The BBC osculates religion and touts accommodationism—with a little help from Templeton

June 23, 2019 • 11:30 am

Reader Mark Jones called my attention (as did other readers) to this three-part BBC show with an accommodationist theme (click on screenshot), whose first part aired yesterday morning in the UK. Mark did some digging on the show and its host, Nick Spencer, and found substantial Templeton influence and dosh behind it. His summary is below as a standalone post, and, following that, his take on the first show.

You can now listen to the 27-minute show in the U.S. by clicking on the picture below:


The Not-so-secret History of Science and Religion

by Mark Jones

I notice that the faitheist BBC are now to broadcast a three-part program pushing the agenda of the Templeton Foundation.

In The Secret History of Science and Religion “Nick Spencer explores the history of the relationship between science and religion and questions the received wisdom that they have always been in conflict with one another.” That language sounds familiar from the writing of other religious apologists on the conflict between science and religion.

Nick Spencer is a Senior Fellow at the Christian thinktank Theos, and is responsible for the 2009 Templeton funded project “Rescuing Darwin” (to the tune of $600,000!!, according to page 214 of this book).

The aim of the “Rescuing Darwin” study:

“Both Darwin’s position and his spirit of engagement need to be rescued from the crossfire of a battle between the militant godly and militant godless who, though poles apart on so many issues, seem to agree that evolution threatens belief in God.”

(Just to reinforce the point about Templeton funding of ‘science and religion’, there’s a 2017 grant of $2.4m for the Faraday Institute—which Spencer works with—to ‘to finance a 20-year lease on a set of bespoke new-build offices which will provide a secure home for The Faraday Institute to develop over the next two decades’.)

Spencer has written a report on the conflict, drawing on the data from that project and other sources, which analyses the conflict via people’s attitudes to it, rather than using analysis of the inherent contradictions between the two fields. Even here it’s clear that the data indicate a conflict:

“…it is certainly not the case that the data show no conflict between religion and science in public perception, or no religious antagonism toward science. In particular, evolution is an issue for certain religious believers, disproportionally independent (evangelical) Christians, Pentecostals and Muslims. Longitudinal data simply do not exist here, but it would be reasonable to guess that levels of anti-evolutionary feeling have increased over recent decades, perhaps in line with the fragmentation of the Christian landscape and/ or with the prevalence of creationism and Intelligent Design in the US – even if the level of anti-evolution sentiment reached is usually less than headlines allege, and nothing that would merit the idea of a “war” on science.”

Note the attempt to diminish the conflict at the end. His conclusion:

“In short, while we should not underplay the extent to which there is a perceived conflict in some quarters, between science and religion, nor should we overplay it, exaggerating it into a full-scale war between vast and irreconcilably opposed armies. Rather, we should seek to understand it in its complexity and respond, not with disparagement or contempt, but with intelligent and reasoned dialogue.”

He is now “embarking on a major study, again in partnership with the Faraday Institute, funded by the Templeton Religion Trust, to explore this landscape in unprecedented detail”. I can’t find details of this, but knowing Templeton, the grant will be a generous one.

And now the BBC are going to give Spencer a megaphone to push his soft-soaping of the conflict. Great!


I’ve listened to the first episode now [JAC: you can listen as well; see above], and it was the familiar rejection of the conflict thesis with which we are familiar.

Spencer cited a number of celebrated instances of science ‘apparently’ conflicting with religion, but sought to persuade us that these were not quite as conflicting as we might think. Unfortunately, his analysis amounted to “It was more complicated than simply science vs religion, ergo, no conflict”. Well, it’s true that it was more complicated than simply science vs religion, but that does not show there was not still a conflict between science and religion. In one instance, someone said the Galileo affair was about science against science and religion against religion. This is no doubt true, but doesn’t gainsay the obvious maleficent effect of religion on science at the same time. The Catholic Church even apologised for it, with Pope John Paul II writing:

“The error of the theologians of the time, when they maintained the centrality of the Earth, was to think that our understanding of the physical world’s structure was, in some way, imposed by the literal sense of the Sacred Scripture.”

That is practically the conflict in a nutshell.

It was disappointing for a program on the BBC not to seek out contrarian views to challenge Spencer’s argument. He spoke to other faitheists like Peter Harrison and Tom McLeish to support his views. Fair enough, but it would have been instructive to see how he responded to challenges to his narrative. Maybe he will do that in later programs.

The BBC is not required to have balance within a (non current affairs) program, but needs to show it across its output, so this isn’t a breach of any guidelines—as I understand them. However, I would be surprised if the BBC ever made a series pushing the conflict thesis. I’m not aware of one in the past.

