April 6, 2011
Sir Martin Rees, member of the House of Lords, brilliant astrophysicist, and Master of Trinity College at Cambridge don --- has won the prestigious Templeton Prize. The Prize was established in 1972 by the late Sir John Templeton, investor and philanthropist, to recognize "a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming lifes spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works." At $1 million pounds ($1.6 million), the award carries substantial financial reward but, much more, the prestige of one of science's top honors.
Sir Martin's work in achievements in the field of science are indisputable. His mind ventures into arenas of thought most of us remain unaware exist: They include "High energy astrophysics --- especially gamma ray bursts, galactic nuclei, black hole formation and radiative processes (including gravitational waves) ... Cosmic structure formation --- especially the early generation of stars and galaxies that formed at high redshifts at the end of the cosmic 'dark age'."
Sir Martin's comments on faith, however, merit consideration. In an interview with RealClearReligion, he said, "I don't have any religious beliefs but I'm not allergic to religion. I participate in the religious services of the Church of England, which is the culture in which I grew up. I'm an analogue to the substantial fraction of Jews who don't believe in God but still practice some of the traditional rituals. The liturgy and music of the English Church are part of my culture that I value and would like to see preserved."
In other words, he does not believe the words he speaks regarding God, Christ, sin, salvation, etc., but he says them because of a certain cultural reassurance they bring him.
Using this logic, one could read from The Federal Register in muffled tones or hear it sung in plainsong and have just as much of a spiritual experience as reading the 39 Articles of the Anglican Church.
Sir Martin's understanding that traditional faith is jettisoned only at the cost, ultimately, of cultural erosion is correct. But that is only true if the faith itself has inherent meaning. If it is arbitrary, then what he is advocating is merely a self-deceptive and intellectually dishonest form of social therapy.
Christianity makes truth-claims, among them that the God of the Bible is real and eternal; that Jesus of Nazareth was fully human and fully God, willingly bore the sins of a fallen humanity on the cross, rose bodily from the grave, and is alive today. These claims are even more stunning than Sir Martin's that there might by myriad universes or his comments about "black holes in galactic centers."
Put simply: If he can believe that "the universe exists because we are aware of it" --- but, Sir Martin, if no one sees me, do I not exist? --- I can believe, with a confident mind, in the witness of history and the assurance of faith that Jesus is Lord. And I do.