Templeton’s latest: Two wooish videos and an accommodationist interview

March 5, 2011 • 10:08 am

Over at its Big Questions site, Templeton has highlighted two short (ca. 3 minute) videos—both touting the limitations of science and, by default, the importance of Jebus, and has also published an accommodationist interview conducted by Rod Dreher.

The first video, by Eric Priest, holder of the Gregory Chair of Mathematics at the University of St. Andrews, claims that materialism leads to an impoverished view of the world. He notes that there are many important questions that science can’t address (e.g., “Do I love my wife?, “Is that painting beautiful?” and “What is my purpose in life?”)  Priest adds that are actually four different worlds: the physical one, the mathematical world, the world of Priest’s personal consciousness, which he sees as different from the physical world (really?), and the world of the ultimate (? I didn’t catch the word) consciousness, “which God inhabits.”  All of these worlds, he claims, are necessary for a satisfactory understanding of reality.  He doesn’t say why he’s so sure of God’s existence.

Priest, an Anglican, is a member of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, which is partly supported by Templeton, is a former member of the Templeton Board of Advisors, and has received grant money from the Templeton Foundation.

The second video shows physicist Russell Stannard of the Open University talking about the limits of science in “providing a common morality”.  It’s all well and good: he talks about kin selection, reciprocal altruism, and so on, but then claims that science can’t understand the broader aspects of morality, like people giving money to starving Ethiopians, or loving their enemies.  The question he’s actually addressing in this short clip is not whether science provides morality (we know that’s a subject that’s under hot dispute), but whether science can help us understand the origin of human morality.  He notes that the “deeper levels of morality are extremely difficult for science to be able to explain.” As an opponent of Templeton, I see here a subtle injection of woo, i.e., a religious explanation, though Stannard is not explicit.  In principle, I don’t see why science couldn’t at least explain human morality; in fact, we’re starting to do so now.

Stannard, a religious believer, has published four books with the Templeton Press, is the director of the Templeton Cambridge Journalism Programme in Science and Religion, and was winner of a Templeton Project Trust Award.

Let us not forget how Templeton cultivates these people, putting them on their boards, giving them money, and then recruiting them as talking heads. Let us also remember where Templeton’s goals really lie.  If you think they’re heading towards pure science, just keep an eye on what they fund—and what they present on their webpage.

Finally, in a piece called “Darwin pushed to margins” Rod Dreher (director of publications at Templeton) inteviews Penn State political scientist Eric Plutzer.  The interview starts okay, showing the dire state of evolution teaching in America, but then veers a bit off the rails when Dreher asks Plutzer how to deal with the problem:

Our research also points to another possible opportunity. We estimate that no more than 30 percent of Americans belong to faith traditions that emphasize a strict and literal reading of the Bible that may lead adherents to see a potential conflict between their faith and the findings of evolutionary biology. The contradictions are rooted in beliefs about the antiquity of the earth, Adam and Eve, and the idea that all current animals descend from those on Noah’s ark.  Probably, the actual number is far fewer than 30 percent because many churches with their roots in the early Fundamentalist movement can accommodate some figurative passages in the Bible. Nevertheless, these ideas have diffused into the larger population and are held by others whose own pastors, priests and rabbis see no inherent contradiction between scripture and science. I think there are opportunities for those associated with these other faith traditions to better articulate how faith accommodates modern science, and vice verse.[sic] These positions have been eloquently made by Francisco Ayala, Kenneth Miller, and other scientists. But the challenge has not been taken up as effectively in the mass media or in individual congregations. We see an opportunity for greater accommodation and this would mean that more students would enter their high school biology class with an open mind.

More broadly, many people of faith are drawn to the study of evolution to explore God’s work, and find a spiritual connection in their study of nature. This perspective was common in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but is not often enough articulated in current debates about evolution. Maybe that is because nobody has yet stated it more eloquently than Darwin himself:

“There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”

Doesn’t this gratuitous osculation of the rump of faith remind you of Elaine Ecklund’s “conclusions” in her Templeton-funded book, Science and Religion: What Scientists Really Think?

That’s not surprising, for the interview with Plutzer is based on a book he wrote with Michael Berkman, Evolution, Creationism, and the Battle to Control America’s Classrooms. Guess who funded the book?

