Templeton, Sean Carroll and the ethics of mixing science and faith

About a dozen readers have sent me this item, I suppose because they wanted my response. I’ve sat on my hands about this, as it involves the physicist Sean Carroll, whom I consider a friend, a really nice guy, and someone who has always provided prompt and thorough replies when I’ve plied him with many questions about physics. So consider this post a disagreement among friends.

The issue? The Templeton Foundation, of course. As I’ve noted before, Templeton has just funded a glossy science magazine, Nautilus, that has an online version.  As far as I can see, the John Templeton Foundation (JTF) is the only provider of start-up funds for the magazine. To be sure, Nautilus hasn’t yet shown signs of mixing science and religion (wait a while!), but Templeton is nothing if not canny, and they love to draw projects like this into their stable, giving the Foundation the scientific respectability it needs to push its science-and-religion-are-friends agenda. Indeed, they’ve already advertised Natutilus widely on the JTF website; Templeton’s director of “cultural engagement” sees the magazine as an extension of the Foundation’s mission of engaging the “Big Questions” (i.e., God’s role in the universe); and the magazine’s “digital editor” admitted that Templeton worked with the fundees to help shape the magazine’s editorial content.

Templeton doesn’t do anything like this without calculating the benefits to their operation, and Sean knows that well. Indeed, while blurbing the magazine on his website, Carroll noted that he’s on the magazine’s board of advisors.  Sean (who has always highlighted the dangers of the Templeton Foundation) didn’t mention that Nautilus was funded by Templeton—I’ll chalk this up to an oversight—but several of us, including me, noted that omission in our comments.

In response, Sean then wrote a long and eloquent defense of his views about this, “On Templeton,” a piece reprinted at Slate as “Science and religion can’t be reconciled: Why I won’t take money from the Templeton Foundation.” (The Slate piece has garnered over 3300 comments!)

The good news is that Carroll’s statement about Templeton’s mixed message, and his explanation about why he won’t take money from the JTF, is really, really good.  An excerpt (my emphasis):

And that’s the real reason why I don’t want to be involved directly with Templeton. It’s not a matter of ethical compromise; it’s simply a matter of sending the wrong message. Any time respectable scientists take money from Templeton, they lend their respectability — even if only implicitly — to the idea that science and religion are just different paths to the same ultimate truth. That’s not something I want to do. If other people feel differently, that’s for them and their consciences, not something that is going to cause me to shun them.

But I will try to explain to them why it’s important. Think of it this way. The kinds of questions I think about — origin of the universe, fundamental laws of physics, that kind of thing — for the most part have no direct impact on how ordinary people live their lives. No jet packs are forthcoming, as the saying goes. But there is one exception to this, so obvious that it goes unnoticed: belief in God. Due to the efforts of many smart people over the course of many years, scholars who are experts in the fundamental nature of reality have by a wide majority concluded that God does not exist. We have better explanations for how things work. The shift in perspective from theism to atheism is arguably the single most important bit of progress in fundamental ontology over the last five hundred years. And it matters to people … a lot.

Or at least, it would matter, if we made it more widely known. It’s the one piece of scientific/philosophical knowledge that could really change people’s lives. So in my view, we have a responsibility to get the word out — to not be wishy-washy on the question of religion as a way of knowing, but to be clear and direct and loud about how reality really works. And when we blur the lines between science and religion, or seem to contribute to their blurring or even just not minding very much when other people blur them, we do the world a grave disservice. Religious belief exerts a significant influence over how the world is currently run — not just through extremists, but through the well-meaning liberal believers who very naturally think of religion as a source of wisdom and moral guidance, and who define the middle ground for sociopolitical discourse in our society. Understanding the fundamental nature of reality is a necessary starting point for productive conversations about morality, justice, and meaning. If we think we know something about that fundamental nature — something that disagrees profoundly with the conventional wisdom — we need to share it as widely and unambiguously as possible. And collaborating with organizations like Templeton inevitably dilutes that message.

There’s no question that Templeton has been actively preventing the above message from getting across. By funding projects like the AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion, the JTF has done its best to spread the impression that science and religion get along just fine. This impression is false. And it has consequences.

