NEW YORK -- Freeman Dyson, a physicist who has written about the relationship between science and religion, won the annual Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. It is worth $940,000.
''I'm not a theologian. I'm not a saint. So I'm baffled'' at the honor, said the 76-year-old Dyson, emeritus professor of physics at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J.
The prize was established in 1972 by mutual funds entrepreneur John M. Templeton to highlight a field omitted by the Nobel prizes.
Past winners have tended to alternate between scholars, often those involved with science and religion, and better-known activists such as Mother Teresa, Alexander Solzhenitsyn and evangelists Charles Colson and Billy Graham.
The fact that Dyson is religiously unaffiliated was no barrier to selection by the interfaith panel. More surprising is that the relation of religion and science is only a side issue in books Dyson has written for the general public.
It is, however, of lifelong interest of the British-born researcher, who taught himself calculus at 15 and first made his mark at 25 by synthesizing three competing theories in quantum electrodynamics.
In prepared remarks, Dyson said ''religious creationists and scientific materialists are equally dogmatic and insensitive. By their arrogance they bring both science and religion into disrepute. The media exaggerate their numbers and importance.''
Scientists should realize, Dyson said in an interview Tuesday, that ''religion has a much more important role in human destiny than science.'' He thinks both fields should join forces ''to drive the world in the right direction.''
''We ought to take advantage of religion to make science something we can be proud of,'' he said.
He especially wants them to help counteract the gap between the world's rich and poor, and to address perils in biotechnology and human engineering.
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