Templeton gives big grants to bridge gap between science and Islam and find God in physics

What is Templeton doing with its millions these days? As usual, infusing religion into science, thereby corrupting the latter.  Two items have caught my attention:

1. According to Gulfnews.com, the Templeton Foundation has given $817,000 (what I calculate is “Dh 3M”) to the American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates

Muslim students across the region now have the opportunity to delve into ongoing debates on the relationship between science and religion.

This opportunity comes after a recent Dh3 million grant was awarded by the John Templeton Foundation to Prof Nidhal Guessoum, professor of physics at the American University of Sharjah (AUS). Prof Guessoum and Dr Jean Staune from the Interdisciplinary University of Paris were jointly awarded for their proposal titled ‘Islam and Science: An educational approach’.

“In recent years, I have been involved in discussing science and religion, particularly Islam, worldwide,” Prof Guessoum said. “The idea behind the proposal is to widen the discussion and address it more specifically for students.”

And this isn’t about pure science: it’s about science and religion together, in mutual and loving harmony:

“International discussion on science and religion is taking place at an advanced level — and we need to produce a new generation of scholars who can bring the Islamic voice to them,” the astrophysicist said. “The goal is for us to produce educational material from the workshops so other students and the general public will benefit from them; which is part of a larger initiative to produce more information and knowledge.”. . .

Applications to attend the workshops are open to all students in the respective countries. However, up to 25 students will be chosen per workshop based on a mandatory academic essay about the relationship between Islam and an area of science.

2.  The Templeton Foundation has just announced a huge initiative (over 5 million dollars) to support “New Frontiers in Astronomy and Physics.” God help me, it’s administered by The University of Chicago and directed by Donald G. York, a professor in the U. of C.’s Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics. It will support 15 grants in theory or experimental work (up to $500,000 each) and monetary prizes of up to $50,000 to 16  high-school and college students for essays.  That’s $50,000 for an essay, for crying out loud! What a waste of money. Here are the essay topics:

For high school students:

    1. Are we alone in the universe? Or, are there other life and intelligence beyond the solar system? ($25,000 top prize)

For college students:

  1. What is the origin of the complexity in the universe? ($50,000 top prize)

Such opportunities for woo, and lots of cash to be made!

The research grants are for work on four “Big Questions”:

  1. What was the earliest state of the universe?
  2. Is the observable universe unique or is it part of a larger multiverse?
  3. What is the origin of complexity in the universe?
  4. Are we alone in the universe? Or, are there other life and intelligence beyond the solar system?

The predictable response from accommodationists and scientists eager to grab those bucks is, “So what? The money will be used for science, and if it’s funded by an organization devoted to marrying science and woo, who cares? Our work will be pure!” Well, consider that the eight “honorary advisors” to the program are all previous Templeton Prize winners (most of them religious), including Paul Davies, Martin Rees, Freeman Dyson, and John Polkinghorne. They’ve already earned their million pounds, and have now been installed permanently into the Templeton Stable. And they’ve been given the job of overseeing this program. Which brings up the second point: scientists who take this money are proudly paraded on the Templeton website (and usually given further employment or grants by the Foundation!), which gives credibility to Templeton’s real mission: to marry science and faith.

One scientist who isn’t buying this is Peter Woit, a mathematician at Columbia University who criticized this Templeton Initiative in a post at his website, Not Even Wrong, called “Templeton millions“:

Normally I try and avoid editorializing directly about news like this, but this time I’ll make an exception. I think what is going on here is very dangerous. The Templeton Foundation’s agenda is not the advancement of science, it is the advancement of a particular religious point of view about what science is and how it should be done. They are very cleverly putting large sums of money into backing theology and pseudo-scientific research at the most prestigious academic institutions in the world. One reason that these places are happily taking the money is because public funding is drying up. The organization is extremely wealthy, and now led by Templeton’s son, who when he isn’t spending his father’s money on this is spending it on promoting Rick Santorum’s political career or other far-right causes (see here for example).

Woit also calls attention to a new Templeton-funded position:

. . . DAMTP at Cambridge has just posted a job ad for Templeton-funded hiring in “Philosophy of Cosmology”. Note that this hiring is not in the Philosophy department but in the physics department. The announcement says that there will also be a similar job at Oxford. The “Philosophy of Cosmology” grants used to fund this and similar positions in the US seem to involve at least a couple million dollars, more here and in my earlier blog entry about this.

