Templeton-sponsored essay contest: Big bucks for telling stories about accommodationism

The John Templeton Foundation, which funds many scientists who aren’t (but should be) ashamed to take money from an organization devoted to finding God in science, is up to its usual shenanigans. We have some juicy information about it that I hope I can reveal soon, but this contest, just announced, will give you an idea of how deeply Templeton is still immersed in the project to harmonize science and religion.

Reader Rob S. called my attention to a TWP (Think Write Publish) Science & Religion Project run by Arizona State University that apparently has deep pockets courtesy of Templeton, and is devoted to supporting Templeton’s own confirmation bias: that religion and science are in perfect comity. According to Templeton, TWP began as an NSF-sponsored program, but now has been injected with the “science and religion” business (I doubt the NSF would sponsor the present program.)

Here’s part of the new announcement. Note that they characterize religion as a “way of knowing” (my emphasis). Parts of their announcement are indented, with my comments flush left, and the evidence for Templeton funding of TWP’s project is at the bottom.

IF YOU HAVE A TRUE STORY THAT YOU WOULD LIKE TO TELL ABOUT HARMONIES BETWEEN SCIENCE AND RELIGION WE WANT TO HELP YOU DO IT.

Science and religion, despite their rich, interwoven history, are too often portrayed as opposites in nearly every way, irreconcilable by definition. Indeed, our increasingly polarized societies seem to encourage the proposition that these two ways of knowing the world cannot productively co-exist, that they encounter each other through conflict and contradiction.

If religion is a way “of knowing the world,” I’d like to hear what it has helped us know. What exactly, dear Templeton-funded TWP, has religion told us about the world that is true? How many gods are there? Is Jesus divine? Is it immoral to get a blood transfusion? Is evolution true? Can women be priests? Is there an afterlife of some sort? Should we kill apostates? All religions differ on the answers to these questions, and there’s no way of ascertaining the answers. So how, exactly, can religion tell us anything? The announcement continues:

Our project advances a different proposition: that science and religion can reinforce each other to allow a more nuanced [JAC: If you hear the word “nuanced” in such discussions, head for the hills!], profound, and rewarding experience of our world and our place in it. We will use creative nonfiction writing to explore and advance this proposition. We are building a new community of storytellers who will write, publish, and disseminate engaging and inspiring nonfiction narratives of harmonies, reconciliation, and even productive interaction between science and religion.

It’s curious that a project that claims religion and science both advance our understanding of the world wants to use personal anecdotes and stories to buttress that proposition. Well, after all, that’s all they’ve got. . .

One of the best ways to foster collective understanding is with a good story. Creative nonfiction–true stories, well told–allows for complexity, novelty, and revelation, and through compelling voice, suspense, character development, and well-chosen details has the potential to engage the widest audiences and change the way they know the world.

If you have a true story that you would like to tell about harmonies between science and religion—drawn from your personal life, your work, your experience, your studies—we want to help you do it.

The Think-Write-Publish Science & Religion project offers several ways for you–scholars, scientists, religious figures, writers, everyday people—to become part of a vibrant new community of storytellers.

I’m not sure what they’re looking for here. Is Francis Collins’s Frozen Waterfall Conversion story suitable? Is the fact that someone went to church and was inspired to go back to her lab to study the Mind of God what they want? What about a priest getting a revelation that God worked through evolution?

By and large, we scientists don’t call ourselves “storytellers,” because that implies that we’re engaged in concocting fiction. The real community of storytellers comprises the religionists, who are completely engaged in promulgating fiction. Here the TWP is trying to mix truth and fiction—right up Templeton’s alley.

The prizes are not insubstantial, either:

Creative Nonfiction and Issues in Science and Technology editors will award two prizes—a best essay prize of $10,000, and a $5,000 runner-up prize—and up to five honorable mentions, each with a $500 prize. The two winning essays will be published in the fall 2017 issues of both magazines; honorable mentions will also be considered for publication in one or both magazines and/or online. The best essay winner and runner-up will also win a trip to Washington, D.C. where they will be honored at our publication launch event in 2017.

Templeton is apparently making a Big Push to show the public that religion and science are compatible. That make it even more important for those of us who feel otherwise to emphasize the incompatibilities. Here are the other projects of the TWP:

ONLINE COURSE

In fall 2017, we will be offering a four-part online course, “Telling True Stories About Harmonies Between Science & Religion.” Taught by Fellows and mentors from the program, the course offers anyone who has experience(s) related to the harmonies between science and religion to join a community of writers. Using project stories as examples, the course will provide training in narrative nonfiction research, writing, and revision and regular feedback on their writing.

Wait! There’s more!