It’s no coincidence that Templeton funds these book projects, and then their authors go public asserting that the adoption of science in America requires that scientists make nice to religion.  Templeton gets full value for its buck.

54 thoughts on “Templeton’s latest: Two wooish videos and an accommodationist interview

  1. Does it not say in the Bible some shit about a man not being able to serve two masters? When will CFI shitcan Mooney so I can resubscribe to Point of Inquiry?

  2. More broadly, many people of faith are drawn to the study of evolution to explore God’s work

    Question begging. (Assumes existence of God; assumes something is God’s work; assumes hypothetical “many people”; assumes these hypothetical pretend people aren’t lying about why they are drawn to the study of evolution.)

    1. More like:
      “Pouring the new whine of science over the old foreskin of religion”

  3. > (e.g., “Do I love my wife?, “Is that painting beautiful?” and “What is my purpose in life?”)

    Oh you’ve got to be kidding me. I think someone already has an impoverished view on life and the world and is doing a lot of projecting. Maybe religion is to life a little like artificial flavor and flavor enhancer is to food. You don’t learn to appreciate the subtlety of good food and nuanced spices if all you get all your life is overseasoned processed food. You will think that actually good food is bland and tasteless because you have lost the ability to appreciate it, and are stuck with something that superficially tastes delicious and full, but really lacks depth and substance.

  4. So Eric Priest is basically an ignoramus. To even suggest that science doesn’t have an understanding of beauty from an evolutionary pov is incredulous to say the least.
    Here’s an interesting video by Denis Dutton on this subject.

    1. Science is not to define beauty. Science is not to define art/music/literature.
      Simply because there are no laws in relation to these subjects.
      Simply because it is a purely individually experience in all of these fields.
      Perhaps, one day, neurologists can identify where in the brain this is experienced (hmmm, I think they can, already), but as to WHY people like red, mango’s, Mozart, Rembrandt and fine dining, as opposed to people liking blue, oranges, Burgerking and Picasso is a totally different subject.
      Preferences are as yet in the eye of the beholder. I suppose that we dont even want science in there.

        1. I could have been using yellow, green or brown as an example. The colour in itsself is rather irrelevant. What I tried to point out is: preferences (food, arts) are probebly arranged within the genes. In one’s blueprint, so to speak.
          Speaking for myself: I certainly hope we never ever find how preferences are build. That science can get a finger behind that.
          It would mean that preferences can be changed. I do trust that you can see where that could lead to.

      1. Let me guess: You’re neither an artist or a musician Henkm?

        The fact that you don’t understand the rules, or that science hasn’t mapped all of them yet doesn’t mean that their aren’t there and the void can be filled with inane crap.

          1. That, in short, sums it up!

            I would not want to have science telling me why I like something and why I dislike something else. It s completely irrelevant, too. But the failing is mine, in not getting my point across.

  5. In five hundred years time (if we’re still around) people wil still be doing science, because there will sill be science to do. Think of the millions of people over the generations that would have dedicated their lives to studying this “impoverished view of the world” and think the earth shattering findings that would have occured, many of which would not have been able to be predicted by our limited minds. Now compare this to the nothing that has been said about “spirits and souls or extra bits that science and philosophy misses” and the likely nothing that will be said about them in those five hundred years.

    Which is the impoverished view?

  6. Templeton appears to be in the obfuscation business. Lots of words are used, but nothing much is said. With enough obfuscation the true believers will dismiss the crass scientists who dare to declare the emperor naked. Such noise should keep people from learning that science can no more support belief in gods than it can belief in demons– or fairies.

    It does seem to be a common strategy to muddle pinion based notions like “do I love my wife?” with fact based questions like,”do invisible immeasurable beings exist?” These are treated as the same type of question to the obfuscator. This is followed by the implication that science can’t address such questions with the further implication that religion can.

    Templeton is desperate to put religion on the same footing as science when religion does nothing but hinder human progress while making the hindrances imagine themselves as being on some sort of moral high ground.

    1. It does seem to be a common strategy to muddle pinion based notions like “do I love my wife?” with fact based questions like,”do invisible immeasurable beings exist?” These are treated as the same type of question to the obfuscator.

