A British cosmologist who has explored the origins and size of the universe and has also sounded serious alarms about the future of life on the planet has won the 2011 Templeton Prize. Martin J. Rees, Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, was awarded the $1.6 million prize by the U.S.-based John Templeton Foundation for his “exceptional contributions to affirming life’s spiritual dimension.”
In remarks prepared for the April 6 announcement in London, Rees, 68, noted the connection between his ongoing cosmological explorations, such as investigations of black holes, the “big bang” theory of the origin of the universe and the idea of infinite universes — sometimes called “multiverses” — and his concern over the fate of the human race and the planet.
“Some people might surmise that intellectual immersion in vast expanses of space and time would render cosmologists serene and uncaring about what happens next year, next week, or tomorrow,” Rees, a theoretical astrophysicist, said in a statement.
“But, for me, the opposite is the case. My concerns are deepened by the realization that, even in a perspective extending billions of years into the future, as well as into the past, this century may be a defining moment.”
Rees said humans know they are stewards “of a precious ‘pale blue dot’ in a vast cosmos — a planet with a future measured in billions of years — whose fate depends on humanity’s collective actions this century.” In a 2004 book, he wrote that civilization probably has no more than a fifty-fifty chance of survival until 2100 without experiencing some major setback stemming from an environmental or technological crisis.
In an interview with ENInews, Rees said his sense of spirituality derives both from his explorations of the cosmos and from the traditions of the Anglican Church, though he added that he does not hold formal religious views. “I do participate in services because I value them for their aesthetic and social value,” Rees said.
Dr. John M. Templeton, Jr., president and chairman of the John Templeton Foundation, said the questions Rees raises “have an impact far beyond the simple assertion of facts, opening wider vistas than any telescope ever could ... By peering into the farthest reaches of the galaxies, Martin Rees has opened a window on our very humanity, inviting everyone to wrestle with the most fundamental questions of our nature and existence,” Templeton said.
The Templeton Prize is the world’s largest annual award to an individual. It was initiated in 1973 by the late investor and philanthropist Sir John M. Templeton. The prize was initially awarded to such prominent figures as Mother Teresa, American evangelist Billy Graham and Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn. In more recent years, the prize has been awarded to scientists and scientist/theologians whose work deals with the burgeoning field of religion and science. Rees will received the prize June 1 at Buckingham Palace in London.