updated 3/14/2008 8:51:04 PM ET 2008-03-15T00:51:04

The Rev. Michael Heller, a prolific Polish scientist, author and Roman Catholic priest who bridges disciplines to explore the origins of the universe, has been named as this year's winner of a religion award billed as the world's richest annual prize given to an individual.

Heller, 72, a philosophy professor at the Pontifical Academy of Theology in Krakow, Poland, won the 2008 Templeton Prize.

Heller said in a statement Wednesday that he intends to spend his winnings — worth more than $1.6 million — on developing an academic center in Krakow devoted to research and education in science and theology.

Karol Musiol, rector of the Jagiellonian University in Krakow, wrote in nominating Heller that he "has brought to science a sense of transcendent mystery, and to religion a view of the universe through the broadly open eyes of science."

In his statement, Heller criticized adherents of intelligent design — which holds that aspects of the universe and living beings are best explained by a higher power — as committing a "grave theological error."

Heller will receive the prize May 7 in a private ceremony at London's Buckingham Palace. Based in West Conshohocken, Pa., the Templeton Foundation sponsors various projects on science and religion and was founded by mutual funds entrepreneur Sir John M. Templeton.

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