Templeton gives a philosopher $5 million to study the afterlife

With its deep pockets and agenda to conflate (and harmonize) science and religion, the John Templeton Foundation is a corrupting influence on science.  Though impecunious scientists and other scholars might not deliberately corrupt their work to cater to the Templeton agenda, they have to conform to the “Templeton mission” in their research proposals. And this is Templeton’s stated mission (they’ve conveniently eliminated the word “religion”, replacing it with the euphemism “Big Questions”):

The John Templeton Foundation serves as a philanthropic catalyst for discoveries relating to the Big Questions of human purpose and ultimate reality. We support research on subjects ranging from complexity, evolution, and infinity to creativity, forgiveness, love, and free will. We encourage civil, informed dialogue among scientists, philosophers, and theologians and between such experts and the public at large, for the purposes of definitional clarity and new insights.

The problem, of course, is that there is no “human purpose” beyond the purposes we each give to our individual lives. The notion that there is some Bigger Purpose out there comes purely from religion, and there is no such purpose.  And of course theologians have nothing to say on this issue—at least nothing that approaches an answer. If they did, different theologians and different faiths would not arrive at different conceptions of the Purpose of Our Lives.

In addition, recipients get installed in Templeton’s Stable of Prize Ponies, which, often on display, reassures the viewer that yes, science and religion are best friends forever.  The Templeton Prize is one of the main vehicles for roping ponies into their stalls.

The latest Templeton Travesty, as reported by the University of California at Riverside’s blurbsite UCR Today, is that a philosopher at UCR, John Fischer, has been given the sum of five million dollars to study—wait for it—immortality and the afterlife.

For millennia, humans have pondered their mortality and whether death is the end of existence or a gateway to an afterlife. Millions of Americans have reported near-death or out-of-body experiences. And adherents of the world’s major religions believe in an afterlife, from reincarnation to resurrection and immortality.

Anecdotal reports of glimpses of an afterlife abound, but there has been no comprehensive and rigorous, scientific study of global reports about near-death and other experiences, or of how belief in immortality influences human behavior. That will change with the award of a three-year, $5 million grant by the John Templeton Foundation to John Martin Fischer, distinguished professor of philosophy at the University of California, Riverside, to undertake a rigorous examination of a wide range of issues related to immortality. It is the largest grant ever awarded to a humanities professor at UC Riverside, and one of the largest given to an individual at the university.

“People have been thinking about immortality throughout history. We have a deep human need to figure out what happens to us after death,” said Fischer, the principal investigator of The Immortality Project. “Much of the discussion has been in literature, especially in fantasy and science fiction, and in theology in the context of an afterlife, heaven, hell, purgatory and karma. No one has taken a comprehensive and sustained look at immortality that brings together the science, theology and philosophy.”

The John Templeton Foundation, located near Philadelphia, supports research on subjects ranging from complexity, evolution and infinity to creativity, forgiveness, love, and free will.

Half of the $5 million grant will be awarded for research projects. The grant will also fund two conferences, the first of which will be held at the end of the project’s second year and the second at the end of the grant period. A website will include a variety of resources, from glossaries and bibliographies to announcements of research conferences and links to published research. Some recent work in Anglo-American philosophy will be translated for German philosophers who, in the last 30 years, have been increasingly studying the work of American philosophers.

Well, of course this project won’t help us at all in figuring out what happens after death. It’s a huge amount of money for a philosopher, and appealing to Templeton’s agenda is the only way a philosopher can get this kind of dosh.

Now I’m not suggesting that Fischer is corrupt here; far from it, for his webpage suggests a sober and serious academic who has done respectable work. I’m suggesting, instead, that most of the project is a waste of money, and further cheapens science by mixing it with theology. I’m also suggesting that in order to bring in that kind of money, Fischer was forced to conform to what Templeton wants.  And that is dragging in religion and theologians.

As I read the UCR blurb, I see three parts of this project.

  • An attempt to collate and interpret what philosophers have said about the afterlife, and how average people conceive of their possible immortality.  There’s also a suggestion about looking at the way different cultures see near-death experiences (NDEs):

One of the questions [Fischer] hopes researchers will address is cultural variations in reports of near-death experiences. For example, the millions of Americans who have experienced the phenomenon consistently report a tunnel with a bright light at the end. In Japan, reports often find the individual tending a garden.

“Is there something in our culture that leads people to see tunnels while the Japanese see gardens?” he asked. “Are there variations in other cultures?” What can we learn about our own values and the meanings of our finite lives by studying near-death experiences cross-culturally (as well as within our own culture)?

Well, part of the answer is already in: there are cultural influences. That’s why Christian NDEs, for example, sometimes involve seeing Jesus (see my post on Colton Burpo’s NDE). If you hadn’t ever been exposed to Jesus but saw him in a NDE, now that would be something! And I’m sure that there are physiological commonalities of one’s brain approaching death that produces similar characteristics, like out-of-body sensations and tunnels.  This has been amply discussed in the literature, and we know that certain chemicals, like ketamine, can give symptoms very similar to those of NDEs.

I do think there’s some value (but not $5 million dollars’ worth!), in collating and analyzing reports of NDEs and attitudes towards immortality. It tells us, at the least, how different cultures regard afterlife.  But the separation of physiological versus cultural influences on NDEs is not something this project can accomplish. That’s because there’s not enough money to achieve the second aim:

  • Scientific studies of the biology of near-death experiences.  There is not enough money in the grant to do the kinds of psychological and neurological work needed to seriously address what people experience when they are about to die, or are near death.  That kind of work is the purview of scientists, with perhaps some input of philosophers and sociologists. But as any researcher knows, $5,000,000 is not enough to even start working on this.  The UCR blurb says this:

Anecdotal reports of near-death experiences, out-of-body experiences and past lives are plentiful, but it is important to subject these reports to careful analysis, Fischer said. The Immortality Project will solicit research proposals from eminent scientists, philosophers and theologians whose work will be reviewed by respected leaders in their fields and published in academic and popular journals.