Finally, and this makes me sad, Woit notes that physicist Sean Carroll,—who, on the website Cosmic Variance, has previously objected to Templeton sticking its nose into the tent of science—has now changed his tune. Here’s Carroll in 2005, writing at Preposterious Universe explaining why he wasn’t taking Templeton money to go to a conference:

I personally am in no danger of winning the Templeton Prize, having gone on record repeatedly as saying that science and religion are intellectually inconsistent, and that taking science seriously as a method for understanding the world is incompatible with honest religious belief. (Yes, I know, not everyone agrees with me.) But I recently received an invitation to speak at Amazing Light, a conference in Berkeley in honor of Charles Townes. The conference is devoted to science, not anything about religion, and I was asked to give a standard review talk about dark matter and dark energy. But the timing was suspiciously close to the announcement of Townes’ Templeton Prize, and a quick glance at the conference web page revealed that it was indeed receiving funding from the Templeton Foundation. It is being organized by something called the Metanexus Institute, and is part of a program known as Foundational Questions — organizations that are somehow associated with the Templeton web.

So I thought about turning down the invitation, since I didn’t want to get mixed up with this group with whose purpose I completely disagree. But the conference program seemed innocuous, and the impressive list of participants is full of good and smart people, so eventually I accepted. I figured that there wasn’t a moral obligation to completely dissociate myself from any activity involving people with whom I have disagreements. After all, some of my best friends are even Republicans.

Upon further review, I’ve changed my mind, and decided not to go to the conference after all. (As of right now my name is still on the list of participants, but it will go away eventually.) I talked to Mark, with whom I’ve discussed these issues before, and he made an argument that seems pretty convincing. The point is that the entire purpose of the Templeton Foundation is to blur the line between straightforward science and explicitly religious activity, making it seem like the two enterprises are part of one big undertaking. It’s all about appearances. You have a splashy scientific conference featuring a long list of respected participants, and then you proudly tout the event on a separate web page for your program to bring science and religion together. It doesn’t matter that I am a committed atheist, simply giving a talk on interesting findings in modern cosmology; my name would become implicitly associated with an effort I find to be woefully misguided. There are plenty of conferences, with less objectionable sources of funding; I can give this one a pass.

But now he’s in favor of the new physics initiative, as he wrote on March 2 at Cosmic Variance:

A group of philosophers and scientists interested in cosmology have started a new project, funded by the Templeton Foundation, imaginatively titled the Rutgers Templeton Project on Philosophy of Cosmology. It’s a great group of people, led by David Albert and Barry Loewer, and I’m looking forward to interesting things from them. (Getting tiresome questions quickly out of the way: like the Foundational Questions Institute or the World Science Festival, I’m totally in favor of this project even though I’m not a big fan of the Templeton Foundation. This isn’t the place to talk about that, okay?)

Why isn’t this the place to talk about that if Carroll sees Templeton money as tainted?

I consider Sean a friend, though I’ve never met him. I’m a big fan of his website, and he’s helped me out many times with physics questions.  So I’m not going to lambaste him here, but merely point out the inconsistency of his views (and I’ll send him this link). Why is it okay for physicists to take Templeton money sometimes, but not at other times—like the perfectly innocuous physics conference that Carroll didn’t attend?  And, the real Big Question that nobody wants to answer is this:

How odious or woo-laden must an organization be before scientists should no longer take money from it?

Would Carroll approve of a physics project funded by the Catholic Church? How about the Southern Baptists? The Tea Party? The white-nationalist Council of Conservative Citizens?

These organizations won’t fund physics, of course, but that’s not the point.  The point is whether taking money from organizations with woo- or hate-laden agendas is somehow okay.  Sure, scientists who pocket Templeton grants can say, “At least the money I take won’t be used to promote religion,” but it does—it does by lending their names to the Templeton agenda, thereby giving it credibility.

As Sean said, “The point is that the entire purpose of the Templeton Foundation is to blur the line between straightforward science and explicitly religious activity, making it seem like the two enterprises are part of one big undertaking. It’s all about appearances.” And I agree with him 100%.  I just wonder why, since that agenda is still in force, it’s now okay for physicists to take more than $5 million in Templeton funds.

h/t: Todd

24 Comments

  1. gbjames
    Posted March 17, 2012 at 6:26 am | Permalink

    sub.

