We’ve met Yves Gingras before, when a Templeton-funded reviewer, having a severe pecuniary conflict of interest with Gingras’s views, heavily criticized Gingras’s book Science and Religion: An Impossible Dialogue. At that time, at the end of 2017, I defended Gingras on the grounds that the reviewer, Peter Harrison, had an out-and-out bias, having been funded by the Templeton Foundation that Gingras criticizes and having made the usual wooly arguments for accommodationism between science and religion. Here’s a bit of what I said about Harrison’s dubious ethics:
Here’s what Harrison says:
(Full disclosure: I have been the recipient of Templeton funding, although none of my books on the historical relations between science and religion have been supported by them.)
This is a gross conflict of interest, and had I been Harrison trying to review Gingras’s book for, say, The Washington Post, the first question my editor would have asked me was whether I had any personal conflict of interest involving the author’s thesis. If I said I had taken Templeton money and Gingras criticizes the Templeton Foundation, I would absolutely have been prohibited from reviewing Science and Religion: An Impossible Dialogue. Shame on the L.A. Review of Books for even allowing Harrison to review the Gingras volume!
For, of course, if you’re in the Templeton stable, you better defend them if you want more Templeton money, and that is the prime conflict of interest at play here. Harrison, had he acted ethically, should have recused himself from reviewing this book.
If you want to see Harrison’s involvement with Templeton, check this Google search. He has given Templeton-sponsored lectures, attended Templeton-sponsored conferences, and accepted grants from the Templeton Foundation. In fact, in Templeton’s Stable of Prize Thoroughbreds, there’s a special stall labeled “Peter Harrison”. He knows which side his oats are buttered on.
But let’s get onto Gingras’s book, which I just read thanks to a strong recommendation by philosopher Maarten Boudry, whom I met for beers and dinner in Ghent. Gingras holds a professorship in the History and Sociology of Science at the University of Quebec at Montreal.
Here’s his book, published in French in 2016 and translated into English the next year; you can get to its Amazon site by clicking on the screenshot:
This book is similar to my Faith Versus Fact in its thesis that science and religion are incompatible, but although there is some overlap in topics (e.g., we both have a discussion of the Templeton Foundation, a criticism of U.S. governments’ going easy on people who hurt their kids by withholding medical care on religious grounds, and a defense of the older “conflict thesis” books of John William Draper and Andrew Dickson White), they are largely complementary. Gingras’s book is well worth reading.
The main thing that Gingras’s book has that mine lacks is a proficiency in historical scholarship, so that he can go into the conflicts between science and religion much more thoroughly and knowledgeably than I could. So, for example, he devotes many pages to the archetypal conflict between science and religion: the case of Galileo versus the Catholic Church. Having read all the Church documents and reports right up to when the Church apologized for its behavior 350 years after putting Galileo under house arrest, Gingras makes a compelling case that this was indeed a conflict between Galileo’s scientific views and the Church’s notion that his science contravened scripture. This is important because apologists like science historian Ronald Numbers (who has also been extensively funded by Templeton) have spent many pages saying that l’affaire Galileo wasn’t about a conflict between science and religion, but was about politics, personal animus, or anything other than religion. When you read Gingras’s analysis, complete with extensive documentation and quotes from Catholic officials, you’ll see how flimsy arguments like Numbers’s really are.
Gingras continues through history, describing the medieval banning of scientific “philosophy” (as it was called) when it contradicted the Church, the numerous science books placed on the Catholic Church’s index of prohibited works because the books contradicted Church teaching, the controversy ignited by Darwin’s Origin (which continues to this day), and, to my delight, a discussion of the John Templeton Foundation’s nefarious attempts to foist an “impossible dialogue” on the public by pumping millions of dollars into softheaded projects supporting Sir John’s thesis that science and religion can illuminate one another. A quote (pp. 153-154):
The preferred strategy of those promoting public discourse on the relationship between science and religion has always been to foster associations with already-recognized institutions, thus allowing a transfer of credibility. The technique is simple: if great scholars were associated with the [Templeton] Foundation (by receiving a prize, for example), then it certainly must be serious. Thus, in 1996, the Foundation accomplished a masterstroke by convincing the powerful American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to agree to allow Templeton to sponsor a project entitled “Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion” to the tune of $5 million, a sum that has enabled the program to be active since 1996.
You can see the DoSER project’s AAAS website here, and its activities are still funded in part by Templeton (see here, here, and here, for instance). That the U.S.’s premier scientific organization has a theological arm with eight employees is beyond belief.
Gingras’s book closes by describing how both scientists and believers either implicitly or explicitly recognize the existence of a conflict. He also dispels lame attempts to “reconcile” the areas, like the frequent claim that they’re compatible because some scientists are religious. And there’s a final bit, which I greatly liked because it comports with my own thinking: the argument that a “constructive dialogue” between science and religion is impossible because religion has nothing to contribute to the practice of science. In contrast, science can affect religious thinking and discourse, usually in a “destructive” way by contradicting religious claims.
The book is aimed more at scholars than mine is, and the writing is a bit drier (perhaps because of the translation), but this is essential reading for those interested in the fraught relationship between science and religion. I second Maarten Boudry’s recommendation.