“We will be very careful in documenting near-death experiences and other phenomena, trying to figure out if these offer plausible glimpses of an afterlife or are biologically induced illusions,” Fischer said. “Our approach will be uncompromisingly scientifically rigorous. We’re not going to spend money to study alien-abduction reports. We will look at near-death experiences and try to find out what’s going on there — what is promising, what is nonsense, and what is scientifically debunked. We may find something important about our lives and our values, even if not glimpses into an afterlife.”

Note that there have already been several tests of “out of body” experiences, for example physicians pinning notes to the ceiling that could only have been read by a real out-of-body patient (naturally, none ever are).  But that’s the kind of thing, combined with examining the effects of drugs, brain scans, and so on, that are needed to properly study NDEs.  And sociologists can contribute for looking for cultural factors affecting NDEs as well.

But note that they’ve dragged in theologians here.  Theologians have absolutely nothing to say about immortality, afterlife, or NDEs, because they don’t study things rationally—they make them up. They can’t even agree whether there is an afterlife (Jews dissent, and Hindus think we’re all recycled), and even those who think there is an afterlife can’t agree on what form it takes. That brings us to the third and most misguided of the study’s aims:

  • An attempt to find out if there is an afterlife, and, if so, what form it takes. The UCR blurb notes:

Other questions philosophers may consider are: Is immortality potentially worthwhile or not? Would existence in an afterlife be repetitive or boring? Does death give meaning to life? Could we still have virtues like courage if we knew we couldn’t die? What can we learn about the meaning of our lives by thinking about immortality?

Theologians and philosophers who examine various concepts of an afterlife may delve into the relationship between belief in life after death and individual behavior, and how individuals could survive death as the same person.

“Many people and religions hold there is an afterlife, and that often gives people consolation when faced with death,” Fischer said. “Philosophy and theology are slightly different ways to bring reason to beliefs about religion to evaluate their rationality. If you believe we exist as immortal beings, you could ask how we could survive death as the very same person in an afterlife. If you believe in reincarnation, how can the very same person exist if you start over with no memories? . . .

For example, “We think that free will is very important to us theologically and philosophically. And heaven in the Judeo-Christian tradition is supposed to be the best place. Yet we arguably wouldn’t have free will in heaven. How do you fit these ideas together?”

This is all nonsense. First of all, theologians (and some misguided philosophers) have been pondering these questions for centuries, and have come to no conclusion. There is no need to fund further lucubrations. I’ve been reading theologians on the afterlife, and they’re all over the map. Some say we don’t have it, others (like John Haught) envision not some kind of personal translation to Heaven but the enfolding of our collective memories into the bosom of Jesus, and of course many others see us up there floating on clouds and plucking harps. Others see us coming back as cockroaches or dogs. (I personally would like to be Russell Blackford’s cat).

There’s no way to decide among all these speculations, and the endeavor isn’t worthwhile given the complete absence of evidence for a god or an afterlife.  Speculating about this stuff before we know whether there’s a deity is the purview of philosophers like Michael Ruse and Elliott Sober, and in my judgment is a futile endeavor. It’s like speculating about how Santa Claus can deliver all those presents in one night.

And why bother with trying to decide if we have free will in heaven before we know whether heaven exists? Even if we found out it did, arguing about free will there is a useless endeavor, meant only to keep underemployed theologians off the streets. (See chapter 12 of John Loftus’s Why I Became an Atheist for a précis of theological thought on free will in heaven. It’s hilarious to see how theologians have wasted their time on this problem.)

The worst part of this project is the dragging in of theologians alongside scientists and philosophers.  At least the last two groups are wedded to logic and reason, and their disciplines prevent them from making stuff up out of thin air. Note what Fischer says above, which does make me worry a bit about him:

“Philosophy and theology are slightly different ways to bring reason to beliefs about religion to evaluate their rationality.”

Slightly different?  Give me a break! They’re hugely different, and that’s why most philosophers are atheists.  Their application of reason has dispelled any notions about gods and heavens.

In the end, this is just another waste of money by Templeton on The Big Questions, and another corruption of science—and now philosophy.  Those who want this kind of money must conform to Templeton’s faith-soaked agenda, and that agenda is deeply injurious to rationality. It is the conflation of reason and woo.

107 Comments

  1. teacupoftheapocalypse
    Posted August 2, 2012 at 6:28 am | Permalink

    What a massive, immoral, deplorable waste of money.

    The list of causes and research to which such a sum could be donated for far greater benefit to mankind is much too long to be detailed here.

    John Fischer must be laughing all the way to the bank.

    • gbjames
      Posted August 2, 2012 at 7:06 am | Permalink

      +1

      • jimroberts
        Posted August 2, 2012 at 8:34 am | Permalink

        sub

  2. eric
    Posted August 2, 2012 at 6:36 am | Permalink

    One of the questions [Fischer] hopes researchers will address is cultural variations in reports of near-death experiences.

    AFAIK, NDEs are relatively rare. Seems to me that the truly unbiased conclusion to draw from the data is that if 99% (or whatever) of people coming close to death see nothing, there is probably nothing to see.

    In that respect, NDE study methodology is a form of drawing the bullseye after you’ve loosed the arrow. Like cancer cluster claims, the methodology here seems to be to find a subpopulation that has a set of unusual traits and then assume there’s a single ‘root cause’ for the grouping. Rather than asking if the rate and grouping of unusual traits within the much larger population is something you could reasonably expect from chance or other broad factors.

    An attempt to find out if there is an afterlife, and, if so, what form it takes.

    None of the text under that bullet are methodologies that I would call ‘attempts to find out if there is an afterlife.’ There’s nothing about investigating new detection techniques. Nothing even like weighing bodies to determine if there’s a soul – which we deride now, but I’ll defend at least as a sincere attempt. These guys aren’t even trying to do what they say they want to do.

    Heck, they are not even attempts to determine what it must be like from logical or first principles. They are more like attempts to figure out what characteristics would make an afterlife pleasant for humans.

