Templeton and the AAAS give money for seminaries to teach science and for scientists to become literate in theology

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS; the U.S.’s largest organization of scientists) has a program called DoSER, which stands for “Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion.” It’s run by Jennifer Wiseman, an astronomer who used to be Council President of the American Scientific Affiliation (“A network of Christians in the sciences”). The DoSER program was founded and funded by (who else?) the John Templeton Foundation, which granted DoSER nearly $5.4 million from January 1996 through February of this year.

I’ve always found DoSER an offense to science, as its purpose is explicitly to show that science is compatible with religion, something that, of course, is subject to dispute, and in effect it’s a theological claim and a theological enterprise. In fact, the laws of physics forced me to write The Albatross to counteract this ubiquitous drive for comity between two incompatible domains.

Now Templeton has given DoSER and the AAAS another dollop of cash to run a program called “Science for Seminaries.” Twelve lucky seminaries, pictures below, will get money not to teach science courses, but to somehow incorporate science into their religion courses:

Screen shot 2014-11-09 at 3.57.04 PM

Here’s some information about the program from the AAAS website.

A joint survey conducted in 2013 by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and sociologists at Rice University found that some Christians (particularly evangelicals) are more likely than other religious groups to consult a religious leader or fellow congregant if they have a scientific question. Science for Seminaries aims to equip religious leaders with a solid scientific foundation from which to answer such questions.

Curricula with integrated science for at least two core theological courses (such as those in systematic theology, biblical studies, church history, and pastoral theology) will be developed by each school and implemented in the initial school year. Additional course revisions and science resources will be made for the second school year. Because science will be integrated into core courses rather than sidelined in electives, the impact on each seminary will be significant.

How much money did Templeton shell out for this dubious project? It’s unclear, but, according to the Washington Post, it’s between $1.5 million and $3.75 million. That’s a lot of dosh!

Responding to a real or perceived gap between science and faith, 10 U.S. seminaries will receive a combined $1.5 million in grants to include science in their curricula, the American Association for the Advancement of Science announced Wednesday (Oct. 8).

A diverse set of Christian seminaries will be awarded grants ranging from $90,000 to $200,000 provided by the John Templeton Foundation, which has funded various efforts to bridge science and faith, including $3.75 million to AAAS for the project.

. . . The grants will cover faculty, events, science resources, guest speakers and other related costs. Seminaries could incorporate applicable issues of modern technology, methods of science or the history of science into courses seminary students already take, such as church history, ethics, pastoral counseling or systematic theology.

“There are interesting intersections of all these types of courses with either modern science or the history of science or the philosophy of science that would be very useful for these students to become acquainted with,” Wiseman said.

Why, I ask, is Templeton and the AAAS so interested in infusing science into seminaries? Wouldn’t the money be better invested in teaching minorities or underserved communities about science? After all, at least that carries the possibility that those kids might become scientists.

The purpose of the seminary program, of course, is not really to make America more science literate, but to blur the boundaries between science and religion, which has always been Templeton’s aim. Why else would the program work not by teaching straight science to theologians, but to somehow (and how is not clear) infuse science or “the history of science” (?) into courses including “pastoral counseling or systematic theology.” Like that’s worth $3.75 million!

What’s worse is that the program’s aims are deeper than that, for they include not only putting science into theology schools, but trying to teach theology to scientists, as the paragraph below shows. Talk about a waste of money! Why on earth do scientists need to become more theologically literate? Yes, it might be salubrious for most of us to know something about the history of religion, and about the nature of religion, but somehow I don’t think that’s what Templeton had in mind:

Here’s a paragraph on the program from the Association of Theological Schools (my emphasis):

ATS is in a partnership with The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in a project for which the AAAS has received grant funding from the Templeton Foundation. The goal is to incorporate science into theological school curricula and, thereby, influence future church leaders and people of faith. The project will also encourage theological literacy among scientists through a mutual exchange of ideas in one another’s professional contexts.

There it is again, the vaunted “constructive dialogue between science and faith.” Let me echo Laplace and say that, from the community of scientists, we don’t need that endeavor. If there is to be interchange, let it be not a constructive dialogue but a destructive monologue, one in which science’s efforts knock the props out from under faith, one by one. And religion has nothing to say to scientists, at least nothing that will help us in our work. All religionists can do is educate us about the nature and influence of divine fairy tales that have inimically influenced world culture. Do we really need that?

h/t: Smith


  1. Diana MacPherson
    Posted November 14, 2014 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    I wish there were a secular equivalent of Templeton that gave big $$ to do the opposite of what Templeton is doing or at least evangelize science and secular reasoning. This is why I wish I had bags of money. I’d fund all the things I wanted and shape history to my liking.

