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Interview by Karl W. Giberson
The Universe Has a Mind of Its Own
Freeman Dyson is a distinguished physicist, British-born and educated but based for nearly 50 years now at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Princeton, New Jersey. He is also the author of many influential and widely read books for a general audience, including Disturbing the Universe, Infinite in All Directions, Imagined Worlds, and, most recently, The Sun, the Genome, and the Internet (Oxford Univ. Press). In March of this year, Dyson received the 2000 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, awarded annually "to a living individual for outstanding originality in advancing the world's understanding of God or spirituality." Earlier winners of the Templeton Prize, which this year carried a monetary award of just under one million dollars, include Mother Teresa, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Billy Graham, Charles Colson, physicist Paul Davies, and the 1999 recipient, religion-and-science scholar Ian Barbour. Karl Giberson met with Dyson this summer.
Professor Dyson, you have recently won the prestigious Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. It seems appropriate to start by asking you about the role that religion played in your life while you were growing up.
I was brought up in English schools where religion was taught with Scripture as part of the normal curriculum—as part of the culture, which I think is a good idea. You did not have to believe what you heard, but at least you got to hear it.
Was there any religion in your home?
Yes, my mother used to go to church quite regularly. My father was an organist so he played in the chapel. We were an average churchgoing family, Anglicans, not dogmatic at all; neither of my parents was in the least dogmatic. They had the same kind of freethinking attitude as I do—namely, that religion is a way of life and not a system of beliefs.
Did you ever have any intense religious experiences?
Well, in a certain sense. I started a new religion when I was 14. It was not a very successful adventure, but it was quite intense. At the time I ...