Templeton continues its futile effort to harmonize science and faith

May 4, 2018 • 1:00 pm

The John Templeton Foundation, in collaboration with Arizona State University (shame on them!) has a “Think Write Publish” (TWP) program in which young people are taught how to write “nonfiction” narratives that show the harmony between science and religion.  The shame also extends to the National Academies of Science (97% of whose members are outright atheists), who hosted one of their events in October of last year. Templeton also appears to contribute financially to the magazine Issues in Science and Technology, whose page lists as sponsors just these three entities, two of whom are public universities.

The magazine’s editor, Daniel Sarewitz, is not only known for his strenuous attempts to reconcile science and faith (see here and here, for instance), but admits in his Editor’s Journal that he publishes several of the TWP pieces in the magazine. I doubt that many of the National Academies’ members know how Templeton is subtly undermining their science by sneaking in religion. Sarewitz adds this:

Science and religion have become opposing pawns in the divisive and ugly political game that mars the United States today. It is only a small oversimplification to suggest that science is increasingly claimed by liberals as their rightful domain, the rational basis for policy making and the foundation of progress, whereas for conservatives, religion provides the moral precepts of a good society and a bulwark against the promiscuous change that can be thrust upon families and communities by scientific and technological advance.

But in a culture—Western culture, today—where science and religion are so often cast as irreconcilable combatants, is it simply too obvious an irony to point out that many of the founding thinkers of the Enlightenment (including Newton and Kepler) were highly devout men? And although it is certainly the case that a much higher proportion of nonscientists (something over 80%) in the United States believe in God than do scientists (something over 30%), don’t the many thousands of scientists who nonetheless are believers falsify the idea that there is a state of inherent conflict between science and religion?

I’ve refuted this argument for “compatibility” (he’s really arguing for compartmentalization) too often to do it again here.  A scientist who is a believer is in a state of cognitive disassociation, if not cognitive dissonance. And who the hell cares if Newton and Kepler were devout? Everybody was devout then! You might as well use this to argue for the compatibility between religion and the steam engine. Sometimes I think these people realize the weaknesses of their arguments, but trot them out anyway. After all, the terms of Sir John Templeton’s will stipulate that his dosh has to go to ends like this.

At any rate, here’s one of the activities that the TWP program is putting on. It’s free, so you can go!

The Mansion on O Street
2020 O Street NW
Washington, DC 20036

A celebration of the ways that science and religion interact and harmonize to create more meaning, understanding, and purpose in our world.  This day-long festival offers guests the opportunity to explore compelling new stories and thought provoking ideas presented by writers, thinkers, skeptics, and believers from various disciplines and denominations in a series of events that will challenge and inspire. Come for an hour, come for the day.  The Festival–set in the magical Mansion on O St., near Dupont Circle—will present new ways to understand and appreciate our complicated world.


More about the TWP and the shameful participation of Arizona State University in this religion-mongering. I guess ASU needs the dosh:

TWP Science & Religion is a project of Arizona State University’s Consortium for Science, Policy and Outcomes and the School for the Future of Innovation in Society, in collaboration with Creative Nonfiction and Issues in Science and Technology. TWP Science & Religion is made possible through a grant from the John Templeton Foundation.

And here’s what their fellows—12 a year receiving more than $10,000 each—do:

Science and religion, despite their rich, interwoven history, are too often portrayed as opposites in nearly every way, irreconcilable by definition. Indeed, our increasingly polarized societies seem to encourage the proposition that these two ways of knowing the world cannot productively co-exist, that they encounter each other through conflict and contradiction.

. . . Proposals for personal stories were welcome–from scientists, religious figures, or (just as importantly) everyday people seeking to explore or reconcile their own spiritual and scientific beliefs. But so were research-based narratives about historical moments in scientific and religious discovery, or contemporary scientists wrestling with the ethical quandaries their work entails, or religious, legal, humanistic, or other experts who have encountered interesting and revealing instances of science-religion dialogue and harmonies. Above all, we were looking for narratives—true stories, rich with scene, character, and detail—that provide a nuanced, thoughtful consideration of the complex interplay and unexplored interdependencies and synergies between science and religion.

