UK astrophysicist wins $1.6 million religion prize

Apr 07, 2011 By RAPHAEL G. SATTER , Associated Press
British astrophysicist Martin Rees, poses in central London,Tuesday April 5, 2011. Rees known for his theories on the origin and the destiny of the universe has been honored with one of the world's leading religion prizes. Martin Rees, a 68-year-old expert on the extreme physics of black holes and the Big Bang, is the recipient of the 2011 Templeton Prize, the John Templeton Foundation announced Wednesday April 6, 2011 . The 1 million pound ($1.6 million) award is among the world's most lucrative. (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

(AP) -- A British astrophysicist known for his theories on the origin and the destiny of the universe has been honored with one of the world's leading religion prizes.

Martin Rees, a 68-year-old expert on the extreme physics of and the , is the recipient of the 2011 Templeton Prize, the John Templeton Foundation announced Wednesday. The 1 million pound ($1.6 million) award is among the world's most lucrative.

Dr. John M. Templeton, Jr. said that Rees - who professes no - was chosen because of the nature of his research, which he said invites everyone "to wrestle with the most fundamental questions of our nature and existence."

Rees tried to tackle many of those fundamental questions during his just-finished tenure at the head of Britain's Royal Society, which saw the 350-year-old body discuss issues ranging from the disputed on Earth to the possibility of eventually discovering life elsewhere.

In an interview at a London hotel ahead of the prize announcement, Rees told The Associated Press that he was attracted to "big questions which we can't answer."

One of the biggest has been posed by scientists who wonder why it is that the physical laws of the universe seemed perfectly calibrated to support human life. Even a slight tweaking of what scientists call universal constants could so alter the cosmos as to make it uninhabitable.

In one of his books, "Just Six Numbers," Rees argued that the perfect tuning was neither a mere accident nor the act of a benign creator. Instead, he said, "an infinity of other universes may well exist" where the constants are set differently. Some would be too sterile to support life, others too short-lived. Ours happens to be just right.

"It is still a conjecture," Rees cautioned, albeit one he said was being taken increasingly seriously.

Because of the Templeton Prize's focus on spirituality, recipients are often quizzed about their personal faith. In a statement and in his prepared remarks, Rees said he had no religious beliefs and during the interview he joked that the discovery of extraterrestrial life would probably "put some theologians into contortions."

But he acknowledged that theorizing on the possibility of aliens and a multiverse did tend to leave humanity isolated on what he often calls a "pale blue dot" buried in a far corner of the multiverse.

"These thoughts do make it hard to believe in the centrality of human beings," Rees acknowledged, although he didn't seem worried.

"Being human beings ourselves, it's hard to give ourselves less consideration."

Explore further: SDO captures images of two mid-level flares

More information: http://www.templetonprize.org .

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Quantum_Conundrum
2.1 / 5 (11) Apr 07, 2011
Ah...

The multiverse argument which solves nothing...

And he won a $1.6million prize for this garbage?

You may as well have given it to Gene Roddenbery or Brent Spinner or Patrick Stewart.

Goodness, this is ridiculous.
apex01
1.8 / 5 (5) Apr 07, 2011
agreed
GSwift7
4.9 / 5 (9) Apr 07, 2011
The multiverse argument which solves nothing...

And he won a $1.6million prize for this garbage?


That's not exactly fair. Rees has done a lot for the field of cosmology, especially in terms of communicating with ammatures. His books are really great. He has had a really outstanding career. Look him up on wiki and take a look at all the positions he has held. Over 500 research papers in addition to all the official hats he wears. He's a very unique man. I especially like the fact that Dr Templeton was willing to recognize the achievements in spite of Dr Rees' non-religious views.

I think maybe what sets Rees apart is that he is a philosopher as much as he is a scientist. Philosophy is rare these days. It's like a lifeguard that doesn't think about how nice the beach is, if you are a cosmologist and you don't marvel at the universe. Rees gets what I'm talking about. Your multiverse comment ignores everything else Rees has done in his life.
ormondotvos
1 / 5 (1) Apr 07, 2011
I'll wait for the comments from the "theologians" who try to run our social lives.

