I think my interest (and your patience) for discussion of the Templeton Prize has run its course—at least for this year. But let’s call it a good end with three new pieces, all on the anti-Templeton side.
You may remember science writer John Horgan’s article on his experiences with Templeton, “The Templeton Foundation: a skeptic’s take,” where he describes his experiences with—and expresses regret for—his tenure as a Templeton journalism fellow:
One Templeton official made what I felt were inappropriate remarks about the foundation’s expectations of us fellows. She told us that the meeting cost more than $1-million, and in return the foundation wanted us to publish articles touching on science and religion. But when I told her one evening at dinner that — given all the problems caused by religion throughout human history — I didn’t want science and religion to be reconciled, and that I hoped humanity would eventually outgrow religion, she replied that she didn’t think someone with those opinions should have accepted a fellowship. So much for an open exchange of views.
The title of Horgan’s new post at Scientific American, “Prize in the sky: The Templeton Foundation rewards ‘spriritual progress’, but what the heck is that?“, tells it all. It’s a hard-hitting piece, arguing that Templeton is just Jesus in a lab coat. Here are some excerpts; note that the present head of the Foundation, Jack Templeton, gives away the game in his letter soliciting nominations for this year’s Prize:
What bothers me most about the Templeton Foundation is that it promotes a view of science and religion—or “spirituality,” to use the term it favors—as roughly equivalent. Consider this e-mail that Jack Templeton sent me last summer soliciting nominations for the Templeton Prize. He wrote: “The Templeton Prize parallels growing attention to the idea that progress in spiritual information is just as feasible as progress in the sciences.” First of all, the Templeton Foundation has artificially created the “growing attention” to which Jack refers with enormous infusions of cash into science and other scholarly fields.
Moreover, the claim that “progress in spiritual information is just as feasible as progress in the sciences” is absurd, because there is no such thing as “spiritual information”. To answer the question I posed at the beginning of this post, the notion of a spiritual fact, finding or discovery is an oxymoron. Spiritual claims abound, of course—”God is love,” for example—but there isn’t a shred of empirical evidence for any of them, certainly nothing resembling the overwhelming evidence compiled for heliocentrism, evolution by natural selection, atomic theory and the genetic code. And if spiritual information doesn’t exist, how can there be “progress in spiritual information”?
Some Templeton-funded scholars have tried to drag science down to the level of religion by arguing that science can’t produce truth either. I heard this claim in 2005 when I spent three weeks at the University of Cambridge participating in a Templeton fellowship for journalists, which featured talks by scientists and other scholars. In one talk the Christian theologian Nancey Murphy asserted that scientific claims are just as tentative as religious ones, hence scientists such as Richard Dawkins—who was in the audience—have no right to be so condescending to people of faith.
This postmodern tactic is ludicrous, because millennia of theology, Murphy’s scholarly discipline, have not generated a single “discovery” (and historical or archaeological findings, such as the discovery of the Gnostic Gospels, don’t count).
In today’s Guardian, columnist Nick Cohen has an equally “strident” piece: “Science has vanquished religion, but not its evils.” It’s well worth reading in its entirety, but here are some bits:
In his often brilliant work and teaching, Rees has never “affirmed life’s spiritual dimension”. He has always said that he is a Darwinist without religious dogma. All he shares with the religious is a “sense of wonder at the universe”.
The religious nevertheless showered him with money because he is a symptomatic figure of our tongue-biting age. Like millions who should know better, Rees is not religious himself but “respects” religion and wants it to live in “peaceful co-existence” with it. . .
. . . But the respect the secular give too freely involves darker concessions. It prevents an honest confrontation with radical Islam or any other variant of poor world religious extremism and a proper solidarity with extremism’s victims. “I don’t want to force Muslims to choose between God and Darwin,” Rees says, forgetting that scientists “force” no one to choose Darwin, while theocracies force whole populations to bow to their gods. So cloying is the deference that few notice how the demand for “respect” gives away the shallowness of contemporary religious thought. . .
. . . Today, you have to be a very ignorant believer to imagine that your religion or any religion can provide comprehensive explanations. When they study beyond a certain level, all believers learn that the most reliable theories of the origins of life have no need for the God of the holy books. The most brilliant scientists and the best thought have moved beyond religion. It is for this reason that religion, which once inspired man’s most sublime creations, no longer produces art, literature or philosophy of any worth; why it is impossible to imagine a new religious high culture. . .
. . . But the notion Lord Rees so casually endorses – that you must respect the privacy of ideologies that mandate violence, the subjugation of women and the persecution of homosexuals and treat them as if they were beyond criticism and scientific refutation – is the most cowardly evasion of intellectual duty of our day.
Finally, at his website Choice in Dying, Eric MacDonald (I’d call him “Uncle Eric”, but that adjective has unfortunately been bestowed on someone else) has two back-to-back posts on the topic, “Big bucks, big splash, small puddle,” and “The betrayal of reason.” From the latter:
In a parody of argument some are claiming that the fact that Newton was also religious shows that religion and science are compatible. So why should the Master of Trinity not have accepted the Templeton Prize? Well, quite aside from exposing Newton — as it does – to some well justified ridicule for his absurd alchemical fantasies and beliefs about the Jerusalem temple, this proves nothing more than that Newton, like most of his contemporaries, was, in some sense of that compendious word, religious, there being at the time little alternative, and all of them dangerous. Even Spinoza, rightly regarded as an atheist by his contemporaries, was a deeply “religious” man, and who, as a pantheist to Newton’s deist, illustrated clearly the deeply conflicted nature of thought about religion in the opening years of the scientific revolution. That Templeton is endeavouring to return human thought to that deeply conflicted state is a testimony at once to the persistence of the illusions of religion, as well as to the unceasing desire of the religious to restore theology as the Queen of the Sciences. That a scientist of Martin Rees’ stature should have aided and abetted this reactionary tendency towards irrationalism that continues to dog the heels of human thought is, in my opinion, a serious betrayal of reason. That he should have done so in evident ignorance of the Templeton Foundation’s continuing attempt to subvert reason in favour of its own Christian ideology is simply an act of treason against the science of which he has become a master.