the Australian and British media. Called upon to present the latest in scientific findings about physics and cosmology, he often shares roundtables with some of the world’s great religious leaders and philosophers. In 1991, for example, he and the Dalai Lama jointly lectured on their individual views concerning “Time and Physical Existence.”
Today’s press conference will be followed by the actual awarding of the prize in a private ceremony at Buckingham Palace on May 5. The public ceremony in connection with the prize will be held on May 3 at Westminster Abbey.
In a statement prepared for the news conference, Davies said:
“It is impossible to be a scientist, even an atheistic scientist, and not be struck by the awesome beauty, harmony and ingenuity of nature. What most impresses me is the existence of an underlying mathematical order, an order that led the astronomer Sir James Jeans to declare: ‘God is a pure mathematician!’ This rational basis implies that the world is not only ordered, but ordered in an intelligible way. Indeed, the founding assumption of science is that nature is both rational and intelligible.
“Having spent half a lifetime working at the forefront of fundamental physics, I have found the use of words like ‘design,’ ‘meaning,’ and ‘purpose’ irresistible. How can one accept a scheme of things so cleverly arranged, so subtle and felicitous, simply as a brute fact, as a package of properties that just happens to be? Of course, science cannot prove the existence of a design, or a designer, but it can reveal the sheer depth of ingenuity that goes to make up this marvelous universe, our home.”
Since the time of Galileo, scientists have sought common ground between the hard sciences and religion. While Galileo was persecuted and rejected for his work, modern thinkers such as Stephen Hawking and Richard Feynman freely speculate on the relationship of science and religion. Although increasing numbers of the scientific community indulge religious sentiment when explaining the physical universe, few have staked a position as boldly — and with as much conviction — as Davies.
Despite his commitment to understanding the divine nature of the universe, however, Davies’ religious sensibilities have not come at the expense of his scientific credentials. Indeed, he insists on embracing the hard realities of science, rather than conforming them to fit theology’s needs. A phrase he wrote in 1983 typifies Davies’ approach to the issue: “Science offers a surer path to God than religion.”
Davies’ more significant scientific achievements include the development of what has become known as the “Davies/Unruh effect,” an important corollary on the thermodynamic effects of black holes. In 1978, with student Tim Bunch, he discovered a quantum property of the expanding universe — which eventually played a key role in the so-called inflationary universe scenario of the big bang theory — that physicists still refer to as the “Bunch-Davies vacuum state.”
Davies is the author of more than 20 books covering such subjects as cosmology, the nature of the laws of physics, the origin of the universe, subatomic particle physics, and gravitational waves. Thanks to his ability to express even the most complex scientific theories in an accessible, engaging style, he has become a popular lecturer and commentator. Typical was an October 1991 lecture in Sydney on the birth of the cosmos, attended by an overflow crowd of 900. His 1988 BBC documentary Desparately Seeking Superstrings won the Glaxo Science Writers Fellowship.
Besides his tenure at The University of Adelaide, Davies also served as research fellow at the Institute of Theoretical Astronomy at the University of Cambridge. Later, he became lecturer in applied mathematics at King’s College in London. In 1980, at age 34, he became professor of theoretical physics at England’s University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Prior to being appointed Professor of Natural Philosophy at The University of Adelaide, he held that school’s Chair of Mathematical Physics. He received a bachelor of science degree with first class honors from University College in London in 1967, and went on to earn a Ph.D. in theoretical physics from the college in 1970.
Davies has been married to Susan Woodcock since 1972. The couple have four children and reside in Adelaide.