Templeton continues to conflate science and religion

October 4, 2011 • 5:36 am

After the John Templeton foundation awarded the million-pound Templeton Prize to two respectable scientists in successive years (Francisco Ayala and Martin Rees), many people were fooled into thinking that the organization had abandoned—or at least muted—its penchant for fusing science and faith.

Not a chance.  They’re still up to their woo-ish activities. The only difference is that they’re a bit more surreptitious about it.  Here are three recent instances:

1.  The most egregious is the “Test of Faith” project, sponsored by the reprehensible Faraday Institute for Science and Religion. Faraday is affiliated with Cambridge University in England, was founded in 2006 by a $2,000,000 grant from the Templeton Foundation, and seems to spend most of its time and money reconciling science and faith. Templeton continues to give it money.

On October 29, for example, Faraday is hosting a panel discussion on “Science and religion: friends or foes“?  (Guess what answer they’ll come up with!), and on the same page you’ll see an announcement of a conference in November on “Science and religion in the XXI century: dialogue or confrontation?”.   Faraday published accommodationist papers and funds projects that are largely about theology rather than science.  It’s to the eternal discredit of Cambridge University that they’re affiliated with this group.

At any rate, Faraday’s “Test of Faith” project was separately funded by Templeton.  What is it? It appears to be a full-court press—books, movies, and lectures—on how science is completely compatible with faith. Their aim is to fill what they see as “a huge need for accessible materials on science and Christianity for everyone who is interested in these issues.”

Test of Faith tours around America giving talks at various churches and religious colleges.  (If you’re in Fairfax, Virginia, you can catch the act tonight!) They have an edited book, Test of Faith, with chapters from various accommodationists, including Francis Collins. (You can download Collins’s chapter here, which is pretty much a precis of his book The Language of God, showing how and why he came to Jesus. Collins was supposed to stop writing this kind of stuff when he became director of the National Institutes of Health, but persists.)  The book comes with study materials so you can have an entire course on why science and faith are pals.

And they have an eponymous movie, described like this:

Test of FAITH: Does Science threaten belief in God?

The relationship between science and faith is often represented as a battleground.  The claim is that science has pushed God into the margins.  But is the truth more complex?  Talking to leading scientist-believers, we probe the issues at the heart of this debate.  Has science really murdered God?  Or is the God question being redefined in new ways by science?  Does the possibility of a Creator remain an ineradicable challenge?

3 x 30 minute episodes:

Beyond Reason? (Science, faith and the universe)

An Accident in the Making? (Creation, evolution and the environment)

Is there anybody there? (The brain, freewill and ethics)

Science blogger Brian Switek from Laelaps reviewed the film when it came out two years ago, and wasn’t impressed:

After watching the three-part series I became convinced that the Faraday Institute is not so much concerned with reconciling science and religion as finding a refuge for God in the moments before the Big Bang, the machinations of evolution, and inside our own brains. Even though the film explicitly criticizes advocates of intelligent design for using “God of the Gaps” thinking, or trying to make room for a deity in natural phenomena that are not yet well-understood, the series frequently employs the same technique to give hope to believers that God truly is out there somewhere. If there is something we do know, God is behind it, and if there is something we don’t know then that might be a sign of direct action by Providence.

I’m often criticized for not joining the ranks of scientists who speak at—and are paid to attend—Templeton-sponsored events like the World Science Festival.  If you want to know why, just have a gander at the Test of Faith website.  I won’t take money from, or participate in, ventures that are in any way connected with such an odious project.  Science and faith are as incompatible as cats and dogs, and you won’t turn them into friends by locking them together in a room.

2.  Templeton continues to sponsor faith-and-religion initiatives advertised in major venues. Here’s an ad for full year theologians-and-scientists-are-friends fellowships at Princeton, advertised in the latest Times Literary Supplement (note the participation of Cambridge paleontologist Simon Conway Morris):

Here’s another from the same issue of the TLS, advertising 1.5 million dollars in Templeton Grants (disguised under the aegis of  “The Historical Society”) for projects showing what a beneficial effect religion has had on human society:

And perhaps the most insidious: a combination of grants and essay projects on “The uses and abuses of biology,” also funded by Templeton. Its aims?

The aim of the interdisciplinary Programme is to investigate contemporary non-scientific uses and abuses of biological thought (beneficial, benign or negative) in the domains of philosophy, the social sciences, the media, religion and politics. Collaborative projects between those engaged in the biological sciences and investigators from other disciplines are particularly welcomed.

True, biologists aren’t perfect, and biology has sometimes been abused (for example, in support of eugenics), but this project seems like nothing more than a religiously-based attempt to promote religion by denigrating science—an increasingly common tactic of accommodationists.

You scientists who take Templeton money:  please be aware that when one of the Templeton Octopus’s tentacles hands you a generous stipend, the other tentacles are giving even more money to religion.

