Templeton back at the World Science Festival

This year’s World Science Festival in New York is undeniably a good thing, and that’s why the Templeton Foundation has got its sticky fingers into the program again.  They’re sponsoring three discussions, and guess what they’re about:

1.  The Limits of Understanding.

2.  The Future of Thinking.

And, of course, it wouldn’t be a proper World Science Festival without a panel on

3.   Faith and Science:

For all their historical tensions, scientists and religious scholars from a wide variety of faiths ponder many similar questions—how did the universe begin? How might it end? What is the origin of matter, energy, and life? The modes of inquiry and standards for judging progress are, to be sure, very different. But is there a common ground to be found? ABC News’ Bill Blakemore moderates a panel that includes evolutionary geneticist Francisco Ayala, astrobiologist Paul Davies, Biblical scholar Elaine Pagels and Buddhist scholar Thupten Jinpa. These leading thinkers who come at these issues from a range of perspectives will address the evolving relationship between science and faith.

I suppose the Science Festival is so delighted to have Templeton’s money (after all, the organization is one of their “founding benefactors“) that they’ll permit the incursion of panels stacked with Templeton people. Davies and Ayala are both Templeton Prize winners, and Davies’ research is funded by Templeton (see here, too).

But wait—why is the World Science Festival hosting a panel like this, anyway? Isn’t the science festival supposed to be about science, not about how to reconcile it with superstition? Did Templeton specify this panel as a condition for funding, or was it done as a favor to the Foundation by director Brian Greene? (Greene’s own work has also been funded by Templeton.)  The Festival has had a Templeton-sponsored faith-and-science-accommodation panel every year since at least 2008 (I turned down an invitation in 2009), so this is not a one-off thing.

As long as the WSF is pitching woo, how about this panel for next year?

4.  Homeopathy and Medicine:

For all their historical tensions, physicians and homeopaths ponder many similar questions—how do we cure people of diseases? Does surgery really work?  What is the efficacy of treating infectious disease with distilled water? The modes of inquiry and standards for judging progress are, to be sure, very different. But is there a common ground to be found?

I wish to God Templeton would keep its filthy mitts off the World Science Festival—indeed, off science, period—but that’s not going to happen so long as the Foundation has deep pockets and there are scientists with outstretched hands.

UPDATE: I missed one symposium sponsored by Templeton: Back to the Big Bang: Inside the Large Hadron Collider.


  1. Posted June 1, 2010 at 1:26 pm | Permalink

    They could always forward a compensatory damages check to Project Reason for “lost” ground.

  2. NewEnglandBob
    Posted June 1, 2010 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    Are they allowed to have this festival Friday and Saturday? Aren’t they required to accommodate the potential Muslim and Jewish attendees?

    Bad Templeton, for only accommodating Christians and non-Abrahamic religious people.

  3. Kevin
    Posted June 1, 2010 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    Dammit…Ayala JUST GOT DONE SAYING that science shouldn’t intrude on religion and religion shouldn’t impede science.

    And now THIS…with religion stomping all over science as if it weren’t there.

    Once again: The question of origins (and ending) of the universe is NOT a religious one. The question of matter, energy, and life is NOT a religious one.

    YOU said science and religion were “non-overlapping” ways of looking at the world. WE want you to keep your word and stay out of science space.

    And therefore, the answer to your common ground question is, firmly, “no”. Stay over there, where you belong, while the adults do the hard work.

    If feel as if you must have something to do, please answer the cheeseburger question.

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted June 1, 2010 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

      The answer to the cheeseburger question is:

      No Coke, Pepsi.

  4. Ophelia Benson
    Posted June 1, 2010 at 2:46 pm | Permalink


  5. Posted June 1, 2010 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    Did you notice each page has a blank where an image with The Templeton Foundation should be:

    “This event made possible with the support of

    as part of the Big Ideas Series”

    I guess the limits of its understanding are web graphics and / or html.

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted June 1, 2010 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

      I see Their logo with the words:

      John Templeton Foundation
      Supporting science . Investing in the Big Questions

      • Posted June 1, 2010 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

        Okay, their limit of understanding only applies to Firefox.

        BTW, doesn’t Paul Davies look like George Rekers?

        • artikcat
          Posted June 1, 2010 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

          These comments are so cheesy. your darts should be aimed at the organizers not the foundation. you realize how much are they enjoying the attention?? they were outmanouvered, so were we

          • Posted June 2, 2010 at 10:17 am | Permalink

            My apologies. My darts are aimed at the choir who comment here. So I admit that they are not even attempting to seriously deal with the issue, they are still fun.

    • Michael Kingsford Gray
      Posted June 1, 2010 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

      It is a photo of their God!

  6. Gunga Lagunga
    Posted June 1, 2010 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

    Bah. I got your “limits of understandingRIGHT HERE…

    Wanna learn how? Right here:


    (What? It’s BIOLOGY-Mechanics. Very relevant to Professor Coyne’s blog…)

  7. Reginald Selkirk
    Posted June 1, 2010 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    Davies and Ayala are both Templeton Prize winners, and Davies’ research is funded by Templeton (see here, too).