Some of the fellows and what they’re paid for:

The stories may be true (“I thought about God when I was counting my flies”) but the tenets of religions are not true. Somehow they appear to be conflated in this program. And there’s that word “nuanced” again, which is a sure sign you should run for the hills. Anybody who thinks that Templeton is moving away from Sir John’s intentions (i.e., to show that science proves God), should realize that it hasn’t: it’s just gotten sneakier. That’s evident in their “true stories” logo, which, while technically accurate, also implies that there’s some truth in religion, and by that I mean that God exists—part of the Templeton program:

Finally, here’s Templeton’s press release announcing their program and how it will help science and religion reinforce each other.  I’ve put their ultimate aim in bold:

Science and religion, despite their rich, interwoven history, are too often portrayed as opposites in nearly every way, irreconcilable by definition. Indeed, our increasingly polarized societies seem to encourage the proposition that these two ways of knowing the world cannot productively co-exist, that they encounter each other through conflict and contradiction.

Our project—Think Write Publish—advances a different proposition: that science and religion can reinforce each other to allow a more nuanced, profound, and rewarding experience of our world and our place in it. We will use creative nonfiction writing to explore and advance this proposition. We are building a new community of storytellers who will write, publish, and disseminate engaging and inspiring nonfiction narratives of harmonies, reconciliation, and even productive interaction between science and religion.

We will award twelve $10,000 two-year TWP Science & Religion Fellowships. Open to novice and experienced writers, anyone who has a compelling true story or true stories illustrating or exploring harmonies between science and religion is encouraged to apply. Over a two-year period, Fellows will develop, write, and market their creative nonfiction stories. They will be mentored throughout the project by experienced writers, editors and teachers. They and their stories will be featured in a series of regional and national events.

One of the best ways to foster collective understanding is with a good story. Creative nonfiction– true stories, well told–allows for complexity, novelty, and revelation, and through compelling voice, suspense, character development, and well-chosen details has the potential to engage the widest audiences and change the way they know the world.

What they are doing is using public-relations techniques and experienced editors to try to persuade the public that science and religion are the very best of friends. Templeton is of course allowed to do that, and some of them may even believe it. But it’s a waste of money, especially in a Western world becoming ever more secular. It also serves to give credibility to the tenets of religion. For Arizona State University (a public university) and the National Academies of Science (an institution that advises the U.S. government) to engage in such nonsense is a step backward in a world that’s shedding its shackles of faith.

35 thoughts on “Templeton continues its futile effort to harmonize science and faith

  1. Could faith based institutions benefit by having their marketing department spin some positive P.R.? Sure! Could science based institutions benefit by spinning woo? On the contrary….

  2. I’m having trouble understanding this phrase in its context.

    “but the tenets of religions are true”. Is it just me or is it a typo?

  3. “… is it simply too obvious an irony to point out that many of the founding thinkers of the Enlightenment (including Newton and Kepler) were highly devout men?”

    Is it too obvious an irony to point out that at the time those founding thinkers lived, anyone who publicly disbelieved was hunted down and killed?

    1. Very true. Bad things came to heretics of all stripes. But it is also true that many of them didn’t just say they believed simply to avoid all the hunting and killing. Some (Many? Most?) really did believe, I am sure. IOW, for some it wasn’t coerced in that way. It’s complex.

      1. Yes, I think during Newton’s time most people were believers because the other option was just not there, also for intellectuals. You “learned” to believe just like you learned to speak. Things changed during the Enlightenment, and a second, you could almost say, quantum jump happened in Europe during the 1970s, probably started by the 1968 revolt among students against traditional infrastructures and authoritarianism. Today, in most European countries true believers form a smaller minority, although some of the mores and attitudes associated with religions seem to stick longer than the religious beliefs themselves, such as opposition against allowing divorce or abortion, or acceptance of ideas about inequality of men and women.

        1. Before Darwin, it was hard to answer the Argument from Design. It was not unreasonable to infer the existence of a god back then. I think it was Dawkins who said that Darwin made atheism an intellectually viable option.

          1. “I think it was Dawkins who said that Darwin made atheism an intellectually viable option.” That was certainly the case for me, and as it happens, the first book I read that made that case explicitly and conclusively was Dawkins’ own, The Blind Watchmaker.


