Good Morning Ladies and Gentlemen. As Chairman and President of the John Templeton Foundation, it is my pleasure to welcome all of you to the annual news conference for the announcement of the 2008 Templeton Prize.
It is a great privilege to welcome our 2008 Templeton Prize Laureate, Professor Michael Heller of the Faculty of Philosophy at the Pontifical Academy of Theology in Krakow, Poland. He will share some comments and answer your questions in just a few minutes.
Our format this morning is as follows: First, I shall share with you some of the perspectives of my Father, Sir John Templeton, when he established the Templeton Prize Program and the John Templeton Foundation. Because my Father is now 95 years old, he finds that the rigors of international travel are overly taxing on him. He sends his sincerest apologies, therefore, for his not being able to be with us this year. But he also wants to express his joy in the wisdom of the judges in selecting Professor Heller as the 2008 Templeton Prize Laureate.
Next I shall introduce Mr. Andrzej Towpik, the Permanent Representative of Poland to the United Nations, who will offer the congratulations of Poland’s Mission to the United Nations.
I will then introduce Mr. Krzysztof W. Kasprzyk, Consul General of Poland in New York, who will offer the congratulations of the government of the Republic of Poland to Professor Heller.
I shall then highlight the accomplishments of Professor Heller which guided the judges in their selection of him as this year’s Prize Laureate. After this, Professor Heller will share with us some of the perspectives of his life’s work in physics, cosmology, theology, and philosophy. We shall then open the floor to questions.
The Templeton Prize is the world’s largest annual prize given to an individual. This year’s award is in the amount of 820,000 Pounds Sterling, which is more than 1.6 million dollars.
The Prize is a cornerstone of the John Templeton Foundation’s international efforts to serve as a philanthropic catalyst for discovery in areas engaging life’s biggest questions, which we describe as ranging from explorations into the laws of nature and the universe to questions on the nature of love, gratitude, forgiveness, and creativity.
Certainly, a Big Question which illustrates the mission of the Prize and our Foundation is one that Professor Heller is currently engaged in and has written and lectured on extensively throughout his extraordinary career of nearly half a decade.
That Question is: “Does the Universe need to have a cause?”
Our Foundation’s vision is derived from my Father’s commitment to progress through rigorous scientific research and related scholarship. The Foundation’s motto ‘How little we know, how eager to learn’ exemplifies our support for open-minded inquiry. It also exemplifies our hope for advancing human progress through breakthrough discoveries. By honoring those whose research and discoveries have opened new perspectives and insights into such spiritual realities as purpose, love, and thanksgiving, the Prize fosters an environment that encourages others to help us more fully understand ourselves and our universe.
Through the vision of Sir John Templeton, we have been looking for ways to draw greater attention to the idea that progress in spiritual information and spiritual discoveries is just as feasible as progress in medicine, science and cosmology. In fact, spiritual progress may be more important than all of these other areas. We, therefore, seek to inspire greater attention to research or discoveries of a spiritual nature. Spiritual realities refer to matters of the soul that are universal and apply in all cultures and all peoples. These realities are non-material, transcendent or metaphysical areas about which many people have intuitive perceptions.
The Prize is given each year in honor of a living person who represents through his or her work a remarkable spirit of inquiry to understand not only the nature of these spiritual realities, but also the nature of the divinity which gives life to these realities. The inquiry can come in many forms, including scientific research or other methods of discovery by which knowledge might compliment ancient scriptures and traditions in opening our eyes more fully to our growing understanding about God’s nature and purpose.
In highlighting his vision when he spoke with us here five years ago, my Father said: “All of this points toward tremendous blessings for humanity and that is what I am devoting my life to. My challenge to you is that if you want to be happy, if you want to be of benefit to humanity, you will not come up with anything more beneficial than new discoveries about spiritual realities including the nature of God and his purposes for us.”
That line of thinking explains why we are here today. Years ago my Father looked at the work of Alfred Nobel and discovered that by giving five Prizes in Chemistry, Physics, and so forth, he had persuaded the most brilliant people on earth to devote a huge amount of attention to discovery. Brilliant people who might not otherwise have made these discoveries were inspired by the fact that other people had discovered something important and were recognized by winning one of his distinguished Prizes.
Nevertheless, My Father felt that Alfred Nobel had a blind spot when it came to spiritual discovery. He said: “I, therefore, established this Prize program to encourage an attitude of progress in the domain of religion and also a spirit, even an enthusiasm, for a quest for discovery regarding spiritual realities. I feel that this quest will have the most powerful and beneficial impact in the whole realm of research and discoveries – an impact that will advance the well being of each individual and the world as a whole.”
This spirit of inquiry and scholarly commitment is most certainly demonstrated by the life’s work of Professor Michael Heller and the impact that his work is having throughout the world.
Before I introduce Professor Heller, it is my great pleasure to introduce Mr. Andrzej Towpik, the Permanent Representative of Poland to the United Nations. Prior to his current appointment, Ambassador Towpik was Under-Secretary of State for Defence Policy at the Ministry of National Defence of Poland. Before that, he was Ambassador and Head of the Polish Permanent Representation to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. He began serving in Poland’s Foreign Affairs Ministry in 1975, and received a Doctorate of Law degree from the Jagiellonian University in Cracow in 1969. Ladies and Gentlemen, Ambassador Andrzej Towpik.
Now I would like to introduce Mr. Krzysztof W. Kasprzyk, Consul General of the Republic of Poland in New York. Mr. Kasprzyk graduated from Jagiellonian University in Cracow in 1971 with a masters degree in experimental nuclear physics. He became a journalist in 1976 but was fired from his job in 1981 after the imposition of martial law in Poland. He moved to the United States in 1987 and in 1989, at the time of the fall of communism, he was appointed representative of Lech Walesa and the National Civic Committee in Poland for the midwest region of the United States. Mr. Kasprzyk returned to Poland in 1990 and joined the foreign service. He was Consul General of Poland in Los Angeles from 1999 until 2003 when he was appointed to his current position as Consul General of Poland in New York. Ladies and Gentlemen, please welcome Consul General Krzysztof Kasprzyk.
