Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Templeton Bogeyman

The U.S National Academy of Sciences has agreed to rent out their lecture hall for the announcement of the 2010 Templeton Prize; cue much throwing of toys out of prams across the Dawkinisia-sphere. Richard Dawkins writes:

This is exactly the kind of thing Templeton is ceaselessly angling for – recognition among real scientists – and they use their money shamelessly to satisfy their doomed craving for scientific respectability.

They tried it on with the Royal Society of London, and they seem to have found a compliant Quisling in the current President, Martin Rees, who, though not religious himself, is a fervent 'believer in belief'. Fortunately, enough Fellows made a stink about it to ensure that the Royal will not flirt with Templeton in future. Now Templeton are apparently trying the same trick with the US National Academy. If you know any officers, or elected members, of the Academy, please write in protest.

Incidentally, look at the fatuous request in capital letters in the middle of the announcement: "If you guess the winner, please honor a strict embargo (you can't tell anyone) until 11.00 am on Thursday March 25th 2010." Embargo a guess? It is one thing to put an embargo on privileged information, but embargo a GUESS? Well, I suppose that is just another indication of the way a faith-head's mind works. Their whole world-view, after all, is founded on an inability to distinguish evidence from an ill-informed guess.

Well, let's all guess away to our heart's content. Which leading scientist has done the most to betray science in favour of his imaginary friend? You can rule out the people they'd privately like to honor (such as Intelligent Design "theorists") because that would go against the official policy of courting respectability among scientists. Nowadays they target genuinely good scientists (like Freeman Dyson, winner of the 2000 Templeton Prize), whose subversion provides more bang for the (mega)buck than primarily religious figures who happen also to be scientists.

Jerry Coyne on ‘Why Evolution is True’ wrote:

This is an outrage, of course, and shame on the National Academy for its implicit endorsement of religion. If they say, “Well, we rent our space to anybody,” then I look forward to seeing an adult film festival at the NAS. (speaking of which, he also posted this entertaining video)

I’m guessing that this year’s winner, based on the location, will be Francis Collins. Dear readers, do post your guess, and we’ll see how close we get. Runners-up may be Kenneth Miller, Karen Armstrong, John Haught, and Robert Wright.

I’ll go with Sir John T. Houghton as they haven’t yet appointed a climate scientist. Judging by past winners Conway Morris is too young, ditto Martin Nowak. Francis Collins is too high profile. Prof. Ernan McMullin could be an outside bet, but the last couple of winners weren’t particularly well known.

Discuss this post at the Quodlibeta Forum


TJW said...

Firstly, "faith-head" has to be the most childish insult I've heard. Secondly, why does he believe it acceptable to label any person or group in an intentionally derogatory manner?

The mindless applause-inducing performance he gave in Australia at the atheism conference indicates to me he has now begun a downward spiral of increasing self-certainty and uncontrollably hemorrhoidal in his criticism of others.

Humphrey said...

I've never seen a bunch of people so pissed off over a venue booking. Fair enough the NAS can forbid the Discovery institute from using its premises as a platform but there's no reason why it shouldn't be allowed to let it's venue out to reputable bodies like any other organisation.

Anonymous said...

I think Dawkins' and Coyne's books should have "!?" added to the end of "A New York Times Best Seller"

BTW I'm secretly voting for Michael Behe apparently.

The Perplexed Seeker said...

Is that it? Is that really the best that the author of all those best-selling books can come up with? He's becoming a caricature of himself.

The abortive attempt to oust Francis Collins was ridiculous enough, but this conspiracy theory about the Templeton Foundation is pushing him into tin-foil-hat territory.

I guess this is what happens when you surround yourself with an echo chamber of people who agree with everything you say. It's a warning to the rest of us.

Humphrey said...

Dawkins also said:

'In the early days they [Templeton] didn't even make a pretence of finding a scientist at all: the 1982 winner was the notorious creationist Billy Graham!'.

I think that is wrong. The only quote from Billy Graham on the topic I could find reads

"I don't think that there's any conflict at all between science today and the Scriptures. I think that we have misinterpreted the Scriptures many times and we've tried to make the Scriptures say things they weren't meant to say, I think that we have made a mistake by thinking the Bible is a scientific book. The Bible is not a book of science. The Bible is a book of Redemption, and of course I accept the Creation story. I believe that God did create the universe. I believe that God created man, and whether it came by an evolutionary process and at a certain point He took this person or being and made him a living soul or not, does not change the fact that God did create man. ... whichever way God did it makes no difference as to what man is and man's relationship to God."

The Templeton Foundation is very much anti-ID

unkleE said...

Having read a couple of his books and several interviews, I felt the description "they seem to have found a compliant Quisling in the current President, Martin Rees" was most offensive. Martin Rees is an eminent cosmologist, a very thoughtful and open-minded person and impeccably polite (at least publicly). He has much to teach anyone with ears to hear, including RD.

skholiast said...

The worst animus of those who maintain that there are only two possible intellectual stances in the world-- they science they hold to, & the superstition of everyone else-- is reserved not for those who (they claim) have chosen superstition, but for those who claim there is a third option.

