French Physicist Wins Templeton Religion Prize

A French physicist and philosopher of science is the winner of the 2009 Templeton Prize for religion, the largest annual religion prize given to an individual, the foundation announced on Monday.

Bernard d'Espagnat, 87, will receive the $1.42 million prize for his work in quantum physics that shows the limits of knowable science and affirms a reality that can be explained through spirituality and art, according to Reuters.

D'Espagnat said in prepared remarks that he is "convinced that those among our contemporaries who believe in a spiritual dimension of existence and live up to it are, when all is said, fully right," according to The Associated Press.

The John Templeton Foundation announced the prize at a news conference held at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) headquarters in Paris.

"[D'Espagnat has] explored the unlimited, the openings that new scientific discoveries offer in pure knowledge and in questions that go to the very heart of our existence and humanity," said John Templeton, Jr., president of the foundation, at the ceremony.

Through his work, the physicist counters classical physics pioneered by Isaac Newton that says the world can be explained through laws of nature. Quantum physics, he argues, shows that tiny particles defy the laws of physics and act in unpredictable ways.

"Materialists consider that we are explained entirely by combinations of small uninteresting things like atoms or quarks," said d'Espagnat, who was raised Roman Catholic but now considers himself instead a spiritualist, in an interview with Reuters on Friday.

"I believe we ultimately come from a superior entity to which awe and respect is due and which we shouldn't try to approach by trying to conceptualize too much," he said. "It's more a question of feeling."

D'Espagnat will receive the prize May 5 in a private ceremony at Buckingham Palace in London, according to AP.

Previous winners of the prize include American evangelist Billy Graham, Roman Catholic humanitarian Mother Teresa, and Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

The Templeton Prize was established in 1972 by global investor and philanthropist Sir John Templeton. The prize, given by Pennsylvanian-based Templeton Foundation, seeks to support scientific research that contributes to the "Big Questions" of science, religion, and human purposes. Each year, the Templeton Prize, which exceeds the monetary value of the Nobel Prizes, is presented in London.