3.  Finally, an example of the “sing for your supper” aspect of Templeton.  When you take money from them, you are automatically installed in their stable of prize horses, and they can use your good name (if you’re a reputable academic) to lend credence to their more disreputable projects.  Over at their Big Questions website, Templeton has an interview with sociologist Elaine Ecklund, who has gotten tremendous mileage out of her Templeton-funded grant to investigation religion and spirituality among American scientists. Her interview is the required postprandial litany for Templeton-funded academics.

Ecklund again touts how amazingly “spiritual” scientists are—a finding that Templeton, of course, considers most congenial—and argues that her findings foster comity between science and faith:

If you do care about dialogue, I do think of these kinds of findings—that there is spirituality present in the groups that you would least expect it to be present in—as a way of fostering that dialogue. So religious people who are spiritual can say to scientists who are atheists who are spiritual, “Let’s talk about the differences and the commonalities in how we see spirituality.” It gives some kind of initial common ground rather than starting out a dialogue by focusing just on differences.

As always, Ecklund is disingenuous.  In a guest post on this site last month, reader Sigmund took apart Ecklund’s claims that scientists themselves brought up their spirituality, something she implies in her Big Questions inteview.  It turns out, though, that Ecklund herself introduced the term to the interviewed scientists.  As Sigmund noted in an email to me, “It’s no wonder the scientists spend so much of their time with her telling her that they don’t believe in traditional spirituality when she seems to have spent the entire interview trying to ram it down their throats.”

And so the Templeton juggernaut lumbers on, fueled by its enormous cash reserves and dispensing $70 million dollars in grants each year.  Most of those grants are designed to meet Templeton’s goals: reconciling science and faith.

Those scientists who take money from Templeton, using as an excuse that “well, my project is simply good, straight science” should be aware of what Templeton is doing with its other hand.  They should also realize that even if they’re doing good, pure science, Templeton will use their names to promote their other religious activities.

Templeton is a Janus organiation, with one face turned toward science and the other having its gaze firmly fixed on God.

h/t: Matthew Cobb

32 thoughts on “Templeton continues to conflate science and religion

  1. It has struck me that the desperation of theists to try to say science and faith are compatible is simply them trying to glom onto anything tht makes their faith seem more valid, e.g. “If science works and we claim faith is compatible with it, magically faith gets some credibiity.” Again, it seems that “faith” is not enough anymore and they realize that. Again science takes the lead and theism follows, the hypocrite always claiming that it really accepted science all along.

  2. I won’t take money from, or participate in, ventures that are in any way connected with such an odious project.

    Thank you.

    Most of those grants are designed to meet Templeton’s goals: to reconcile science and faith.

    But that’s not at all what Templeton’s goals are.

    Clearly, their goals can be nothing more nor less than garden-variety Christian evangelization. They’re not even pretending otherwise.

    The only meaningful difference between Templeton and the Disco Toot is the quality and subtlety of their PR operations, which is simply a function of the size of the war chest.

    Oh, sure, there’s the usual doctrinal differences you’ll find between any competing Christian denominations. This batch thinks Jesus “substantially” manifests in a cracker; that one thinks your degree of Jesus possession is directly related to your degree of immersion in the magic initiation potion. One thinks history started with magical miracles in the middle of the Egyptian empire; the other thinks history started with magical miracles shortly before the Planck epoch. But it’s all just silly children arguing over the kryptonite content of Jesus’s condoms.



  3. Test of FAITH documentary summary is very sly.

    Although some atheist scientists claim a multiverse – or infinite number of universes – would explain our statistically unlikely universe, believing scientists see no threat in a multiverse. For them, God remains Creator, whether of one universe or many.

    Yes, but God is equally unnecessary to explain one universe or many.

    Indeed, [scientist-believers] maintain that debates about evolution are secondary, at a time of unprecedented global warming, to the urgent Biblical command to care for creation. For them, science and faith must unite in helping finding solutions to this urgent problem.

    Science can find solutions to the problem more easily without faith. Indeed, faith (“God will take care of us, so we can continue to be profligate.”) is part of the problem.

    Attempts to reduce human beings to sophisticated machines, [scientist-believers] say, fail to account for our rich complexity. Moreover, contemporary theories of ‘emergence’ suggest that the brain is more than the sum of its parts. Instead, it is suggested that complex higher-level phenomena – such as ‘mind’ – emerge over a long evolutionary process.

    Yes… our rich complexity emerged over a long evolutionary process. (We’re very sophisticated machines!) So why do you need God, again?

    And so on.


    1. Indeed, [scientist-believers] maintain that debates about evolution are secondary, at a time of unprecedented global warming, to the urgent Biblical command to care for creation.

      And other scientist-believers maintain that debates about global warming are secondary given the urgent Biblical warning that Jesus is coming back to destroy the world anyway.

        1. Some scientists are indeed believers, and of those certainly some are Biblical literalists, or at least believe in a literal armageddon. (Such is not a problem for various specific fields, such as chemistry or materials science.)