How deliciously strident! And on this Sean and I agree completely.  Faith is virtue in religion but a vice in science, and Templeton conflates that distinction. By constantly intimating that there’s More to Reality than Science, the JTF tries to give epistemic credibility to faith by donning the mantle of science—underneath which is a carefully concealed clerical collar. The JTF does this by co-opting scientists to either spread Templeton’s message or, as Carroll notes in the bold section above, to buttress that message by occupying a stall in their stable of thoroughbred researchers.

Where Sean and I disagree is whether scientists should, while refusing direct funding from Templeton, nevertheless participate in the Foundation’s projects, as Sean does as an advisor to Nautilus. His rationale is this:

You will never see me thanking them for support in the acknowledgments of one of my papers. But there are plenty of good organizations and causes that feel differently and take the money without qualms, from the World Science Festival to the Foundational Questions Institute. As long as I think that those organizations are worthwhile in their own right, I am willing to work with them. But I will try my best to persuade them they should get money from somewhere else. . . So I won’t directly work with or take money from the JTF, although I will work with people who do take money from them—money that is appropriately laundered, if you will—if I think those people themselves are worth supporting or collaborating with in their own right.

I’ve pondered this at length, both now and earlier, and I’m not sure I understand his distinction. Why is it inappropriate to take money from the JTF but nevertheless appropriate to help organizations that do? Granted, those organizations do engage in valuable science education, but they’re also pushing Templeton’s agenda on the side.

The World Science Festival, for instance, is a good thing, but almost always includes a panel on “science and faith”—no doubt to placate the JTF, which partially funds the affair. (I once refused to participate in that panel because of the Templeton connection.) If you think it’s not okay to take money from the JTF, is it okay to lend your name to other organizations that do? The name-lending, after all, is what Templeton really wants.

Look at it this way.  Suppose that, as a good liberal, you’re opposed to organizations that promote racism, like the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), and won’t take any money from them, even if they were to support pure scientific research on genetic differences between ethnic groups.  Would it then be okay, if the CCC sponsored a World Ethnic Festival that included a panel on “How different are human ‘races’?”, to participate on such a panel? Granted Templeton isn’t obviously as invidious as the CCC (though the JTF does support a number of pretty right-wing groups), but my point is that there’s no clear criterion for what is “appropriate laundering” of money from a pernicious organization.  Either you’re lending your credibility that that organization’s efforts or you’re not.

Sean recognizes that this is a judgment call:

So I won’t directly work with or take money from the JTF, although I will work with people who do take money from them—money that is appropriately laundered, if you will—if I think those people themselves are worth supporting or collaborating with in their own right. This means that approximately nobody agrees with me; the Templeton-friendly folks think I’m too uptight and priggish, while the anti-Templeton faction finds me sadly lacking in conviction. So be it. These are issues without easy answers, and I don’t mind taking a judicious middle ground. It’s even possible that I’ll change my mind one way or another down the road in response to new arguments or actions on the part of the parties involved.

If I were less charitable, I wouldn’t call this “taking a judicious middle ground,” but—to paraphrase P. Z. Myers—”occupying a spot halfway to Woo Town.” But let us hope that Sean does change his mind. I have enormous respect for him as a scientist, a science communicator, and a good human being; and I would love nothing more than for him to say, “I’m not taking any money from Templeton, no matter how it’s laundered.”

But there is one thing I absolutely think he must say. In his Templeton piece, Carroll notes:

And if anyone is tempted to award me the Templeton Prize, I will totally accept it! And use the funds to loudly evangelize for naturalism and atheism. (After I pay off the mortgage.)

Now that does not compute!  After all, Templeton Prize money—currently £1.1 million, or $1.7 million—comes directly from the Templeton Foundation. It is not laundered. Granted, the chance that Sean will win the Templeton Prize is, in view of his history of anti-accommodationism, only marginally higher than that of Richard Dawkins winning that award, but the issue is an ethical rather than a practical one.  Say it ain’t so, Sean!

48 Comments

  1. Marcoli
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    I agree he is straying a bit. So the scenario that may come to pass is that when the JTF worldview starts to creep in to Nautilus Dr. Carroll will then have to resign.