        2. Well, Newton undoubtedly and notoriously was a believer, although his beliefs were pretty weird. So he’s probably not a good example to use for any side of the argument.

          But as for the others, I do agree that most scientists of those days were probably believers simply because ‘everybody’ was in those days.


  4. “religion provides the moral precepts of a good society and a bulwark against the promiscuous change that can be thrust upon families and communities by scientific and technological advance.”

    So much wrong here …

    And “promiscuous” ???

      1. Weird, but consistent.

        It also plays into the right-wing imagination. They think one of the definitions of being a liberal person is that you’re sexually promiscuous. Of course, their definition of promiscuity is often anything other than sex between a married man/woman couple, and even there they have rules.

          1. Exactly! As your website so often notes, it’s the ones who are the best at demanding the Proper Behaviour from others that are the worst at sticking to their own rules.

    1. 2nd 3rd and 4th definitions of promiscuous are

      2.consisting of parts, elements, or individuals of different kinds brought together without order.
      indiscriminate; without discrimination.
      casual; irregular; haphazard.

      But it’s still a bit strange.

      Perhaps we can say some people are born scientific, some people acheive scientific understanding, and some have science thrust upon them!!!
      (Apologies to Shakespeare.)

  5. The phrase that kept leaping out at me was “creative nonfiction.” Aren’t those words mutually exclusive? Can writing be both “creative” and “nonfiction”? There’s no doubt much nonfiction writing can be improved upon, but I’m not sure “creative” is the right word to describe that improvement.

    1. “Historical fiction” is perhaps what some people mean by the phrase, but it is still badly chosen. Oliver Sachs stuff has been referred to as “creative nonfiction” but the phrase seems misleading.

      1. I guess I’ve been away from Academia too long as I was unaware of Oliver Sacks “stuff”
        being labeled “creative nonfiction”. (had to look it up on the internet.)(Anything like Jorge Luis Borges and “magical realism”?)I think I’ve read everything written by Oliver Sacks and wish there were more. (I’ll have to reread.) I think he was supremely intelligent and raised in an educationally enriched environment. I am so grateful that he perceived the universe in the way(s) he did and was able to write about his interests as “creative nonfiction”, or whatever it was. It was wonderful.

        Before he died, he was keeping a list of things people said to him that he “misheard” vs. what really was said. There are worse ways to prepare for death than continuing to find the humor.

    2. “One of the best ways to foster collective understanding is with a good story. Creative nonfiction,,,” This too jumped out at me. I have never seen a creative writing course that was not about writing fiction.

      1. Although “creative” is used more to describe fiction, being able to write creatively also is a requirement in writing readable non-fiction. Otherwise, we wouldn’t give accolades to writers such as Coyne, Dawkins, and Pinker who tend to write so much better than their peers. Research, logical formation and progression, good vocabulary (and spelling), appropriate use of grammar, etc. How many times have I had to stop reading non-fiction articles or books to chortle over inept phasing, punctuation, misspellings and word choices. We need more appropriately “creative” nonfiction writers and editors.

  6. The U.S. is sadly following the same trajectory as Turkey. Even as the citizenry becomes more secular, its government and institutions are becoming more religious and backwards.

  7. Newton was not at all conventionally Christian, though Kepler was.


    My take is you can reconcile some of the religion and some of the science some of the time, but you sure as hell can’t reconcile all of the religion and all of the science all of the time. (Apologies to Abraham Lincoln).
    Science is thoroughly opposed to any authoritarian, dogmatic, closed religion, and evangelicals regard science as the enemy because they unconsciously know their tenets cannot stand up to scrutiny, as do almost all scientists.
    Western Buddhists have discarded many tenets that cannot withstand science.

  8. Just having finished the book Leonardo Da Vinci, it might help Templeton to note this. Even the humanists of the early Renaissance preferred to repeat the wisdom of classical text rather than test it. Leonardo broke with this tradition by basing his science primarily on observation, then discerning patterns, and then testing their validity through more observation and experiments. He had relegated the idea of religious miracles to the purview of priests. Templeton cannot even accept the reality of the Renaissance.

    The genius of Leonardo could overcome even religion.