    The text under this bullet has all the philosophical weightiness of “if I couldn’t repaint my house for the next 30 years, what color would I want it to be?”

    • HaggisForBrains
      Posted August 2, 2012 at 9:09 am | Permalink

      An attempt to find out if there is an afterlife, and, if so, what form it takes.

      When you mentioned “bullet” in this context, it gave me an idea for a simple way to help the professor in this quest.

      I’m not sure about reporting back on what form it takes.

      • truthspeaker
        Posted August 2, 2012 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

        Harry Houdini and his mother devised an experiment to see if someone could report back from the afterlife.

        Results were negative.

  3. Claimthehighground
    Posted August 2, 2012 at 6:38 am | Permalink

    Wow, what an easy $5 mil. Just go on Amazon, buy a copy of the Colton Burpo book, “Heaven is Real”, quote evrey other line, and voila! Take the money to the bank.

  4. NewEnglandBob
    Posted August 2, 2012 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    What does a philosopher need $5 M for? Will he buy words? Ideas? Logic?

    Maybe he will use it to do studies and payoff the participants to give the answers he wants.

    • eric
      Posted August 2, 2012 at 8:16 am | Permalink

      Two big conferences and looks like some interview-based research studies. My guess is that the proposal laid out a fairly comprehensive argument for the costs; most good ones do.

      As Jerry said, there are bits of his proposal which, if done right, would actually cost a lot more than $5 million.

  5. Posted August 2, 2012 at 6:53 am | Permalink

    JTF is spending big bucks in the hopes of finding science-based, academically respectable proof of the inadequacy of naturalism, but it ain’t likely to happen, http://agencyandresponsibility.typepad.com/flickers-of-freedom/2012/07/john-martin-fischer-and-the-immortality-project.html

  6. Erp
    Posted August 2, 2012 at 6:55 am | Permalink

    Given the status of the UC system he probably hopes this will stave off those wanting to cut the philosophy department for the next few years.

    PhilPapers has a list and description of some of his works (with links to the full works in some cases). Dennett is one of the people who works in some similar areas.

  7. Posted August 2, 2012 at 6:57 am | Permalink

    Greetings,

    Although I understand the frustration you feel, Prof. Coyne, about the search for a “human purpose” as it applies to *all* humans, rather than each individual, isn’t it possible to identify one through science?

    For example, if we – and all life – is deterministic, individual and cultural assigning of “purpose” to humanity would also be such.

    And this implies that a specie-wide “purpose” would also be such.

    In other words, if there’s a deterministically-caused individually-assigned “human purpose”, then there may well be a specie-wide one.

    I’m not suggesting “therefore God”, nor am I suggesting that evolution is intentionally heading *somewhere* but that one might deduce some “purpose” from our particular specie’s epigenetic existence.

    I apologise for the poorly formulated comment – I’m struggling to convey the idea of expanding “purpose” from a individual to the specie, based on determinism.

    If there is such, then a naturalistic scientist could just as legitimately apply for a grant to study the “Big Questions” – ie, “Is there a purpose to our specie?”, and pursue it from a purely naturalistic perspective.

    Kindest regards,

    James

    • andreschuiteman
      Posted August 2, 2012 at 7:07 am | Permalink

      The singular of species is species.

      • Posted August 2, 2012 at 9:53 am | Permalink

        Greetings,

        No, it isn’t.

        Kindest regards,

        James

        • gbjames
          Posted August 2, 2012 at 10:04 am | Permalink

          Say what? You pulling someone’s leg? Your own?

          • Posted August 2, 2012 at 10:55 am | Permalink

            Greetings,

            gbjames et al, I stand corrected!

            Having just gone on a hunt for its usage, I see I was in error.

            Frankly, I’ve been using this for years without realising that I was wrong.

            *groan*

            Kindest regards,

            James

          • Posted August 2, 2012 at 11:39 am | Permalink

            “specie” is ablative singular. So “specie-wide” must be interpreted as “in all the species”: ablative of location.

            Of course, then “specie’s” should have been “speciei” (genitive, possession), “to the specie” should have been “speciem” (accusative, motion towards) and “to our specie” should have been “speciei” (dative, possession or advantage).

            • Posted August 2, 2012 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

              Well, if we were actually writing in Latin…

              /@

            • Marella
              Posted August 3, 2012 at 3:05 am | Permalink

              I thought ‘specie’ was another word for money in coin.

              • Posted August 3, 2012 at 3:13 am | Permalink

                It is! See gbjames, Haggis & me below.

                Alex is right though: “specie” is the ablative: “ORIGIN … ablative of species ‘form, kind,’ in the phrase in specie ‘in the actual form.’” [NOAD]

                /@

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted August 2, 2012 at 7:09 am | Permalink

      For example, if we – and all life – is deterministic, individual and cultural assigning of “purpose” to humanity would also be such.

      You do realize this sentence is gobbledygook. The conclusion has nothing to do with the premise.

      The ONLY purpose the species has is to propagate itself, like all life.

      You completely misunderstand that purpose is voluntary and optional. That can not be then magically assigned to all of humanity.

      • Posted August 2, 2012 at 10:11 am | Permalink

        Greetings,

        How does “voluntary” and “optional” square with determinism?

        This is similar to saying one has free will in determinism.

        What I’m wondering is that, given religiously- and culturally-assigned “purpose”, which I suggest is deterministic in nature, Mankind may similarly assign itself “purpose” due to biological determinism.

        I’m basing this on Damasio (“Descartes’ Error” and “Self Comes To Mind”) and Harris (“The Moral Landscape”).

        As I see it, it depends on whether there’s “hard” determinism or not.

        Kindest regards,

        James

        • NewEnglandBob
          Posted August 2, 2012 at 11:01 am | Permalink

          Mankind may similarly assign itself “purpose” due to biological determinism.

          Who is this mankind which is doing the assigning?

          There is no purpose from nature. Generating one from poor sentences still won’t get one.

