A new magazine collaboration between Big Think and Templeton

November 1, 2023 • 12:45 pm

Reader Dave called my attention to this new online magazine called “The Well”. Click on the screenshot to go to the site.

And below that, the scary part (I’ve outlined it in red):

Templeton!  There they go again with the Big Questions, except some of them are answerable this time (“no, we don’t have free will,” and “no, evolution is not directional”).  What Templeton is doing, and is coopting a pretty reputable site to do so—though “Big Think” is sponsored by the Charles Koch Foundation—is to claim that there is Something Beyond Science, something numinous or ungraspable. Remember, the John Templeton Foundation was set up by the hedge fund billionaire to show people that the more we learn about science, the more we understand about God (now “spirituality”). As reader Dave wrote me:

Templeton’s continual attempts to usurp science is consistently repulsive — particularly by way of its other facade, Nautilus Magazine. So I couldn’t resist passing the aforementioned along.
Here’s something even sadder in the first issue, some self-help with Jon Haidt. The 11-minute video is okay, but I wouldn’t lend my name to Templeton. Now Haidt is one of the prize horses in Templeton’s stall:

And here’s an article saying that the “self” is real, and that buttresses the idea of free will:

As Vonnegut said, so it goes. . .

20 thoughts on “A new magazine collaboration between Big Think and Templeton

  1. Koch Industries has an interest in Dimming Down the U.S.A.’s public knowledge of the Sciences (particularly Climate sciences) as much as possible. Plus there is the added bonus – as many others in Charles Koch’s oligarch groups agree – you can never have too many coolies for cannon-fodder.

    1. To explain more my queasy feeling, Wheal makes important points that I agree with, and I like some of his language. It’s just his repetition of the word “religion” that upsets me. I’d rather he and the rest of us just leave religion behind.

      1. BTW, as with Haidt above, “antifragility” is used by Wheal. It seems this term has now become an established buzzword.

        1. It’s a bit more than a buzzword. Youngsters in particular are finding adversity, even of a minor kind, hard to cope with. When you live a pampered life and have rarely met concepts like ‘No’ or ‘Wait’ or ‘Not possible’ and have been told you can and should do only what you enjoy, it is easy to understand why. I don’t care for the neologism, presumably picked for its resemblance to antiracism, and I recommend mentally replacing the word when you meet it with a better substitute: ‘resilience.’
          At least readers of the magazine will have one good article to read that is not polluted with religious woo. Haidt, I think, is too sensible to fall for that.

          1. I, too, like the word “resilience.” Another related word that was popular a few years back is “grit.”
            I hope you’re right about Haidt. I will be critical. After all, who pays the piper, calls the tune.

          2. “grit”

            Angela Duckworth’s sacred language for Social Emotional Learning, as promulgated by the Whole School Child Community (WSCC) model.

    2. About 10 year Big Think asked Michio Kaku, a physicist, if human evolution had stopped. His answer was that yes, human evolution has nowhere else to go. We’re done, the pinnacle. It doesn’t get better than this!

      Actually, I kind of know why, but it’s a generalization and not true of all physicists.

      I don’t know why they asked a physicist, and I don’t know why he didn’t demur and suggest that they ask an evolutionary biologist.

      I rolled my eyes, and then unsubscribed from their email list.

      1. Similar to you, Mike, I lost confidence in Kaku a while ago. I realized he didn’t have anything to teach me.

  2. At least this site still finds it appropriate to acknowledge the link to Templeton that some (or all?) of its articles have. So too, for instance, does Aeon, which has some interesting stuff but also quite a lot of woo. We can aim off accordingly. The time to start worrying is when they stop mentioning their affiliations.

  3. I recently watched a Sapolsky big think episode on epigenetics sponsored by Templeton. Kept an eye for anything egregious, but no.

  4. Please define ‘God’. I can think of several definitions / descriptions. Defining what you’re debunking and debunking each understanding of the word prevents strawman arguments. For example, it may be easy to prove there isn’t a large man sitting behind a cloud calling the shots. It would be different to disprove a mystic’s name to an experience of rapture in awe of a ‘vibe’ permeating creation.

    1. Ask John Templeton (who unfortunately is dead now) or his Foundation what he meant by “God.” He’s the one that aimed to reconcile science with God.

      Don’t ask me; I didn’t start the Foundation or set its aims. I’m not debunking his view of God except that it’s conditioned what the foundation does by trying to diss materialism. And no, it was NOT spirituality, of that I am sure.

  5. It could turn out that Templeton projects, such as the one they funded on free will run by philosopher Al Mele, end up not supporting its anti-materialist agenda (no evidence for contra-causal free will was found). Plenty of the academic participants in these projects are atheists, naturalists, and skeptics and their findings usually make it into journal articles, so Templeton can’t be faulted for muzzling materialist conclusions (let me know if I’m wrong about that). But of course Templeton will always maintain that something anti-naturalistic can’t be ruled out. So the standard conclusion is reached: more research needed!

  6. I have a question: How is determinism compatible with our capability to ascertain mathematical truth? Determinism holds that the operations of our conscious minds are just a sort of qualitative illusory sheen supervening on a cascade of physical-come-neurochemical reactions in the brain. But when I suddenly whack myself in the head and realize that, no matter how fierce was my conviction otherwise just seconds ago, 6 times 7 is, dur, *not* 48 but of course 42, the sudden comprehension that I was previously in error is based purely on *logic.* What possible reason is there even *in principle* why neurochemical reactions would cohere with abstract logical axioms?

    1. If you think the abstract logical axioms are “out there”, then humans have evolved to perceive truths that help them. Math is one of those “truths”, and if you don’t get the right answer, you can’t do anything (in the modern world). You didn’t change your mind: your neurons told you what the right answer was, based on brain wiring that has adapted to help us learn things that are useful. This is true for all logical stuff: humans have evolved to learn and their brains are wired up to get the right answer.

      This doesn’t seem so hard to comprehend. Your error may be in thinking that, via some kind of agency, you realized that 42 and not 48 was the right answer. But that’s because, through learning, your brain is wired to realize that 42 is the right answer, and your neuronal program told you that.

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