Desmond Tutu wins Templeton Prize

UPDATE: Jaweed Kaleem, religion editor of the HuffPo, also has a piece on Tutu’s Templeton, with this note:

The prize, which was created by the late investor and philanthropist Sir John Templeton, is not without its critics. When it was given to British cosmologist Martin Rees in 2011, for example, Jerry Coyne, a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, wrote that the foundation “plies its enormous wealth with a single aim: to give credibility to religion by blurring its well-demarcated border with science.”

The foundation, whose website describes the prize as celebrating “no particular faith tradition or notion of God, but rather the quest for progress in humanity’s efforts to comprehend the many and diverse manifestations of the Divine,” has rebuffed such accusations.

Well, they may have rebuffed my assertions (though I don’t know where), but they certainly haven’t rebutted them. That’s because my characterization of the Prize is correct.

_______________

Could the Templeton Foundation be moving away from awarding its annual Big Prize to faith-friendly scientists, and back towards the original type of awardee: straight religionists? Well, last year it went to the Dalai Lama, and it was announced this morning that this year’s winner of the $1.7 million Templeton Prize is (former) Archbishop Desmond Tutu (born 1931), someone we all know about.

As the Independent reports:

The decision to award this year’s prize to the former Archbishop of Cape Town appears to solidify a recent move by the Templeton Foundation away from honouring scientists with pro-religious tendencies.

Since the mid-1990s the prize has almost always gone to academics with a scientific background who are sympathetic towards faith. Evolutionary biologist and atheist campaigner Richard Dawkins dismissed the prize as an award “usually [given] to a scientist prepared to say something nice about religion”, while others said the tactics were an underhand attempt to promote religion by linking it with science.

However, others defended the foundation. When Martin Rees, the Astronomer Royal and an atheist, was awarded the prize in 2011, he said he accepted because the foundation had routinely funded serious scientific study.

“I would see no reason to be concerned because they support a variety of interesting and worthwhile research projects in Cambridge University and many other places,” he said at the time. “The fact they have given this award to me, someone who has no religious beliefs at all, shows they are not too narrow in their sympathies.”

When the Templeton Foundation announced the Dalai Lama’s prize last year, it made much of the Tibetan leader’s embrace of science – in particular, the creation of learning institutes where fellow monks and young Tibetans could learn importance sciences to complement their traditional spiritual educations.

This year’s press release announcing Archbishop Tutu is distinctly more theist, with no mention  of science.

Well, that’s not quite true, for Templeton’s formal prize announcement does cite Tutu’s work on the Big Questions, which were (formerly and erroneously) taken to lie within the ambit of science (my bold):

Desmond Tutu, the former Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, has been awarded the 2013 Templeton Prize for his life-long work in advancing spiritual principles such as love and forgiveness which has helped to liberate people around the world.

Tutu rose to world prominence with his stalwart – and successful – opposition to South Africa’s apartheid regime. He combines the theological concept that all human beings are shaped in the image of God, known in Latin as Imago Dei, with the traditional African belief of Ubuntu, which holds that only through others do people achieve humanity which, he says, creates “a delicate network of interdependence.”

His broad calls to common humanity began in the 1970s, when Tutu used positions within the church to focus global attention on the apartheid policies of South Africa’s ruling minority. After Nelson Mandela’s release from prison in 1990 and subsequent election as president in the country’s first multi-ethnic democratic elections, Tutu chaired the Truth and Reconciliation Commission employing a revolutionary and relentless policy of confession, forgiveness and resolution that helped shepherd his nation from institutionalized racial repression toward an egalitarian democracy.

His deep faith and commitment to prayer and worship provides the foundation for his message of love and forgiveness. He has created that message through extensive contemplation of such profound “Big Questions” as “Do we live in a moral universe?” and “What is humanity’s duty to reflect and live God’s purposes?”

Two years is not yet a trend, but for the ten years preceding the Dalai Lama’s award, the Templeton Prize has gone to those trying to reconcile science and faith (see the list of previous winners). Before that, it was given to people like Billy Graham, Mother Teresa, and Chuck Colson.

In truth, I’d prefer that the prize be given to straight religious people like Tutu and not accommodationists, for at least then it doesn’t sully science or pollute it with the numinous. And it does show more obviously what the prize is really about—furthering religion.