    Then I’d go back and look at my money and say “my precious”. 😀

  2. Posted November 14, 2014 at 11:44 am | Permalink

    I have a thought. How ’bout Templeton instead hand out the money as scholarships to students who leave the seminary altogether and enroll in science major degree programs at secular institutions?

    Let me guess…too much to ask, right?


  3. Posted November 14, 2014 at 11:59 am | Permalink

    This is where professors like Emerson McMullen of Georgia SU will end up.

    Also, it states it wants to “influence” the theologians, but “encourage theological literacy” among the scientists. What semantic crap. Theology is not, imo, a valid subject in a proper university. Religious Studies is fine, even good (I included some in my history degree), but what on earth is the point of teaching theology to scientists? Surely the goal, if it’s theology is also to influence. I suspect they’re looking to nab a few scientists to the dark side while they’re still young. In the theological schools, doubts that arise in young people will be explained away by counsellors and not allowed to fester.

    I find the whole thing revolting and it’s another of those times I find myself thinking, “Only in America”.

    • Barry Lyons
      Posted November 14, 2014 at 12:20 pm | Permalink

      “Revolting” is a good word here. I was thinking disgusting but revolting is better.

  4. GBJames
    Posted November 14, 2014 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    I was going to type “sub” but this works better:


    • Diane G.
      Posted November 14, 2014 at 2:43 pm | Permalink


  5. Draken
    Posted November 14, 2014 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    I have to ask: what on earth is “systematic theology”? Is that the sort where one makes an observation, formulates a hypothesis and then performs experiments to test the existence and providence of one or more gods?

    • Diane G.
      Posted November 14, 2014 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

      Or perhaps a phylogeny, showing how theologies “evolve” to deal with scientific necessities.

      • Posted November 14, 2014 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

        Does theogony recapitulate phylogeny?


        • Diane G.
          Posted November 14, 2014 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

          Had to look that one up. You amaze me. 😉

          I’d say theogony recapitulates scientific ontogeny.

  6. Sastra
    Posted November 14, 2014 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    The project will also encourage theological literacy among scientists through a mutual exchange of ideas in one another’s professional contexts.

    Aaaand … scientists can then use their new, well-grounded and theologically correct understanding of religion to make even better, clearer, more focused attacks on religion’s truth, relevance, and significance to modern understanding of the nature of reality. Game, set, match. Thanks, suckers.

    But no — it’s just going to be more fuzzy twaddle which either promotes inaccurate NOMA divisions, vague theological handwaving versions of “God,” or pseudoscience disguised as “hopeful” concordance where maybe THIS is where a skyhook can be shoved into a mess of intersecting explanatory cranes without the hard-won Jenga pile of human knowledge crashing down too spectacularly. It will only wobble a teeny tiny little bit. Surely science can give that much, when religion is being so kind as to admit what they can no longer deny without looking even more stupid than they must?

    No. No, science shouldn’t grant even that much, not even for seemingly noble short term goals. So belief in evolution will go up? Sure, but not actual understanding — just boxes ticked off on questionnaires. Heads nodded, yes: God works through evolution. One might as well team up with homeopaths to increase vaccinations, or promote mathematics as revealed truths of the past.

    • Scientifik
      Posted November 14, 2014 at 2:37 pm | Permalink

      “Heads nodded, yes: God works through evolution.”

      In other words, when you hear about the Ebola outbreak next time, remember, it’s God’s work! God so loved the world, that he gave us the constantly evolving bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens.

      Seriously, all this accommodationist business really does is attempt to interweave Middle Age superstitions into the body of 21st century knowledge of natural world.

  7. Randy Schenck
    Posted November 14, 2014 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    And some think the government wastes money. This Templeton really knows how to throw it.

  8. Posted November 14, 2014 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    At the end of the last Templeton post, our host referred to scientists who take Templeton money (hilariously) as prized stable ponies, or words to that effect. It’s funny to think seminarians are lodged there, too – but they bring more horsesh** than I would care to shovel!