  2. Posted March 17, 2012 at 6:28 am | Permalink

    No, it’s worse than lending prestige to Templeton. Eventually, if the far-right further undermines education and science in the United States, there will be no NSF or NIH or NIMH, and money from Templeton and other right wing foundations will not just be “just as good” as real grants, it’ll be the only funds available to do science. That’s their end game.

  3. Posted March 17, 2012 at 7:24 am | Permalink

    Simpleton is a wolf with cashier’s clothing.

  4. SLC
    Posted March 17, 2012 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    It’s very simple, one who gets into the pen with the pigs may expect to emerge with a coating of mud.

  5. Ken Pidcock
    Posted March 17, 2012 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    Sorry to hear that about Sean Carroll. I’d have thought his bread is already secured.

  6. Sigmund
    Posted March 17, 2012 at 9:14 am | Permalink

    Barry Loewer, who is a philosopher rather than a physicist – although some of his previous work involves looking a philosophical issues associated with quantum theory and cosmology – describes the project thus:
    “The goal of the project is define philosophy of Cosmology as a distinctive field within philosophy of science. We will be thinking about issues concerning the multiverse, fine tuning arguments, the direction of time, the interpretations of quantum mechanics, and the metaphysics of laws and objective chance.”
    You can probably guess where Templeton sees the meat in that particular sandwich.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted March 17, 2012 at 9:32 am | Permalink

      If they will be ‘thinking’ about “fine tuning arguments”, it is decidedly a covert religious think tank. Who else would care at the current state of knowledge? (Well, maybe philosophers.) Likely there isn’t any finetuning going on due to environmental selection, or if that fails it is very much ill defined.

      As Stenger and others independently of him have found, you can take away the weak force totally or covary parameters to get a vast space of beneficial outcomes re life.

    • Badger3k
      Posted March 17, 2012 at 11:18 am | Permalink

      In other words, they won’t be doing any actual work, just sitting and wanking. And seeing who can be the next to win the Templeton prize. Shame about Carroll, he always seemed to be one of the good guys. Guess everyone has their price.

      • Posted March 17, 2012 at 11:28 am | Permalink

        Carroll is one of the good guys: he won’t take Templeton money himself, but won’t criticize others who do. I can understand that frame of mind, though I disagree with it. And he’s NOT being bought off: he has no “price”: he has integrity.

        • Badger3k
          Posted March 17, 2012 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

          “he has no “price”…”

          So far. But you say he won’t criticize others for taking Templeton money, even though he will make a stand himself (at no cost to him) by his conference non-attendance. Yet when money is involved he’ll hold his nose and say support the project? Maybe bought off is too strong, but it stinks of something. If he’s going to say the money is tainted, then turn around and say that he supports projects paid for with such money…aren’t there words for views like that? Hopefully I’m wrong, but we’ve seen other scientists go down this road, so why should he be any different?

  7. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted March 17, 2012 at 9:27 am | Permalink

    Glad you noticed Carroll’s proclamation, because I was wondering the same thing. Maybe the FQxi hasn’t been a successful Templeton vehicle, after all they do have some agreement that Templeton wouldn’t get any dependent work from them. On the other hand Tegmark is a super-Platonist, so he is already halfway to dualist Crazy Town.

    Peter Woit, a mathematician

    Last I checked Woit wasn’t a mathematician (or theoretical physicist) any more than Dembski is, he stopped publishing in the 90s IIRC. He was, as I remember it, a part time professor of mathematics at Columbia, part time responsible for computer rooms.

    He _is_ still famous for being a full time physics crank though, going after string theory (and as I remember it letting the worse alternatives for “quantum gravity” slip) for some reason or other. At least the cranks that goes after relativity waited for it to be reasonably tested and accepted…

    • Posted March 17, 2012 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

      I have no idea who “Torbjorn Larsson” is or why he is slandering me here. Googling that name looking for anyone with credentials of any kind in this subject turns up nothing. For some reason, criticizing the string theory multiverse seems to lead not to a reasoned response, but to this kind of attack.