  9. I fail to see how something as unchanging and stagnate as religion can have any compatibility with the momentum of science.
    The stories of faith fortified will be easily countered by faith obliterated.
    They’ve given up flogging the dead horse (religious momentum) and are pulling the cart themselves, albeit with loads of dosh.

  10. It’s pretty clear what the Templeton folks are attempting—namely, accumulating experiential evidence for the existence of God based on personal stories. Fine. How this shows a compatibility of science and religion isn’t clear, however, since no amount of experiential evidence is going to magically turn into scientific evidence. The most it can do is elicit a response of recognition and assent from those who have had similar experiences or a response of scorn and disbelief from those who haven’t.

    That some of the recognition and assent will come from scientists seems inevitable, since no scientist is only a scientist and at least some of them, we must assume, are as susceptible to religious experiences as the next person. But, as Jerry points out, this has nothing to do with the compatibility of religion and science. It merely reflects a willingness to acknowledge one’s experiential evidence as real regardless of whether it can be backed by scientific evidence.

    To my mind, such scientists should be applauded for their candor since the alternative—to deny one’s experience because it doesn’t fit neatly into one’s world view—is surely a form of intellectual dishonesty.

    1. In science, only the observations that can be replicated are considered evidence. If someone’s ‘experiential evidence’ involves something outside of the natural realm, which the people around her cannot see, hear, touch, taste, or smell, then this does not meet the criterion of evidence that can be replicated.

  11. I’d like to hear the publication “Issues in Science and Technology,” and the Templeton Foundation, hold forth on, e.g., religion’s treatment of Giordano Bruno and Galileo.

    Would that one could hear of some push back from ASU “Origins Project” principals. But I guess Lawrence Krauss remains constrained and (temporarily?) excommunicated from the ASU campus.

  12. Imagine spending lots of moolah to demonstrate the harmony between science and demon summoning. Or science and dragon charming.
    Actually, those would be more interesting.

  13. I’d like to think of the possibility that the Templeton Fdn might sometime be taken over by people who would like to see the money go to efforts that might produce some tangible benefits via actual research. With a little creativity it ought to be possible to reconcile that sort of funding with Sir J’s will.

    But against that scenario, do they require applicants to sign a doctrinal statement like so-called Liberty U?

    1. Hmmm…


      And Robert Kuhn has interviewed Max Tegmark several times on Closer to Truth, a show on PBS that ranges from theology, cognitive philosophy to fundamentals of cosmology. The guy interviews hardcore atheists without batting an eyelash. I was taken aback at Kuhn’s surprise in a recent episode that there was a philosophy of biology given Mayr long ago published a book on that long ago. Oh well. Philistines!

  14. Granted Templeton influence is problematic, but why do you have this tendency to worst case things? I notice it in the polemics against the influence of post-modernism and so-called regressive left too.

    I see merit in some Templeton funded projects such as PBS’s Closer to Truth. Shouldn’t you be lambasting Max Tegmark and FQXi? It would be textbook case of genetic fallacy to impugn any project because Templeton connections. The book “The Worm at the Core” by Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg & Tom Pyszczynski thanks Templeton. Understandable given it is an expansion of Becker’s death denial thesis that Templeton would be interested.

    And Pinker wasn’t immune to Templeton influence in Enlightenment Now. Requoting myself from a previous thread: “ I am now in the part of the book where world poverty has taken a nosedive and sweatshops are at least better than toiling in a rice paddy and a boon for liberation of women. Pinker cites this source on the counterintuitive feminist argument:


    “Chelsea Follett (@Chellivia) is the managing editor of HumanProgress.org, a project of the Cato Institute.”

    Hmmm. Trying hard not to do a genetic fallacy here. But this strange focus does seem to spin in a libertarian direction.


    “Note: HumanProgress.org is a project of the Cato Institute with major support from the John Templeton Foundation, the Searle Freedom Trust, the Brinson Foundation and the Dian Graves Owen Foundation.””

    Tsk, tsk Pinker.

  15. It’s certainly a fallacy to argue that ideas are compatible (or incompatible) based on the fact that someone *believes* they are. Whether those people are the eminent Newton and Kepler, or just some average Joes and Janes on the street.

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