    • Posted November 14, 2014 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

      And, since their hero was allegedly born in a manger, they should feel right at home!

  9. infiniteimprobabilit
    Posted November 15, 2014 at 4:17 am | Permalink

    So now the seminarians will be able to add heaps of pseudoscientific woo to their theologies. As if we didn’t already get enough pseudoscientific claptrap and gobbledook from the naturopath-homeopath-crystal healing-alternative medicine-New Age-audiophile communities. Quantum Jesus, anyone?

  10. Filippo
    Posted November 15, 2014 at 6:06 am | Permalink

    ” . . . found that some Christians (particularly evangelicals) are more likely than other religious groups to consult a religious leader or fellow congregant if they have a scientific question.”

    Recalling my experience growing up in the Southern Baptist church hinterland, consulting a fellow congregant and/or leader is the path of least resistance for one who attends church services/activities one or more times/week. (Much more convenient than driving to the state university 20-40 miles away and making an appointment with a professor, not an option in the case of the callow adolescent too young to drive, and whose science teachers don’t want the wrath of the local community on them for having broached “controversial” science topics.) I suspect the questioner is likely motivated by having heard of some scientific finding (with the potential for) conflicting with a faith tenet, and not by intellectual curiosity. Also probably some confirmation bias; one is going to get the answer one WANTS to hear, and what fellow congregants want him to want to hear, and be reassured.

    “Science for Seminaries aims to equip religious leaders with a solid scientific foundation from which to answer such questions.”

    Why don’t seminarians go for science majors prior to seminary? (Or do seminaries prefer/require humanities majors?) Why doesn’t Templeton encourage them to do so by underwriting science majors? (Could one reason be that, having received a bit of rational enlightenment from their science studies, too many would have built up immunity to “just so” indoctrination and would have decided not to go to divinity school?)

  11. Kevin
    Posted November 15, 2014 at 7:53 am | Permalink

    Templeton recognizes science is a bigger burning bush than they ever realized and they are trying to spit on a raging fire that is not going to go out.

    Science will burn the yard and then the house you live in…down…bitches.

  12. Posted November 15, 2014 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    The posts thus far have been great in wit and authority. I hope I don’t ‘mediocratize’ the skein with mine.

    But a word or two of empathy for students who are deeply confused by science’s destruction of their Christian metaphysics. As a case in point, I’m friends with a man and woman, now married, who were students in my seminar on the poetry of Whitman and Dickinson (at a secularized liberal arts college). They were then excellent students and are now very world-curious. In other words, would-be intellectuals. Yet in recent conversations I find that they are troubled by their inability to ‘accommodate’ their Christian upbringing with what they’re now aware of from reading in and thinking about science and philosophical naturalism. They don’t have a standpoint and don’t see how to develop one.

    I just can’t be hard on these folks. For, you see, they as humanists (i.e., students of the humanities) are the intellectual losers here, big time. They suspect that naturalism is the case with the universe and the very small part they have to play in it; but at the same time loss of faith, along with degrees in the humanities (and graduate school hopes), leave them yearning for an intellectual coherence that seems beyond their reach.

    That’s what plagues the best of young humanities graduates and post=graduates today, even those without Christian upbringings. In dismantling the ‘non-overlapping magisteria’ paradigm–something the philosophy of science needed to do to theology in order to serve the truth–the humanities went into the intellectual scrap-heap along with it.

    • Kevin
      Posted November 15, 2014 at 8:54 am | Permalink

      Humanities majors who are optomistic about life know how to leave the crucible that holds their faith inside. People who allow their naturalism to erode their workmanship are endorsing excuses for living life.

      If a person has a talent to write, think, dance, sing, act then their greatness is not hindered by their faith, it should be enhanced (though I claim that a life of delusion).

      If they are having trouble commuting that faith with their profession they need to lose the faith; it will make them happier and more productive. Short term anguish of their paradigm shift is far outweighted by the long term freedom.

    • rom
      Posted November 15, 2014 at 9:09 am | Permalink

      A couple of questions:
      Speaking personally my ‘beliefs’ in my formative years were never very strong so I never experienced this “loss”. So is it the loss that is the problem rather than not having a fixed perspective on the universe?

      Secondly … this question feeds into the the whole accommodation discussion, if I wanted to ‘deconvert’ someone of faith what is the best method? I know we can go into the ‘their crock is full’ mode, but then I think ultimately we need to be a little more subtle.