        • eric
          Posted August 2, 2012 at 11:11 am | Permalink

          What I’m wondering is that, given religiously- and culturally-assigned “purpose”, which I suggest is deterministic in nature, Mankind may similarly assign itself “purpose” due to biological determinism.

          What I think you’re saying is: couldn’t biologists (and scientists in general) indulge in the same wild speculation that theologians do, but using empiricism to speculate about some purpose rather than theology?

          The answer to which is: we could, but why would we want to? What does it do?

          • Posted August 2, 2012 at 3:28 pm | Permalink

            Greetings,

            I gather, from the various replies, that others don’t consider a individual assigning purpose to their life as being due to determinism?

            Kindest regards,

            James

    • gbjames
      Posted August 2, 2012 at 7:09 am | Permalink

      “And this implies that a specie-wide “purpose” would also be such.”

      Is this true for both coin and paper money?

      • HaggisForBrains
        Posted August 2, 2012 at 9:02 am | Permalink

        Chuckle.

      • Posted August 2, 2012 at 2:03 pm | Permalink

        I think specie is only coins.

        /@

        • gbjames
          Posted August 2, 2012 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

          I think you are right.

    • J
      Posted August 2, 2012 at 7:18 am | Permalink

      You seem to be confusing “outcome” with “purpose”. Purpose implies agency & intention, whereas deterministic processes simply ‘happen’. And there is no possibility of being able to model all the atoms in even one individual to predict what they’re going to do, never mind across entire species, including their interaction with each other & things like weather & other natural phenomena.
      If you are proposing something like Hari Seldon’s psychohistory (from Asimov’s Foundation series) then I don’t know, maybe this could be achieved at some point, but its results couldn’t be made public because they would affect the outcome! But it would never be called “purpose”, with or without the quotation marks.

    • MNb
      Posted August 2, 2012 at 8:09 am | Permalink

      “For example, if….”
      If.

    • jimroberts
      Posted August 2, 2012 at 8:39 am | Permalink

      Specie is money. There’s certainly a purpose to that.

      • jimroberts
        Posted August 2, 2012 at 8:40 am | Permalink

        Oops – I missed gbjames’ comment.

  8. andreschuiteman
    Posted August 2, 2012 at 7:04 am | Permalink

    “Sorry, we couldn’t find any evidence for an afterlife, let alone that we can say anything meaningful about its properties, but thanks for the five million bucks.”

    To be inflated into a fancy report.

    • eric
      Posted August 2, 2012 at 8:21 am | Permalink

      You forgot:

      Appendix A: results of NDE interviews. AKA: anecdotal stories about what some dying brains perceived.

      Appendix B: philosophical discussions of the nature of the afterlife. AKA: “If I was eternal, what would I want my house to look like?”

      • NewEnglandBob
        Posted August 2, 2012 at 9:46 am | Permalink

        I think you still need to paint every 5-7 years… For eternity.

  9. Posted August 2, 2012 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    Much of the discussion has been in literature, especially in fantasy and science fiction

    Fantasy – religious texts
    Science fiction – the type of work Templeton finances

  10. lkr
    Posted August 2, 2012 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    ?Free willl in heaven — I think not!

    P1 If I am free to choose, I choose to drink beer

    P2 In heaven there is no beer

    . I cannot choose to drink beer in heaven

    . There is no free will in heaven!

    • eric
      Posted August 2, 2012 at 8:35 am | Permalink

      In heaven there is no beer

      Likewise, no card games – unless you can fine someone whose idea of heaven is losing. And even then, who would want to play with someone like that?

    • jimroberts
      Posted August 2, 2012 at 8:48 am | Permalink

      “In heaven there is no beer”

      Of course there is – and stripper factories.

      • truthspeaker
        Posted August 2, 2012 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

        He’s quoting a song:

        In heaven there is no beer
        That’s why we drink it here
        When we’re dead and gone from here
        Our friends will be drinking all our beer

  11. Posted August 2, 2012 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    This reminds me of the Indian myth of Trishanku. Trishanku was a king of the same clan as Rama of the Ramayana, and had a yearning to see the afterlife, but while he was still alive. So he went to Vishwamitra,who was a king turned sage known for his powers as well as his arrogance, who said sure, and sent him up to see the heavens. The people up in heaven said, well we can’t let you in- you are not dead yet, so trishanku was sent back. Vishwamitra was unwilling to see his promise being broken so he kept trying to send trishanku back, leaving his suspended in mid air (upside down to add insult to injury).

    http://vedabase.net/sb/9/7/6/en

  12. Posted August 2, 2012 at 7:56 am | Permalink

    It’s good to see due recognition being given to my cat.

  13. raven
    Posted August 2, 2012 at 8:06 am | Permalink

    $5 million dollars to hunt for ghosts?

    IIRC, there are a lot of TV shows on exactly this subject.

    Oh well, since Templeton’s money is all wasted, why not?

    John Fisher just needs to get some high tech recording equipment and some photogenic assistants, rugged Crockodile Dundee type type male, beach blond surfer female, and hang around haunted houses and cemeteries at night.

    His schtick can be that he isn’t a moron. He has a Ph.D. in…philosophy!!! He’s a real Professor!!!

    • Mark Plus
      Posted August 2, 2012 at 8:49 am | Permalink

      I view those ghost-hunting shows as a sign of the decay of religious belief in the U.S. Americans have gone from trying to communicate with a god to trying to get the ghost of a dead lighthouse keeper to push a button on a flashlight in response to questions.

      BTW, the worship of ancestral ghosts seems a little less irrational than god worship. One, our ancestors did exist at one time. Two, they had something to do with your coming into existence. And three, they might have done something which you can benefit from in the here and now, like migrating to a country with better living conditions than their home countries, starting the family business, leaving you inheritable wealth, etc.

      • eric
        Posted August 2, 2012 at 11:14 am | Permalink

        Ancestor worship also avoids the theodicy problem. I don’t expect dead grandma to be any more knowledgeable or powerful than alive grandma.