  2. Ian Liberman
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 7:25 am | Permalink

    What do you think of Sean Carrol helping projects from the Tempelton Foundation who tries to get credibility though they will promote creationism. \

       Creator of Pressman`s Rock Trivia                                  

    ________________________________

  3. Ian Liberman
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    Sorry that was

       Creator of Pressman`s Rock Trivia                                  

    ________________________________

  4. neil
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    Is not Sean’s (hypothetical) taking the Templeton prize just good consequentialist ethics? Taking the prize and using it to do something good (promoting atheism, giving it to the poor, whatever) accomplishes two things. It does something good, and it relieves Templeton of the money so it cannot be used for bad things, like promoting religion.

    This presumes the money does not corrupt Sean into doing bad things. But that is a different question. Why is the taking of the money itself a bad thing, rather than what you do with it?

    • Posted May 12, 2013 at 8:12 am | Permalink

      About the only way your scenario would reasonably play out as you describe would be if he were to endorse the check to Médecins Sans Frontières.

      Taking that kind of money for yourself is going to have a powerful corrosive effect on anybody who doesn’t already have comparable wealth. But, even if you yourself remain “pure,” not only will your motives evermore be questioned, but you’ll be serving the only goal that Templeton actually has in mind with the prize: good PR for Templeton.

      Templeton no more gives a damn what you do with the money than the Salvation Army cares what any one given bum does with the energy they get from the food they serve at the soup kitchens. They’re playing a much bigger, much deeper game — and it’s one in which even substantial amounts of their “gifts” going to “waste” still gets them the PR they want.

      And, make no mistrake: if you can actually afford it, this is far and away the best kind of PR that money can buy.

      Cheers,

      b&

      • Marcoli
        Posted May 12, 2013 at 9:45 am | Permalink

        Is Sean taking money from anyone to be on the board of Nautilus?

      • Posted May 13, 2013 at 3:01 am | Permalink

        I disagree. I’d happily take the money, give up my day job, and commit my remaining life to showing Templeton for what it is. In Sean’s case he has a lot more scientific credibility than I have, so what little PR they get out of his taking the prize shouldn’t be beyond his wit to counter publicly. He could even use it to sue them if they tried to tout him as one of their accommodationist scientists. They’d have to pay at least that much to fight it. Taking their unsolicited gifts is no problem at all. Earning their money, laundered or not, is a different matter.

  5. Posted May 12, 2013 at 8:02 am | Permalink

    Sean’s closing gag rather unfortunately quite forcefully reminds me of a joke first attributed to Lord Beaverbrook about haggling over the price.

    Sean, I do urge you to reconsider taking passage on the Midtown Woo Express!

    b&

    • BillyJoe
      Posted May 12, 2013 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

      Are you implying Sean prostituted himself for a measly sum!!!

  6. Posted May 12, 2013 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    Sean’s gregarious disposition and gracious dialectic could develop into Diplomatic Referee Disorder if he’s excessively afflicted by the side-effects of propriety.

  7. Sastra
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 8:31 am | Permalink

    And if anyone is tempted to award me the Templeton Prize, I will totally accept it! And use the funds to loudly evangelize for naturalism and atheism. (After I pay off the mortgage.)

    I have far less problem with this than you do because I think doing this sort of thing is a direct assault on the Templeton goal to mingle science and religion. I also would have liked to have seen you on that ‘Science and Faith’ panel at the World Science Festival. Whenever a gnu atheist comes out and sincerely and directly states the truth — “No, there IS an inherent conflict between science and religion” — then I don’t think it matters if they’re doing this in a Templeton forum or on the Templeton dime. This sort of statement isn’t contributing to any blurring of distinctions. Quite the contrary.

    And if the gnus avoid such opportunities the only voices shouting from the very public hilltops provided will be those carrying the Good News that science and faith blend together like peanut butter and chocolate. It’s not as if there are lots of benefactors giving us equal time. If they think they look fairer if they provide us with the ability to attack their message, then hey — take advantage before they change their mind. Because if we do a good job they probably will eventually change their minds on letting us speak on their dime. We are far more effective than they think because their views on this issue really don’t hold up.