PUBLIC EVENTS AT FIVE MUSEUMS AROUND THE US & CANADA

The public is invited to these events to learn about the project and the resulting narratives, engage with the authors and mentors, and join in the conversation about harmonies between science and religion.

This is odious. Templeton is getting its sticky fingers into public museums, and of course there’s no opportunity for a response by those of us who who feel that science and religion are in opposition. I’m sure that if I, for example, gave a lecture at a public museum on the incompatibility of science and religion, people would find that rude. But those who impart the opposite message are welcomed and lionized.

But wait! There’s still more!

NATIONAL CONFERENCES IN WASHINGTON D.C.

In fall 2017, a conference will be held to launch the special “Science and Religion” issues of Creative Nonfiction and Issues in Science and Technology. In June 2018, a two-day conference will feature best stories, compelling project participants, opinion leaders, and the media.

And if you think that’s all, no, there’s MORE! With all of this you get EXTRA GOODIES!

FELLOWSHIP INFORMATION

We will be awarding twelve $10,000 two-year TWP Science & Religion Fellowships to develop a publishable true story or series of stories.

Open to novice and experienced writers, anyone who has a compelling true story or true stories illustrating or exploring harmonies between science and religion is encouraged to apply. Over a two-year period, Fellows will develop, write, and market their creative nonfiction stories. They will be mentored throughout the project by experienced writers, editors and teachers. They and their stories will be featured in a series of regional and national events.

As part of the workshop, Fellows will participate in three intensive training workshops. . .

So, let’s see. Twelve $10,000 fellowships is $120,000. Add to that $17,500 for the essays, the public events—probably at least $10,000 each—and two national conferences (I’ll say a total of $100,000 if you throw in the online courses), and you get nearly $240,000, roughly a cool quarter million.

That’s a lot of dosh to throw at reconciling science and faith! But they must feel it’s important if they’re spending so much money on this. And yet, all the while, people are leaving faith, often because they feel it doesn’t comport with science. Maybe this program is a desperation move to counteract that. After all, America is inexorably becoming more secular, and the faithful have to deal with that.

Here’s evidence of Templeton’s sponsorship. Doesn’t Lawrence Krauss work at ASU?

Screen Shot 2016-08-29 at 6.09.52 AM

33 Comments

  1. alexander
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 8:49 am | Permalink

    Time for another Sokal-type hoax.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 2:20 pm | Permalink

      Just what I was thinking!

      • paul collier
        Posted August 30, 2016 at 5:18 pm | Permalink

        I’d say it’s time for an essay competition for the opposite proposition. Somebody or other should be able to offer or solicit a nice sum as prizes. I would write an essay for a modest sum, or for nothing if it stood a chance of garnering some attention or standing up to the accom. drivel of the TF. How about it?

  2. Robert Bray
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 8:50 am | Permalink

    Since it’s labeled ‘creative non-fiction,’ that current weasel-genre in creative writing programs around the country, I could do such an essay in an hour or two. But then I don’t write on spec.

  3. Randall Schenck
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 9:00 am | Permalink

    Isn’t creative non-fiction just another way of saying fiction? Let’s have more non-creative fiction. That would be closer to truth.

    • alexander
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 9:07 am | Permalink

      sub

  4. somer
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 9:23 am | Permalink

    fairy stories have timeless appeal

  5. Pliny the in Between
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    I wonder if this is the kind of thing they would consider?

    http://pictoraltheology.blogspot.com/2016/08/sacrificing-more-physicis.html

    And yeah I see the typo in the address too.

  6. Terry C
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 9:53 am | Permalink

    Yes, Lawrence Krauss is at ASU. He currently is the director of the Origins Project at the college (see http://www.originsportal.com). The Origins Project sponsors several secular based debates, dialogues and other events that are always well attended. So sorry to see ASU comingling with the JTF.

  7. Tom
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 10:08 am | Permalink

    Perhaps the success of the Left Behind series has inspired Templeton to take this faith/fiction nonsense a step further and dress it to seem more like fact.
    I suspect the winning essayist will be encouraged to write a book along the same lines.

  8. bluemaas
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    I’m afraid I hafta go all up more than “odious,” Dr Coyne. This is frickin’ disgusting.

    “Roughly a cool quarter million” could easily start up an online organizational “e – center” of scientists / of atheists hell – bent upon incorporating, then followed up with the beginnings of their on – the – ground – implementating thereof, … … scientific endeavors toward humanitarian purposes … … such as immunization clinics or the deliverance of clean water sources or of safety measures from diseases’ carrying mosquitoes.

    This is so angering and why I have earlier stated that accommodationism so still requires of us godless such vigilance and, then too, our skilled and attentive work of out – and – out debunkingism.

