Contest: guess the winner of the 2016 Templeton Prize

February 25, 2016 • 10:00 am

As the announcement below notes (click screenshot for full announcement), the winner of the £1.1 million 2016 Templeton Prize (full name: “The Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities”, historically awarded to those who espouse comity between science and religion, will be announced March 2. Click the screenshot below to go to the full announcement:

Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 10.16.53 AM

You can see the previous winners here. Early on they were given to pure religionists like Mother Teresa and Thomas Torrance, but had recently been awarded to scientists who were friendly to religion, like Martin Rees and George F. R. Ellis. However, the last three winners have been religionists with a humanitarian bent, including the Dalai Lama, Tomàš Halík, and Desmond Tutu.

Who do you think will win? One guess per customer, and if you are the first person to correctly guess the winner, you will win your choice of either an audiobook of Faith Versus Fact, the new paperback of the book (out May 1), or a paperback of Why Evolution is True, all autographed and, if you wish, emblazoned with a cat drawing.

67 thoughts on “Contest: guess the winner of the 2016 Templeton Prize

    1. Do you mean for the “The Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities” or just Best Costume?


  1. Let me toss in David Deutsch. Is he eligible? Cause looks like he’s sponsored by Templeton at Oxford already. And what the hell’s up with that, anyway?

    He’s an atheist, apparently, but there’s still a hint, or at least a potential opening, for a Deus Ex Machina kinda thing in his Constructor Theory, seems to me. That’s gotta get Templeton a bit hot and bothered.

    Anyone got a clue on this?

        1. Well, I can’t deny that it’s Templeton funded, but that just shows a regrettable lack of judgment. But I don’t immediately see anything wooish about Constructor Theory. At first blush it looks like a robust working out of the ideas linking quantum theory, information, natural selection and … a fourth thing I can’t remember … which he explored in _The Fabric of Reality_.


          1. Biologic design encoded in quantum theory sounds like just one step removed from arguing that’s how goddidit.

            Also total woo.

            I don’t understand the need of physicists to jam in QM in anything; the brain, evolution…you name it.

            1. I haven’t read enough yet to know if “biological design encoded in quantum theory” is a valid characterisation of Deutsch et al.’s thesis. But biology is necessarily an outworking of quantum physics, because that’s the way the world is. As Alex Rosenberg notes, “physics fixes everything” (”constrains” not “mends”!).


              1. But there is a “causal decoupling” as Heinz Pagels used to call it. In other words there is no need to understand or invoke QM, which explains phenomena at the level of subatomic particles, to understand neurophysiology and the brain. Any QM effects at that level are averaged out or are to weak to be important. This is why so far QM has not been needed to explain any aspect of evolutionary theory or the mind.

              2. Is there *really* a causal decoupling?

                You cannot explain chemistry without understanding quantum theory; molecular bonding depends on the Pauli exclusion principle. And without understanding chemistry, you can’t explain biopoiesis or biological replicators (RNA, DNA).

                Furthermore, Rosenberg and Prof. Brian Cox both note that evolution is a consequence of the second law of thermodynamics (contra the creationists’ common canard). And the second law can only be explained by thinking about entropy at the quantum level (vide Sean Carroll).

                So, frankly, you’re wrong — it just depends on the depth of explanation that will satisfy you.

                Keep asking “why’ long enough and you’ll get back to quantum theory. See Richard Feynman on magnets.


              3. Well. Do you want to provide an example where QM has been invoked to explain an evolutionary principle or neurophysiology?

                Your examples are too general and unrelated to QM or evolution.

              4. That’s not the claim I’m making.

                I can’t see how you can say the examples are unrelated to QM or evolution – Pauli exclusion principle *is* quantum theory; replication of DNA *is* evolutionary biology. And there’s an explanatory chain between them.

                You can break that chain only by taking something a level higher than quantum theory as axiomatic; e.g., take chemistry as a given. But chemistry is the way that it is *only* because quantum theory is the way that it is.


              5. From Wp: “The Pauli exclusion principle helps explain a wide variety of physical phenomena. One particularly important consequence of the principle is the elaborate electron shell structure of atoms and the way atoms share electrons, explaining the variety of chemical elements and their chemical combinations.”

                Thus, quantum theory (spin) → Pauli → chemistry → replicators (RNA, DNA) → genes → alleles → evolution (change of allele frequency over time).

                I’m really not clear what exactly you’re not grasping about this chain, so it’s hard to explain things more plainly.

                But the bottom line is that if quantum theory were different, evolution would be different. If quantum theory were sufficiently different, so that atoms didn’t share electrons the way they do, it might not be possible for chemical replicators to occur, so evolution would never even get started.


    1. That’s what I first thought, but then remembered he’s often said snooty things about Christianity. Jesus never said anyhting about quantum physics, unlike the Vedas, which repeatedly informs us that we are holographic expressions of the entire universe, manifesting as a continuum of probability amplitudes for space/time events; or at least clearly implies it.

  2. I will boldly predict that it will be someone who falls within the spectrum from mildly delusional to knowing fraud. Too bad I already own FvF and WEIT!

  3. I really have no idea, but I’ll go with Francis Collins because he’s a scientist who tried to appease evangelicals with Biologos.

  4. I think it Elaine Ecklund will win because of her efforts to prove you can be a scientist during the week and believe in talking snakes on sunday.

    1. I’ld give it to her too. Just the thought of her having an out of control ecstasy trance thinking all of her life’s beliefs are validated. Whatever shred of doubt she had would be wiped clean and her self-vindication would be promoted to human-god status.

