A fine tuning and multiverse advocate, Martin J. Rees, today won the 2011 Templeton Prize. The astrophysicist with no religion won the Prize originally “for Progress in Religion.”
The 2011 Templeton Prize was announced today.
LONDON, APRIL 6 – Martin J. Rees, a theoretical astrophysicist whose profound insights on the cosmos have provoked vital questions that speak to humanity’s highest hopes and worst fears, has won the 2011 Templeton Prize.
Rees, Master of Trinity College, one of Cambridge University’s top academic posts, and former president of the Royal Society, the highest leadership position within British science, has spent decades investigating the implications of the big bang, the nature of black holes, events during the so-called ‘dark age’ of the early universe, and the mysterious explosions from galaxy centers known as gamma ray bursters.
In turn, the “big questions” he raises – such as “How large is physical reality?” – are reshaping crucial philosophical and theological considerations that strike at the core of life, fostering the spiritual progress that the Templeton Prize has long sought to recognize.
In his work with many colleagues over the years, Rees has enlarged the boundaries of understanding about the physical processes that define the cosmos, including speculations on the concept of “multiverses,” or infinite universes.
These investigations are balanced with his prominence in urging the international scientific community to raise public awareness of the impact of human activity on planet Earth in the 21st century, the first, Rees says, when one species – humans – can determine the future of the entire biosphere. . . .
Rees obtained his Ph.D. in theoretical astronomy in 1967. After short-term posts in the U.S. and a period at Sussex University, he returned to Cambridge in 1973 on appointment as Plumian Professor of Astronomy and Experimental Philosophy and Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge. In the decades since, Rees has become one of the world’s most renowned astrophysicists, authoring and co-authoring more than 500 research papers and several books, with lectures and broadcast appearances worldwide.
Despite his continuing focus on astrophysics, he developed an involvement with issues bearing on international science and public policy. In one particularly influential book, Our Final Century? (published in the United States as Our Final Hour), Rees argues that civilization has no more than a fifty-fifty chance of surviving until 2100 without suffering a severe setback. Although he is optimistic about the prospects opened up by science and technology, he emphasizes the challenges to governance that are posed by the collective pressures humans are imposing on the environment, and by the vulnerability of our interconnected world to disruption. . . .
In his recommendation of Rees for the Templeton Prize, Robert Williams, president of the International Astronomical Union noted, “I have found Martin’s books and lectures, of which I have read and heard numerous, extremely thought provoking.” Williams added, “He is very unusual in that he constantly touches on spiritual themes without dealing explicitly with religion. I do not know whether he is a theist, for example.”
In fact, Rees has no religious beliefs, but considers himself a product of Christian culture and ethics, explaining, “I grew up in the traditions of the Anglican Church and those are ‘the customs of my tribe.’ I’m privileged to be embedded in its wonderful aesthetic and musical traditions and I want to do all I can to preserve and strengthen them.”
Notes: . . .
Created by the late global investor and philanthropist Sir John Templeton, the Prize is a cornerstone of the John Templeton Foundation’s international efforts to serve as a philanthropic catalyst for discovery in areas engaging life’s biggest questions, ranging from explorations into the laws of nature and the universe to questions on love, gratitude, forgiveness, and creativity.
The monetary value of the prize is set always to exceed the Nobel Prizes to underscore Templeton’s belief that benefits from discoveries that illuminate spiritual questions can be quantifiably more vast than those from other worthy human endeavors.
Martin Rees formulated the fine-tuning of the universe using six key dimensionless constants:
N = ratio of the strength of electromagnetism to that of gravity;
Epsilon (ε) = strength of the force binding nucleons into nuclei;
Omega (ω) = relative importance of gravity and expansion energy in the universe;
Lambda (λ) = cosmological constant;
Q = ratio of the gravitational energy required to pull a large galaxy apart to the energy equivalent of its mass;
D = number of spatial dimensions in spacetime.
See: Martin Rees, 1999. Just Six Numbers, HarperCollins Publishers, ISBN 0-465-03672-4.
When he is not contemplating the heavens, Rees has very specific view on earthly matters. He calls himself a technological optimist but a political pessimist. This leads him to predict a 50 percent chance of some serious setback to civilization by 2020, such as a nuclear war or the misapplication of some technology.
“Science is essential, but it is not enough,” he says. “We need the vision and ethics as well to avoid the downside.”