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Dr Jane Goodall awarded £1.1m Templeton Prize

20 May 2021


THE conservationist Dr Jane Goodall, famed for her groundbreaking discoveries about chimpanzees, has been awarded the £1.1-million Templeton Prize.

Dr Goodall’s achievements had helped to “define our perception of what it means to be human”, Heather Templeton Dill, president of the John Templeton Foundation, said on Thursday. “Her discoveries have profoundly altered the world’s view of animal intelligence and enriched our understanding of humanity in a way that is both humbling and exalting. Ultimately, her work exemplifies the kind of humility, spiritual curiosity, and discovery that my grandfather, John Templeton, wrote and spoke about during his life.”

Sir John Templeton, an investor and philanthropist, established his Prize in 1972 to celebrate those who “harness the power of the sciences to explore the deepest questions of the universe and humankind’s place and purpose within it”. Dr Goodall is the first ethologist and the fourth woman to be honoured. The announcement praised her “unrelenting effort to connect humanity to a greater purpose”. She had brought about a “revolution in how scientists and the public perceive the mental, emotional, and social complexity of animals, regarding them as extensions of ourselves”.

Dr Goodall was just 26 when in 1960 she travelled from England to what is now Tanzania to explore the world of wild chimpanzees. She took an unorthodox approach to research, immersing herself in their habitat rather than studying them from a distance, and was the first to observe that they engaged in activities, such as creating tools, which were previously believed to be exclusive to humans. She also showed that, under certain circumstances, they waged war.

In 1977, she founded the Jane Goodall Institute to support the research and expand protection of chimpanzees in their habitats. To date, it has conserved 1.5 million acres of forests, supported 130 communities, and provided safe habitats for more than 5000 chimpanzees and gorillas.

In 1991, she invited a group of young people to co-found Roots and Shoots, which engages young people in projects to benefit communities, animals, and the environment in more than 65 countries. The UN named her a Messenger of Peace in 2002. Now 87, she has travelled for an average of 300 days a year over the past three decades, delivering talks around the world. During the pandemic, she launched a podcast, The Hopecast, from her attic studio in the house that was her childhood home in Bournemouth.

In its announcement, the John Templeton Foundation noted that Dr Goodall was raised a Christian and “developed her own sense of spirituality in the forests of Tanzania”. She had described her interactions with chimpanzees as “reflecting the divine intelligence she believes lies at the heart of nature”. In her memoir, Reason for Hope: A spiritual journey, she described her belief “that all living things and the natural world they inhabit are connected and that the connective energy is a divine force transcending good and evil”.

THE JANE GOODALL INSTITUTE/DEREK BRYCESONDr Jane Goodall with Figan, an alpha male, at Gombe National Park, Tanzania

“I have learned more about the two sides of human nature, and I am convinced that there are more good than bad people,” Dr Goodall said, in her acceptance statement. “There are so many tackling seemingly impossible tasks and succeeding. Only when head and heart work in harmony can we attain our true human potential.

“I can identify closely with the motto that Sir John Templeton chose for his foundation, ‘How little we know, how eager to learn’, and I am eternally thankful that my curiosity and desire to learn is as strong as it was when I was a child. I understand that the deep mysteries of life are forever beyond scientific knowledge and ‘now we see through a glass darkly; then face to face.’”

Dr Goodall will participate in the 2021 Templeton Prize Lectures in the autumn.

She said in her acceptance speech on Thursday: “I can identify closely with the motto that Sir John Templeton chose for his foundation, how little we know, how eager to learn, and I am eternally thankful that my curiosity and desire to learn is as strong as it was when I was a child. I understand that the deep mysteries of life are forever beyond scientific knowledge and ‘now we see through a glass darkly; then face to face.”

In 2001, Dr Goodall gave an interview to Third Way. “I believe there’s a great spiritual power around us, in which ‘we live and move and have our being,’ which Christians call ‘God’,” she said. “I believe that in every one of us there is a spark of that power that we can draw strength from, and, if we will, we can nurture it so that it becomes a more and more important part of our lives.

“We, with our sophisticated intellect, have called this spark ‘the soul’. I think that if I have a soul, then animals have souls. But of course even chimpanzees cannot ask questions about such things. I doubt that they are concerned whether or not they have them.”

She had observed “a huge dissatisfaction with this terrible materialistic life, and the greed and the selfishness and the destruction of the natural world”, and said: “To me, the wonder of nature and its complexity convince me more and more that there is this great spiritual power moving behind it and giving reason for our lives. . . It has always seemed to me that the universe is a deliberate design. But I know a lot of it doesn’t fit in.”

It was “amazing” that her discoveries of the similarity between chimpanzees and humans had not attracted any reaction from theologians, she said.


Listen to Dr Goodall’s acceptance speech here:

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