Reconciling Science and Religion

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Roman Catholic priest and cosmologist Michael Heller won this year's Templeton Prize. "Science without religion is not only meaningless, it's lame," he says.

ANTHONY BROOKS, host:

This is DAY TO DAY. I'm Anthony Brooks.

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

I'm Madeleine Brand.

Every year the John Templeton Foundation awards $1.6 million to someone for their work in science and philosophy.

BROOKS: This year's award goes to Michael Heller of Poland. He's a Roman Catholic priest, cosmologist, and philosopher. And he joins us from his hotel in New York City.

And Mr. Heller, congratulations, first of all.

Mr. MICHAEL HELLER (Winner, Templeton Prize): Thank you very much.

BROOKS: Now, in announcing the award, John Templeton pointed to how you reconcile science and religion, and in fact you've said science without religion is not meaningless but lame. What do you mean by that?

Mr. HELLER: Science gives us knowledge of the world, which is something extremely valuable. But religion gives us meaning - meaning to our life - and science is just one of our life activities. And - well, I would say that without belief in a supreme intelligence who created the universe, science could very easily turn into a blind game with nature. And if a scientist is a believer, he or she knows that it is not a blind game, but it is a discovering of the rational plan underlying the work of creation. You remember, perhaps, the saying by Einstein that the only aim science has is just to decipher the mind of God which he had when creating the universe. This is more or less my meaning. Of course we should expand on that much more, but there's no time, I think.

BROOKS: Well, maybe this question will help expand on that a little bit. You've argued that, for example, religious opposition to teaching evolution represents a great misunderstanding. Why do you say that?

Mr. HELLER: Many theologians say that evolution is but the continuation of creation, that creation was not just a unique act in the faraway past, but it is going on, and evolution is just an aspect of creation. The world is not only existing, but it is becoming. And in my view, and it's I think a standard view of contemporary scientists, that biological evolution is but a sidebar of much more global cosmic evolution, chemical elements out of which our bodies consistent had the origin in the faraway past of the universe. Heavy elements, which are so important for our life, like carbon, are synthesized in the interior of massive stars. So everything is a big evolutionary process, and the biological evolution is the one thread in this overwhelming process. So I think that creating some opposition between the doctrine of creation and the doctrine of evolution is a great - really a great misunderstanding.

BROOKS: So is it your view then that because so much of the universe can be explained by science, that that is evidence of a god?

Mr. HELLER: The universe is explained by science because science discovers the laws of nature, the laws of physics, which are responsible for the structure of the universe. But the question is where the laws of physics come from.

BROOKS: Mr. Heller, you were born in Poland in 1936. Your family fled the Nazis and you went to Ukraine. Then in 1940 Joseph Stalin ordered your family, along with a million Poles, to Siberia to log the forests. You saw a lot of evil in this world at a very young age. What did that do to your religious beliefs?

Mr. HELLER: I think that it just has strengthened my belief in God because I saw that the people who are not believer, they very, very easily give up - they surrender to the evil of the world. But those who are believers are much stronger, and that's one point. And another point is that without God the evil in the world is something absolutely meaningless. And if you believe in God, the evil is not something meaningless; it's only a mystery, which we do not understand. And I think it's a very great difference.

BROOKS: Well, Michael Heller, good luck to you. And again, congratulations.

Mr. HELLER: Thank you very much.

BROOKS: That's Michael Heller. He's the winner of this year's Templeton Prize.

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