'Cosmology is appealing because big questions can be simply stated'

March 17, 2006

Cambridge mathematician John Barrow has been awarded the world's best-known religion prize

Gazing up at the mosaic ceiling of St Mark's Basilica in Venice, John Barrow saw confirmation of his life's work - he realised that appearances can be deceptive.

Professor Barrow, who this week won the 2006 Templeton Prize for Progress Towards Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities, has a knack for seeing the bigger picture. The professor of mathematical sciences at Cambridge University draws a comparison between the artisans of Byzantine Venice and the scientists, philosophers and theologians of today.

"It struck me that the countless master craftsmen who worked for centuries to create this fabulous sight had never seen it in its full glory. They worked in the gloomy interior aided by candlelight," he said.

It is Professor Barrow's exhaustive reflections on the nature of the universe, encapsulated in his 17 books and 400 papers, that won him the Templeton Prize and the £795,000 that comes with it. It will be presented to him by the Duke of Edinburgh on May 3.

Professor Barrow's thinking sheds light on subjects such as the mysteries of infinity, the laws of nature and the limits of scientific explanation.

"Cosmologists try to provide new perspectives and answers to old questions: did the universe have a beginning, will it have an end, how big is it, what shape is it, what is it made of? One of the reasons cosmology is so appealing is that the central questions can be so simply stated," he said.

The Templeton, founded in 1972, is the world's best known religion prize.

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