49 thoughts on “The BBC osculates religion and touts accommodationism—with a little help from Templeton

  1. “However, I would be surprised if the BBC ever made a series pushing the conflict thesis. I’m not aware of one in the past.”

    Indeed. All of Richard Dawkins’s TV series have been for Channel 4. Can’t recall anything similar on radio either.

          1. Thanks. I live in the States, listen to BBC radio and watch things online, but I’m not in the know about such things (obviously) and find all the 4s confusing.

        1. We tore up a dowsing person some years ago. Got him to map the positions of underwater rivers in the Yorkshire Dales.
          Then compared his results to the surveys from various members of the Cave Diving Group, who he’d never heard of. Much laughing.
          Silly boy – should have done his homework.

    1. I can remember these two series from the BBC
      “Atheism: A Rough History of Disbelief, with Jonathan Miller (2004)”
      The Bible’s Buried Secrets – Prof Francesca Stavrakopoulou (2011). One of the episodes “Did God Hava a Wife”

      Both very good. Probably on Youtube.

      Very little recently

  2. The BBC is not required to have balance within a (non current affairs) program, but needs to show it across its output, …

    The “balance” requirement actually only applies to news, politics and current affairs.

    They don’t even pretend to aim for balance in their treatment of religion; they are openly pro-religion (Read this for example and evaluate whether they are neutral about religion).

    1. Thanks Coel

      The “balance” requirement actually only applies to news, politics and current affairs.

      You may be right (you certainly are about their treatment of religion!). To be honest, I think my statement was just my understanding from years of listening to BBC defences of impartial (and partial) programs. Looking more closely, the actual requirement appears vaguer.

      The BBC page on impartiality ( says:

      Impartiality lies at the heart of public service and is the core of the BBC’s commitment to its audiences. It applies to all our output and services – television, radio, online, and in our international services and commercial magazines.

      The Agreement accompanying the BBC Charter requires us to do all we can to ensure controversial subjects are treated with due impartiality in our news and other output dealing with matters of public policy or political or industrial controversy.

      The BBC Charter ( says:

      The Mission of the BBC is to act in the public interest, serving all audiences through the provision of impartial, high-quality and distinctive output and services which inform, educate and entertain


      To provide impartial news and information to help people understand and
      engage with the world around them: the BBC should provide duly accurate and
      impartial news, current affairs and factual programming to build people’s
      understanding of all parts of the United Kingdom and of the wider world. /blockquote>

      The BBC Trust introduction to Steve Jones’s report on BBC science impartiality ( says:

      BBC content must be accurate and impartial in order to safeguard its independence and public confidence and it is a key priority for the Trust that the BBC covers potentially controversial subjects with due impartiality. This is a requirement of its Charter.

      This seems to support my suggestion that the BBC needs to show balance across its output.

      Do you have a link where it says the balance requirement only applies to news, politics and current affairs?

  3. I think the Brits generally are soft on religion because the C of E is so inoffensive. They’ve become accustomed to accommodating the church to preserve the warm feelings that have developed over generations. Not sure though.

    1. Rickflick: I think the Brits generally are soft on religion because the C of E is so inoffensive.

      The British Establishment is soft on religion because the C of E is part of the Establishment. In the same way, the USian Judicial government branch are soft on the crimes of certain members of the Executive branch because they are both parts of the USian “Establishment”.
      There is a word for when the “Establishment” of a country breaks down : “revolution”.

  4. The irony of the clash between Galileo and Pope Urban VIII was that Urban (born Maffeo Barberini) was about as progressive and open-minded as a pope could be in those days, a great patron of both the arts and the sciences. He was a long-time friend and patron of Galileo’s (he’d even written a poem praising Galileo to the skies) and he encouraged Galileo to pursue his theories about a heliocentric universe, though he was concerned about effect the theory might have on the faithful since it did, in fact, contradict the Bible.

    Despite these concerns, however, Urban gave Galileo permission to write and publish his “Dialogues” but insisted that the theory be presented as just that—an hypothesis—since to present it as fact would be to “necessitate God”—that is, to deny that God could have made the universe other than it appears to man’s puny powers of observation and deduction. Even though this is pretty much a religious version of what in secular terms we call “scientific skepticism,” it pissed Galileo, for whom humility was never a strong suit.

    Galileo proceeded to write the “Dialogues” and put Urban’s caveat, pretty much word for word, in the mouth of the character Simplicio, who, as the name suggests, was an idiot—similar to one of those straw men in Plato’s Dialogues whose main function is to make Socrates look brilliant. Predictably, it was now Urban’s turn to be pissed, and pissing off a pope was not something you wanted to do in the 17th century.

