Marcelo Gleiser wins Templeton Prize

Credit: Templeton Foundation

The Templeton Foundation has announced that Marcelo Gleiser, a theoretical physicist and cosmologist at Dartmouth University in New Hampshire, USA, has been awarded the 2019 Templeton Prize.

The Templeton Prize, which includes a 1.1 million pound stipend, is awarded each year to a person “who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery or practical works.” Past recipients include some of the greatest scientists, theologians and religious figures in modern life. Examples include, among others, The 14th Dalai Lama, astronomer Martin J. Rees, mathematical physicist and astronomer John D. Barrow, cosmologist George F. R. Ellis, mathematical physicist and Anglican Priest John C. Polkinghorne, mathematical physicist Freeman Dyson and physicist-cosmologist Paul Davies.

Marcelo Gleiser has been a strong advocate of the view that “science, philosophy, and spirituality are complementary expressions of humanity’s need to embrace mystery and the unknown.” He is the first native of Latin America to receive the prize.

His scientific research has ranged from the behavior of quantum fields and elementary particles to the cosmology of the early universe, astrobiology and new measures of entropy and complexity based on information theory.

In other scholarship, Gleiser rejects the notion that science alone is a path to ultimate truth about the nature of reality. He has revealed the historical, philosophical and cultural links between science, humanities and religion, and argues for a complementary approach on questions where empirical science alone cannot provide final answers.

His approach to scientific research embodies his philosophy: He describes science as an “engagement with the mysterious.” Gleiser argues that modern science has brought humanity back to a metaphorical notion of creation, by revealing the improbable uniqueness of Earth and the intelligent beings who reside there. In effect, Gleiser rejects the prevailing paradigm of Copernicanism, arguing for a new governing philosophy where the sacred nature of life extends to the planet and all living things.

While he describes himself as an agnostic, he argues against the militant atheism that is typical, say, of “new atheists” such as British biologist Richard Dawkins. As he explained in a 2018 Scientific American interview,

I see atheism as being inconsistent with the scientific method, as it is, essentially, belief in nonbelief. It does not offer any proof of nonexistence as that would be literally impossible through science. Atheism elevates belief to a rational argument that is very ill-founded epistemologically. You may not believe in God, but to affirm its nonexistence with certainty is not scientifically consistent.

For additional details, see the Templeton Prize announcement, a National Public Radio article, and a Scientific American interview.

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