    As for Carroll’s position regarding the magazine, I can see both sides on that one. There is a part of me however which sees something subversive and thus exemplary about infiltrating the magazine and keeping an eye on things.

    • Posted May 12, 2013 at 8:51 am | Permalink

      I’d tend to agree with you.

      Sean says, “If we think we know something about that fundamental nature — something that disagrees profoundly with the conventional wisdom — we need to share it as widely and unambiguously as possible.”

      Is using a Templeton-funded organ or platform to do this justified? Are the diluting effects of Templeton’s money negligible when it’s at one remove?

      Maybe it’s like stamping “A gift from the Soviet Union” on sacks of grain paid for by the U.S. …

      /@

    • BillyJoe
      Posted May 13, 2013 at 2:46 am | Permalink

      I suppose you could justify just about anything on that basis. How about a bit of spine.

  8. Steve Bracker
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    Spot on, Jerry.

    Sean is dancing along a fuzzy line that all of us dance along all the time: How closely connected with evil must things — the products you buy, the funding you accept, the company you keep – be before you just say no? Do you stop eating Florida tomatoes because some tomato farmers “employ” what amounts to slave labor? Do you stop belonging to a mostly-good political party because a couple of planks of their platform are seriously wrongheaded? Do you refuse to be in the same room with your cousin who is mostly a good bloke, but has been known to tell racist jokes on occasion? And yes, do you refuse to take money from or lend your name to an outfit that is clearly (perhaps solely) funded by another outfit whose purposes are somewhere between deeply muddled and plainly wrong?

    Yes, fostering the lie that science and religion are “compatible”, at not only a personal level (“Bob is an effective scientist and a committed Christian.”), not only an institutional level (“Sometimes the church has actively supported good science.”), not only a personal-morality level (“Sometimes religion has helped good people be even better.”), but at an intellectual level, is plainly wrong, in both senses of “wrong”. We truly don’t need and should do nothing to support organizations who go into the world to guide people into the wonders of the Wooniverse. By any reasonable definition of “faith”, faith and rational empiricism are not compatible. By any concept of “god” that more than a few people adhere to, gods and science really cannot be reconciled.

    But as noted, there is some fuzziness in the line Sean is dancing near. Jerry (and I) think he’s dancing on the wrong side of the line; Sean feels differently. So be it.

    The downside of Sean’s Nautilus adventure (20,000 Leagues Under the Woo?) is that Nautilus will probably either quickly become an accommodationist propaganda mill, or prove to be very short-lived; Sean will have either lent his name to a worse-than-useless enterprise, or wasted his time. The upside, of course, is that he might succeed in directing Nautilus away from the woo, toward a more constructive role, though one suspects that the deck is heavily stacked against that. He who pays the piper probably will call the tune. It remains to be seen if Sean, in most ways about as far from idiocy as a man can be, nonetheless proves in the end to be a “useful idiot” in this matter. I hope that he has weighed with considerable care the virtually certainty of the downside occurring vs a realistic probability of the upside occurring.

    As to the flippant remarks about how he would spend the Templeton Prize money, I agree with you that remarks like that should never be made in public, even in jest, because of the very real danger that people who don’t know you will not understand the spirit in which they were said. There are certainly circumstances in which I would take money from a band of brigands and use it to try to thwart their brigandry, but there’s little to be gained by talking about the possibility in advance. And using part of the swag to pay off your mortgage? Sean!

    Steve Bracker

  9. Posted May 12, 2013 at 8:35 am | Permalink

    Anyone else get whiplash reading the excerpts? It seems to me he is just trying to have his cake, eat it too, AND sell the cake to his neighbor at the same time.

    • Prof.Pedant
      Posted May 12, 2013 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

      I think that Sean Carroll’s explanations would have benefited greatly from a few paragraphs acknowledging the contradictions between his positions. Like everyone else he can live a pretty darn good life while taking contradictory positions on issues, but – also like everyone else – he would benefit greatly from acknowledging and contemplating those contradictions.

      • Posted May 12, 2013 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

        Well, maybe it’s a “wave” =and= a “particle”, despite the seeming contradiction.