        • truthspeaker
          Posted August 2, 2012 at 1:14 pm | Permalink

          I’ve often indulging in imagining what it would be like if a medium could contact one of my grandmothers.

          “I’m getting a feeling. Your grandmother is upset. She’s in the hereafter, and there are colored folk there. And they get to walk in the front gates with everyone else.”

  14. Occam
    Posted August 2, 2012 at 8:07 am | Permalink

    Some recent work in Anglo-American philosophy will be translated for German philosophers who, in the last 30 years, have been increasingly studying the work of American philosophers.

    This redefines the notion — the Begriff, if you will — of Mongolian Cluster Cohabitation.
    Circular and reciprocal.

    • Mark Plus
      Posted August 2, 2012 at 8:56 am | Permalink

      I’ve heard propaganda since I took German in high school in the 1970’s about how Germans and many other Europeans study foreign languages, and how that gives them advantages over monolingual Americans. Don’t Germans study English these days, especially college-educated ones who can become fluent enough to read academic works in English?

      • Occam
        Posted August 2, 2012 at 10:08 am | Permalink

        Jawohl!

      • truthspeaker
        Posted August 2, 2012 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

        I was told the same thing, but when I got to Germany I learned it was only partially true – students in a pre-university track were taught English. Students who got tracked into vocational learning weren’t.

    • andreschuiteman
      Posted August 2, 2012 at 10:51 pm | Permalink

      Das war ein Befehl! Der Angriff Steiners war ein Befehl!

      Translation:

      What! They waste five million to find out if dead people are really dead?

  15. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted August 2, 2012 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    “No one has taken a comprehensive and sustained look at immortality that brings together the science, theology and philosophy.”

    It’s been attempted unconvincingly by renegade Catholic theologian Hans Kung and renegade Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong. These two gentlemen waged war & fought a good fight on the most retro, regressive, and reactionary elements of religion trying hard to bring their churches into the 20th century, and the stuff they did on the afterlife was easily the least engaging stuff they ever wrote. (Only book of Spong’s I looked at that I didn’t finish!!)

    To be fair to the initial charge against Templeton, Big Questions can include questions about morality, cosmology, beauty as well as religion. (Their own Big Questions website gives 8 categories of Big Questions one of which is religion.)

  16. mikeb
    Posted August 2, 2012 at 8:19 am | Permalink

    I think it needs to be pointed out, that in the history of human civilization, there has never been a verifiable – much less repeatable – occurrence of a supernatural event.

  17. TJR
    Posted August 2, 2012 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    I see that Deep Thought’s advice to Majikthise and Vroomfondel is still being heeded.

  18. Posted August 2, 2012 at 8:21 am | Permalink

    I’m not really qualified to comment on whether $5 million is wasteful or not. It does seem like a lot, and you are probably right to have reservations about the Templeton Foundation. But this passage is a bit puzzling:

    First of all, theologians (and some misguided philosophers) have been pondering these questions for centuries, and have come to no conclusion …. There’s no way to decide among all these speculations, and the endeavor isn’t worthwhile given the complete absence of evidence for a god or an afterlife. [Emphasis original.]

    I haven’t seen very much philosophical work devoted to the questions you quote. (I actually haven’t seen any, but the philosophy of death isn’t my area.)

    Is immortality potentially worthwhile or not? Would existence in an afterlife be repetitive or boring? Does death give meaning to life? Could we still have virtues like courage if we knew we couldn’t die? What can we learn about the meaning of our lives by thinking about immortality?

    It may be that theologians have been pondering those questions for centuries, but by your own admission, their pondering is insufficient to give us confidence in our conclusions about those questions. And I take it those questions would be interesting to many people.

    (The budget for the movie Step Up: Revolution was $33 million. So if developing rational, well-thought-out, trustworthy answers to those interesting questions turns out to be one-seventh as important or rewarding as a movie about (I take it) dancing, then maybe the money is better-spent than you think.)

    As for your pessimism, whether there’s a way to decide between the speculations seems a question that we can’t just settle without engaging in the kind of study Professor Fischer is undertaking. Contemporary analytic philosophers using modern-day, refined, interdisciplinary methods haven’t been pondering these questions for centuries. And suppose the project comes out strongly anti-afterlife or pro-death; this would be valuable even if no one is justified in believing in a religious afterlife.

    • eric
      Posted August 2, 2012 at 11:18 am | Permalink

      So if developing rational, well-thought-out, trustworthy answers to those interesting questions turns out to be one-seventh as important or rewarding as a movie about (I take it) dancing, then maybe the money is better-spent than you think.)

      You also have to factor in investment risk, i.e. the likelihood that the effort will succeed. When that’s done, I suspect the movie comes out heavily favored as a smarter investment.

      • Posted August 2, 2012 at 11:25 am | Permalink

        eric,

        Certainly. But as I pointed out, the questions listed are questions that very few if any contemporary analytic philosophers have given much serious thought to. If the effort is simply to give the first philosophically rigorous recent treatments of those issues, then I think the effort is very likely to succeed. And that success would be valuable, I imagine, especially since the answers Fischer et al. come up with are likely to last in importance much longer than the movie.

  19. Greg G
    Posted August 2, 2012 at 8:25 am | Permalink

    If it’s immortality they want, I have a formula for an Elixir of Immortality and the testing will cost at least $5 million. Getting it past the FDA will take forever.

  20. Mark Plus
    Posted August 2, 2012 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    How does having an afterlife given this life Purpose, any way? A god could, without logical contradiction, have created us with purposeless lives and afterlives:

  21. MKray
    Posted August 2, 2012 at 8:40 am | Permalink

    `Near death’? What is their metric for nearness? Without such a measure, it’s an ill-founded question. The idea that a certain category of the non-dead might gain insight into death is typical wishful thinking. But then we know that religion is a license for wishful thinking.

    • Bebop
      Posted August 2, 2012 at 9:00 am | Permalink

      So if you can’t measure it, it means it doesn’t exist?

      • Cheron22
        Posted August 2, 2012 at 10:00 am | Permalink

        Something with no measurable impact on the world looks an awful lot like nothing at all.