    Urban summoned Galileo to Rome to defend his book before the Inquisition, insisting that he make the trip even though there was a plague raging in Italy at the time, and the rest, as they say, is history. Or, more accurately, myth, since we’ve reinterpreted the story to make Galileo the champion of scientific truth versus religious superstition (this despite the fact that his “proof” of heliocentrism based on the phases of Venus was, in fact, wrong).

    The main point here is that Pope Urban VIII’s original warning to Galileo had nothing to do with whether the earth moved or whether the sun was the center of the universe. It was about public health—spiritual, of course—and about the hypothetical nature of scientific knowledge. At least that’s what it was about before it deteriorated into a mere clash of wills between two pigheaded personalities.

    1. Really? You’re going with the “Galileo brought it on himself because he wasn’t nice and accomodating enough” rhetoric?

      You also seem to be suggesting that the phases of Venus weren’t good evidence that it orbited the sun?

      1. “You also seem to be suggesting that the phases of Venus weren’t good evidence that it orbited the sun?”

        I’m suggesting that they were not conclusive evidence. If Venus were to orbit the Earth in a geocentric system between the Earth and the sun, as proposed by Ptolomy, then it would also display phases. Also, both the ancient Heracleidian (Egyptian) and Tycho’s helio-geocentric systems would display the same, newly discovered, phases of Venus. However, even though the phases of Venus were not decisive “proof” in resolving the conflict between geocentricity and heliocentricity, they did provide an important step towards the eventual acceptance of a heliocentric model—namely, Kepler’s.

        “You’re going with the ‘Galileo brought it on himself because he wasn’t nice and accomodating enough’ rhetoric?”

        Not nice and accommodating enough doesn’t cut it. In his arrogance, Galileo went out of his way to insult a friend and benefactor. Rickflick may be right that Galileo thought he was heroically defending science against Church interference, but trying to make Urban look like a fool was uncalled for–not to mention unwise.

        1. Setting aside the fact that incontrovertible evidence has never been the standard for publishing or arguing anything…

          Okay, Galileo made (a caricature of) a friend out to be an idiot, and said friend responded by having him endure an inquisition and then be put under house arrest for the rest of his life, prohibited his works past, present, and future from being published, and even interfered with his burial… but Galileo was the overly proud, arrogant one.

          To dare to disagree with the Pope by fictional proxy! And after the Pope had been so kind as to provide some infinitesimal scrap of his vast fortune to aid the ungrateful scientist!

          Honestly, truth-seekers (be they journalists or scientists) tempering their public statements to appease big political powers or financial interests is something we rightly condemn today, so I don’t see how you’re making the lack of doing so into such a contemptible character flaw. It may have been unwise to disrespect the Pope, but Galileo wasn’t wrong, morally or factually, and I don’t see how it’s a twisting of the story to declare him admirable and the church lacking in this particular interaction.

          Just so we’re clear, do you think Galileo deserved the treatment he received?

          1. “I don’t see how it’s a twisting of the story to declare him admirable. . .”

            Clearly, I do see it as a “twisting of the story.” Even at his trial, Galileo resorted to weasely technicalities, arguing that while he did discuss Copericanism, his book was an examination of both sides and so he was not technically “arguing in favor of it”—which was ridiculous on the face of it. He admitted that he had given stronger arguments to the heliocentric proponent in his dialogue than to the geocentric champion, but insisted that he did not do so because he himself believed in heliocentrism. He claimed he was simply showing off his debating skills!

            Do I think he deserved the treatment he received? No, but neither do I think he deserves his reputation as courageous defender of truth. Bottom line, I guess, is that I simply find it hard to like the man.

        2. “If Venus were to orbit the Earth in a geocentric system between the Earth and the sun, as proposed by Ptolomy, then it would also display phases.”

          It wouldn’t. That I’m pretty certain of.

          “Tycho’s helio-geocentric systems”

          Is identical to the heliocentric model, with a bit of semantics to affirm that Earth is the center. You could show via a coordinate transformation that they are identical.

          I also remember someone mentioning one of the characters in a dialogue is always named Simplicio.


    2. How is it that Galileos’ observations of the phases of Venus (along with changes in its apparent size) somehow not a strong demonstration that Venus orbits the sun?

      1. Galileo failed to consider that God might have detailed some subAngel to hold up differently sized and shaped Venus cards, perhaps as a celestial road-flagger. Hubris, I’m sure.