        Physicists can live with apparent contradiction more readily than most of us.

        • Posted May 13, 2013 at 9:55 am | Permalink

          Sort of – because they know that in some respect, quantons are *neither*, and that macroscopic analogies are often misleading for things far outside our experience.

  10. Diana MacPherson
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 8:54 am | Permalink

    I can see the temptation to take the money and use it for the opposite of what Templeton would prefer – it would benefit the right causes and annoy Templeton (theoretically) but the only ethically coherent thing to do is to refuse the money. If everyone did this, Templeton would no longer be able to get their message out. This is the better thing to do for the big picture.

    • Steve Bracker
      Posted May 12, 2013 at 9:58 am | Permalink

      I assume we’re talking about Sean (hypothetically) accepting Templeton Prize money here.

      “…the only ethically coherent thing to do…”

      That’s a little stronger than I see it. What if Sean were somewhat less a “public person” but was in a position to strike a mighty blow against accommodationism if he had a million bucks? It’s a judgment call. From where I sit (which is a long way from Sean’s chair) I think it would seldom be helpful to the anti-woo cause for someone like Sean to accept Templeton Prize money, even if he spent every dime opposing the Templeton program, but I can’t say never.

      “If everyone did this, Templeton would no longer be able to get their message out.”

      If by “everyone” you mean “all effective anti-woo spokespersons” or “all non-religious scientists”, I disagree. Even lacking the names of people like Sean, Templeton still has the clout to spread a lot of confusion. Having names like Sean’s to add to their roster of prizewinners helps the Templeton cause, but even lacking them, the mills of woo will grind on and on.

      If by “everyone” you mean “everyone”, then it’s a bit “If pigs had wings…”, because there are many, many people out there, some with strong public voices and a few with good science creds, who really believe in exactly what Templeton is trying to do, and the universe where that soon becomes untrue is unfortunately not our universe.

      Please note that we agree on the main thesis. You see the ethical issue a little more black-and-white than I do. You are perhaps a little more optimistic than I am about the benefits of Sean stepping away from any connection with Templeton. We probably both agree that Sean’s Templeton Prize is not right around the corner.

      Steve Bracker

      • BillyJoe
        Posted May 13, 2013 at 2:53 am | Permalink

        If Sean were to qualify for the Templeton Prize, his position would already be severely compromised, so his acceptance of the prize would just be the stopper on the bottle.

  11. Posted May 12, 2013 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    Odd that religion & science discussions are almost always in the context of monotheism. IF one tries to reconcile science and religion, the ancient Greek (& other) polytheism would fit better than monotheism. Their gods had different and often conflicting motives, purposes, etc. That’s rather like the conflict and competition seen in nature, along with occasional cooperation that Zeus, Apollo, Athena, Diana, et al. sometimes exhibited. Maybe the god of lions (or predators) competes with the god of antelopes (or prey); but both realize that the extinction of either species would be bad for the other, so they agree to not take the competition too far . . .

  12. exsumper
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 11:17 am | Permalink

    Its just another example of trying to/taking have your cash/cake and eat it!

    What price integrity. What’s your price? Carrol’s is obiously quite low.

    • Steve Bracker
      Posted May 12, 2013 at 12:23 pm | Permalink

      “Its just another example . . .”

      And your evidence for the notion that Sean is just selling out rather than making a (possibly misguided) attempt to beard the lion in its den is?

      There are people around, a few of them among the nominally anti-accommodationist folks, whom I think you might be justified in leveling this charge at. Unless you have a lot more information about this specific case than I do (if so, please share), then I don’t think it’s justified to level it in this instance.

      I must say that if Sean wants to sell out, he’s going about it in a most peculiar way. First he writes an eloquent little piece decrying exactly what Templeton is trying to do. Then he says publicly that if by some unlikely chance he ever got his hands on some Templeton money (the Prize), he would spend most of it (I assume his mortgage isn’t all that high) to fight against Templeton’s goals. I still remember that my old prof in Selling Out 101 had nothing good to say about this strategy.

      Steve Bracker

    • Marta
      Posted May 12, 2013 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

      Jesus. Nothing Jerry’s written here can cause you to have arrived at this conclusion about Dr. Carroll’s integrity.

