Polish Cosmologist Wins Templeton Prize for Bridging Science and Faith

March 13, 2008

Michael Heller, a Polish cosmologist and Roman Catholic priest who studies the origins of the universe, was named on Wednesday as the winner of the 2008 Templeton Prize for Research or Discoveries About Spiritual Realities, which this year is worth more than $1.6-million.

Father Heller was awarded the prize by the John Templeton Foundation for his more than 40 years of work in bridging science and religion, much of which was conducted under the government repression of the Soviet era.

The foundation said Father Heller’s “examination of fundamental questions such as ‘Does the universe need to have a cause?’ engages a wide range of sources who might otherwise find little in common.”

“By drawing together mathematicians, philosophers, cosmologists, and theologians who pursue these topics, he also allows each to share insights that may edify the other without any violence to their respective methodologies,” the foundation said in a statement.

Father Heller managed to be a scholar and a priest under a regime that was both anti-intellectual and anti-religion. He holds master’s degrees in theology and philosophy from the Catholic University of Lublin, in Poland. He went on to earn a doctorate in philosophy and a docent degree, which represents a level of study beyond a Ph.D., from the university. He studied cosmology, but the authorities would not permit the university to grant degrees in physics at the time, so his degrees are in philosophy instead.

Father Heller has taught at several institutions, including the Pontifical Academy of Theology, in Krakow, and studied at the Catholic University of America, in Washington, and the Vatican Observatory at Castel Gandolfo, Italy, among other places.

The Templeton Prize was created by Sir John Templeton in 1972.

Father Heller has indicated he will use his prize money to help establish the Copernicus Center, which will further the study of science and theology, in partnership with Jagiellonian University and the Pontifical Academy of Theology, in Krakow. —Beckie Supiano