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.
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.