      This is not the way we talk about our friends.

  13. Posted May 12, 2013 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    In Sean Carroll’s defense, he has stated that he would use the money to further an atheistic and naturalistic agenda. So, if Templeton were to award him the prize, they would (at least implicitly) be funding that agenda. By claiming that he would accept the funds, all Sean Carroll is doing is giving the Templeton foundation an opportunity to go against their principles. If they want to do that–if they want to fund a project antithetical to their own agenda–then Sean Carroll is game. That doesn’t seem so bad, does it?

    You might try to argue that such funding would be done to lend respectability to their accomodationist program. However, it’s hard to see how funding an explicitly atheistic/naturalistic project would do that.

  14. Darth Dog
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 2:48 pm | Permalink

    The bit at the end about accepting the Templeton Prize is clearly a joke. Come on people. I would hope that one can be serious about a topic without having to be grim.

    To repurpose an old joke:

    Q. How many anti-Templeton anti-accomadationists does it take to change a light bulb?
    A. THAT’S NOT FUNNY!!!

  15. peterr
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

    Here’s a question for all:

    For any positive integer “n”, one has individuals and/or organizations x1,x2,…,xn involved in some intellectual activity. Each xi, except the last, collaborates, or has collaborated, with the next one, x(i+1). The last one, xn, accepts money from Templeton. How large must “n” be before you figure it’s okay for x1 to do that?

    To the point here, if n=2 is bad, perhaps n=3 is not? If no to that, and some one answered with n=6, it might be hard to justify that, and not n=5. All this is rather simplistic, but the entire discussion seems to be.

    If there is no limit on your moral outrage (n=\infty ), then you’d find very few scientists not to be immoral in this sense.

    I think “…pay off my mortgage..” was the joke part, and maybe that should have been said, but the asses wanting to use this would misquote anyway.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted May 13, 2013 at 4:09 am | Permalink

      Yes, your model is too simplistic, which Myers’s “halfway to crazy town” analysis shows.

      On the other hand, you have no evidence that the rest of the question/analysis/conversation is simplistic. And I would argue that Myers’s analysis shows that it isn’t simplistic, as it makes a qualitative observation.

      • peterr
        Posted May 13, 2013 at 6:28 am | Permalink

        I’ll try to find that again. Though I agree on almost all with Myers, blogs with too much navel-gazing are not my thing. At least here, one can easily skip the boots and felines.

        However, it wouldn’t be surprising that, if Myers publishes much in the way of joint papers, you can find a chain between him and Templeton, as described in my previous.

        In math, there is something called the Erdos number (mine is low with the property that all the intermediates are, IMHO and except for me of course, more eminent in math history than Paul himself). I wonder what my Templeton number is? Maybe infinity, but I’m not too bothered if not, and not in empirical science anyway.

  16. decourse
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 7:39 pm | Permalink

    Hey, at least Templeton money doesn’t come from a truly unethical source, like the United States government.

  17. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted May 12, 2013 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

    It isn’t possible to live in this world without dancing with the devil. I can’t buy a soft drink without contributing to the profits of some bloated multinational. I can’t log on to the Internet without using technology partly generated by the US Defence Department (google ‘DARPA’). More pointedly, I’ll bet some of the University of Chicago’s funding comes from ‘defense’ contractors a.k.a. merchants of death (like, I would add hastily, most big universities). And I certainly can’t log on without dealing with the products of the Evil Empire (that’s Microsoft : ), if not in my computer then in many of the boxes I connect to. Compromises everywhere.

    I’d imagine the same sort of thing applies to everyone else posting here, they may not be the exact same things but they’ll all have their own pet hates.

    So I find the emphasis on Templeton shown by so many here a bit illogical. Sure, Sean should be careful to avoid being irremediably contaminated, but it’s not like they’re the only source of evil in this world.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted May 13, 2013 at 4:12 am | Permalink

      It is the source of evil that this evolutionary biology site mainly cares about, for obvious reasons.

      I would find it irrational if it cared equally about all other evils considering its purpose.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted May 13, 2013 at 4:14 am | Permalink

      I forgot: And what Carroll cares for as well, for much the same reasons (science).