      Right. For all their grave and weighty posturing and attempts to apply a sophisticated veneer of science onto apologetics, Temple-toon Foundation is simply giving us yet another version of the tired old claim that “you can’t see LOVE with a microscope — can you, Smarty Pants?”

      The implicit assumption I think is that abstractions like “love” are a reified and rarified sort of spiritual substance, pure and irreducible — it cannot be measured, only felt, and it cannot be explained, only accepted.

      Not just shallow, but lazy and shallow.

      1. Well, it’s not only that…

        It’s also the fact that religion doesn’t answer those questions, either.

        No kidding, every time you see someone claim that science can’t answer this question or that, the proper retort is, “and religion can? How? And why hasn’t it done so already?”.

        Why do I love my wife has nothing at all to do with gods, angels, demons, heaven, hell, spirits, religious dogma, theology either simple-minded or sophisticated, or any other attribute of the “faithful” (how I HATE that word – I would instantly replace it with credulous if my meaning were made clear 100% of the time).

        In addition, while science has an unbroken track record of actually answering questions in a manner that proves useful to mankind and the planet in general, please name me just one question that religion has answered.

        More than 3,000 years of trying and not one answer to any question — either big or small. Or, frankly, a demonstrably wrong answer (Earth held immovable in a firmament, etc. etc.).

        Time for religion to give up.

        1. not one answer to any question

          How about “how do you rip people off 1/10 of their earnings while doing next to nothing”?

          But it is a shame that they couldn’t figure out that and add “… and getting all the virgins”.

          [Of course, that is what the catholics aimed for, but in a more horrific way. 🙁 ]

        2. And it’s not only that, either!

          Doesn’t science in fact have an awful lot to say about the phenomenon we call love?

          I personally don’t have any problem accepting materialistic explanations for things like love. I still feel it, no matter where or how it originates, and it doesn’t mean any less for our understanding those origins.

          Too many people think that “unweaving the rainbow” robs things like love of their meaningfulness, if such “unweaving” is even possible.

          My question is: why? Why should willfull ignorance about a phenomenon increase it’s meaning for us?

        3. Kevin,
          You, and I, and perhaps a few million more, understand that there simply cannot be being, godly or otherwise, that s created the universe (and ourselves, as an intricate small, but intelligent animal).
          Most people who ve learned to use their brain and (some) common sense will know that such is a blatant impossibillity.
          Therefor religion cannot prove/answer any question ever.
          That s why they dont want science (about). That s how they, slowly but surely, lose their grip on the masses.

  7. I have no problem with what’s quoted here from the Plutzer interview. He’s addressing a religious audience, calling on religious leaders to take responsibility for accommodating science. I’m fine with that, so long as doesn’t call on scientists to accommodate religion, which he doesn’t. (Unless he does elsewhere in the interview, which I don’t care to read.)

  8. The word you missed was “cosmic consciousness.”

    I don’t have a problem with his “mathematical world.” I don’t really have a problem with his world of “personal consciousness.” But “cosmic consciousness” sounds like nonsense to me.

    1. But it’s not nonsense! The cosmological and personal consciousness is the ever-flowing viscous quantum soup from which we collectively draw our inspiration and creativity. We can widen our access to this by deepening our deep religious practices and engaging in the sacred art of deep worship in order to finely attune and orient ourselves to the deepness of our sacred but mysterious faith traditions. What’s so hard to understand about that?

      1. The more stoned the deeper the worshipping. Priests/shaman already understood that before the Ice Age. Plants, parts of plants, when consumed, of having their smoke inhaled have been very long a useful tool in the makings of worship. You d be amazed about the number of personal lines to god.

  9. four different worlds: the physical one, the mathematical world,

    Oh, come on! Platonism can’t be tested, Priest’s reference to the “physical” world acknowledge that much, so he can’t claim it exists.

    There is no reason to think that mathematics is any different from other games like chess. On the other hand it seems highly likely that its quasiempirical nature can be plenty tested.

    One line of testing includes that most proof methods are heuristic.

