National Academy president nominates winner of Templeton Prize

March 24, 2010 • 7:08 pm

Ian Sample, science correspondence for the Guardian, just wrote a piece about tomorrow’s announcement of the 2010 Templeton Prize at the Washington, D.C. headquarters of the National Academy of Sciences. And the most distressing news was this:

Some scientists were disturbed when it emerged that Ralph Cicerone, the president of the NAS, personally nominated the winner.

What? The president of the National Academy nominated the winner of a prize for conflating science and faith?  The Guardian published my reaction:

Jerry Coyne, a biologist at the University of Chicago, said: “It is shameful that the president of the premier science organisation in America has endorsed a prize for conflating science with religion, indeed, has nominated someone for doing the best job of blurring the boundaries between science and faith. The job of the NAS president is to promote rationality, not pollute it with superstition.”

There were two other critics:

“For the National Academy of Sciences to get involved with an organisation like this is dangerous,” said Sir Harry Kroto, a British scientist who won the Nobel prize for chemistry in 1996 and later joined Florida State University.

“The National Academy should look very carefully at what the majority of its members feel about the apparent legitimising of the scientific credentials of the Templeton Foundation.” he said. . .

. . . The NAS said it agreed to host the event because the winner was an NAS member. Sean Carroll, a physicist at California Institute of Technology, said: “Templeton has a fairly overt agenda that some scientists are comfortable with, but very many are not. In my opinion, for a prestigious scientific organisation to work with them sends the wrong message.”

Gary Rosen of the Templeton Foundation said: “This year’s prizewinner is a distinguished scientist who has made a profound contribution to the science-religion dialogue. The NAS is a perfect place to celebrate his achievements.”

Hmm . . . now who could be a National Academy member who has spent a lot of time trying to unite science and faith?  This rules out Kenneth Miller, who’s not in the Academy.

I’m putting my money on Francis Collins.

If it’s Collins, I wonder exactly what “profound” contribution Templeton sees him as having made to the “science-religion dialogue.”  It couldn’t be his book, The Language of God, which by any standard—academic, theological, or scientific—is as far from profound as you can get.  That leaves one achievement: Collins is an evangelical Christian and a high-ranking scientist who isn’t shy about publicly mixing his job with his faith.

USA Today quoted a couple more shrill and militant atheists:

“The U.S. National Academy of Sciences has brought ignominy on itself by agreeing to host the announcement,” wrote well-known scientist and author Richard Dawkins, on his blog Wednesday. “This is exactly the kind of thing Templeton is ceaselessly angling for — recognition among real scientists — and they use their money shamelessly to satisfy their doomed craving for scientific respectability.”

University of Minnesota, Morris, biologist P.Z. Myers also weighed in, saying “Bad form, NAS,” on his Pharyngula blog.  Spats over science, religion and atheism have flared up frequently among opinion writers in recent years, notably with last year’s appointment of genome expert Francis Collins, an evangelical Christian, as head of the National Institutes of Health.

By  hosting this prize, but especially by nominating someone for this prize, the National Academy has put its official imprimatur on superstition and woo.  It’s a huge embarrassment, but nobody will be more embarrassed than the 93% of physicists and biologists in the Academy who are atheists. Bad form indeed.

32 thoughts on “National Academy president nominates winner of Templeton Prize

  1. Oh, and he found Jesus in a waterfall.

    If he found him in a national forest, I hope he left him there. I wonder how wrinkled Jesus’ hands are.

    Templeton is a joke; Collins book is a joke – a match made in heaven, I guess.

  2. I’m shaking my head. I just really can’t believe this, and I thought I’d lost my capacity to be shocked. Bad enough that NAS is letting Templeton use the premises, but the NAS President nominated someone (whether the winner or not) for the Templeton Prize?

    Jerry, I’m curious: Does this seem to you, a prominent, well-connected scientist, as truly surprising as it does to a layman like me? Would you have suspected this level of outright complicity from the NAS?

      1. I thought the NAS leadership had a long history of doing this sort of thing, despite the demographics of its members.

  3. I’m putting my money on Francis Collins.

    Jerry, I’m hugely disappointed in you! Didn’t you read the rules? You’re not supposed to announce it “if you guess the winner”!

    (And that remarkable illogic says all one needs to know about the Templeton Foundation.)

    1. So if I guess the winner, I’m not supposed to tell anyone, even though I won’t know that I’m right until they announce it? What the hell? Bravo, NAS, for aligning yourselves with such distinguished thinkers.

  4. I’m going to gamble on Deepak based on his pioneering contributions concerning the field of New Age semantic nomenclature. The non-locality of quantum soup is essential to the essence of the non-corporeal connectivity of energy in a universe comprised of non-matter that is itself a form of transcendent love.

    1. Well, you get my non-non-applause. As opposed to the suddenly Now Agnostic Science organization, FWIW.

  5. And now let me present

    Templeton Page Boy of the Year:

    Francis Collins ?