        • Bebop
          Posted August 3, 2012 at 11:18 pm | Permalink

          Yeah. Like love. Or hate.

      • MKray
        Posted August 2, 2012 at 10:21 am | Permalink

        I was referring to the fact that `near death’
        was an incoherent concept if you can’t measure nearness. I certainly did not imply
        that ` if you can’t measure it, it means it doesn’t exist’.

        • Bebop
          Posted August 2, 2012 at 8:33 pm | Permalink

          But in fact, many studies were conducted on near death experiences with very precise criteria to determine how “near” was the near in question.

          But the more important is to determine how the patient still be conscious and report what he saw with such low cerebral or heart activity?

    • eric
      Posted August 2, 2012 at 11:20 am | Permalink

      What is their metric for nearness?

      I’m guesing one hidden criteria is your brain not functioning correctly. Which kinda biases the results, doesn’t it?

  22. Bebop
    Posted August 2, 2012 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    “The notion that there is some Bigger Purpose out there comes purely from religion, and there is no such purpose.”

    It doesn’t come purely from religion. It can first come intuitively. And from experience. Non-dual experiences where you overcome the average grasping and see beyond what our senses allow us usually to do. The oriental traditions developed a lot of technics for that.

    “If they did, different theologians and different faiths would not arrive at different conceptions of the Purpose of Our Lives.”

    I could put in front of you different testimonies of Rumi, Eckhart, Avila, Buddha (to name a few) and it would be hard to tell who wrote what and when it was written because they describe in a very similar way their non-dual experiences, even if they happened in different times, cultures and religions…

    • Gary W
      Posted August 2, 2012 at 10:15 am | Permalink

      What’s a “non-dual experience?”

      • Bebop
        Posted August 2, 2012 at 8:46 pm | Permalink

        In order to realize that we are grasping the world through a certain mode, we have to escape that mode. Only then you are able to compare.

        Non-dualism is a state, a natural state. It is explained and experienced in many different ways but is wasn’t until now a very popular concept in the west, except for the myth of the fruit of knowledge of what is good and evil, a quite important myth when you think that the notion of the original sin comes from that story.

        But Wiki here gives a good summary of non-dualism http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nondualism

    • Posted August 2, 2012 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

      Hmm… “non-dual”?

      Sock-puppet?

      /@

      • gbjames
        Posted August 2, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

        French Canadian sock puppet perhaps?

        • Bebop
          Posted August 3, 2012 at 6:46 am | Permalink

          Non-dualism has nothing to do with my french-canadian origins… well, maybe when you know that Dharma bums was written by a French-Canadian…

          • gbjames
            Posted August 3, 2012 at 7:00 am | Permalink

            “Non-dualism has nothing to do with my french-canadian origins”

            Of course it doesn’t. It just helps identify the nym “Bebop” as a sock puppet for JF Fortier.

            Am I wrong?

            • Bebop
              Posted August 3, 2012 at 8:36 pm | Permalink

              Not at all. But because I was referring too many times to this “uncreated consciousness”, which has the advantage to solve the (false) problem of good and evil and give a purpose to meaning, I had somehow to stop talk about it.
              I couldn’t so now I was blocked.

              But since the topics that blend religion and philosophy and science on this blog are very interesting, I couldn’t resist to come back.
              I think Jerry knows who I am and as long as I don’t refer to an uncreated consciousness, it is ok.

              But when you know what implies non-dualism, you understand that it has no choice to have an uncreated nature because what is non-dual can’t have a beginning or an end, it is beyond the opposites by which we can grasp the world…

  23. logicophilosophicus
    Posted August 2, 2012 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    I’m with Sam Harris on the purpose of human life:

    “There is no denying that most of us have emotional and spiritual needs that are now addressed—however obliquely and at a terrible price—by mainstream religion. And these are needs that a mere understanding of our world, scientific or otherwise, will never fulfill. There is clearly a sacred dimension to our existence, and coming to terms with it could well be the highest purpose of human life. But we will find that it requires no faith in untestable propositions—Jesus… [etc]“

    • Marella
      Posted August 3, 2012 at 3:26 am | Permalink

      Yes, anyone wishing to give $5mil to someone to investigate the meaning of life (now that Douglas Adams is so unfortunately deceased ;-)) could do no better than to give it to Sam Harris IMHO.

  24. Kevin
    Posted August 2, 2012 at 9:46 am | Permalink

    There is no afterlife.

    Can I haz my $5 million?

  25. Kevin
    Posted August 2, 2012 at 9:56 am | Permalink

    So, now that the snark is over.

    The purpose of human life is to perpetuate the species. Indeed, that’s the purpose of every species…to perpetuate itself.

    It’s a tough job. Ninety-nine plus percent of all species that existed are extinct. T Rex, the dodo, and Lonesome George are never getting their species’ back.

    Humans are in a unique position, because they actually have some small measure of control over the health and vibrancy of the species – in both directions. The fact that evolution gave us big brains and opposable thumbs is both a ‘blessing and a curse’.

    The best way to perpetuate the human race is to live peacefully in a sustainable community, being good parents (including the “it takes a village” kind of parent), ethical members of the community at large, and careful stewards of the planet’s precious and often finite natural resources.

    The “purpose” spoken of by the Templeton folks has nothing to do with any of that. It’s theist code for “after-death experience”. It’s nonsense. Because there is no after-death, therefore, no after-death experience, therefore no after-death purpose.

    But it’s all theists care about. To the great detriment of the species.

    • gbjames
      Posted August 2, 2012 at 10:30 am | Permalink

      I think you’ve jumped the snark.

      “Indeed, that’s the purpose of every species…to perpetuate itself.”

      No. There is no such purpose. Populations are made up of individuals. The individuals’ genes replicate over time. Those individuals that contribute more genes over time are called successful. This just happens to be the way it works. It is not done “on purpose”.

      We humans define purpose. If we think that the long term survival of humanity is a good thing then that is our “purpose” and living sustainably, etc., is a wise thing to do.

