Dyson, Professor Emeritus at the Institute for Advanced Study inPrinceton, New Jersey, hasdedicated much of his life to advocating the development of "joyful anduseful" technologies for thebenefit of all humankind, regardless of economic or cultural situation. His insistence on usingcurrent emerging technologies as social equalizers -- in much the same waythat vaccines,antibiotics, and electricity helped bridge economic and social gaps in the20th century -- has put himat the forefront of scientists who call for eliminating the wedge thattechnology drives between thehaves and have nots.
Awarded by the Templeton Foundation annually to a living individualfor outstandingoriginality in advancing the world's understanding of God or spirituality,the prize is one of theworld's largest monetary awards, this year valued at 600,000 poundssterling, about $948,000. Created in 1972 by the pioneering global investor Sir John Templeton toremedy what he saw as anoversight by the Nobel Prizes, which do not honor the discipline ofreligion, the Templeton Prize isalways set at an amount that exceeds the value of the Nobels.
Previous Templeton Prize recipients include the Rev. Dr. BillyGraham in 1982, AleksandrSolzhenitsyn in 1983, and Charles Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, in1993. Last year'swinner, physicist and theologian Ian Barbour, launched a new era in thedialogue between scienceand religion and is one of the world's most forceful advocates for ethicsin technology. Otherscientists who have received the award include British astrophysicist PaulDavies (1995), physicistCarl Friedrich von Weizsäcker (1989), and Benedictine monk and professor ofastrophysics StanleyL. Jaki (1987). The first Templeton Prize recipient was Mother Teresa in1973.
H.R.H. Prince Philip will award the Templeton Prize in a privateceremony on May 9. OnTuesday, May 16, the Templeton Prize public ceremony will be held in theWashington NationalCathedral. This marks the first time the public ceremony, held each yearin various locationsthroughout the world, will take place in the nation's capital.
In nominating Dyson for the prize, Dwight E. Neuenschwander,professor of physics atSouthern Nazarene University in Bethany, Okla., described him as "one ofthe outstandingphysicists of our time," adding, "He has written extensively on the meaningof science and itsrelation to other disciplines especially religion and ethics.... He istruly a man of a third culture thatis in the making."
Freeman John Dyson, born in England in 1923 and an American citizensince 1957, has longenjoyed a reputation as a writer with a knack for turning intricatescientific theories into easilyunderstood concepts. His 1979 book, Disturbing the Universe, a "scientificautobiography"describing in lay terms how a scientist looks at the world, received anAmerican Book Awardnomination. His 1984 book, Weapons and Hope, received the National BookCritics Circle awardfor general nonfiction, and a Los Angeles Times Book Prize nomination.
Dyson's interest in the weapons and ways of war began in 1943 whenhe served as a civilianstatistician in the operations research section of the Royal Air ForceBomber Command duringWorld War II. In 1963, while a consultant for the U.S. Arms Control andDisarmament Agency, hehelped provide technical support for the team that negotiated the PartialTest-ban Treaty in Moscow.
For many physicists, Dyson epitomizes originality, which is theessence of the TempletonPrize. At the Institute for Advanced Study, the same center where Einsteinworked, Dyson'scolleagues have coined the term "dysonian" to describe "ideas that cracklewith originality the waythat Dyson's own ideas do," according to a recent article in Business Week.
Sometimes his originality is less than welcome by fellowscientists. Dyson opposed fundingfor the now-defunct $8 billion Supercollider atom smasher and hasconsistently spoken out against"big science" projects whose costs are out of proportion to theirscientific value. In particular, heopposes the International Space Station, which he describes as a welfareprogram for the middleclass.
"Science is the most powerful driving force of change," he wrote inImagined Worlds, acollection of essays based on 1995 lectures he delivered at HebrewUniversity in Jerusalem inconjunction with Harvard University. It is with that same attitude Dysonapproaches the role ofscience in bettering the world while acknowledging the limits of science indeference to spiritualguidance, which he says "has at least an equal claim to authority indefining human destiny."