      For those who don’t know anything about me, if you want to decide who is the crank here, here are some facts:

      I have a Ph.D. in particle theory from Princeton (1985), held postdocs at Stony Brook (ITP, Physics) and Berkeley (MSRI, Mathematics), came to Columbia as an Assistant Professor in Mathematics, and now hold a full-time, untenured but permanent position there with the title of “Senior Lecturer”. My responsibilities include teaching one course/semester (this semester I’m teaching our graduate course in Lie groups and representation theory), as well as, yes, managing the department computer system (this year I’m also coordinating our Calculus sections).

      I spend about half my time on research, and won’t object to anyone who points out that I don’t write enough about this work. Some things I have written in recent years are
      available though at

      http://arxiv.org/abs/hep-th/0206135

      and

      http://www.math.columbia.edu/~woit/brstdirac.pdf

    • ossicle
      Posted March 19, 2012 at 2:00 pm | Permalink

      Talk about projection. Woit is a reasonable, unfailingly civil critic of string theory. String theory zealots though — they’re another story.

  8. Posted March 17, 2012 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    Why am I having trouble making a comment?

    • Marella
      Posted March 17, 2012 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

      Something is going down with WordPress, try another email address.

  9. RodW
    Posted March 17, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Permalink

    Hers another Templeton Funded project that seems to be off everyones radar: ‘The Map of Life Project’
    http://www.mapoflife.org/index/ Its seems to be dedicated to explaining examples of convergent evolution. If it wasnt funded by Templeton I wouldnt be suspicious- the writeups are very good. Perhaps they’re hoping that rumminating on examples of convergent evolution will lead to teleological thinking… or maybe it is completely legit!

  10. Posted March 17, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    Fusing religion with science is mostly for those Muslims who are in deep denial and cannot let go of either science or God, in my honest opinion. I did it myself at some point. Middle Eastern science books are flooded with Quranic verses that supposedly show the scientific miracles of Islam.

    Many of these miracles are pseudo-scientific themselves and do not show you the whole picture. Add to that, IF some of the Quran’s verses has been scientifically proven (where you’ll need to put up quite the show, play your cards well and deceive as many people as possible), there are the many others that have been proven wrong.

  11. Posted March 17, 2012 at 1:54 pm | Permalink

    “Why Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world… but for Wales?”

    /@

  12. Diane G.
    Posted March 17, 2012 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    IMO JAC’s said all that needs to be said and covered any possible counter-arguments; despite which we’re surely doomed to hearing them again and again and again. Anybody else dizzy?

  13. Dermot C
    Posted March 17, 2012 at 4:16 pm | Permalink

    Follow the money: according to wikipedia, Templeton senior renounced his U.S. citizenship in 1964, thereby avoiding (evading? – can’t recall which is the legal verb) over $100 million in income taxes when he sold his investment fund. He took dual British and Bahamaian nationality; on the latter island, there is no income tax, corporate tax, capital gains tax, value-added tax (VAT), or wealth tax.

    He was also known for his “buy when there’s blood in the streets” pholosophy. I have no idea what this means but it doesn’t sound as if it squares with his professed interest in “the nature of love, gratitude, forgiveness, and creativity.”

    The Sunday Times used to run features exposing practitioners of “the unacceptable face of capitalism”, such as the Vesteys; perhaps an economist or an economic journalist could attempt a similar job on JT senior. How did he acquire all that dosh?

    • Tim
      Posted March 18, 2012 at 10:46 am | Permalink

      What does “buy when there’s blood in the streets” mean? Maybe it’s along the lines of Andrew Mellon’s comment, “In a depression, assets return to their rightful owners.”

      (I know, you really did know what it meant.)

  14. ForCarl
    Posted March 17, 2012 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

    Looks like the Templeton leprachauns are dancing on the graves of Einstein and Sagan. Any scientist who doesn’t see that needs to turn in his/her badge of honor, that is if they ever owned one in the first place.

  15. FastLane
    Posted March 19, 2012 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    I wonder how the written papers will be judged. What if a really bright HS student answers the question “Are we alone in the universe? Or, are there other life and intelligence beyond the solar system?” with “Probably, and there is no evidence for a ‘higher power’ that we have seen.”?

    If it’s well written, well supported, and the ‘best’ written paper in the bunch, who wants to bet it would win over a woo laden paper that comes to the conclusion that Templeton prefers?

    Anyone wanna take some long odds? =)

  16. Posted March 20, 2012 at 6:34 pm | Permalink

    Who or what is in the greater danger, science or religion?


%d bloggers like this: