After the John Templeton foundation awarded the million-pound Templeton Prize to two respectable scientists in successive years (Francisco Ayala and Martin Rees), many people were fooled into thinking that the organization had abandoned—or at least muted—its penchant for fusing science and faith.
Not a chance. They’re still up to their woo-ish activities. The only difference is that they’re a bit more surreptitious about it. Here are three recent instances:
1. The most egregious is the “Test of Faith” project, sponsored by the reprehensible Faraday Institute for Science and Religion. Faraday is affiliated with Cambridge University in England, was founded in 2006 by a $2,000,000 grant from the Templeton Foundation, and seems to spend most of its time and money reconciling science and faith. Templeton continues to give it money.
On October 29, for example, Faraday is hosting a panel discussion on “Science and religion: friends or foes“? (Guess what answer they’ll come up with!), and on the same page you’ll see an announcement of a conference in November on “Science and religion in the XXI century: dialogue or confrontation?”. Faraday published accommodationist papers and funds projects that are largely about theology rather than science. It’s to the eternal discredit of Cambridge University that they’re affiliated with this group.
At any rate, Faraday’s “Test of Faith” project was separately funded by Templeton. What is it? It appears to be a full-court press—books, movies, and lectures—on how science is completely compatible with faith. Their aim is to fill what they see as “a huge need for accessible materials on science and Christianity for everyone who is interested in these issues.”
Test of Faith tours around America giving talks at various churches and religious colleges. (If you’re in Fairfax, Virginia, you can catch the act tonight!) They have an edited book, Test of Faith, with chapters from various accommodationists, including Francis Collins. (You can download Collins’s chapter here, which is pretty much a precis of his book The Language of God, showing how and why he came to Jesus. Collins was supposed to stop writing this kind of stuff when he became director of the National Institutes of Health, but persists.) The book comes with study materials so you can have an entire course on why science and faith are pals.
And they have an eponymous movie, described like this:
Test of FAITH: Does Science threaten belief in God?
The relationship between science and faith is often represented as a battleground. The claim is that science has pushed God into the margins. But is the truth more complex? Talking to leading scientist-believers, we probe the issues at the heart of this debate. Has science really murdered God? Or is the God question being redefined in new ways by science? Does the possibility of a Creator remain an ineradicable challenge?
3 x 30 minute episodes:
Beyond Reason? (Science, faith and the universe)
An Accident in the Making? (Creation, evolution and the environment)
Is there anybody there? (The brain, freewill and ethics)
Science blogger Brian Switek from Laelaps reviewed the film when it came out two years ago, and wasn’t impressed:
After watching the three-part series I became convinced that the Faraday Institute is not so much concerned with reconciling science and religion as finding a refuge for God in the moments before the Big Bang, the machinations of evolution, and inside our own brains. Even though the film explicitly criticizes advocates of intelligent design for using “God of the Gaps” thinking, or trying to make room for a deity in natural phenomena that are not yet well-understood, the series frequently employs the same technique to give hope to believers that God truly is out there somewhere. If there is something we do know, God is behind it, and if there is something we don’t know then that might be a sign of direct action by Providence.
I’m often criticized for not joining the ranks of scientists who speak at—and are paid to attend—Templeton-sponsored events like the World Science Festival. If you want to know why, just have a gander at the Test of Faith website. I won’t take money from, or participate in, ventures that are in any way connected with such an odious project. Science and faith are as incompatible as cats and dogs, and you won’t turn them into friends by locking them together in a room.
2. Templeton continues to sponsor faith-and-religion initiatives advertised in major venues. Here’s an ad for full year theologians-and-scientists-are-friends fellowships at Princeton, advertised in the latest Times Literary Supplement (note the participation of Cambridge paleontologist Simon Conway Morris):
Here’s another from the same issue of the TLS, advertising 1.5 million dollars in Templeton Grants (disguised under the aegis of “The Historical Society”) for projects showing what a beneficial effect religion has had on human society:
And perhaps the most insidious: a combination of grants and essay projects on “The uses and abuses of biology,” also funded by Templeton. Its aims?
The aim of the interdisciplinary Programme is to investigate contemporary non-scientific uses and abuses of biological thought (beneficial, benign or negative) in the domains of philosophy, the social sciences, the media, religion and politics. Collaborative projects between those engaged in the biological sciences and investigators from other disciplines are particularly welcomed.
True, biologists aren’t perfect, and biology has sometimes been abused (for example, in support of eugenics), but this project seems like nothing more than a religiously-based attempt to promote religion by denigrating science—an increasingly common tactic of accommodationists.
You scientists who take Templeton money: please be aware that when one of the Templeton Octopus’s tentacles hands you a generous stipend, the other tentacles are giving even more money to religion.
3. Finally, an example of the “sing for your supper” aspect of Templeton. When you take money from them, you are automatically installed in their stable of prize horses, and they can use your good name (if you’re a reputable academic) to lend credence to their more disreputable projects. Over at their Big Questions website, Templeton has an interview with sociologist Elaine Ecklund, who has gotten tremendous mileage out of her Templeton-funded grant to investigation religion and spirituality among American scientists. Her interview is the required postprandial litany for Templeton-funded academics.
Ecklund again touts how amazingly “spiritual” scientists are—a finding that Templeton, of course, considers most congenial—and argues that her findings foster comity between science and faith:
If you do care about dialogue, I do think of these kinds of findings—that there is spirituality present in the groups that you would least expect it to be present in—as a way of fostering that dialogue. So religious people who are spiritual can say to scientists who are atheists who are spiritual, “Let’s talk about the differences and the commonalities in how we see spirituality.” It gives some kind of initial common ground rather than starting out a dialogue by focusing just on differences.
As always, Ecklund is disingenuous. In a guest post on this site last month, reader Sigmund took apart Ecklund’s claims that scientists themselves brought up their spirituality, something she implies in her Big Questions inteview. It turns out, though, that Ecklund herself introduced the term to the interviewed scientists. As Sigmund noted in an email to me, “It’s no wonder the scientists spend so much of their time with her telling her that they don’t believe in traditional spirituality when she seems to have spent the entire interview trying to ram it down their throats.”
And so the Templeton juggernaut lumbers on, fueled by its enormous cash reserves and dispensing $70 million dollars in grants each year. Most of those grants are designed to meet Templeton’s goals: reconciling science and faith.
Those scientists who take money from Templeton, using as an excuse that “well, my project is simply good, straight science” should be aware of what Templeton is doing with its other hand. They should also realize that even if they’re doing good, pure science, Templeton will use their names to promote their other religious activities.
Templeton is a Janus organiation, with one face turned toward science and the other having its gaze firmly fixed on God.
h/t: Matthew Cobb