Now, I would like to briefly share with you some of the extraordinary background and lifetime work of Professor Michal Heller.
Many of the details of his accomplishments are highlighted in the press package which you have received. Let me take a few moments, however, to highlight some of his remarkable life’s work, which clearly caught the attention of the judges in their selection of him as this year’s winner.
Michal Heller was born in 1936 in Tarnow, Poland. He was one of five children in a deeply religious family devoted to intellectual interests. His mother, a school teacher, and his father, a mechanical and electrical engineer, fled with their children as the Nazis approached in 1939 after Heller’s father sabotaged the chemical factory where he worked to keep it out of the hands of the invaders.
Throughout his early childhood, the winds of war had uprooted his family from Poland to the present-day Ukraine, to Siberia, to Southern Russia and back to Poland.
Now 10 years old, Michal Heller gained insights into religion as well as mathematics and physics listening to conversations of his father, family friends and other guests in the Heller home. His father often spoke of a great need to combine religion and science. Determined to pursue these things in his life, Michal Heller drew a natural conclusion that these both two disciplines would be a part of his life.
At 17 years of age, he entered the seminary at Tarnow and was ordained a priest at 23.
Father Heller then furthered his studies at the Catholic University in Lublin. Although he had long desired to study physics, his plans were thwarted when communist authorities withdrew the permission to open a physics section there. As an alternative, therefore, he began studies in what was called “Philosophy of Nature.”
In 1966, he received his PhD from the Catholic University of Lublin with a thesis in relativistic cosmology. Because the university was denied the right to grant degrees in physics, his PhD was in philosophy.
He subsequently received the Docent degree from the Catholic University of Lublin which represented an academic achievement above and much more demanding than that of a doctorate. His thesis covered Mach’s Principle in Relativistic Cosmology.
In 1970, he published his first book, “Facing the Universe.” Subsequently, throughout his illustrious career, he went on to write and publish more than 30 books and nearly 400 articles. These contributions were roughly divided into three classes. The first class was the popularization of science, especially cosmology and its philosophical aspects. The second class was the philosophy of nature and philosophy of physics. The third class was in the growing field of science and religion.
In 1977, after years of refusal by communist authorities to grant him a passport, he finally received permission to travel to Belgium to serve as visiting professor at the Institute of Astrophysics and Geophysics at the Catholic University of Louvain. Later in 1982, he conducted research at the Institute of Astrophysics at Oxford University and at the Physics and Astronomy Department of Leicester University in the UK.
In recognition of his extraordinarily impactful life’s work, he was appointed full professor at the Pontifical Academy of Theology in the faculty of philosophy in Krakow in 1990. Subsequently, he was also elected a member to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in Rome.
While continuing his work among scientists, philosophers and theologians at the Center for Interdisciplinary Studies in Krakow, some of Professor Heller’s new books include some of his most compelling contributions. For example, in a book published in 2003 entitled “Creative Tension – Essays on Science and Religion,” Professor Heller begins with a methodological analysis of theological interpretation of scientific theories. This book culminates in a proposal of a “Theology of Science.” This book provides an historical perspective referring to man’s place in the Universe and an evolution of matter concept. These pave the way to the “real complementarity” when science tries to decipher the structure of the world with the help of mathematical and empirical methods.
His most recent book, which he co-authored with George Coyne, will be published this year. It is entitled, “A Comprehensible Universe: The Interplay of Science and Theology.” This book addresses the principal tenet of rationality which is that one never is allowed to cease asking questions if there remains something to be sought.
In his nomination of Michal Heller for the Templeton Prize, Professor Krol Muziol, Rector of the Jagiellonan University and a professor in the Institute of Physics there, presented three important and unique contributions by Professor Heller in addition to his expounding a new “theology of science.” First, by creatively working in all three domains: physics, philosophy and theology, Professor Heller has demonstrated most cogently how these three domains of human inquiry can interact with each other without any violence to their respective methodologies. He emphasized that science and religion have always interacted with each other, and that this interaction can be imminently fruitful without at all violating the autonomy of science – provided that the inquiry is carried out in conformity with sound methodological principles.
Second, in his philosophical and theological writings, he relates to the rationality of the material world as is disclosed by science with an argument for the existence of God, which is based on modern physics. For Heller, the rationality of the world is embodied in the “mathematical structure of nature,” which is comprehensible for humans. He stressed that this is a miracle which can be rationally explained and understood as an evidence for the existence of God, who created the universe as a rational entity.
Third, Michal Heller has greatly contributed to the mutual rapprochement of the “world of science” and the “world of faith” by effectively disclosing the metaphysical horizons of science, and by introducing elements of science-based rationality and openness into religious thinking. In both his writings and his personal contacts with Pope John Paul II, Professor Heller had an influence on the Pope’s own thoughts regarding science and religion.
In conclusion, what differentiates Professor Heller from others in the field of science and religion is the critical assurance and great authority he brings to the evaluation of the most topical and influential scientific and philosophical positions. His enormous list of publications represents a brilliant combination of accessibility and sophistication. His critique of ontological naturalism and mechanistic reductionism discloses the importance of his philosophical contribution. His understanding of God Imminent in the Laws of Nature, but also transcendent towards nature, is both original and well-grounded.
Please join me then in welcoming Professor Michael Heller, the 2008 Templeton Prize Laureate, as he steps to the podium to share his remarks with us.