Too, Tutu (unlike Billy Graham and Mother Teresa) really is a good candidate for a religious prize.  He courageously stood up against apartheid, has been instrumental in dismantling segregation in South Africa, headed up the Truth and Reconciliation Foundation after apartheid dissolved, and has worked tireless for human rights, including child and gay rights. As far as I can see, he instantiates the best among religious people. I suspect, like the Dalai Lama, he’ll donate his prize money to good causes. (The Dalai Lama gave most of it to Save the Children in India/) I have no idea what the scientist/accommodationists like Martin Rees did with their money.

27 Comments

  1. gbjames
    Posted April 4, 2013 at 5:27 am | Permalink

    sub

  2. Posted April 4, 2013 at 5:28 am | Permalink

    My very favourite Templeton ever remains their study on intercessory prayer. Whatever you do … don’t pray for me.

  3. Dominic
    Posted April 4, 2013 at 5:52 am | Permalink

    I agree that it is something of a relief that they gave it to a religious person. By the way, this is the first time I have seen anyone use ‘instantiates’!

    • gbjames
      Posted April 4, 2013 at 6:01 am | Permalink

      “instantiates”… you need to hang out with computer programmers more! ;)

    • Posted April 4, 2013 at 7:01 am | Permalink

      Programmers are instances of a different class altogether.

      • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
        Posted April 4, 2013 at 8:12 am | Permalink

        “Byte me”, said my programming threads.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted April 4, 2013 at 10:39 am | Permalink

      Actually Jerry uses “instantiates” in this sense fairly often.

      Personally, I would have gone with “exemplifies”. But then I’m a software guy.

      • Dominic
        Posted April 9, 2013 at 1:47 am | Permalink

        I should read more carefully… first time it struck me then!

  4. Posted April 4, 2013 at 6:26 am | Permalink

    Jaweed Kaleem over at PuffHo devotes the last two paragraphs to critics [inc. you Jerry] in THIS article today on the same subject:-

    The prize, which was created by the late investor and philanthropist Sir John Templeton, is not without its critics. When it was given to British cosmologist Martin Rees in 2011, for example, Jerry Coyne, a professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, wrote that the foundation “plies its enormous wealth with a single aim: to give credibility to religion by blurring its well-demarcated border with science.”

    The foundation, whose website describes the prize as celebrating “no particular faith tradition or notion of God, but rather the quest for progress in humanity’s efforts to comprehend the many and diverse manifestations of the Divine,” has rebuffed such accusations.

    Kaleem leaves it hanging there with no example given of where the Templeton Trust “rebuffed such accusations”

    • Sastra
      Posted April 4, 2013 at 8:05 am | Permalink

      They are using the language of humanism without accepting what it means. This is deceptive.

      Humanity cannot be united in a quest to “comprehend the many and diverse manifestations of the Divine” if humanity has not already concluded together that the Divine exists in the first place. This united search for God leaves out a large and significant group: the atheists. We are demonized. We are outsiders to the tribe of humanity.

      They gave the award to an atheist who said the right thing:”Just because I don’t agree with them doesn’t mean that I am going to attack their views.” Don’t argue. Don’t insist that the question of God hasn’t been settled. They let you hang around with them if you don’t. They accept atheists … on conditions.

      That doesn’t appease us. We don’t want acceptance on those terms. We want our views to be engaged with seriously as part f this common human search for truth. We don’t want them airily dismissed as a combination of bigotry and an inability to comprehend and appreciate the many and diverse manifestations of the Divine.

      Spirituality can’t and won’t bring people together. We got lucky with a coin flip. Desmond Tutu saw God as something which promotes humanistic ethics. But he didn’t “advance” our understanding of God. He helped whittle it down a bit more.

  5. Posted April 4, 2013 at 6:52 am | Permalink

    Nothing quite like those multifarious manifestations of the Divine, and a multitudinous trust fund.

  6. Kevin
    Posted April 4, 2013 at 7:12 am | Permalink

    Congratulations to Tutu.

    Next year — Jimmy Carter?

  7. Posted April 4, 2013 at 7:14 am | Permalink

    Indeed, Tutu is a star, and well worthy of recognition for a lifelong struggle against numerous forms of injustice, often at considerable cost to himself.

    Although you shouldn’t need reward for decent liberal views, it’s hard to find another archbishop who’s “for” contraception, gay rights, and female clergy, amongst other things. Hell, he’s even agreed with abortions, albeit only in certain circumstances.

