Wednesday, April 06, 2011

And the Templeton Prize goes to....

.....Sir Martin Rees, astrophysicist and former head of the British Royal Society. This follows a Templeton tradition of honoring people like Freeman Dyson and Paul Davies whose work in Cosmology and Astrophysics touches on the big questions but who don't have much in the way of religious beliefs.

An interview with the winner is here (in which he is pretty guarded) and you can read his acceptance speech here.

The next thing to look forward to is the pissed off reaction from the nu atheist blog-o-sphere. Nothing has showed up as yet but while you are waiting you can - thanks to the wonders of flash - watch the new president of the British Humanist association pull off a selection of disco moves to Scandinavian electro-pop

EDIT - On cue here's a bit of backlash from P Z 'Pharingula' Meyers who describes Rees as mediocre and sticks him in the 'kooks' category. I guess being the author of over 500 research papers isn't enough these days.

More of the usual suspects - Jerry Coyne in the Guardian and on his blog who really reserves his venom for Templeton and is fairly respectful of Rees (The Guardian tried to stir things up by renaming his article 'Prize mug Martin Rees and the Templeton travesty'). Harry Kroto has been quoted as saying 'Shocking. Bad for science. Bad for the Royal Society. Bad for the UK and very bad for Martin'.

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13 comments:

TheOFloinn said...

Perhaps Coyne is subject to physics envy. After all Rees is an astrophysicist and Coyne is only a biologist. How would Coyne even know mediocrity in astrophysics?

Joel said...

I read Coyne's and Myers' posts and I have a hard time even understanding what they're upset about beyond "only hardcore atheists can do real science" and "Templeton is fluoridating our water!" They're mad about his criticism of Hawking, but hasn't the reception Hawking's latest book among cosmologists generally been lukewarm at best?

Just imagine the meltdown PZ Myers would have had if James had won the Royal Society prize though!

Tim O'Neill said...

I realise Coyne is almost up there with the Beast Dawkins on the list of people many here love to hate, but he does raise some valid points about credibility of this Templeton racket. This bit would raise any objective person's eyebrow:

Many of these awards show a cronyism that has always infected Templeton. As journalist Sunny Bains has shown, the organisation often awards money to the people who run it. At least 8 of the last 13 Templeton Prize winners, for instance, were on Templeton's board of advisers before receiving their award (Rees is not one of them).

Sorry, but that is simply dodgy.

Joel said...

Well OK Tim...that's a valid point. Admittedly, I read Myers' screed and some of his comments first, and then I just skimmed over Coyne, so I must have missed that part. Though as Coyne admits, Rees' winning the award isn't an instance of that.

Katherine said...
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Humphrey said...

Coyne is citing Sunny Bains - a journalist who was hired by Sam Harris's Project Reason foundation to dig up dirt on the Templeton Foundation. The best point she could come up with was alleged cronyism. Though of course here the people chosen to be on the advisory board would be expected to people with expertise in the field of science and religion. Not surprisingly there is a big overlap between those types of people and the actual prize-winners. A bit incestuous perhaps but there is a pretty small pool of candidates.

Noons said...

I think the real (and most obvious) reason Coyne, Myers, et al are so mad is because groups like the Templeton Foundation and the National Center for Science Education are setting the tone for science-religion dialogue. They want to be the ones setting the tone.

Tim O'Neill said...

Not surprisingly there is a big overlap between those types of people and the actual prize-winners. A bit incestuous perhaps but there is a pretty small pool of candidates.

A "pretty big overlap"? A "BIT incestuous"? Come on - 8 out of 13 winners have been board members. For a prize of a cool million! If that got any more incestuous it would be plucking a banjo.

Katherine said...
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Humphrey said...

Tim, go to the Reason Project (a directly comparable outfit) and look at the advisory board. Here's a list of the people on there:

Steven Weinberg, Ibn Warraq, Craig Venter, Lee M. Silver, Salman Rushdie, Carolyn Porco, Steven Pinker, Dan Pallotta, Ian McEwan, Bill Maher, Janna Levin, Harold Kroto, Lawrence Krauss, Christopher Hitchens, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Anthony Grayling, Rebecca Goldstein, Daniel C. Dennett, Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne, Peter Atkins.

Now imagine the Reason Project has a cool 1 million to spend every year on a 'Reason prize'. All the best candidates are on the advisory board - rightly so because you want the best people in the field to be assisting the running of the organisation; and of course it's a small and incestuous field.

Sorry about the deleted comments - for some reason I keep getting signed in as my wife.

Anonymous said...

'The Templeton Prize celebrates . . the quest for progress in humanity's efforts to comprehend the many and diverse manifestations of the Divine'. (The Foundation's own words.)Martin Rees makes it quite clear that he is not aware of any manifestations of the Divine. Perhaps the mystery of why the Foundation offered him the Prize and why he accepted is one of those things known only to God, it certainly seems well beyond human understanding. Perhaps the award might even be a manifestation of the divine in itself and will convert Rees.

BenYachov said...

Bill Maher is on that board?

Seriously? How many pear reviewed scientific papers has he written?

What's the matter wasn't Kathy Griffin available?

Gnu's are just a disaster for intellectual Atheism. Like Fundies are to the religious.

AndrewFinden said...

>Bill Maher is on that board?

Well, he's atheist so *obviously* he's a man of reason. Never mind the circular reasoning though.