        1. Excellent link.

          Incidentally, not that anybody contradicted my (from-memory) comment that the new theory’s predictions were no better than the old:

          “Also as a system for predicting the movements of the planets and the stars the Ptolemaic model had proved remarkably efficient for fourteen hundred years. If heliocentrism was going to usurp the throne it would have to be significantly superior. In fact it failed the first test as tables based on De revolutionibus proved to be no better than those based on the Syntaxis Mathematiké. In fact it was only when Kepler produced table based on the data of Tycho and his own planetary model, which were significantly superior to everything that had gone before that heliocentricity began to find widespread acceptance.”

          That page linked just there is an excellent explanation of why, in the state of knowledge in the 1600’s, the idea of the earth moving at staggering speeds seemed so bizarre.


          1. I’d not looked at that ‘history of science blog’ before, but, sorry, my initial impressions are: Not So Excellent.

            Second last sentence:

            “It is ironic that many people today still believe erroneously that Galileo actually proved the reality of a heliocentric cosmos in his Sidereus Nuncius.”

            Referring to “people today”, the irony is entirely different from that mooted by Mr.Thonyc. What is particularly ironic is that so few people today seem to realize that there is no such thing as an ‘anythingcentric’ cosmos; i.e. as you all know, there ain’t no centre (or ‘center’ for USians). And the general irony is that the theoretical reason for “no centre” goes by the name ‘GALILEAN relativity’.

            I do of course realize that when ignoring everything except our solar system, there are better and worse choices for a useful frame of reference, and the only thing close to a common focus point of all the almost ellipses of all the different planets is damn close to the centre of mass of the sun.

            From his slightly contemptuous language towards Galileo (and I neither dispute nor celebrate his apparent assiduous readings of original sources), it is very clear that Mr. Thonyc has some animosity towards Galileo, or at least ill concealed contempt towards anyone harbouring the thought that Galileo was noble in insisting on truth over and above personal feelings.

            The later page quoted just above is surprising in how hot and heavy the disputes that commenters work themselves into over this historical matter. I have always thought the babble, about which revolves around which, was laughable except for its miseducation of young people. The real dispute is surely over finding the (biggest by far) reason for our commonplace observation of the sun’s position: is it the sun revolving around the earth, OR IS IT the earth rotating on its axis. Of course we all have known the answer for centuries. And it has nothing to do (remember I said “biggest by far”) with the earth supposedly revolving around the sun. The latter is actually false if you take the tip of my nose as the centre of your general relativistic frame of reference, isn’t it?

            1. Yes, further reading that page – and the comments – it seemed there were a lot of axes being ground.


    3. The personality issue and Urban’s philosophical position add fascinating layers of complexity to the story. But, it occurs to me that you can boil this down to the fact that Galileo was being asked to deny his scientific judgement to appease the church and he was unwilling to do so without a fight. That makes him a hero in spite of any nuance to the story.

    4. A recent and very thorough treatment, with careful references, to Galileo’s persecution by the Catholic authorities, is pages 25-69 in the 2016 book (English translation 2017)

      “SCIENCE AND RELIGION-An Impossible Dialogue” by Yves Gingras,

      an historian at Universite de Quebec a Montreal. Not expensive!

      He makes it very clear that the attempted whitewashing of the Church, Pope and Inquisition in recent ‘research’ by fake scholars, some financed by Templeton, have no persuasiveness at all, when confronted with complete details of all the documents, letters, etc. connected to this confrontation.
      Many commenters here would find it interesting I imagine.
      The recent backpedaling by the Church is still far from complete. Galileo’s only ‘sin’ was a fiery personality, hardly criticizable in the man who created experimental science. My Italian ‘heroes’ are him, Leonardo and Verdi (despite agreeing that the latter atheist’s greatest opera was his Requiem!)

      1. My hero in all this is Kepler, who actually worked out the right answer, which is elliptical orbits. He went with the data, even though it contradicted his initial theorising.

        Ptolemy’s geocentric system actually predicted the planetary motions to a high degree of accuracy *when corrected by the addition of epicycles*. I think accuracy was quite a big thing in those days since navigation relied on it.

        The heliocentric theory (which wasn’t actually a new thing, Copernicus apparently credited the ancient Greek Aristarchus) had a problem in that there was no observational evidence for it – its predictions (using circular orbits) weren’t as good as the Ptolemaic unless one also added epicycles and then where’s the advantage? I think Galileo knew this – that the observations did not support his theory. He seems to have ignored Kepler’s ellipses.


        1. Mine too of course, but Kepler wasn’t from what’s now Italy.
          Besides the science and despite the laws beyond the third, Kepler is also admirable for his defence of his mother, accused of witchcraft.
          It is a really enjoyable exercise for good calculus students to coach them through the derivation, from Newton’s laws, of Kepler’s 1st, 2nd and 3rd. That derivation is of course due to Newton, and is perhaps the most powerful piece of evidence for Newton’s laws extending out into the universe, not just ‘earthly truths’.