    Added to that we can derive by way of Gödel’s results that in order to keep math consistent we can’t prove every possible true expression (but can in principle add them as an unbounded list of axioms). The existence of such expressions what you don’t know whether you can prove or not destroys any attempt to reject axiomatic proof methods by testing. Ironically the very claim that math is reducible to axiomatic is made unfalsifiable by the part that needs to be such!

    [A friend of axiomatics or platonism would then say that perhaps we can prove it instead. Then again, if proof methods are mostly heuristic said attempt is like Munchhausen pulling himself by his hair.]

    So we can test that math is heuristic, we can’t test that it is axiomatic. Another line of testing derives from the related fact that physics aren’t satisfied with axiomatics, but needs algorithmic approaches. (Say, as tested by the failure to axiomatize quantization in field theories.) So either math at large is algorithmic, or its objects and methods are not a template for all of physics.

    Now if we have a marriage between the algorithmic game of math and physics, we open up for testing predictions between the local degrees of freedom of physical systems and the local algorithmic resources needed to act out the dynamics of the systems.

    I know mathematicians like to believe in platonism, but that is all that it is, a belief not unlike religion.

    1. I fail to see how an algorithm for quantization of a field theory is not axiomatic. I know there is something called “axiomatic” field theory, but still – can you enlighten me what’s the technical difference between specifying an algorithm and an axiomatic approach?

      1. * Quantization:

        “One drawback to canonical quantization for a relativistic field is that by relying on the Hamiltonian to determine time dependence, relativistic invariance is no longer manifest. Thus it is necessary to check that relativistic invariance is hidden, but not lost. […]

        [On mathematical quantization:] In general, for the quantities (observables) involved, and providing the arguments of such brackets, ħ-deformations are highly nonunique—quantization is an “art”, and is specified by the physical context. (Two different quantum systems may represent two different, inequivalent, deformations of the same classical limit, ħ → 0.)”

        Here we have the origin of why axiomatization fails, as I understand it: even if it were the case that we could axiomatize the procedure at the start, it would end up producing a quantized theory that isn’t certified to retain Lorentz invariance, to be an actual relativistic theory. (The Feynman integral approach discussed in the link, which doesn’t suffer from this problem, is only practical in some specific cases, I believe.)

        So it seems clear why we need an algorithmic, physical, approach.

        * Reversely, I believe it illustrates a difference between axiomatic math and algorithmic. Axiomatic math can provide theorems on its results, while algorithms (mostly) provides results.

        * The simplest example of algorithm vs axioms may be probability theory.

        Algorithm: Semi-classically (“frequentist probability”) you defined probability by relative frequency of samples in a considered subset of a sample space:

        p = lim total events -> oo : # subset events/# total events. This is in fact an example of the outcome of an algorithm.

        From this definition you can’t for example prove that probability mass of point events outside your measured subset are null, IIRC. This is because the definition doesn’t incorporate axioms, or (usually) smallest possible expressions that are taken as true claims. Remember, it used a practical algorithm instead.

        Axioms: Define a probability function over the sample space by that it lies in [0, 1] and sums to 1, and a probability as a sum of the function for an event (the subset considered).

        Here you used simple axioms that applies to your function.

        Now you can prove that probability mass of null (point) events are null. (At least in the continuous case, I had to gloss over details to make it short.)

        * Another way to consider the difference between algorithms and axiomatics is to consider it as construction vs possible construction.

        For axiomatics above you assume the existence of probability instead of describing how you derive it. If it is a set of good axioms, it will result in actual constructions. (That you usually start out with constructions you want to axiomatize practically guarantee this.)

        For “algorithmics” above you describe how you derive the construction.

        I’m not sure I made the technical difference clear, but I hope the provided examples and the qualitative difference discussed is somewhat helpful.

        The end result is that axiomatics is but a minor part of math and physics, there is only so much discovered. The real mass, at least in physics, is in algorithms. Um, it is like the difference between linear systems and non-linear perhaps – linear systems are cool and all that, real systems have non-linearities.

        1. At least in the probability case, I do not see the distinction: the “Algorithmic” version you point out is just the “axiomatic” version, using the standard counting measure. Both versions have to assume the notion of “probability” or “measure” which, nonetheless, has to have some heuristic justification(should sum to one, should be sub-additive) etc.)

