I’m getting a bit weary of being the go-to-dissenter when Templeton Prizes are announced. But hey, someone has to do it. Yesterday I was interviewed by Sara Reardon of Science about Martin Rees’s award. Her report has some interesting information about his nomination.
“He’s an observant member of his tribe,” University of California, Irvine, astrophysicist Virginia Trimble, who nominated Rees for the prize, told ScienceInsider, adding that although she is a “third-generation atheist,” religion at least encourages its members to take life seriously. “So few people these days take anything seriously. That, I think, is not healthy. Scientific endeavor is a serious activity.”
Is this a consilence of science and religion because they’re both “serious”? Holy Jeebus! Yes, religion encourages its members to take life seriously—based on completely bogus premises. By all means go to church, pray, prostrate yourself before Mecca five times a day, go to confession, worry about your sins, don’t work on the Sabbath: all that serious stuff, to no good end. One might as well be serious about leprechauns or the Loch Ness monster.
And the skunk appears:
Asked about scientists’ concerns with the Templeton Foundation itself, Rees denies any conflict. But evolutionary biologist Jerry Coyne of the University of Chicago in Illinois feels that Rees, as a nonbelieving scientist, should have refused the prize and that this year’s award is just Templeton’s latest attempt to transmute money into credibility. “This just shows how far the Templeton Foundation has its tentacles into the scientific establishment,” he says. “[Rees] is a smart choice for Templeton: he’s highly respected, accomplished, and not a crackpot. It was a poor choice for Rees.”
Of Rees’s bringing cosmology to bear on philosophy, Coyne says, “He’s mistaken: religion and science are separate domains. If there’s no conflict between science and religion, why do I still deal with creationists?”
To be fair, Reardon’s piece is not that pro-Templeton, though she could have called on other scientists besides me. An N > 1 makes opposition, which is pretty widespread among scientists, look more serious.
(Note to Ms. Reardon: Francisco Ayala, last year’s winner, was not a “Benedictine priest.” He was a Dominican monk.)