Templeton Prize Laureate speaks on science and religion

Michael Heller, recipient of the 2008 Templeton Prize for outstanding contributions in the field of cosmology, spoke in the Harold Howard Center on Wednesday evening, Nov. 19. Heller is a professor of philosophy at the Pontifical Academy of Theology in Crakkow, Poland. In addition to being an ordained Catholic priest, Professor Heller is a distinguished philosopher, physicist and cosmologist who did much of his work in Poland behind the Iron Curtain of the Communist regime. Heller recently received the Templeton Prize for his original work regarding the origin and creation of the universe.

Heller’s lecture focused on the current dichotomy of science and religion, specifically in relation to physics and cosmology. Through tracing the rise and fall of logical positivism, the theory states that the only true knowledge is that which is able to be proven in a laboratory. Heller put forth certain questions he felt science simply could not answer, perhaps the most important of which was, “Why is there something instead of nothing?” Such theories obviously leave room for the existence of God, whereas positivism removes all notions of the existence of anything outside of scientific knowledge and experience.

When addressing science and religion in direct relation to each other, Heller made no bones about his belief in the persisting conflicts between the two. He cited the ever-advancing discipline of neuroscience as an example. Such ideas as the existence of the soul and consciousness, as well as the hotly debated mind-body problem, serve as constant reminders of the clashing certainties of a solely material world versus a multi-dimensional reality. At one point in his lecture, Heller compared the two disciplines to two parallel, nonintersecting planes, between which there exists a gap so vast that few ever attempt to make the jump.

When asked what was necessary for possible reconciliation, Heller invoked the language of “bridge people,” those who are fluent in both the languages of physics and spirituality. Such “believer scientists” neither deny all claims of a spiritual reality nor affirm all attacks on modern scientific advancement. Heller acknowledged the necessity of both disciplines when he said, “Science gives knowledge. Religion gives meaning. Without religion, even science would be meaningless.”

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