  10. Stannard said:
    like people giving money to starving Ethiopians, or loving their enemies ….
    Again claiming that empathy is to be found in theist circles only. I am not even going to address that.
    But the 2nd part: ‘loving their enemies’ I think is total BS. That doesnt happen.
    Not with sane people, anyway. And, am sure: it just doesnt happen anyway.
    Am equally sure that some would now point me to where Jesus (supposedly) said words to this effect after having been stabbed by the Roman soldier whilst hanging on the cross. (at that time a very common form of punishment for public offenders, by the way)
    Well … there is not one shred of evidence of that having been said.
    After all : he, Jesus, must have been very tired correcting all those mistakes of his father’s.
    And we LOVE evidence.

    1. Christopher Hitchens often says that he has no intention of loving his enemies and doesn’t want anyone else doing it for him either! He gets rather exercised on the issue and considers that one is morally obliged NOT to love one’s enemies.

      Loving one’s enemies is just one of those impossible commandments that religion hands down in order to ensure that everyone fails.

      1. One thing they re good at is to saddle people with a guilt complex. But that, of course, is a sure method to keep their grip on the sheep at large.
        Have yet to read something by Hitchens. By all means it sounds like an interesting reading.

    2. Not to derail the thread, but are you sure crucifixion was a common form of execution? My understanding of history was that the Romans used it primarily for runaway slaves. Certainly not common thieves or Jews who blasphemed their own religion. (What would the Romans care; they worshiped dozens of gods.)

      Historically, it seems to me that one of the weakest claims of the bible is that Jesus was executed in that manner. If there had been such a person and he had been convicted by the local religious court (Sanhedrin) of the crime in question, he would have been stoned to death.

      There’s also the absolute physical impossibility of someone dying on the cross having “last words”. Sorry, the whole point of crucifixion is pulmonary edema — to fill the lungs with fluid. You literally drown. Someone with enough strength to cry out in a loud voice would be no where near death. Hours and hours away from it, in fact.

      There’s also the unassailable fact that the Romans used crucifixion in exactly the same manner that Europeans later used the gibbet. The dead were left to rot on the cross to serve as warning to others. It is highly unlikely that anyone executed by crucifixion would be allowed a “decent” burial — Passover or no. So, no tomb, empty or otherwise.

      Here ends the lesson for today. You may now return to your regularly scheduled program.

      1. First, there’s no doubt but that the Jesus story is 100% fiction. The perfect silence of the Dead Sea Scrolls alone is enough to prove the matter, and the collective silences of Philo, Pliny the Elder, the Roman Satirists, and on and on and on merely puts a whole slew of exclamation points on the end of it.

        That writ, the cross is a much older religious figure, common for sun gods (such as Jesus). The four arms of the cross represent the four seasons. The halo at the intersection, common in the Celtic and Presbyterian forms, represents the sun. On the Roman Crucifix, Jesus takes the place of the sun at the center. As with the analemma, the lower portion is longer than the upper while the sides are symmetrical. The crossing point is proportionally in about the same spot as the cross bar in most Christian crosses.

        The Roman crucifixion story the Christians adopted is an example of an outer mystery told to the public and to novitiates. The initiation into the inner circles would have revealed the “true,” inner meaning symbolized by the public story. No obvious record remains of the original Christian mysteries, though references to them run rampant throughout the Gospels, with phrases such as “and then their eyes were opened” or indications that Jesus went on at great lengths to the disciples after a particular story to divulge some really important information…which was pointedly left out in the telling.

        The sun god symbolism runs throughout Christianity and is impossible to overlook once it’s been pointed out. There’s the yearly liturgical cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. There’s the twelve disciples for the twelve months and the twelve signs of the zodiac. “Our Father, who art in Heaven” (the most overwhelming thing in the heavens is the sun) “give us this day our daily bread” (the sun makes crops grow). Jesus walks on water; the sun, too — or, at least, its reflection — walks on water. Jesus turns water into wine; the sun makes the vines grow, which causes them to turn the water that falls on them into wine. Jesus himself is bread and wine, the fruits of the sun. And on and on and on — just look up any of the “calling cards” of previous sun gods, and Jesus did the same thing. He descended into Hell, in the ground, where he conquered death; his return brought new life; that’s the executive summary of the Dionysus story and of a year as observed by a farmer (winter sends the sun into the earth while everything above dies, spring brings the resurrection of new life from the ground while the sun rises triumphantly from its grave).