        2. It is unfortunate that Galileo did not assimilate Kepler’s laws. One reason might be that Kepler’s results did not receive positive reactions until well after his death. In addition,

          “Kepler was renowned for the impenetrability of his prose (and of his oral delivery as well; he was apparently a horrendous lecturer). This may have been a reason that Galileo, his senior by just seven years, disappointed Kepler by never responding to his astronomical works even though the two corresponded on other matters and even though Galileo recommended Kepler for a position as mathematician at Padua when Galileo departed in 1611.”

          I suppose you could put it down to jealously.

          1. To add some of my impenetrable prose (or at least overly long sentences),the 2015 book by the famed particle physicist Steven Weinberg entitled “TO EXPLAIN THE WORLD” is a history of science from more-or-less minus infinity to just after Newton (and with many extra goodies). His description of the interactions of Kepler and Galileo does not indicate any hostility as far as I can see, but Kepler did express disappointment that Galileo never said anything about Kepler’s 1st three laws.

            I doubt (but likely shouldn’t with his genius) that Galileo would have come to a proper theoretical understanding of gravity, well before Newton finally did, had Galileo taken that huge Kepler advance more seriously.

            1. Kepler and Galileo did get along well (we have some letters) but, alas, Kepler’s discoveries are buried in numerology and Pythagorean nonsense. (Read _Harmonies of the World_ and be shocked at how much craziness is in it!)

              I suspect that Galileo, who had the reputation of not taking nonsense from anyone, was glad to hear from a “kindred spirit” but had low patience …

  5. In particular, evolution is an issue for certain religious believers, disproportionally independent (evangelical) Christians,

    Do I hear the not so delicate sound of a whole group of religionistas being hoist upon a petard, ready to be thrown overboard and under the bus. To mix more metaphors than a nude geologist making rock cakes at a bake-off.
    “We’re not going to take responsibility for those nutters” (independents, and the ultra-extreme ends of religion which don’t have a well-established hierarchy of command and control) “because they have eschewed the mainstream and so don’t get the protection of the establishment.” Carrot and stick, meet the ass’s rump or it’s teeth.

  6. There is only one reason I can think of for so much time spent defending religion and how it conflicts with nothing. Money It sure does not conflict with money.

  7. I’m pretty sure that if half the people in England were routinely dowsing, BBC would present programs on “both sides” of the subject. Especially if there were institutions involved.

    “Fair and balanced” is now taken to mean “whatever people are doing,” without regard to how sensible it might be. Sadly a lot of the media has drifted in that direction lately.

  8. It is bloody obvious that there are plenty of people on both sides of the argument who make it very clear that there is a conflict between science and religion. How to deal with them? Apparently one only has to call those folks “militant”, and then you don’t actually have to consider what they have to say.

  9. A visit to the “who we are” section on the Theos website should disabuse anyone hoping for any semblance of balance from this presenter; remember, he is a Senior Fellow of that organisation. For there, tucked away in the bottom left corner of the page, is the following:

    “… We are a Christian think tank based in the UK. We are part of The British and Foreign Bible Society …” (

    If that’s not convincing enough, then the “About us” section on the Bible Society’s website ( should be sufficient to dispel any lingering doubts. Especially this little gem: “All our efforts are driven by one conviction: we believe that when people engage with the Bible, lives can change – for good.”

    Someone driven by such a conviction is hardly likely to give airtime to any whose opinions might encourage doubt about its validity.

  10. “The BBC is not required to have balance within a (non current affairs) program, but needs to show it across its output”
    The BBC have lost their reputation for impartiality. One example is comedy. It’s extraordinarily rare to see a comedian who isn’t full-on “progressive”. There are non leftist comedians – they never get on the popular panel shows. Look up Konstantin Kisin. Russian/British, calls out the PC madness, very little TV exposure (he occasionally appears in news items).

  11. “Rumours of War”

    The allusion is to Matthew 24:6, Jesus’s speech to his disciples on the Mount of Olives in which he supposedly prophesied the destruction of the Second Temple. It’s also the title of novelist Philip Caputo’s excellent memoir of his time spent as a Marine lieutenant during the Vietnam War.

  12. Galileo scholars in the _Cambridge Companion to Galileo_ and Wooton, in his 2010 biography disagree with the “no conflict” thesis. The conflict contains a debate over scientific realism as a component. I think this may have been the first time that *Christians* retreated into antirealism; Averroes (?) I think tried it in the Islamic context earlier.

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