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted May 13, 2013 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

        Yes, though I note Carroll is a physicist not a biologist, so he may not collide head-on with Templeton quite so fundamentally as this website does.

        I just feel the situation is not as clear-cut as some of the commenters on this thread would imply. It would be snarky to suggest that some of them might see it differently if they were offered an opportunity to have an input into this magazine and therefore potentially improve it. And if the magazine as a result features good science without religious overtones, that potentially is beneficial.

  18. Posted May 13, 2013 at 3:45 am | Permalink

    One can’t attack an enemy without engaging with them. If I’m among the enemy and I run out of ammo, would I on principle refuse to pick up one of their loaded weapons and start shooting? Take the Templeton prize if they offer it. If you spend it on fast cars then that’s money not doing their work. If you spend it on opposing them, even better.

    On the wider topic of engaging with the enemy…

    In Northern Ireland the British government eventually engaged in talks with the terrorist, with some mutual preconditions. The death from terrorism stopped, mostly. Did some despicable terrorists get away with murder? Sure, but the bombing stopped. Was this appeasement, of the kind Chamberlain was duped into with Hitler? No, but it’s a tricky balance about how much of a compromise one makes.

    Complete disengagement isn’t an option. That Jerry debates with any theist is an engagement. That Jerry has read the Bible is an engagement. I’m less convince Sean used the right metaphor of money laundering. He says he does the work for its own merit, not as a means of hiding the fact that his money has come from Templeton.

    I think Sean has taken a reasonable balance. That some individuals think his balance isn’t quite right is fine, since balance is difficult to gauge.

    I wouldn’t see a problem taking their money directly, if the project was clearly a scientific one with no theological undertones. The likelihood of taking on a project then (not counting my personal likelihood of being invited) is down to the likelihood of Templeton actually offering such a project that would be so void of theological relevance.

    Even if it had theological content, if I thought that there was a real experiment that could be done with respect to the theological issue (the biology of resurrection) I’d be quite confident that the result would show no evidence for it. But if it did, if a body could spontaneously reanimate after several days of death, and maybe embalming, or after considerable decay, then that would be really interesting. You might say that we know the answer to that already. Well fine, it’s a replication test that Templeton have kindly paid for. How often to grants come along just to test prior well established results?

    Does anyone here recommend that starving kids in poor areas of the world, at home or abroad, should refuse aid from religious organisations because of the religious bias of those organisations? Or do we simply lobby the organisations not to piggy back their evangelism on their good deeds?

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted May 13, 2013 at 4:31 am | Permalink

      Oy. This feels like theology, so many angels that are dancing on pinheads of analogy.

      1. Taking money and use it neutrally/contrary.

      That is a bad strategy as the article explains.

      You don’t come to grips with that, instead propose an erroneous attempt at analogy. Using the found enemy weapon is fine and no one would think you go over to the enemy/help the enemy.

      2. Engaging.

      This is considered a bad strategy, see the articles where Coyne establish how religion is correlated with denial of evolution and has to go.

      Many analyses finds, from observation no less, that engaging gives religion a platform. And that the strategy has been tried in accommodationist circles for a century and make no advances whatsoever.

      Here your attempts of analogy seems to fare better.

      Few atheists claim any one strategy would be successful, but many observe that the accommodationist strategy has failed.

      But we, as opposed to the thankfully rapidly shrinking part of the global population starving, have the option to choose. We can refuse without being hurt by the main consequences of choosing.

      I would say your analogy isn’t fully erroneous, it just isn’t applicable for most people. (Starving philosophers, see the Leiter link, may find it applicable.)

      • Posted May 13, 2013 at 7:26 am | Permalink

        Taking the prize money isn’t going over to them and helping them. It’s them handing over a weapon – cash. That point was not about working for them by accepting invitations to do work.

        Engaging – “This is considered a bad strategy” What? Even debate? Engaging isn’t a black and white issue, and that’s what I was describing. There are various ways in which engagement can take place.

