WHAT: Ten million Swedish kronor, or roughly 1.3 million dollars in 2005 prize money, recognizing achievements in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and peace.
WHY: Because when chemist Alfred Nobel's brother Ludvig died in 1888, a French newspaper mistakenly published Alfred's obituary instead--and it was not kind. The obituary called the inventor of dynamite a "merchant of death," and, the story goes, in order to counteract what he saw as his inevitable legacy, the horrified scientist willed the bulk of his fortune to the establishment of what would become the Nobel Prizes (much to the chagrin of his relatives).
WHEN: Awarded annually since 1901, the prizes are announced in October and handed out at a lavish, white-tie-and-tails affair on December 10, the anniversary of Nobel's death.
WHERE: The peace prize is presented at Oslo City Hall in Norway; the other five prizes are given at Stockholm Concert Hall in Sweden.
WHO: Among the 776 past recipients are Albert Einstein (physics), Marie Curie (chemistry), James Watson and Francis Crick (physiology/medicine), T.S. Eliot (literature), and Martin Luther King Jr. (peace).
WHAT: Ten thousand dollars, recognizing distinguished work in either journalism or letters and drama.
WHY : Because when he wrote his will, newspaperman Joseph Pulitzer made arrangements to endow a set of prizes as an incentive for excellence in his chosen profession. The publisher of the New York World and St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and one of the first media professionals to call for the training of journalists at schools devoted solely to their craft, Pulitzer specified four awards in journalism and four in letters (an American novel, play, history book, or biography) and drama. An advisory board has the "power in its discretion to suspend or to change any subject or subjects" and to withhold any award when no one who meets its standard of excellence can be found. Foreseeing growth in journalism, Pulitzer also made provisions that allowed the prizes to grow significantly, and the board has since increased the number of awards to fourteen for journalism and seven for letters, drama, and music.
WHEN: Awarded since 1917, the prizes are usually announced each April and handed out in May.
WHERE: The prizes are presented at a modest luncheon in the Low Library of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York.
WHO: More than 1,000 writers have won, among them William Faulkner (twice for fiction), Robert Frost (four times for poetry), William Safire (for a New York Times commentary), and a few better known for something other than their literary skills, such as John F. Kennedy (for the biographical Profiles in Courage).
WHAT: Grants of 500,000 dollars, distributed in quarterly installments over five years. The fellowship, known for the supersecretive nomination and selection process that envelops it, is given annually to a famously diverse group of honorees, typically between twenty and thirty "talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits, and a marked capacity for self-direction."
WHY: Because in the December 1976 issue of American Heart Journal, the great American doctor George Edward Burch wrote that there was "a need for granting agencies to seek out investigators who are genuinely interested in research and exploration of the unknown to advance knowledge for the sake of knowledge. Recipients should be left alone without the annoyances and distractions imposed by grant applications, reviewing committees, and pressure to publish." Moved by these words, William T. Kirby brought the article to the attention of the MacArthur Foundation's board of directors, of which he was a member, in 1978, shortly after the death of its founder, business magnate John D. MacArthur. Inspired, the businessman's son, J. Roderick MacArthur, a member of the board, used Burch's ideas to start what is now known as the MacArthur Fellows Program.
WHEN: The fellowships have been announced early each fall since 1981. Recipients are notified via a phone call from the director of the program.
WHERE: No formal ceremony; the check's in the mail.
WHO: To date, there have been 707 fellows, including some names you might know, like the late biologist Stephen Jay Gould and author Thomas Pynchon, along with some names you might not recognize, such as Maine lobsterman Ted Ames and New Mexico blacksmith Tom Joyce.
WHAT: Awards of 795,000 pounds, or approximately 1.4 million dollars in 2005, recognizing "progress toward research or discoveries about spiritual realities." The worth of the award is adjusted so as to always be slightly greater than that of the Nobel Prize.