      But I agree with you about theists’ “purpose” being a delusion. They think that there’s a big fellow upstairs who defines purposes for things. They’re nuts.

      • JonLynnHarvey
        Posted August 2, 2012 at 10:40 am | Permalink

        What’s said of some workplaces is also true of religion “You don’t have to be crazy to (work here/believe this) but it helps”.

      • Bebop
        Posted August 3, 2012 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

        Do we define purpose or is it that purpose can come to our mind?

        • gbjames
          Posted August 4, 2012 at 5:27 am | Permalink

          We define it.

    • logicophilosophicus
      Posted August 2, 2012 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

      Exactly how can religion be detrimental to the species if the purpose of the species is self-perpetuation? Sounds “Pro-Life” to me.

      More generally, if religion is a bad thing, does that not imply that atheism is somehow a good thin, and does that not imply some sort of meaning or purpose in life?

      • Iain Walker
        Posted August 3, 2012 at 9:48 am | Permalink

        “Exactly how can religion be detrimental to the species if the purpose of the species is self-perpetuation?”

        It might be that religion was detrimental to the members of the species. A species is just a population after all, defined relative to other populations, and has no existence apart from its members. And there is no “purpose” of the species.

        “if religion is a bad thing, does that not imply that atheism is somehow a good thin, and does that not imply some sort of meaning or purpose in life?”

        Well, it means that the person who holds that view (religion bad, atheism better) is capable of making value judgements, which in turn means that they are capable of assigning meaning and value to things. So from the fact of the utterance of the sentiment, one can reasonably conclude that there is indeed some sort of meaning and purpose in life – i.e., that created by person uttering that sentiment.

        • logicophilosophicus
          Posted August 3, 2012 at 2:38 pm | Permalink

          That’s a complicated answer. It boils down to the species being the totality or majority of “persons[s]… making value judgments…” I think the figure quoted here was that 70% of Americans are religious; by your reasoning, religion cannot be deleterious if all or most endorse it.

          I disagree.

          However, my point was that if “perpetuation”/reproduction is the measure, then Catholicism, with it’s amti-contraception/abortion stance would be (by that criterion) a “good” thing for the species.

          But, again, I diagree with the premiss.

          • Iain Walker
            Posted August 4, 2012 at 10:04 am | Permalink

            “by your reasoning, religion cannot be deleterious if all or most endorse it.”

            Er, no. My point (obliquely stated, I grant you) was only that meaning and purpose exist because there are agents (i.e., us) who assign them, and nothing more than the activity of agents setting goals and making value judgements is required in order for meaning and purpose to exist. But possibly it would have helped if I’d actually been able to locate the post you were replying to first time round, since I think my response would have been better directed at Kevin @25. Duh. Must read for context in future.

  26. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted August 2, 2012 at 10:26 am | Permalink

    I can haz $5 million 2 study party livin on ceilin?

    Why didn’t this money go to study how Santa Claus gets around on Yule? Think of what an ftl drive would mean!

    • Posted August 2, 2012 at 2:18 pm | Permalink

      Nah. Santa’s quantum. Occupies all chimneys in a time zone simultaneously.

      /@

  27. Posted August 2, 2012 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    It is instructive that when enough money is spent:
    – Respected individuals and institutions will readily lie and abandon basic principals of professional, personal, constitutional and civil probity.
    – Lies are taken up and repeated.

    Templeton as a business, individual and Foundation has been built on lies. It has been quite profitable. Not the first time.

  28. greyhound1405
    Posted August 2, 2012 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    Studying the Afterlife… Hmmm Don’t they have to die first and then how do they report back to the living?
    Anything else is, as usual, GUESSWORK.

  29. Torbjörn Larsson, OM
    Posted August 2, 2012 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    human purpose and ultimate reality

    “Purpose” is taken care of, let’s look at “ultimate”.

    This is probably meant as some “reductionist fantasy” as a philosopher would say. For all practical purposes we have an ultimate theory already. It is quantum mechanics which is known to be uniquely constrained.

    Quantum mechanics happens to tell us there are no hidden variables. So our effective theories on everyday physics, which as Sean Carroll has noted has shaken out to something firm and robust, are safe from more fundamental theories in the sense that there can be no dualism at the bottom.

    Poor religion, hoist by its own petard!

    The worst part of this project is the dragging in of theologians alongside scientists and philosophers. At least the last two groups are wedded to logic and reason, and their disciplines prevent them from making stuff up out of thin air.

    I can’t agree with this. I have noted that philosophy doesn’t pass the outsider’s test either, there have been different schools and certainly there is always different philosophies in the same areas.

    The observation, and I claim it is testable, is that the internal consistence that comes from “logic and reason” isn’t enough to guarantee that something isn’t made up out of thin air but works. For example, making a product for a market that is functional as such but no one buys.

    Excellent tests IMO comes from successful illusions that we experience as internally consistent at times. WEIT has posted some, I think, and for example the way we can disembody in some hallucinations is perfectly consistent experiences.

    So there is something else needed, and that is a continuing effort to test known constraints and beyond known constraints. But that works somehow, see Carroll again.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted August 2, 2012 at 10:57 am | Permalink

      Yes, html fail. :-/

  30. Daryl
    Posted August 2, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    The ancients thought heaven was in the sky, the top part of a three-tier universe, (the others being earth and hell/Sheol/Hades).

    As 20th century space exploration proved, heaven isn’t in the sky, above the clouds or anywhere in the general vicinity bible writers thought it was.

    The natural inference to take from this would be to say the writers of the bible didn’t have a sound grasp of such things. And who could blame them. They weren’t idiots; they simply didn’t have the tools to succeed in such an endeavour.

    Faced with this information, however, theists have had to change tact, and now heaven is in some other dimension where it’s safely out of reach of being falsified.

    What a pointless waste of time

  31. Posted August 2, 2012 at 1:18 pm | Permalink

    It would be nice to see research on lying and delusional statements as power/money tools.