        Sorry to ramble so.



        1. Eh. I’m not eager to replace one myth with another. “Jesus” is not an historical person.

          [See, I didn’t even need exclamation points! … oh, bother.]

        2. Ben:

          That all may well be true, but the method of execution did exist and was used by the Romans. One can’t deny the existence of crucifixion — after the slave revolt of Spartacus, some 6,000 rebels lined the road.

          The issue is whether it would be used at that particular time for an offender of that particular type. My research on this point leads to a conclusion that crucifixion was not a common method of carrying out the death penalty. Under Roman law, most often, condemned were buried alive, thrown from a cliff, or burned.

          If someone cares to challenge and/or update my scholarship, I’d be glad to become better educated.

          But the issue wasn’t the metaphorical use of “the cross” for sun worship. It was about Roman law and the technical aspects of how people would have been executed under a Roman protectorship.

          1. After a little further research I found that crucifixion was not to be applied to Roman citizens. They had worse to expect.
            It was a common punishment for slaves, unworthy foreigners and criminals.
            Conquered nations had the right to keep their own religion, but had to show respect for the Roman tenet in public.
            If you know anything about Roman law, you ll know that the slightest infringements (by not-Romans) was punished by death. And showing disrespect in public was for sure a grave offense.

      2. I am fairly sure that it was a common way of punishment.
        Do not forget: the Roman dogma was a state dogma. You had to believe/adhere to it. Unless you were a barbarian, e.g. Germanic tribe. I think, but am not sure, that in some cases the Romans held their own court, in areas they had supervision over. Gaul. England (at that same time, that is). Anyway – they didnt like someone making a fool of them for their beliefs.
        As for the technical points you described: no problem at all with that.

  11. Their blasted pleading for their – christian – god, suggests that It is a source for morality?! Do these people actually read that ridiculous compilation? The Bible has the same relationship to morality as meat has to a vegetarian.

    1. I dont know, Diana, why your post disappeared.
      But he, jesus, appeared to have been around at some point.Several other ‘prophets’ as well. Needless to say that all that the church has weaved around him, is simply untrue.
      One thing to remember though: jesus was also a prophet for the islam. Ans still is.

      1. If some of the newer theories I have heard about pan out, Mohammed may have been another name for Jesus. What the evidence is, though, I am still trying to find good work. I’ve just heard it mentioned by Robert M Price, but he likes tossing out a lot of things that need to be reviewed carefully.

      2. jesus, appeared to have been around at some point.

        If you have any extant contemporary evidence for this claim then you will be the very first in all of history.
        Such evidence does not exist.

        1. Of course, I do not have any direct evidence.
          However, several sources show the same information. Most significant in this is, for me, that he is shown in the Koran as a prophet of theirs. Had he not exist, he would not have been mentioned. (about 5 centuries later in existence).
          Of course, he was just one of several?, many? …
          Perhaps not conclusive at all, but I do believe he was about. But that was it!

          1. Had he not exist, he would not have been mentioned.

            This is the lamest argument for existence that I have ever heard, and that is saying something!
            I have a copy of the Illiad which mentions Posiedon.
            Therefore Posiedon existed!
            If this is what you consider to be “evidence”, then their is no way we can have an adult conversation.

            1. If you d taken just a second or two to contemplate on that particular book in that particular region you might see it for yourself.
              Main thing is: he, jesus, was not nearly important, then, as he is made out to be.
              Last, but not least: since, apparently, politeness is not your cup of tea, read my last sentence.

  12. Speaking of Temlpleton, Josh (of TfK, I won’t link unless you can read without adding traffic), finally looks at the paper on Templeton. I didn’t have high hopes – to be honest, I’ve basically given up on Josh after years of following his blogging, not sure who has changed more – but when he starts out saying he has “basically been sitting out the fights over the Templeton foundation”, I pretty much stopped there – whenever the connection comes up with accommodationists, he sure seems to want to comment, so I’m not sure what he refers to.

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