    And there aren’t many clergymen who would ever think of saying, “There are certain parts [of the Bible] which you have to say no to. The Bible accepted slavery. St Paul said women should not speak in church at all and there are people who have used that to say women should not be ordained. There are many things that you shouldn’t accept.”

    I’ve always thought of him as a genuinely good person, who (unfortunately for me) manifests some of this goodness in religious terms, but who never lets any of that extraneous “God” stuff get in the way of anything important.

  8. DiscoveredJoys
    Posted April 4, 2013 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    In the UK a second class, second division university degree (a 2.2) is known as a ‘Desmond’.

    • Kevin
      Posted April 4, 2013 at 7:42 am | Permalink

      In the US, they call it an MBA.

    • Allautin@gmail.com
      Posted April 4, 2013 at 8:05 am | Permalink

      That is too too clever

  9. Posted April 4, 2013 at 7:50 am | Permalink

    The Templeton Foundation’s statement, ” “no particular faith tradition or notion of God, but rather the quest for progress in humanity’s efforts to comprehend the many and diverse manifestations of the Divine,” has rebuffed such accusations. “, is self-contradictory.

    What else can they mean when they capitalize the word “divine”?!

  10. krzysztof1
    Posted April 4, 2013 at 9:06 am | Permalink

    It is a strange world when large sums of money are given out for spreading misinformation.

    • gbjames
      Posted April 4, 2013 at 9:52 am | Permalink

      ‘Twas ever thus. Or at least since the invention of money.

  11. Posted April 4, 2013 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    I heard Tutu speak on the radio or something years ago, and he sounded like a very unusual man, and certainly not what I expected. (But then again, I haven’t heard from many, esp. Anglican.) He is certainly not afraid to say his own bit on matters, which is good.

  12. Stephen P
    Posted April 4, 2013 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    What is humanity’s duty to reflect and live God’s purposes?

    OK, I give up. What on earth is that question supposed to mean? I can’t extract anything intelligible from it at all.

    • Gregory Kusnick
      Posted April 4, 2013 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

      Seems fairly intelligible to me.

      If your parents really want you to be a doctor, do you have a duty to go to medical school just to please them?

      Similarly, if God has a plan for us, to what extent are we obligated to go along with that plan?

      Of course the question is moot if there is no God. But that doesn’t make it unintelligible.

      • Stephen P
        Posted April 5, 2013 at 9:43 am | Permalink

        Well, yes, that’s what I assume the writer was trying to convey. But what does it mean to reflect purposes? What does it mean to live purposes? What does it mean to rivet green dreams? Why say “what is” if you mean “is it”?

        OK, this is a deceased equid.

  13. Posted April 4, 2013 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    I am a South African and therefore well acquainted with Tutu’s utterings over the years.

    He has ridden on the back of the anti-apartheid movement over many years but steadfastly refused to denounce the violence, murders and bloodshed of the ANC’s terrorist cadres particularly during the eighties and early nineties.

    He is a sanctimonious, bigoted old hypocrite and as such a typical recipient of the Templeton Prize.

    Since Mandela he has been studiously ignored and shoved into the backwaters of politics and almost nobody except his Anglican followers take note of him these days.

    Thys Human
    Pretoria

  14. briandupuis
    Posted April 15, 2013 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

    Dr Coyne,

    I’m not sure of a better way to reach you than this, as I’d rather not pollute academic contact channels with unsolicited mail, but her we go.

    You’ve done exemplary work promoting awareness of what these Templeton hacks have been up to over the past while; I’d like to call your attention to a newer project of theirs, for which they just carpet-spammed our entire department with flyers. (I work in psychology; technically cognitive sciences and mathematical modelling, but that doesn’t seem to matter here.)

    One can tell just from the name of the initiative that it’s going to generate a lot of stink – “Varieties of Understanding” (read: “different ways of knowing” in five dollar words – yes, it’s that transparent now).

    I’ve copied the flyer here to show off how they’re marketing it slightly differently to their targets than to the public on their website. (Presumably it appears differently to those flyers sent to philosophers and theologians; of the three the psychologists are the closest approaching empirical scientists).

    I don’t know a better avenue than your blog to call attention to this sort of hackery before it starts, hence why I’m posting it here. Well, that and at least part of the project is now linked up at UC:Berkeley, meaning they’ve got their claws in yet another respectable university.

    ~Brian


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