Freeman Dyson has long argued for the validity of both science and religion. He sees the technology that springs from the former as innately in need of the ethics and morality that spring from the latter. His perspective is invaluable at the dawn of the 21st century.
That's why, even though Mr. Dyson himself, a physicist, expressed puzzlement at the honor, it's fitting that he received this year's Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. (Past winners include Mother Teresa, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, and Billy Graham.)
Just last week he was quoted in a widely noted article in Wired magazine by Sun Microsystems Inc. chief scientist Bill Joy. Mr. Joy's concern is that today's soaring technologies - robotics, nanotechnology, and genetic engineering - could take the human race down a dangerous, as well as promising, path. He recalled Dyson's earlier words on the intellectual momentum that drove the development of nuclear weapons, despite the consequences. It's "what you might call technical arrogance," said Dyson, "that overcomes people when they see what they can do with their minds."
But Dyson has a conception of "mind" that goes beyond the human intellect: "We know mind plays a big role in our own lives. It's likely, in fact, that mind has a big role in the way the whole universe functions. If you like, you call it God. It all makes sense."
He has often called religion, like science, a window on reality. Both have to be looked through to see the same thing. For physical scientists, like Dyson, that can demand great humility to see a reality beyond the physical that can also shape human experience.
One last observation from Dyson: "I always think of humans not as God's last word. We are very much at the beginning." From that standpoint, the future has boundless possibilities for good.
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