Humphrey said...


"Some scientists were disturbed when it emerged that Ralph Cicerone, the president of the NAS, personally nominated the winner...The NAS said it agreed to host the event because the winner was an NAS member"

That makes Francis Collins an odds on favourite.

Unknown said...

Nope, Francis Ayala won, a better choice than Collins, I think.

James said...

Do you have to be over 75 to win this? Not that Ayala is an unworthy resipient but I do find 'lifetime achievement awards' less interesting than in-career awards.

Noons said...

I remember John Barrow won it several years ago, and he's not that old.

Anonymous said...

I would've liked to see Nowak win, he seems to be a bit underappreciated, but I have no qualms with Alaya either. I'm not too concerned about inults like "faith head" or "sky fairy worshipper", there's something so... "old british man" about them that it just makes me laugh.

Ilíon said...

"Duck" Dawkins: "This is exactly the kind of thing Templeton is ceaselessly angling for – recognition among real scientists – and they use their money shamelessly to satisfy their doomed craving for scientific respectability."

John Barrow: "You have a problem with these ideas, Richard, because you’re not really a scientist. You’re a biologist."

KESS said...

I would imagine that the award going to Ayala frustrates them as much as it would have were the award given to Collins. Ayala is an evolutionary biologist with credentials/awards and scientific publications that dwarf both Coyne and Dawkins, and claims to be a religious believer.

Their societal circles are very small, and when dissent arises, they cut the dissenter off until they repent (think of Sam Harris a few years back with all of his mystical Buddhist talk) and they ridicule their own who are eccentric (Dennett is frequently made fun of for being a philosopher).

Since their societal circles are so small, they truly struggle understanding that scientists, who are much more respected in terms of their scientific achievements and credentials (which both Ayala and Collins most definitely are), would be religious believers. After all, they "can't think of anyone who would hold such views," because their small social groupings would never allow for such and they have buffers in place to keep that so.

Unknown said...

That's actually an excellent point. There's a sociology paper right there, just waiting to be written. Of course, to be balanced it should also analyse other narrow movements like young-earth creationists...

Ilíon said...

What about the myopic viewpoint which imagines that once can rationally and logically criticize those infamous YECs on the basis of (ahem!) 'Science!' Would not that make an interesting paper?

Michael Fugate said...

"Since their societal circles are so small, they truly struggle understanding that scientists, who are much more respected in terms of their scientific achievements and credentials (which both Ayala and Collins most definitely are), would be religious believers."

Really? - how would you quantify scientific achievement and credentials for comparison purposes?

All four have done very different things in their careers and all are very accomplished.

Among biologists considered respected in terms of achievements and credentials, can you give a breakdown of religious belief? How does it compare to the general population?

KESS said...

First, I would quantify by the number of articles they've published, awards received, academic recognition of their work, etc. In each of these cases both Collins and Ayala exceed Dawkins. I'm not saying that Dawkins isn't a good biologist, but he's more a spokesman for biology than an actual biologist, and this has been the case for some twenty five years or more.

Second, I don't think you understood my point. The reason that Dawkins doesn't understand how someone can be both Christian and an excellent scientist without "choosing hats" may be because of social filters that he has used for even those within his group of atheist friends. I mentioned the frequent jokes made toward Dennett for being a philosopher. Dawkins has introduced Dennett by saying, "I usually don't like philosophers, but I can tolerate this one." If you socially (and mentally) cut off philosophers in such ways, it's actually limiting to your perspective. Similarly when Sam Harris showed interest and admitted to participation in some forms of transcendental Buddhism, he was mocked by the others...which led to a public "apology" of sorts. Do you see how this can have not just an intellectual, but a social limiting effect? That's my point. A reason he seems so shocked by those who profess religious belief and do excellent science may be because he has socially sequestered himself from acquainting himself with them. Thus, whenever they do come to the forefront in the media, he's forced to write articles mocking them, and actually calling down "shame" on them ( to try to keep scientists within his social expectations of what scientists should be (and maybe to also get the assurance of his adoring fans).

Your final point about the religious beliefs of scientists only loosely fits into the discussion. I know of some of these studies. There is the famous NAS one (where about 1/3 of members responded and less than 10% claimed to believe in a god), along with the Royal Society one (similar), but also more general ones which profess higher percentages of religious believers across the spectrum of recognition.

Of course, there is also the Ecklund survey (most recent major survey) that shows 51% of scientists are believers in god or a higher power, with 41% atheist and the others undecided. Most interesting is that the numbers increase among younger scientists (Of those under the age of 50, nearly 2/3 believe in a god or higher power). Maybe the news is finally getting through the social buffers about science/religion not being in conflict?

Anyways, these are only loosely associated to the question. If atheistic scientists only mingle with atheistic scientists, and have social buffers in place such as those that Dawkins regularly uses, then its no surprise that they are surprised that other scientists have passionate religious beliefs. I'm pretty sure that those associated with Faraday, Templeton, CIS, American Scientific Affiliation, etc. are surprised at the number of atheists in these polls, because they go to these conferences with each other, etc. I hope that clarifies my point. It definitely seems like a study that needs to be done.