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Martin Rees, the astronomer royal, has called on anti-religion campaigners to abandon their tactics and strive for "peaceful coexistence" with mainstream religious groups.

Rees, one of the country's most senior scientists, criticised those who pit science against religion and urged atheists to embrace the moderate strands of faith in opposing fundamentalism.

The Cambridge cosmologist declared what he described as his "pallid and boring" view in an article in the New Statesman that amounts to a defence of his decision to accept a £1m prize given annually by the Templeton Foundation for work of a spiritual nature.

The announcement that Rees had accepted drew criticism from some scientists who claim the prize undermines the integrity of science.

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