British astrophysicist Sir Martin Rees, whose research delves deep into the mysteries of the cosmos, has won the 2011 Templeton Prize for career achievements affirming life’s spiritual dimension. The one million sterling ($1.6 million) award, the world’s largest to an individual, was announced on Wednesday in London. Rees, master of Trinity College at Cambridge University, is former head of the Royal Society and a life peer.
Announcing the award, the United States-based Templeton Foundation said Rees’s insights into the mysteries of the Big Bang and so-called black holes in space have “provoked vital questions that address mankind’s deepest hopes and fears… Lord Rees has widened the boundaries of understanding about the physical processes that define the cosmos, including speculations on the concept of ‘multiverses’ or infinite universes… The ‘big questions’ Lord Rees raises — such as ‘how large is physical reality?’ — are reshaping the philosophical and theological considerations that strike at the core of life.”
Rees, 68, says he has no religious beliefs but was brought up in the Church of England and values its culture and ethics. Theology cannot explain scientific mysteries, he told Reuters, but added: “I’m not allergic to religion or religious believers.” Previous winners of the prize, which seeks to promote better understanding between science and religion, include Catholic nun Mother Teresa, U.S. preacher Billy Graham and Russian novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn as well as many leading scientists.
During his career, Rees has made important contributions to support the theories of the Big Bang, the explosive start to the universe 13.7 billion years ago, and of the existence of massive “black holes” in space in which even light can be trapped. Rees, who was awarded the honorary title of Astronomer Royal in 1995, has also been a leading theorist of the “multiverse.”