        “This feels like theology”

        Then that’s your perception; and I don’t see how acknowledging the degrees and varieties of engagement amounts to angels dancing on pins. Analogies are usually imperfect, so I accept your “your analogy … just isn’t applicable for most people”, but I don’t see how your analogy fits at all.

        “Few atheists claim any one strategy would be successful, but many observe that the accommodationist strategy has failed.”

        Which is basically what I said – varieties of engagement.

        1) There is nothing accommodating about taking their prize and using it against them.

        2) There is nothing accommodating, with regard to their theology, in working on purely scientific projects, or demonstrating that their theology fails to be supported – that’s why I gave a specific biological example.

        3) It would be accommodationist to work on a project with vague theological claims which couldn’t be tested, just because you wanted to do the work without regard for the mileage it gives them, and if you didn’t object to and refuse to endorse the theological message.

        4) It would not only be accommodationists but outright supportive if you worked on a science project and like them you agreed it had theological implications.

        The latter two would be accommodationism I agree wouldn’t work in the favour of science. I’ve not seen any good argument for how being critical of them, taking their prize or even using their money, would be detrimental to free science.

        “Many analyses finds, from observation no less, that engaging gives religion a platform.”

        And the likes of Harris, Hitchens and Dawkins and others have regularly shared platforms, so giving a platform to the religious. Is giving religion a platform always a bad idea? I think you underestimate the capacity for the religious to make fools of themselves when faced with rational debate. Why would good science not further undo them, given the caveat of avoiding the (3) and (4).

  19. Peter
    Posted May 13, 2013 at 5:13 am | Permalink

    I’ll judge Sean’s work by his writing. If he continues to write in the same excellent vein as he does then I don’t care if he writes it from his Templeton funded house :)

    • peterr
      Posted May 13, 2013 at 6:14 am | Permalink

      Of course one would also read what Shockley says on inventing transistors and what a couple of Nazi mathematicians might have said about their very good theorems. That despite their much more obvious bad social opinions at the time. But, though I don’t feel negative on this about Sean Carroll who is nothing like those examples, and think the issue is less simple than is often said here, this is a different question to whether you can learn something from a person with whom you disagree.

      (Note again, just for clarity, that this ‘Peterr’ is the old ‘Peter’, replying to the new one.)

  20. Greg Esres
    Posted May 13, 2013 at 9:39 am | Permalink

    I will totally accept it! And use the funds to loudly evangelize for naturalism and atheism.

    Carroll isn’t one of the more effective naturalism evangelists, IMO, so any funds in this direction aren’t likely to be that productive. This strikes me more as a rationalization.

    • Posted May 13, 2013 at 9:49 am | Permalink

      Oh, why do you say so? I thought his Skepticon 5 talk was a very powerful argument for naturalism.

      Who would you put higher?

      /@

      • Greg Esres
        Posted May 13, 2013 at 10:50 am | Permalink

        Skepticon is singing to the choir. Evangelism means preaching to the heathens. There are only a handful of skeptics that are well-known outside of the skeptical community.

        If Carroll won the prize, it probably would do more good donated to the Dawkins Foundation, Secular Student Alliance, FFRF, or CFI.

        • Posted May 13, 2013 at 11:25 am | Permalink

          Point taken!

          I guess Sean needs to take his “we need to share it as widely and unambiguously as possible” to heart… 

          /@

        • Posted May 13, 2013 at 11:37 am | Permalink

          … although thinking about the “Fourth Horsemen” conversation on a previous thread, while I don’t think we need to “replace” Hitch, I’d note that three of the old four were widely known already for their writing on other topics. Anyone who aspires to “horseman” stature probably needs that kind of visibility outside of the “atheist movement” — and maybe Sean’s approaching that with his From Eternity to Here and The Particle at the End of the Universe. (Whereas Jerry’s had only one — albeit really good! – popular book. ;-) )

          /@

          • Greg Esres
            Posted May 13, 2013 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

            Anyone who aspires to “horseman” stature probably needs that kind of visibility outside of the “atheist movement”

            True. His books may help with that, but the audience is still one that probably already adheres to a naturalistic worldview.

            One other attribute that the four horsemen have is that they were willing to write books that outraged their cultural opponents. Maybe this is a requirement for real fame?


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