    2. Even if science finally finds out that the Universe(s) is self-explanatory the believers can always claim that the God just was a bystander watching the show (and of course intervening all the time using Jesus puppet and miracles etc. – which is btw shhh! inconsistent). In other words their expectations are infinitely unsatisfiable. When an explanation of the phenomena is found they shift the goalpost to higher level of unknown and claim victory based on ignorance. Ergo Jesus wins.

    3. Ant Allan wrote:

      Yes… our rich complexity emerged over a long evolutionary process. (We’re very sophisticated machines!) So why do you need God, again?

      The problem’s worse than that.

      As Dawkins has pointed out:

      “Mental things, brains, minds, consciousnesses, things that are capable of comprehending anything — these come late in evolution, they are a product of evolution. They don’t come at the beginning. So whatever lies behind the universe will not be an intellect. Intellects are things that come as the result of a long period of evolution.”

      God isn’t just unnecessary. God’s supposed to be a type of Mind that’s supposed to be there before anything else. In which case, “…complex higher-level phenomena – such as ‘mind’ – emerge over a long evolutionary process” can’t be used to support the case for God. The God hypothesis now goes against what we’re discovering.

  4. Edinburgh University have a Templeton-funded position opening from April 2012 next year:

    For. Shame.
    (Have a look in the ‘desirable’ section of the Person Specification after clicking ‘Further Information’ for such gems as:
    “The candidate should have proven research expertise in some area of the current science-religion interface. This may derive from a historical, philosophical, theological or scientific background.”)

  5. Bad comparison as cats and dogs can get along quite well. How about “soldier ants and anything not a soldier ant.”

  6. their goals can be nothing more nor less than garden-variety Christian evangelization. They’re not even pretending otherwise

    I don’t think the object is evangelizing so much as apologetics. That is, I don’t think they are primarily looking to recruit, but instead to stem the bleeding of former believers who come face-to-face with the absurdity of Bronze Age beliefs in an age of reason and science. What Templeton is trying to do is give some sort of plausibility, some intellectual cover, to what are otherwise insupportable ideas. That way, people who consider themselves marginally “thinky” can wave at the stuff Templeton churns out anytime they are threatened by reason. It’s simply a matter of reducing cognitive dissonance in vaguely thoughtful believers.

    1. The question arises, WHY? What does it matter to them what other people believe about the imponderable? Is the Templeton Foundation’s work in any sense a quest for truth?

  7. Remarkable how “science and religion” and “science and faith” almost always means “science and Christianity” and “science and Christian faith.”

  8. lol. so if science and religion are now compatible, does this mean I can start praying for my experimental results to work and then I can include how many times I said the Hail Mary in the Materials and Methods section of a paper?

  9. Sorry if this is common knowledge and I’m just ignorant, but can someone give me a definition of “accommodationist?” I always thought it was an atheist with a soft spot for religion – one of those condescending, “we may know it’s all bulls**t, but those people NEED to believe, so let them have it” types. But above you call Francis Collins an accommodationist, which leads me to believe your definition is more like “someone who believes science and religion are compatible.” Was I confusing “accommodationist” with “faitheist?” Or was I right to think that “accommodationist” usually implies atheist/agnostic who thinks religion is ok for others?

    1. Yeah, you have it right. A faithist is someone who self-identifies as an atheist yet nevertheless feels faith is an admirable trait. An accommodationist is one who feels science and religion are philosophically compatible. Often these two groups overlap but not necessarily.

    2. Hmm.

      My understanding is that accommodationists can be either atheists or theists. The point is that they think reality (science) can “accommodate” religious views, or at least certain religious views.

      Obviously, theist accommodationists are primarily about trying to show that science doesn’t, or can’t, disprove any of their religious tenets – or even that it can positively prove some of them.

      Atheist accommodationists seem to me to be more about showing that religion doesn’t necessarily get in science’s way. Or that the religious views one holds aren’t necessarily incompatible with what science has to say on a given matter. It’s sort of a “more flies w honey” approach. But it is disgustingly dishonest.

      “Fathiesm”, I think, is mire about the condescending view some atheists hold that “regular schmoes”, “the stupid masses”, etc, need religion in order to function. For reasons of comfort etc. Of course, the fatheist him/herself doesn’t need the wubby of religion. Just those other morons.

  10. I was reminded, reading this, of my very favorite quote from a commenter (either here or on Pharyngula) said on this subject:

    The sign at the crossroads of faith and science is ‘Yield’, not ‘Merge.’

    someday, I’m gonna put that on a tshirt.

  11. Science and Faith are friends – so why is Science so mean? And why does Faith repeatedly stab Science in the back, spit in its face, and kick it about? I’ve never seen such good friends.

  12. It’s to the eternal discredit of Cambridge University that they’re affiliated with this group.

    I’m not sure the university proper has much say. The Faraday Institute is affiliated with St. Edmunds College which is one of the Cambridge colleges, not with the university directly, and the colleges have a lot of independence (including financial independence) from the University.

  13. In defense of Princeton University, those CTI fellowships are IN Princeton, not AT Princeton. Just because CTI has its offices in the same town doesn’t mean they’re affiliated with the university.

Leave a Reply