    There is clearly a logic and profit from lying about supernatural claims — even for a “sober” professor and university and company.

    If this clearly dishonest behavior were not profitable, and did not contribute to the fitness of the claimant, it wouldn’t survive.

  32. Greg Peterson
    Posted August 2, 2012 at 1:33 pm | Permalink

    David Hume should get $10 million for settling this issue several decades ago:

    Where any two objects are so closely connected that all alterations which we have ever seen in the one, are attended with proportionable alterations in the other; we ought to conclude by all rules of analogy, that, when there are still greater alterations produced in the former, and it is totally dissolved, there follows a total dissolution of the latter. — Sleep, a very small effect on the body, is attended with a temporary extinction, at least a great confusion in the soul. — The weakness of the body and that of the mind in infancy are exactly proportioned, their vigour in manhood, their sympathetic disorder in sickness; their common gradual decay in old age. The step further seems unavoidable; their common dissolution in death. The last symptoms which the mind discovers are disorder, weakness, insensibility, and stupidity, the fore-runners of its annihilation. The farther progress of the same causes encreasing, the same effects totally extinguish it. Judging by the usual analogy of nature, no form can continue when transferred to a condition of life very different from the original one, in which it was placed. Trees perish in the water, fishes in the air, animals in the earth. Even so small a difference as that of climate is often fatal. What reason then to imagine, that an immense alteration, such as is made on the soul by the dissolution of its body and all its organs of thought and sensation, can be effected without the dissolution of the whole?

    • DV
      Posted August 2, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

      several decades? you mean few centuries.

      One reason to imagine is that the soul while it inhabits a body is affected by proportional debilitation and constriction of its enclosure, but when the soul escapes its confinement upon the body’s death, it will regain its full faculties and power.

      • Greg Peterson
        Posted August 2, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

        A few centuries, several decades. I mean, you’re right, but it hardly seems germaine.

        As to your…speculation? Hypothesis? Sure, we can make up all kinds of pretty stories. But what would WARRANT that notion?

        I admit, the best argument I’ve seen for the bare plausibility of the soul posited that the soul might “transmit” personality and the body could be like a radio…damage to the radio says nothing about the stength or clarity of the signal, even if it fails to pick it up altogether. But while that’s an interesting idea, I can’t think of a single reason we might have to suppose it’s true.

        Hume is right–all of our best intutions related to this question, and based on things we can observe, gainsay immortal souls.

      • Gary W
        Posted August 2, 2012 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

        One reason to imagine is that the soul while it inhabits a body is affected by proportional debilitation and constriction of its enclosure, but when the soul escapes its confinement upon the body’s death, it will regain its full faculties and power.

        This doesn’t seem to make much sense. How can bodies “enclose” or “confine” souls if souls are an immaterial substance that does not interact with matter and are thus undetectable by the methods of science?

        The same basic problem applies to the hypothesis that souls are akin to radio transmissions and bodies/brains to radio receivers.

      • Iain Walker
        Posted August 4, 2012 at 11:03 am | Permalink

        “One reason to imagine is that the soul while it inhabits a body is affected by proportional debilitation and constriction of its enclosure, but when the soul escapes its confinement upon the body’s death, it will regain its full faculties and power.”

        One obvious problem with this is that either the soul undergoes change and development through experience of the world, as mediated via the body and brain, or it does not. If it doesn’t, then it’s hard to see how the soul could be a respository of memory and personality, and if it is not, then it is not identical with the person, in which case who cares if it survives our deaths?

        If, on the other hand, the soul does undergo change, then it looks very much as if the development of its “faculties and power” is going to be constrained by the “debilitation and constriction” of embodiment. A dyslexic brain, for example, is going to result in a soul that has reading difficulties, and it is hard to see how death is going to allow it to “regain” a faculty that it has never had. Furthermore, if the causal connection between brain/body and soul works well enough to change the soul for the better (e.g., laying down accurate memories, or learning skills), why doesn’t the same causal connection result in damage to the soul when something goes wrong at the physical end? Your solution seems to assume a causal link that is suspiciously selective when it comes to which alterations to the soul are allowed – reconfigurations that enhance the soul’s faculties are permanent, but those which degrade its performance are at best temporary. So how exactly is that supposed to work?

        You might get round this by assuming that the soul comes fully equipped with its full cognitive faculties from the very beginning, and that the apparent psychological and cognitive development of a person over time is just a matter of establishing the right “connections” between brain and soul (something akin to Plato’s notion that we are born with full knowledge of the Forms, and that learning is basically a matter of remembering). But then that’s not unproblematic either.

  33. Claimthehighground
    Posted August 2, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Permalink

    If Jerry took the Templeton money –
    Telegram to Templeton:
    “Re: After life.
    Start worrying. Details to follow”

  34. Daniel Schmuhl
    Posted August 2, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Permalink

    When you consider the lack of funding for science, this is just downright insulting.

  35. corio37
    Posted August 2, 2012 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    The interesting thing about this for me is that even the Templeton Foundation doesn’t seem to think it can just hand out cash to theologians and say “Find proof of God.” It has to hide its real motives under a layer of faux ‘scientific’ concern.

    I take that as a positive. If even a billion-dollar foundation is scared to admit openly that it’s chasing ghosts, then we’re clearly winning the battle for public opinion.

  36. emmageraln
    Posted August 2, 2012 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on emmageraln.

  37. Gordon
    Posted August 2, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Permalink

    Someone at my university was recently awarded a Templeton Turing Research Scholarship. Does this suffer from the fairly obvious defects of most Templeton offerings. Was’t really clear from theJT website

  38. ForCarl
    Posted August 3, 2012 at 12:12 pm | Permalink

    I’d be glad to offer my 18 hours of a totally static fulled screen and tell them you can only see the images if you are on an Einstein-Rosen bridge.

    Hand over the $5 million please.

  39. Posted July 25, 2013 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

    Spot on with this write-up, I honestly believe that this website needs
    far more attention. I’ll probably be returning to see more, thanks for the info!


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