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Templeton Prize Goes to Physicist Paul Davies : Recognition: His work bridges the realms of science and religion. Winner of $1-million award believes the universe is not a random occurrence, but a marvel of sublime order.

March 11, 1995|From Times Wire Services

Science and religion have al ways seemed like sibling rivals, disciplines whose outward antagonisms mask a deep and abiding bond of common purpose: to discern the truth about the universe and humanity's place in it.

Physicist Paul Davies has been a reconciling force between science and spirit, a bridge between the realm of theology and the nature of space, time and the physical universe.

Wednesday in New York, the British-born Davies was awarded the $1-million Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, joining Billy Graham, Mother Teresa and a handful of scientists and humanitarians who have won the prize over the past 22 years.

A mathematical physicist and professor of natural philosophy at the University of Adelaide in Australia, Davies is best known for translating the argot of quantum mechanics, black holes and time warps into everyday language and infusing those cosmic concepts with theological and spiritual insight.

His nearly two dozen books, including "God and the New Physics" and "The Mind of God" have made him one of the English-speaking world's most popular scientists--although perhaps not among religious conservatives, who take a literal view of the biblical account of creation.

"Science," Davies has argued, "offers a surer path to God than religion."

"Ordinary men and women are still searching for meaning to their existence even if they have abandoned their traditional religion," Davies, 48, said in an interview this week. "But they don't know what to rely on. They are more likely to be persuaded by scientific arguments showing there is meaning and purpose (in the universe) than by someone pointing to ancient texts."

Davies adheres to no standard religious creed and makes it clear that his notions of a deity are far from what many people hear in Sunday school class.

God is neither "an old man in the sky pressing a button" nor an "interventionist God," he said, but rather a "timeless, eternal thing, an abstract notion" that lies outside the ken of conventional science.

Two years ago, Davies resigned his chair in mathematical physics at Adelaide to free himself to write, lecture and otherwise "bring the message of science and religion to the people." He said he will use the Templeton money to support his research into the natures of time and consciousness and extraterrestrial life.

"All have far-reaching theological implications," Davies said.

The Templeton prize, whose monetary value exceeds that of the Nobel Prizes, is funded by John Marks Templeton, a Wall Street investment fund mogul and longtime advocate of inter-religious dialogue.

The award was established in 1972 to recognize individuals who advance the world's understanding of religion. "The prize is not for saintliness or mere good works. It is for progress," Templeton said.

Among this year's judges were Robert John Russell, founder of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences in Berkeley, Calif.; James Dillet Freeman, founder of what is now the Unity School for Religious Studies near Kansas City, Mo.; former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher; and former President George Bush.

In a statement, Templeton pointed to "increasing" evidence "that the universe may be dominated by creativity and purpose, just as we are dominated by creativity and purpose."

It is that argument--that the universe is not a random occurrence but rather a marvel of sublime order--that is central to Davies' work.

"It is impossible to be a scientist, even an atheistic scientist, and not be struck by the awesome beauty, harmony and ingenuity of nature," Davies said in accepting the award. "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."

Conventional science provides the bedrock for Davies' exploration of the nature of the universe and humanity's role in the cosmic mystery. And while science is itself imperfect, Davies said he considers it the most reliable form of knowledge about the world.

In his own work exploring subjects ranging from the origin of the universe to the ability of human beings to understand math and science, he has found that that the idea of a world slavishly conforming to mechanistic principles is "totally inadequate."

Consider, he says, that even minor changes in the way the universe was put together might have destroyed any chances for conscious life.

"Einstein once said that the thing which most interested him was whether God had any choice in the form of his creation, by which he meant: Could the universe have been otherwise, or does it have to be what it is? The fact that this universe is as it is, in particular that the laws permit the emergence of conscious beings who can reflect on the meaning of it all, is surely a fact of immense significance," Davies said.

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