      Like a rock star who thinks they are best ever because they think they are the best ever.

    1. That was the he name that initially occurred to me so now I’ll have to go with someone different.

      William Lane Craig (because everyone else is taken, so to speak).

  5. I don’t have a good guess, but according to their site, any nominee must be an “entrepreneur of the Spirit”. If you’re confused, here’s their definition.

    Entrepreneur of the Spirit – Does the individual capture the full meaning of being an “entrepreneur of the spirit” – someone who has contributed to “spiritual progress” by disseminating the results of scientific, philosophical or theological discoveries, by being a key influencer or exemplar, or by multiplying our understanding of the Divine.

    1. Everything I say multiplies our understanding of the divine tenfold. A hundredfold. Heck, a billionfold! Can I haz prize now?

      1. Unfortunately a billion times zero is still zero…

        But of course you knew that 😉

        And if the Wine you drink, the Lip you press,
        End in the Nothing all Things end in —Yes—
        Then fancy while Thou art, Thou art but what
        Thou shalt be—Nothing—Thou shalt not be less.

        I nominate Omar Khayyam for the prize!


  6. From my alma mater … 


    Co-Project Director and Chair of the Education Committee at the Royal Society.

    He is a Physics professor based at Durham University. His research interests emerge from polymer physics but he has wide experience of working across scientific disciplines and in collaboration with industry.

    He is also involved in science-communication with the public via regular radio, TV and schools lectures, discussing issues from the Physics of Slime to the interaction of Faith and Science. Tom lectures widely and is an Anglican lay reader.


  7. “Progress Toward Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities”

    Let’s parse this nonsense.

    They want to progress generally in the direction of doing research or discovering things about spiritual realities.

    Now, I thought there was only one reality, not multiple realities (leaving the multiverse theory aside).

    So, if I take one (physical) step towards a lab where maybe someone might make a research about some “spiritual reality”, does that mean I’m making, “Progress Toward Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities”?

    Their aim is almost as bad a word-salad as the output of most theologians.

    1. A core problem with the Templeton prize is an ambiguity in what we mean by “spiritual”.

      If we mean a separate plane of reality, similar to “supernatural”, then there is a real sense in which this is a philosophically incoherent concept.

      The word “spiritual” at best is an attribute of a person’s intentions or lifestyle, but does not entirely make sense as an attribute of a thing.

      IMO, there is a distant possibility that the philosophy of “panpsychism” (that consciousness, mind or soul [psyche] is a universal and primordial feature of all things) is valid, but the two-story universe of Western Christian philosophy with both a “natural order” and a “supernatural order” of reality (Thomas Aquinas) has both been discredited and is not especially philosophically coherent to begin with (as David Hume has effectively argued). But it effects on Western culture remain, and it seems implicitly assumed by the phrasing of the Templeton prize.

  8. Well, it’s obviously NOT going to Charles Templeton former right-hand man to Billy Graham in the ’50s turned secular humanist.

    And as much as I admire Vatican astronomer George Coyne, I will feel JAC’s pain if his namesake wins.

    My top choices would have been either Francis Collins or Pope Francis, but these have been taken, so my choice for the contest purposes will be
    ===>Karl Giberson<===

    My vote for least deserving winners is tie between Bill Bright and Mother Theresa. (Bill Bright is no more bright than Deepak Chopra is deep.)

    Most deserving- a 3-way tie between Desmond Tutu, Dalai Lama, and Holmes Ralston.

      1. To be fair to the Templeton folks, they awarded her the prize in 1973, 22 years before Christopher Hitchens accurate expose of her in “The Missionary Position” (1995) was published. The Nobel committee in 1979 was equally naive.

        Mother Teresa remains with Charles Townes the only two people who have won both a Nobel and a Templeton, though in Towne’s case not for the same thing. (He got a shared Nobel for being the primary inventor of the laser beam.)

        I was not close to Dr. Townes, but he was good casual friend. I have no regrets having never known Mother T.

  9. I don’t know any posible candidates, but if I could, I would personally nominate Beavis and Butthead for the prize.

    In one episode they showed greater scientific integrity than many other candidates, by retaining an open mind about a science project they were doing, excluding the possibility that a fairy was causing the phenomenon they were researching. Ultimately they openly admitted that their experiment had failed(because they fell asleep during the experiment), and decided that they didn’t want to be scientists anyway, because “science sucks” — a sentiment entirely in keeping with the attitude of many theologians, though few have the integrity to say it openly.

    I guess their honesty would exclude them, and there might be problems with offering a joint prize, but I would wish the Templeton Foundation would read this and give them the award. (I would probably get disqualified from the competition here if that happened, for trying to influence the outcome.)

  10. John Polkinghorne, because he used to be a quantum physicist and comes out with statements like “we need the insights of both science and religion if we are fully to understand the rich reality we inhabit”. I was so impressed by that sentence that I emailed a number of scientific organisations to ask how many theologians they employed, and what insights they had produced. Alas I was ever so disappointed.

  11. My bet- Martin Nowak.
    My rationale – political utility.
    Nowak is a noted theoretical biologist in the area of Evolution itself -a`’hot topic” in an area of contention between religion and science… and yet he is also a complete and utter toady when it comes to the teachings of the catholic church. He has taken huge amounts of Templeton funds already in sponsorship of “research” into topic areas that attempt to blend Evolutionary theory and spiritual claptrap. A prize for Nowak would be seen to be a “spit in the eye” to Dawkins et al…….

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