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The God Prize

Faye Flam writes in the Philadelphia Inquirer that investment tycoon Sir John Templeton is giving out grants worth a total of $1 million to 15 scientists to look for proof that God exists. These scientists, many with international reputations, have spent their careers studying the Big Bang, the origin of stars and galaxies, the fundamental physical constants, and the origin of life.

The question that intrigues Templeton, as it has philosophers and astronomers for centuries, is this: Is the universe the product of design or accident? Templeton, who is 88, sold his mutual fund empire in 1992 for $913 million and now devotes himself to his quest for common ground between science and religion.

The foundation's executive director, Charles Harper, who is trained in physics and theology, wrote the grant program based on the question, "Is there a fundamental purpose in the cosmos?" So far, science hasn?t found any evidence for such a purpose. Some of the scientists involved confided that they don't think science can ever answer the question. Still, those who received a grant say it is freeing them up to explore ideas that wouldn't be supported by government funding because they touch on philosophy and religion. "The Templeton Foundation felt that with a little money they could have a huge impact on what kinds of research are done," says Max Tegmark, a physicist at the University of Pennsylvania who co-chaired the grant program and helped choose the recipients.

One of the major issues that the scientists are exploring is called "fine-tuning,? which has to do with certain numbers that are "wired into nature," Tegmark says, such as 1836-1, which is the ratio of a proton's mass to an electron's, and 1-137, which is a ratio of basic properties that govern the power of electrical and magnetic forces. If the latter were changed by 1 percent, "the sun would immediately explode," says Tegmark. Changing these fundamental constants would render the universe uninhabitable because matter would fall apart or stars wouldn't shine or the universe would collapse. "It's as if the universe has a bunch of knobs," and you can't twiddle them without disaster striking.?

Fine-tuning is often given as evidence that an intelligent God designed the universe. The concept has also been used as evidence of God's handiwork in the world of plants and animals. All biological organisms have particular ratios embedded in their physical make-up. This is something that artists and architects have known for a long time. The Templeton Foundation also funds studies of whether sick people recover faster if strangers pray for them.

Nobel-winning physicist Steven Weinberg of the University of Texas has denounced the foundation?s attempts to make science and religion compatible. "One of the great achievements of science has been, if not to make it impossible for intelligent people to be religious, then at least to make it possible for them not to be religious," he says.

Russian-born cosmologist Andre Linde says his work for the foundation has shown that, if anything, the emerging scientific view of the universe is more in tune with Eastern religions than with Christianity. Linde, who now works at Stanford University, is best known for his work on the origin of the universe. His theory, called chaotic inflation, suggests that the universe began from a bit of matter smaller than a dust mote. Where that mote came from is unknown?it might have been part of a preexisting universe. His theory eliminates the need to explain how something came from nothing, the way the Big Bang theory does.

The monotheistic religions, Linde says, "are all based on the idea of one God, one truth." Eastern religions "are much more tolerant of the possibility that there are many gods or many universes, or that the universe has different laws in different regions."

Drexel University cosmologist Michael Vogely worries that observations made in the last five years show the universe appears to be expanding faster and faster. As time goes on, matter will get so spread out that no new galaxies will be born, and the stars lighting the existing ones will burn out.

Another Templeton grant recipient, physicist John Donoghue of the University of Massachusetts, says that even if scientists determine that there are multiple parallel universes or just one, it won't tell us whether there's a God. "Both strike me as ways in which the intelligent designer could have designed things," he says. "I think religion would like to know . . . but I don't think we'll come up with a definitive answer."

To learn about a scientific study of mediums and the reality of life after death, read ?The Afterlife Experiments? by Gary Schwartz, click here.

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