WHY: Because unlike Alfred Nobel, Joseph Pulitzer, and John D. MacArthur, Sir John Templeton, a Wall Street investor turned philanthropist, chose to begin handing out eponymous prizes while he was still alive. Having noticed that the sciences were advancing at breakneck speed while religion was being left in the dust, Templeton sought to honor and encourage spiritual discoveries, many of which come about through scientific research, that expand perceptions of the divine. To that end, the John Templeton Foundation (which partially funds Science & Spirit) established the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion and stipulated that it would always be one of the world's richest prizes. An international, interfaith panel of judges looks for freshness, creativity, innovation, and effectiveness--which, in recent years, has led the group to select some of the world's leading scientific minds.
WHEN: Since 1973, the prize has usually been announced in March and awarded in May.
WHERE: The public event in March is staged in New York City and coincides with the release of the winner's name. The private ceremony in May is held at Buckingham Palace in London.
WHO: The thirty-sixth Templeton Prize will be awarded this year (the prize was shared in 1989 and 1990), with the winner joining the ranks of Mother Teresa, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and Charles Townes--each of whom also won the Nobel Prize--among others.
Over the years, the Templeton Prize has been awarded to very different people--scientists, theologians, philanthropists, journalists--for very different reasons. Originally intended to honor "progress in religion," the John Templeton Foundation shifted the focus slightly in 2002, so that the prize now celebrates those who advance "progress toward research or discoveries about spiritual realities." Science & Spirit asked past recipients what discoveries in this field they hope to see in the future.
Paul Davies: Fundamental physics has advanced on three broad fronts: the very small (particle physics, unification, string theory and M-theory), the very large (cosmology), and the very complex. Scientists, philosophers, and theologians have focused on the two former subject areas for much of the debate on the meaningfulness of the natural world. I should like to see more attention given to exploring the realm of the complex. This is where physics meets chemistry, biology, and computing, an intersection that raises important philosophical issues about emergence, downward causation, and consciousness. It is here that we encounter some of the biggest questions of existence, such as "What is life?", "What is mind?", and "Are we alone in the universe?"
Paul Davies is a physicist, astrobiologist, and the Professor of Natural Philosophy in the Australian Centre for Astrobiology at Macquarie University. He won the Templeton Prize in 1995.
Ian Barbour: The strongest testimony to "spiritual realities" lies in the world's enduring religious traditions. It will be a continuing challenge to encourage religious communities to take seriously the well-supported theories of contemporary science. Efforts to find qualified non-Western nominees for the Templeton Prize should be intensified. Views of human nature are a fruitful focus for both interdisciplinary and interreligious dialogue. Ethical issues arising from applied science and technology (such as genetic engineering) need to be confronted in diverse cultural and religious contexts. Recognition should also be given to people who combine scientific analysis and religious motivation in their responses to our global crises of environmental degradation and unsustainable resource consumption.
Ian Barbour is an emeritus professor of science, technology, and society at Carleton College in Minnesota, and the author of many books on science and religion. He won the Templeton Prize in 1999.
Freeman Dyson: If you want to learn more about the spirit, you have to look to the arts. Literature, music, drama, painting, poetry, rather than science, are the gateways to the human spirit. It is no accident that every great religion has a great literature attached to it. The Book of Job and the Quran and the Bhagavad-Gita are classics of world literature, not scientific monographs. The novels of Fyodor Dostoyevsky give more insight into spiritual matters than the scientific writings of Charles Darwin and Sigmund Freud.
Freeman Dyson is a mathematician and a physicist, as well as an emeritus professor at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. He won the Templeton Prize in 2000.
John Polkinghorne: I would like to see discoveries stemming from artistic insight, ethical exploration, and theological reflection being honored alongside those discoveries motivated by science, which have recently been so generously acknowledged. Spiritual realities connect in vital ways with all forms of human engagement with goodness, truth, and beauty.
The Reverend Doctor John Polkinghorne is a mathematical physicist and an Anglican priest. He won the Templeton Prize in 2002.
George Ellis: A proper understanding of the workings of the brain would be welcome--that is, a nonreductionist understanding that integrates features like intellect, emotion, faith, hope, intuition, and ethical values together in a holistic way, building from the basic ability to recognize patterns and to reason. Also key, if it is attainable, is a neurological understanding of things like intention and free will, and their relationship to the development of empathy and love.
George Ellis is a theoretical cosmologist and a professor of applied mathematics at the University of Cape Town. He won the Templeton Prize in 2004.…