Krauss reacts to the Templeton-funded “Science and religion” project at Arizona State

This morning I posted about the Think Write Publish “Science and religion” project at Arizona State University (ASU), which is funded by the John Templeton Foundation —apparently to the tune of a few hundred thousand bucks. The project’s explicit aim is to show the public that science and religion are compatible, and the Project Leader is Daniel Sarewitz, described on the TWP site this way:

Daniel Sarewitz is Professor of Science and Society in the School for the Future of Innovation and Society, and co-director and co-founder of the Consortium for Science, Policy, and Outcomes, at Arizona State University (  He is the editor of the magazine Issues in Science and Technology (, and a regular columnist for Nature. His most recent book is The Techno-Human Condition(2011; co-authored with Braden Allenby; MIT Press).

Since my colleague and fellow nonbeliever Lawrence Krauss is also at ASU, where he’s a Foundation Professor, Director of the ASU Origins Project and Co-director of the Cosmology Initiative, I sent him my post with the links to “Science and Religion Project.”  I wasn’t particularly soliciting a response from him, but just calling it to his attention. But I got a response anyway, which I post with permission:

I am surprised that the same day I heard about this, I saw this article about a worrisome essay by the same colleague, Dan Sarewitz, that appeared to argue against curiosity driven research.  This statement blew me away:

“But I’m not really talking much about sciences like cosmology, say, or subatomic particle physics, which no one expects to have a practical application — and where it really doesn’t matter if the results are true or not.”

I think that makes his leadership of this program attempting to claim non-existent harmonies between science and religion more understandable, if, when discussing the universe he doesn’t really care about what is true or not, and therefore probably  doesn’t understand how we can distinguish between the two. Still, for someone who claims that science should be serving the public good, and not merely produce knowledge, it is disappointing that he would support people wasting time on this instead of producing good scholarship.

It’s not good PR, if you’re head of a science and religion program, to say that in some areas of science the truth doesn’t matter. It’s even worse if you’re at the same university as someone like Krauss!


UPDATE:  I now remember that I wrote about Sarewitz in a piece for Slate, “No faith in science.” In that piece I criticize him for claiming that religious faith was no different from the kind of “faith” that scientists have in something like the Higgs boson.”


  1. GBJames
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 12:02 pm | Permalink


  2. Ted Lawry
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    Is that what he thinks about religion? As long as it makes people happy, who cares if it’s true? Is he saying that if some sciences can occupy the “who cares if it’s true” then religion can too? Is that his justification for religious belief? Is that going to help the public care more about religion? And why does he need several hundred thousand in “research” money if that’s the best he can do?

    • gravelinspector-Aidan
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

      As long as it makes people happy, who cares if it’s true?

      Would you like some soma with your joint.

  3. Randall Schenck
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 1:37 pm | Permalink

    I found this statement by Sarewitz to be a bit odd when describing items that Science should be doing – “more equitable economic prosperity”. Seems more like an area for people in economics, political science and tax specialist. Is this really something that scientists would be working on?

  4. Posted August 29, 2016 at 1:56 pm | Permalink

    Sarewitz does not understand that mobile phones and, indeed, all computers these days — including the ones in cars, refrigerators, washing machines, the internet, space vessels and mucn else — are devices based on quantum mechanics, the same theory which explains “subatomic particles”. So it does indeed have an extremely important practical application.

    • Michael Vousden
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

      To be fair the ‘technology’ of semiconductors was proceeding independently or the theory long before any Copenhagen Interpretation even developed. Many phenomena were recognised and developed without knowing ‘why’ certain materials behaved the way they did.
      Sarewitz is still way tyoo narrow in his appreciation of scientific methodology to run such a project without prejudice.

      • Posted August 30, 2016 at 12:13 pm | Permalink

        Didn’t know that. Haven’t really studied the history of solid-state physics. Thanks.

      • Andrei
        Posted August 30, 2016 at 7:48 pm | Permalink

        While it is true that some semiconducting materials were known before QM gave an explanation for their behavior in the 30-s, it is hard to imagine the tech could advance past cat whiskers and metal rectifiers of the 40-s without a solid theoretical foundation.

        I’d recommend John Bardeen’s Nobel Lecture on semiconductors for the history of these developments:

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

      As well as atom bombs

  5. Ken Kukec
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    “… sciences like cosmology, say, or subatomic particle physics … where it really doesn’t matter if the results are true or not.”

    Proof once again of Orwell’s aphorism that “some ideas are so stupid only intellectuals believe them.”

  6. rickflick
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    oy vey.

  7. colnago80
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    As I mentioned on the previous thread, Prof. Paul Davies, who is a creationist, turns out to be the director of BEYOND: Center for Fundamental Concepts in Science at ASU.

    His latest field of interest is astrobiology (he is physicist by training). Let us just say that Larry Moran has a low opinion of his biology bonafides based on his writings on that topic. He has expressed great skepticism about the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe, based on some very dubious calculations. Maybe Prof. Krauss might want to comment on him.

  8. Diana MacPherson
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    Ha ha – it doesn’t matter if it’s true or not. We’re all just dabbling here – just like making mud pies in the garden!

  9. Posted August 29, 2016 at 7:12 pm | Permalink

    I have on-the-side thoughts regarding this statement: “Since my colleague and fellow nonbeliever Lawrence Krauss is also at ASU…”

    What makes Lawrence a colleague? That he has a PhD? That he’s an public intellectual and atheist with a PhD?

    I’m wondering as, if it isn’t the latter, then anyone with a doctorate regardless of field would qualify as a colleague. And that seems awfully generous. So since Lawrence is trained in theoretical physics and not biology/genetics, I’m guessing the colleague affinity has to do with atheism?

  10. Leigh Jackson
    Posted October 2, 2016 at 5:51 am | Permalink

    Sarewitz appears to think that science for its own sake is now a waste of time. We know enough already. Science which doesn’t help to solve human problems or elucidate the meaning of existence is worthless by comparison. The discovery of the Higgs doesn’t help to elucidate the meaning of life but it does require faith to believe in if you don’t understand the maths which describes it. Other ways of understanding/faith which are not scientifically rational can help to show us the meaning of existence. This means that ideological challenges to science are not necessarily scientifically ignorant.
    That is his position as far as I can judge from his Saving Science essay and his account of his religious (psychotic) experience at the Angkor temples in Cambodia. His account is somewhat reminiscent of Francis Collins and the waterfall. (Google Sarewitz Angkor)

    Saving Science is tendentious tripe. Sarewitz’s project is tailor-made for Templeton bucks.

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  1. […] Over the next few years, as you see things like this make it into the media, realize that this is not evidence of an intellectual trend, but a reflection of Templeton money and their agenda. ASU’s Lawrence Krauss is, for good reason, not happy. […]

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