    It’s a pity Templeton prize winner Charles Colson, a YEC, was not available for this panel.

  8. MadScientist
    Posted June 1, 2010 at 3:49 pm | Permalink

    I’d like to know what buddhism and the bible say about the early moments of the universe and which cock-and-bull story is true. The “world-view” nonsense is extremely annoying. “We have all these world-views and science is just one of them.” And yet the purveyors of bullshit never come up with anything of substance, just more vapid claims of some sky fairy.

  9. Posted June 1, 2010 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

    Ah, there’s Sean Carroll (in the pingback). Good. Fightback.

  10. True_Q
    Posted June 2, 2010 at 1:00 am | Permalink

    Brian Greene is a string theorist I think. And you need a lot of faith for working on this idea so it’s not a surprise that he sold his soul to the devil. Though I havn’t known that he had grant from Tempelton’s.
    I like you a little bit less, Brian Greene.

    • Sigmund
      Posted June 2, 2010 at 3:31 am | Permalink

      I guess the Templetons have spotted a potential new gap to squeeze their God into and are simply covering their bases. A “God of the Strings” is probably a lot easier to sell to a credulous public accustomed to the traditional religious notions of a grand puppeteer in the sky.

    • Posted June 2, 2010 at 4:40 am | Permalink

      Greene seemed to be a naturalist and a determinist (if one includes quantum waveforms into the picture) in his book “Fabric of the Cosmos”. I’m a bit surprised to see any Templeton affilation.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted June 2, 2010 at 7:21 am | Permalink

      you need a lot of faith for working on this idea

      No, you don’t – string theory (ST) is the main stream theory.

      I say theory since it is predictive, it is decidedly not an “idea” and it has passed some tests already, see below. But first of all it is convenient physics and math, that has found uses everywhere from cosmology over superconductor systems to QCD phenomena. So people would be “working” on this, regardless.

      Second, it is a predictive effective theory like quantum field theories. Among its predictions are QCD “flux tubes”, black hole entropy and the anthropic principle cosmology (APC). (See historical accounts of ST.)

      In fact, when you combine ST ~ 10^500 possible geometries with APC it predicts the cosmological constant all on its own, bypassing Weinberg’s ingenious bootstrap environmental prediction of the same. (See here.)

      And ST is currently the one shot we know of for a more fundamental theory beyond the Planck regime, if there is such a beast. Quantum gravity theories all predict that this regime is discrete and granular, in fact they are based on it. While the supernova photon timing probes astronomers have observed rejects inertial frame fluctuations on this scale. (I say “inertial frame” since spacetime is emergent on theses scales. Ref; http://arxiv.org/PS_cache/hep-ph/pdf/0506/0506221v1.pdf“>background discussion.) So out they go.

      The problem so far is that ST “low energy” (well) effective predictions related above are all covered by existing theory. Nobody knows if that will change, but there is no reason why not.

  11. bad Jim
    Posted June 2, 2010 at 2:13 am | Permalink

    People want narrative explanations, first of all, and they deeply desire to be told that they are not only special but necessary, that the universe exists only to give rise to them. Isn’t this what our mothers told us?

    Revealed truth unsurprisingly tells us the same thing, which makes science a hard sell even before mathematics enters the scene. What does it say of us that less than a half can countenance an equation?

  12. oldfuzz
    Posted June 2, 2010 at 9:44 pm | Permalink

    I know not her topic, but Elaine Pagels is worth a listen. Calling her a Biblical scholar, while correct, casts her in a general light. Specifically, she is a skillful literary critic. Her best work, in my view, is Beyond Belief.

    It would be interesting to know whether she still considers herself a theist.

    • Posted June 3, 2010 at 5:39 am | Permalink

      Well, she goes to church, so I’d say she’s probably a theist.

      I liked her “The Gnostic Gospels” and “The Origin of Satan”.

  13. Delano Hill
    Posted June 5, 2010 at 5:42 pm | Permalink

    I find it interesting, most of the so-called “minds” are always against progress because it threatens thier space. Really, you seem as pre-historic as the medical profession has always been. Many ideas or concepts have not been proven but are yet considered. Those are the real “minds” of this century.

    • Torbjörn Larsson, OM
      Posted June 6, 2010 at 10:54 am | Permalink

      You should realize that you make absolutely no sense, even removing the dross of nondescript language. There is no scarcity of hypotheses (even less untestable “ideas”), there is a scarcity of facts.

      Happily medicine is no longer such a deficit area. With the adoption of EBM we can expect the same type of reinforced progress as in other areas touched by empirical methods.

3 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. […] have to agree with Jerry Coyne here: the program on Faith and Science at this year’s World Science Festival is a mistake. I […]

  2. […] have to agree with Jerry Coyne here: the program on Faith and Science at this year’s World Science Festival is a mistake. I […]

  3. […] and Science panel at the 2010 World Science Festival, there was some concern expressed (here and here) about our sponsors' influence on programming. In light of such criticism, we thought it would be a […]

%d bloggers like this: