Templeton Award-winner Denies Intelligent Design

$1.6 million winner claims intelligent design is a “grave theological error”

A Roman Catholic priest has been named the winner of this year’s Templeton Prize, a $1.6 million award that recognizes “progress toward research or discoveries about spiritual realities.”

At a Glance

  • Michael Heller, Roman Catholic priest and academic, awarded Templeton Prize
  • Prize goes for “discoveries about spiritual realities”
  • Heller calls intelligent design a “grave theological error”

A Roman Catholic priest has been named the winner of this year’s Templeton Prize, a $1.6 million (£820,000) award that recognizes “progress toward research or discoveries about spiritual realities.”

On March 12, Michael Heller, a 72-year-old Roman Catholic priest and academic from Poland, was named the winner of the 2008 Templeton Prize. Awarded by the John Templeton Foundation since 1973, the prize is the largest annual monetary award given to an individual by a philanthropic organization.

Heller, who serves as a professor of philosophy in the Pontifical Academy of Theology in Kraków, Poland, is known for his work on the overlap of cosmology and theology. The questions he asks—and, according to the New York Times, “impressively answers”—are along the lines of “does the universe need to have a cause?”

But exactly what are the answers Prof. Heller gives? A statement by Heller (PDF), released by the Templeton Foundation on the day of the award, gives us a brief look at Heller’s ideas on theology and cosmology—what the Templeton Foundation considers a discovery about spiritual realities. Heller writes:

Adherents of the so-called intelligent design ideology commit a grave theological error. They claim that scientific theories, that ascribe the great role to chance and random events in the evolutionary processes, should be replaced, or supplemented, by theories acknowledging the thread of intelligent design in the universe. Such views are theologically erroneous. They implicitly revive the old manicheistic error postulating the existence of two forces acting against each other: God and an inert matter; in this case, chance and intelligent design. There is no opposition here. Within the all-comprising Mind of God what we call chance and random events is well composed into the symphony of creation.

Heller adds that, in his opinion, the religious objection to teaching evolution “introduces a contradiction or opposition between God and chance.” And, according to TimesOnline: “Professor Heller argues against the Newtonian concept of creation, that is, against the idea of an absolute space and an absolute time and of God creating energy and matter at certain times.”

There are at least a few problems with Heller’s line of thought:

  1. Heller seems to think the Intelligent Design Movement hinges primarily on a negative argument against evolution—that God would not allow chance to lead to life. In fact, the intelligent design hypothesis is based on positive arguments for design, such as irreducible complexity. His apparent idea of “chance” and “chaos” in actuality argue for an intelligent interweaving with mathematical concepts.
  2. In a telephone interview with the New York Times, Prof. Heller repeated the old myth that “science gives us knowledge, and religion gives us meaning.” In fact, through this statement Prof. Heller is limiting God even more than he accuses creationists of doing—by keeping God (and “religion”) out of the realm of knowledge and giving naturalistic, anti-God “science” (actually the religion of humanism) exclusive control over that realm. Furthermore, if Prof. Heller is consistent in this regard, we can only conclude that he, a Catholic priest, must reject the historicity of the Resurrection of Christ, since mainstream “science” (which Heller says gives us knowledge) certainly doesn’t allow for resurrections.
  3. Could God have used evolution? Yes, in the sense that He has the power to do anything He chooses. God is omnipotent and hypothetically could have created everything ex nihilo in a nanosecond; He likewise could have designed a process more wasteful than evolution to create life over a trillion trillion millennia. But simply because God has the power to do something does not mean He in fact did; that’s why it is crucial we turn to God’s firsthand account of origins in Genesis as our first appeal to how and when the universe began, which Heller apparently rejects according to the TimesOnline quote above. God clearly indicates in Genesis when and what He created.
  4. Adopting secular theories of origins (including old universe/earth models and Darwinian evolution) forces one into conclusions—most notably, the necessity of death before sin—that undermine the gospel and therefore the entire Christian faith.

Ultimately, it is clear that Heller is leaning on the imperfect ideas and understanding of man, not on the infallible Word of God (see Proverbs 3:5). That’s bound to result in fallacious, problematic ideas—though not necessarily netting $1.6 million—every time.


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