updated 3/16/2009 11:06:24 AM ET 2009-03-16T15:06:24

A French physicist and philosopher of science was named Monday as winner of a religion award described as the world's richest annual prize given to an individual.

Bernard d'Espagnat, 87, will receive the Templeton Prize, valued at $1.42 million. He played a key role from the mid-1960s through the early 1980s in exploration and development in quantum mechanics, focusing on experiments testing the "Bell's inequalities" theorem.

The John Templeton Foundation announced the prize at a news conference at the headquarters of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization in Paris.

In a nominating letter, Nidhal Guessoum, chair of physics at American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, wrote that d'Espagnat "has constructed a coherent body of work which shows why it is credible that the human mind is capable of perceiving deeper realities."

‘One of the constitutive elements of being’
D'Espagnat said in prepared remarks that since science cannot reveal anything certain about the nature of being, it cannot tell us with certainty what it is not.

"Mystery is not something negative that has to be eliminated," he said. "On the contrary, it is one of the constitutive elements of being."

He added that he is "convinced that those among our contemporaries who believe in a spiritual dimension of existence and live up to it are, when all is said, fully right."

D'Espagnat will receive the prize May 5 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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