    Do they put the TP up same place as the GOP senators do on their page boys?

  6. What percentage of the atheist Academy membership of are accommodationists?

    Accommodationists continue to be clueless, thinking that blurring the glaring distinction between religion and science is a good thing. They are digging their own graves. Idiots.

  7. That was meant to be here in Victoria hear not here in Victoria here of course. I’m less coherent than normal, which is saying something, due to thinking about this.

  8. Sorry to be pedantic but if you follow the references of that wikipedia article at the end of your blog entry you’ll see that the high percentage of atheists is amongst the members of the Physics and Biology disciplines.
    I guess if you’d include “Engineering Sciences”, “Computer Science” and “Economic Sciences” in the poll you will get a different result (See “List of members of the National Academy of Sciences” wikipedia entry)
    By the way, I am not trying to justify the move by the NAS, by any means.

      1. Yes, strange as it may seem, economics is a science. It’s not a hard science like astronomy or geology but it’s still a science.

        1. It is debatable whether “social sciences” or actually sciences at all. They like to call themselves sciences, but just calling yourself a science does not make it so, or else creation science would be a science as well. They are certainly not scientific in the way we consider the natural sciences to be scientific.

  9. “It couldn’t be his book, The Language of God, which by any standard—academic, theological, or scientific—is as far from profound as you can get.”

    It’s interesting that you link to Sam Harris’s attack piece on Collins here. You know Harris — founder of the so-called Project Reason who plays kissy-face with wildly irrational anti-vax loon Bill Maher on TV and even invites him onto his Advisory Board. Also on the Project Reason Advisory Board is Cliff Asness, who in my field is a laughingstock, not so much for having lost billions of dollars (after having taken the cream for himself, of course), but for repeatedly smashing computers against the wall and screaming in disbelief that the market was being irrational because it wasn’t performing the way he wanted.

    Maybe it’s just me, but the cynical might be suspicious that Harris’s real project has nothing necessarily to do with reason, but is simply geared toward attacking religion.

    1. While Sam Harris’s primary motivation for Project Reason may perhaps be opposition to religion, I’d say he effectively pursues that goal by use of reason. And although I’m personally uncertain that Bill Maher makes a useful contribution to the project, I’m astonished you would dismiss Sam Harris without addressing anything he actually said. That resembles what C.S. Lewis referred to as bulverism.

    2. While Sam Harris’s primary motivation for Project Reason may perhaps be opposition to religion, I’d say he effectively pursues that goal by use of reason. And although I’m personally uncertain that Bill Maher makes a useful contribution to the project, I’m astonished you would dismiss Sam Harris without addressing anything he actually said. That resembles what C.S. Lewis referred to as “bulverism.”

  10. Another score for religion! That slippery,lustful, evil genius of a meme! To infiltrate the NAS, bravo!!! You true intelligent designers out there, take note and make observations. Watch as dangerous viral memes strengthen and adapt by digging their tentacles into the very foundations that expose them. Watch as respectable members of the scientific community are infected by mind hijacking ideas that cripple their ability to form rational thought (do science) when it comes to the analysis and understanding of those mind hijacking dangerous ( and untrue) ideas.

    1. That’s a remarkable screed, MadamX. Do you have some like, y’know, evidence to back it up? If you’re right and religion “cripple[s scientists’] ability to form rational thought (do science)” then you ought to be able to demonstrate it. Let’s start with the Prize winner, Prof. Ayala. You obviously hate his philosophy. Fair enough. But if you’re right, you should readily be able to point out where and how his substantive science is substandard. Can you?

      1. I’ll give it the old college try.
        Faith is belief in the absence of evidence; this is the very antithesis of science. For an example of how Ayala’s ability to know has been hindered by uploaded dogma, he has been quoted:
        “But at the end of the day, questions important to people, questions of meaning, purpose, moral values, and the like are not answered through science.”
        Really? How can any respectable scientist make such a claim? How does he know that? We cannot just say something is really hard to understand, therefore god did it. When it comes to knowing the answers to the real interesting questions, an upstanding scientist tells us not to even worry about it? That is what makes him a shitty scientist. Answers in the absence of evidence, and not just any questions, but some of the most important questions humanity can ask.

        1. “Faith is belief in the absence of evidence….”

          That’s not the standard definition or even common usage.

          “Ayala’s ability to know has been hindered by uploaded dogma, he has been quoted:
          ‘But at the end of the day, questions important to people, questions of meaning, purpose, moral values, and the like are not answered through science.’
          Really? How can any respectable scientist make such a claim?”

          How can any respectable scientist not make that claim? Sam Harris tried to make this argument recently in a TED video and his effort was so poor that it only took Sean Carroll (respectable scientist, no?) only about a minute and a half to decimate it.

  11. The NAS President’s move was right.It fact it should have been done long time ago.Conflating science & faith is a harmonizing act.

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