Polish priest-physicist awarded prestigious Templeton Prize

Father Michal Heller
Father Michal Heller

.- A Polish priest and physicist who was a friend of Pope John Paul II has been awarded the Templeton Prize, the world’s largest monetary annual award, for his “theology of science,” Canwest News Service reports.

Father Michal Heller, who conducted his research on the origins of the universe and the relation between science and religion while living under Soviet oppression, will be awarded the $1.6 million Templeton Prize by Prince Phillip at a ceremony in May at Buckingham Palace.

"Michal Heller's quest for deeper understanding has led to pioneering breakthroughs in religious concepts and knowledge as well as expanding the horizons of science," said John Templeton, Jr., head of the Templeton Foundation and son of the global investor and philanthropist who started the award.

The Templeton Foundation said Heller’s examination of questions such as “Does the universe have a cause?” has given Christians a “theology of science” in which to consider “the great blueprint of God’s thinking.”

Father Heller, 72, is a professor of philosophy at the Pontifical Academy of Theology in Krakow and an adjunct professor at the Vatican Astronomical Observatory in Italy.

The priest has a religious and academic background that allows him to examine religion, physics, mathematics, cosmology, philosophy, and history.

"It is my little joke that my main drawback is I am interested in too many things," Father Heller told the Ottawa Citizen in an interview. "So my talents, if I have any, are too-easily dissipated into too many things."

The priest-physicist has examined quantum physics, general relativity, the historic interaction between science and religion, the foundations of physics, and the evolution of the universe.  His academic work was carried out under the aggressive anti-intellectualism of the Communist regime that governed Poland for most of Father Heller’s life.

Father Heller was born to a religious intellectual family in 1936 in the Polish town of Tamow.  He was ordained in 1959 and after serving as a parish priest he returned to academic studies.  He was encouraged by the Archbishop of Krakow, Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II.  Archbishop Wojtyla would invite Father Heller and other scientists, philosophers, and theologians to his residence to discuss their fields of study.

The future Pope also convinced Polish authorities in 1977 to allow Father Heller to travel to the west to attend conferences and meet foreign experts.  Father Heller’s travel requests had been denied for the previous decade.

Father Heller said he plans to use the prize money to create a center for research into science and theology.

John Templeton, Sr., who was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1987, deliberately set the value of the Templeton Prize higher than the value of the Nobel because he believed that the benefits of spiritual study outweigh those of other human endeavors. The Templeton Prize has been awarded since 1973.

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