Over at The Philosopher’s Magazine, Ophelia Benson has a long, dispassionate analysis of the Templeton Foundation and its effects on science. The piece ends with a question:
This is the issue in a nutshell. Are philosophy, science and theology different branches of the same kind of inquiry into life and being, which can be usefully and happily united? Or are they fundamentally different kinds of thing, with substantively different ways of inquiring and evaluating the results of inquiry? Templeton clearly considers the first answer correct, while the irreligious tribe of philosophers mostly (but not unanimously) opt for the second. With so much Templeton money hinging on the answer, it could be the $6 million question.
I’d go with the second answer, for the many reasons I’ve discussed previously, but I’d exempt philosophy. The “knowledge” that religion produces isn’t at all comparable to scientific knowledge, for religious “truth” differs among different faiths, is based on revelation rather than rationality, and, most important, is impervious to disproof. In other words, religion has no way to adjudicate competing truth claims or to disprove any truth claim. Philosophy, on the other hand, comes with rational ways to weed out error, and propositions can be disproved.
Over at Metamagician, Russell Blackford disagrees a bit on the either/or question:
I’m not quite with her on this. I (and probably a lot of other philosophers) actually think that philosophy and science are continuous with each other, and it’s not clear where one ends and the other begins. They are part of the larger realm of rational inquiry, and the divisions made within this realm are more practical and pedagogical than anything else.
Theology is a mixed bag. Lot of different and ill-matching stuff gets shoved into theology. Insofar as it includes, for example, rigorous historical-textual analysis of the holy books, it is part of the larger field of rational inquiry. But the core of it is, indeed, something fundamentally different. Still, it can conflict with philosophy and science because it often makes claims that these have the resources to contest.
I’m not sure I’d agree with Russell that theology includes Biblical scholarship. I’ve talked with some of the Biblical scholars at the University of Chicago Divinity School, and I assure you that they’d take great umbrage at being described as theologians! (In fact, they’ve set me straight when I made that mistake.) Biblical scholarship that involves dissecting and analyzing the historical and textual sources of the scriptures is a rational endeavor, and that puts it in line with science, which, after all, is just organized rationality. The woo part of theology, i.e., the part for which Templeton awards millions of dollars, is clearly not a way to gain knowledge.
I’ve challenged people over and over again to tell me what “truths” religion offers that could not be apprehended by science and rational thinking. I’ve never gotten a satisfactory answer: the usual response involves moral prescriptions like “Love your neighbor”, which of course are neither truths nor the exclusive results of faith.
Religion, then, isn’t a way of knowing; it’s a way of believing.
Finally, Bob Park, a professor of physics at The University of Maryland, has a couple of short takes on Templeton: “Sir John Templeton: the man who tried to buy science,” and “A bigger prize: how much would it take to buy the NAS [National Academy of Sciences]?”