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.