Michael Heller: A Thinker Who Bridges Science and Theology

Article excerpt

Polish theologian, cosmologist, and philosopher Michael Heller, who lived through both Nazi and communist rule and has long sought to reconcile science and religion, has won the 2008 Templeton Prize.

The 820,000 prize (more than $1.6 million) is awarded "for progress toward research or discoveries about spiritual realities." The John Templeton Foundation, whose stated mission is "to serve as a philanthropic catalyst for discovery in areas engaging life's biggest questions," awards the prize yearly.

Author of 30 books in Polish and five in English, Mr. Heller, an ordained Roman Catholic priest and a professor of philosophy at the Pontifical Academy in Krakow, Poland, has made the fostering of dialogue between science and religion a priority.

"He's one of the key contributors in the international scholarly community dedicated to the creative dialogue on science, theology, and philosophy," says Robert John Russell, founder and director of the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences in Berkeley, Calif. "He's a great example of someone who bridges these fields."

For Heller, these seemingly distinct realms of human understanding actually depend on one another for stability.

"Science gives us knowledge, but religion gives us meaning," he says. "Science without religion is not meaningless, but lame.... And religion without science [slides] into fundamentalism," he says.

Heller draws on deep understanding of cosmology, religion, and philosophy to tackle questions such as, "Does the universe need to have a cause?" and "Why is there something rather than nothing?"

Those familiar with Heller's work laud his rigor of thought.

"In an era when serious scientists and serious religionists declare themselves at war with each other and claims of connections are often by superficial thinkers, Michael Heller is the exception," says Philip Clayton, professor of philosophy and religion at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, Calif. "Rigorous thinkers seem to have fled the no man's land between the two warring factions."

Heller was born in 1936 in Tarnow, Poland, one of five children. His mother was a teacher, his father a mechanical and electrical engineer. When the Germans invaded in 1939, Heller's father sabotaged the chemical factory where he worked to keep it out of Nazi hands. …