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2009 Templeton Prize Winner

Each year the Templeton Prize is awarded to a living person who has “made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works.” This year’s winner is French physicist and philosopher of science, Bernard d’Espagnat:

From the mid-1960s through the early 1980s, d’Espagnat, 87, was a philosophical visionary in the physics research community. He played a key role during this revolutionary period of exploration and development in quantum mechanics, specifically on experiments testing the “Bell’s inequalities” theorem. Definitive results published in 1981 and 1982 verified that Bell’s inequalities were violated in the way quantum mechanics predicts, leading to a clear confirmation of the phenomenon of “non-local entanglement,” which in turn was an important step in the later development of “quantum information science,” a flourishing contemporary domain of research combining physics, information science, and mathematics.

D’Espagnat, Professor Emeritus of Theoretical Physics at the University of Paris-Sud, also explored the philosophical importance of these new physics-based insights into the nature of reality. Much of his early work on the subject centers on what he calls “veiled reality,” a hidden yet unifying domain beneath what we perceive as time, space, matter, and energy – concepts challenged by quantum physics as possibly mere appearances. Since then, his writings and lectures on fundamental questions such as “What deep insights does science reveal about the nature of reality?” have provoked debate among scientists and philosophers.

At The Global Spiral, you can also find D’Espagnat’s personal statement on winning this year’s Templeton Prize, as well as testimonials from some of his peers, including Alain Aspect and Brian Greene.

Established in 1972 by Sir John Templeton, the Prize’s monetary value is set to always to exceed the value of a Nobel Prize, due to Templeton’s belief that the Nobel Prizes ignored intellectual pursuit of the ‘spiritual’ side of life. Richard Dawkins has been scathing in his criticism of the Prize, describing it as “a very large sum of money given…usually to a scientist who is prepared to say something nice about religion,” and that the money “corrupts science”.

  1. Templeton
    A well balanced comment.

    I write this in defence of the Templeton Foundation, of which I can be counted one of its philosophical critics.

    The most crucial thing is that everything be researched. Admittedly we no longer research the literal truth of Apollo or Osiris and the Templeton Foundation is, almost, unashamedly in support of a particular viewpoint, rather than research as a means into the unknown and an acceptance of the unknown itself. It is still a better world for having all types of research undertaken and assisted.

    The Templeton Foundation does not always have the best track record for dedicating itself to the standards of enquiry respected by those it competes with by purposefully comparing itself to the Nobel Prize, but any sponsoring of research is usually a good thing.

    My only criticism stems around the treatment of negative evidence. The Templeton Foundation has sponsored some very good research since its conception. Positive outcomes are lauded, but negative ones are dismissed and do not affect the main ethos. In this way it is like the worst of the drugs trials. Contention of others evidence is normal, but when your own studies produce negative results then you have to question something. Perhaps one day they will produce something as groundbreaking as is required to receive a Nobel though.

    There should be no need to defend the Nobel Prize. It is often said, commonly allegorically perhaps, that proof of God would earn a Nobel. We might not need to go so far as that though. Any advanced quantum proof of the extension of consciousness into realms of alternative dimensions would no doubt win a Nobel, not least because it would require new understandings and quantum explanations of reality as well as of consciousness itself and would be a major breakthrough scientifically and mathematically. I’m honestly not sure whether the Templeton Foundation would honour the symmetry though and award prizes for breakthroughs in materialist science in the realm of consciousness. We will probably see as major advances in the understanding of consciousness are expected over the course of the next couple of decades.

    Lack of equipment and theory as well as outcry and resistance has so far prevented science from entering fully into the realm of consciousness, morality and the soul. So far scientific theory has only really affected the boundary conditions of metaphysical realities. It will be interesting to see how this field has been reshaped in a couple of decades.

    As a side note the series of questions with answers by people on both sides of the argument published by the Templeton Foundation are well worth a look if you haven’t seen them.

    They can be found at:

    They are good replies on both sides, far above the normal level of response you can find in the media. Many of them either bring me to the fence on the God Issue or have me happily agreeing with them, but only when they become sophisticated enough to marry philosophy and faith with current knowledge, rather than trying to abandon knowledge in favour of personal favorites.

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