LORD REES, a former president of the Royal Society, who has been described as “a churchgoer who does not believe in God”, was awarded the £1-million Templeton Prize this week.
The prize, which, the John Templeton Foundation (JTF) said in a statement, “honours a living person who has made exceptional contributions to affirming life’s spiritual foundation”, was announced at a news conference at the Royal Institution of Great Britain, in London, on Wednesday.
The president and chairman of the JTF, Dr John M. Templeton, said: “The questions Lord Rees raises have an impact far beyond the simple assertion of facts, opening wider vistas than any telescope ever could.
“By peering into the farthest reaches of the galaxies, Martin Rees has opened a window on our very humanity, inviting everyone to wrestle with the most fundamental questions of our nature and existence.”
Lord Rees, who is 68, said that he did not have any religious beliefs, but described the “traditions of the Anglican Church” as the “customs of my tribe”.
He regularly attends evensong at the chapel of Trinity College, Cambridge, of which he is Master, and he is “very proud” of the college’s choir, which is directed by Stephen Layton. It was recently rated the fifth best choir in the world by the magazine Gramophone.
“I continue to be inspired by the music, liturgy, and architectural tradition of the Anglican Church in which I was brought up,” Lord Rees said. “No one can fail to be uplifted by the great cathedrals, such as that at Ely, near my home in Cambridge.”
The Anglican Church was part of the country’s tradition and culture, which “elevates public life”, and he wanted “to do all I can to preserve and strengthen” its “wonderful aesthetic and musical” traditions.
He was “a believer in peaceful co-existence between science and religion”, and said that “among my colleagues there are people who are adherents to different faiths.”
Scientists who made public statements about religious belief, such as Professor Richard Dawkins — who once described the Templeton Prize as “usually [given] to a scientist who is prepared to say something nice about religion” — and Professor Stephen Hawking, “can say what they think, but they have no special credentials”, Lord Rees said.
“Anyone who does science is impressed by the mystery of it.”