Does Rees have any moral views? Political views?
PinkElephant
5 / 5 (5) Apr 07, 2011
"It is still a conjecture," Rees cautioned, albeit one he said was being taken increasingly seriously.
It really is still just a conjecture, and one I suspect won't stand the test of time.

Physicists tend to fall into this trap of thinking the universe is some sort of an experimental apparatus with adjustment knobs, and that its fundamental constants are just settings on those dials (and could therefore theoretically be assigned arbitrary values.)

Anything's possible, but the Anthropic Principle lacks explanatory power (and so by its nature is more religious than scientific), and I think a likelier scenario is that all these "fundamental" constants are merely derivative quantities resulting from the universe's most fundamental (and heretofore unknown, and perhaps even in principle unknowable) structure -- in a manner analogous to (but not necessarily identical to) how for instance the value of PI uniquely originates from the fundamental geometrical properties of a circle.
FrankHerbert
0.9 / 5 (51) Apr 07, 2011
Better the money go to Dr. Rees than to a believer.
Au-Pu
5 / 5 (5) Apr 07, 2011
ormondotvos, how small a mind.
Of course Rees will have Moral and Political views.
But they are of no consequence in this matter. Those issues are only important to the small minded.
What is important is the body of work he has done throughout his life.
I guarantee it will be of an enormous order of magnitude greater than yours.
orsr
5 / 5 (1) Apr 08, 2011
Ah...

The multiverse argument which solves nothing...

And he won a $1.6million prize for this garbage?

You may as well have given it to Gene Roddenbery or Brent Spinner or Patrick Stewart.

Goodness, this is ridiculous.


Sooo, are you saying that there really isn't another universe where an omniscient omnipotent being resides and everyone lives forever after dying in this one?
GSwift7
5 / 5 (2) Apr 08, 2011
in a manner analogous to (but not necessarily identical to) how for instance the value of PI uniquely originates from the fundamental geometrical properties of a circle.


I like your reasoning, and agree. I think I may be able to explain the other side of the coin though. What people like Rees are talking about when they imagine a universe with different "universal constants" or ponder why our universe has exactly the ones it does, is kinda like the following:

In the Pi example, imagine if the formula for the area of a circle in our universe was different. What if there was one more dimension so the area inside a "flat" circle was a variable curved shape so that the area inside could be larger than the ouside circumference would allow? just for example.

I don't take those kinds of ideas seriously, but sometimes you can learn things about the real world by observing what is not true about it. Figuring out why something is impossible defines a physical law, right?
PinkElephant
5 / 5 (3) Apr 08, 2011
In the Pi example, imagine if the formula for the area of a circle in our universe was different.
I get what you're trying to say. However, in my view coordinate systems and metrics in themselves cannot be fundamental entities. To exist in the first place, a manifold must have some sort of a substrate or structure behind it. The properties of a manifold at any point on it, as well as the way in which the properties of neighboring points correlate, as well as the very notion of "neighbor", all necessarily must be somehow represented, encoded, determined, or derived from some underlying, more fundamental, and simpler thing.

This is, by the way, and always has been my biggest issue with modern physics: the way it postulates 'fields' and 'coordinate systems' that have no underlying substrate, but that just somehow magically exist amid nothingness as abstract yet complex, persistent, and well-constrained entities. Yet, somehow not tangible in the slightest, but just pure math...
6_6
1 / 5 (2) Apr 09, 2011
Hogpiddle. Absolute hogpiddle. And that photo is atrocious. I've seen potato skins that look more life-like.
kasen
not rated yet Apr 09, 2011
The article's title is spot on. I'm glad physorg didn't help to further propagate the drivel that the TF is trying to promote. Creating an artificial gap between two fundamentally different world-views and rewarding the people who, willingly or not, seem to shrink that gap, with money made from market speculation...It's wrong on so many levels, from both a scientific and a religious point of view.