      Also I am well aware one size may not fit all.

      • Posted November 15, 2014 at 9:24 am | Permalink

        Thanks for these responses. While I admire Kevin’s ‘tough love’ approach to the matter, I guess I’m too timid a person to intervene. Now if my ex-students, now-friends asked me to help them, of course I would. And, rom, I have rather tentatively begun to do so with the man, by suggesting he read up on neuroscience. My hope would be that he come to see the belief in the soul as untenable. As for the woman, she really wants to be a poet with a real job on the side; her Christianity is shakier than his.

      • Posted November 15, 2014 at 10:31 am | Permalink

        If it helps…I have a difficult time imagining a single person being successful at single-handedly deconverting somebody else. I’m sure it could happen, but I certainly wouldn’t expect it. Nor is it something that’s going to happen overnight, either.

        Be honest with the person; that’s all you can really do. If you’re afraid of giving offense, you can reasonably tell the person that you have a very low opinion of religious belief, which is why it might be best to avoid the topic unless you’re both okay with a full-on confrontation. Liken it to politics; everybody understands that the subject can get pretty hot pretty fast, but that friends don’t have to vote the same way to be friends, and some friends are better off “not going there.”

        Just knowing that you are who you are and that you’re that way despite having an extremely opposed religious position may well be all it takes to get the person to realize that their own unquestioning confidence in their religious beliefs might be unwarranted.

        And, of course, if you’re both okay with a bit of heat, go ahead and be frank.



    • Posted November 15, 2014 at 10:23 am | Permalink

      In dismantling the ‘non-overlapping magisteria’ paradigm–something the philosophy of science needed to do to theology in order to serve the truth–the humanities went into the intellectual scrap-heap along with it.

      Sorry, but I don’t see how dismantling NOMA in any way tears down the humanities — save, of course, for theology.

      Shall I compare Bach to a Shakespearean sonnet? An oratorio by any other name would sound as sweet. That the gods who feature in Bach’s oratorios are no more real than the faeries of A Midsummer Night’s Dream no more diminish them than lilies diminish gold.

      Indeed, embracing reality can only do wonders for the humanities, the same way it’s done wonders for all other human endeavors. Trivially, technology empowers artists to easily realize visions that were all but unimaginable but a short while ago — Ansel Adams would have killed for a Canon 5DIII with a TS-E 24 f/3.5L II. Anybody who has a music degree can tell you that “form and analysis” is a most rigorous means of understanding both how composers of old wrote their works and how to effectively compose new works today.

      Richard Dawkins famously waxes poetic about how a thorough understanding of Newtonian optics makes the rainbow all the more beautiful without even slightly diminishing its naïve prettiness. The exact same holds true with the humanities. Somebody in a pew may enjoy the sounds coming from the organ, but it’s the musicians who truly appreciate the performance.



  13. Smith Powell
    Posted November 15, 2014 at 1:03 pm | Permalink

    According to Wikipedia:

    Systematic theology is a discipline of Christian theology that formulates an orderly, rational, and coherent account of the Christian faith and beliefs. Subdisciplines are dogmatics, ethics and philosophy of religion.[1]

    Systematic theology draws on (but not limited to) the foundational sacred texts of Christianity, while simultaneously investigating the development of Christian doctrine over the course of history, particularly through philosophy, science and ethics. Inherent to a system of theological thought is that a method is developed, one which can be applied both broadly and particularly. Using biblical texts, it attempts to compare and relate all of scripture and create a systematized statement on what the whole Bible says about particular issues. There are ten basic areas (or categories) of systematic theology, however the exact list may vary slightly.

    • Theology Proper – The study of the character of God
    • Bibliology – The study of the bible
    • Christology – The study of Christ
    • Pneumatology – The study of the Holy Spirit
    • Soteriology – The study of salvation
    • Anthropology – The study of the nature of humanity
    • Hamartiology – The study of sin
    • Angelology – The study of angels
    • Ecclesiology – The study of the church
    • Eschatology – The study of the end times[2]

    I do wonder how science will be incorporated in courses covering these topics. It will be interesting to see. I look forward to seeing the course materials as well as the resources developed for them.

  14. Smith Powell
    Posted November 15, 2014 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    In particular, I look forward to the short educational videos that AAAS will develop in support of this program.

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