As for the anthropic principle, why is anyone still considering it a valid explanation for anything? You either go full cause->effect, we are here because some constants are the ones they are and not the other way around, or you go full solipsistic it's all in our minds and we define our reality. There's no middle ground here...
frajo
5 / 5 (1) Apr 09, 2011
Creating an artificial gap between two fundamentally different world-views and rewarding the people who, willingly or not, seem to shrink that gap, with money made from market speculation...It's wrong on so many levels, from both a scientific and a religious point of view.
I always thought that an "artificial gap" is one which were not naturally existing. And that between two "fundamentally different world-views" there would be a very deep natural gap.

Why should it be "wrong on so many levels" to offer religiously bound people possibilities to unite their belief with scientific thinking? Apartheid between atheists and believers doesn't help anyone. On the contrary, it deprives both sides of human understanding.

Historically, there are lots of religious scientists. For them at least, there doesn't seem to exist an unsurmountable gap.

And why should spending "money made from market speculation" be something immoral?
kasen
2 / 5 (1) Apr 10, 2011
between two "fundamentally different world-views" there would be a very deep natural gap


Fundamentally different, as in, down to an axiomatic level. Different rules apply for each, so it makes no sense to discuss similarities or differences. You can't understand religion by logic, and you can't have science without it. "God's" existence is not supposed to be proven, it's supposed to be experienced.

It's the same type of gap as between two atomic energy levels. There is no middle ground, you can't cross it in steps. That's natural and if you really understand it, you can see there is no conflict and no need for reconciliation. But if you're a creationist or an adolescent atheist, you see a different gap.

why should spending "money made from market speculation" be something immoral?


I just find the idea of creating value out of thin air cancerous and damaging to the human species. The Bible is against it, too.

Note: I'm talking about religion, not about churches.
omatumr
1 / 5 (3) Apr 10, 2011
The article's title is spot on. I'm glad physorg didn't help to further propagate the drivel that the TF is trying to promote. Creating an artificial gap between two fundamentally different world-views and rewarding the people who, willingly or not, seem to shrink that gap, with money made from market speculation...It's wrong on so many levels, from both a scientific and a religious point of view.


You may be right.

On the other hand, both experimental science and spirituality may advance our understanding of nature.

If that gap can be reduced, it would benefit both groups.

Dogmatic scientists and dogmatic religionists seem to be identical twins hiding under different cloaks of respectability.

TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (1) Apr 10, 2011
agreed
Typical of insecure, immature, ignorant religionists who can't wait for answers and have to make up their own or fall for some institutionalized nonsense before they wet their pants.

"Because of the Templeton Prize's focus on spirituality, recipients are often quizzed about their personal faith. In a statement and in his prepared remarks, Rees said he had no religious beliefs and during the interview he joked that the discovery of extraterrestrial life would probably "put some theologians into contortions.""

-Indeed, religious scientists of any note are getting harder and harder to find aren't they? Not even one converso for $1.6M eh? The more we learn the less compelled we are to make things up.
ThePilgrim
not rated yet Apr 11, 2011
Dogmatic scientists and dogmatic religionists seem to be identical twins hiding under different cloaks of respectability.


Here, here!

Martin Rees is brilliant and happens to be a true scientist, which is rare indeed anymore. He doesn't presume to know that the Anthropic Principle is false anymore that a random universe is correct.

The dogmatic religionist and the dogmatic scientist arrive at their conclusions in very different ways, but ironically they end up in the same place...delusional certainty. Both with a major superiority complex and extremely closed minds.
hush1
1 / 5 (1) Apr 11, 2011
Martin Rees is religious. Setiist.
If Oxford can add 'lol', we can add Ree's Religion: Setiism.
Pyle
not rated yet Apr 11, 2011
This is, by the way, and always has been my biggest issue with modern physics: the way it postulates 'fields' and 'coordinate systems' that have no underlying substrate

Hmmmm, careful PE. Smells like aether.

Rees is very deserving. This is a great thing. Hopefully more religious institutions will stand up and embrace science, further marginalizing the zealots promoting irrational belief systems who prey on the ill-informed.

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