    Blue

  9. Ken Kukec
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    I’ve always thought that “a href=”http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/ben%20trovato”>Ben Trovato” would make a pretty snazzy nom de plume for submitting a pseudonymous entry in a contest like this, if anybody’s thinking about taking a shot at the prize money.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 10:23 am | Permalink

      “Ben Trovato”

      • alexander
        Posted August 29, 2016 at 10:30 am | Permalink

        The Italians use it in an expression:
        “Si non e vero, e ben trovato.”

  10. Kevin
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    Is Templeton funding story time at the library for preschoolers? Not quite as interesting as Little Red Riding Hood, but unfalsifiable stories are they only ones they will get.

    So today “increasingly polarized societies seem to encourage the proposition that these two ways of knowing the world cannot productively co-exist”. That’s not true. I work with dozen of PhD scientist with crosses around their necks. They believe in both and they are productive. Here’s the part Templeton hates: science has nothing to do with faith.

    Scientists can believe the Magic Grasshopper controls every electron, and all the while measure fourth order Feynman loops that validate theory and experiment to over eight orders of magnitude.

    • bluemaas
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 11:18 am | Permalink

      re “I work with dozen of PhD scientist with crosses around their necks.” O, I have to do so, too, Mr Kevin.

      Which is w h y from its daily and very easily accessible spot upon my bathroom’s doorknob I every single morning … … every single one, I note … … I grab, then fling upon & circa m’own neck, the filigreed chain all done up at its tip with a silverized … … EVOLVEfish.*

      Blue

      *the one that the Dean’s secretary, very publicly in front of her (the Dean) and very many other departmental people at a social bbq – event, tried some four years’ back to quite literally yank right off of my throat, the secretary, long known to Us All as a dutifully backseat – riding member of some local Christian Heaven’s Angels motorcycle – club, stating to All present and to my one very highly raised (“O ! I don’t think so !”) eyebrow thusly, “That’s just awful, Blue ! That’s the WRONG one ! I’ll get you a ‘correct’ one ! That fish is just WRONG !”

      • bluemaas
        Posted August 29, 2016 at 12:50 pm | Permalink

        Some will say to me, “Blue, this, now, is not the time to point this out.”

        And I say that it IS the time cuz that statement above is a prime instance of accommodationism of thus of yesterday’s local university – and community – wide announcement re Dr Chet Britt / his condition, “Please keep Britt and his family in your thoughts AND PRAYERS. Etc, etc” of http://www.iowastatedaily.com/news/academics/article_4d7bb60c-6bcb-11e6-b2f1-972aba66c246.html

        Couldn’t the (educated) communication specialist – folks of this public announcement have just rephrased and then ended their statement as “Please keep Britt, his family and attending medical personnel in your thoughts ?”

        Of course, they could have.
        Blue

        • bluemaas
          Posted August 29, 2016 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

          … … AND of this public department (s o c i o l o g y, no less) within a public state taxpayer – paid university.

          Blue

    • Posted August 29, 2016 at 6:23 pm | Permalink

      In my country, many people (mostly women, but even some men) wear crosses around their necks for purely decorative purposes.

      Russians have many jokes about the “new Russians”, i.e. newly rich thugs. In one, a “new Russian”, after seeing many fellows with crosses around their necks, decides to follow the fad. He goes to a jeweler and asks:
      “How does your heaviest cross weigh?”
      “Four grams.”
      “Make for me an eight-gram one! And without this gymnast in front!”

  11. Alpha Neil
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    Looks like Templeton stole the HuffPo headline contest idea from PCC (Paws Be Upon Him).

  12. Hempenstein
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 10:53 am | Permalink

    And all this to get pieces for magazines, at a time when hard print media is in as much trouble as religion.

  13. colnago80
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    Yes, Krauss is a professor at ASU. So is creationist Paul Davies, albeit they are in different departments.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted August 29, 2016 at 2:23 pm | Permalink

      Is Davies a creationist, do you have references?

      His early popular physics books reads as closet deist to me.

      • colnago80
        Posted August 29, 2016 at 5:01 pm | Permalink

        I recall that Larry Moran has referred to him as a creationist. Unfortunately, a cursory Google search was unable to locate any threads on his blog where he stated this; however, I distinctly remember such a statement, although it is possible that it was one of Prof. Moran’s commentors.

        • colnago80
          Posted August 29, 2016 at 5:23 pm | Permalink

          Indeed, I found a reference from one of Larry’s commentors calling Davies a creationist, which resulted in a comment from you. You appeared to be satisfied with Matt’s response. It should be noted that Davies was a co-author of the arsenic paper, which is certainly not to his credit.

          http://sandwalk.blogspot.com/2012/02/arsenic-affair-no-arsenic-in-dna.html

          My sense of Davies is based on two presentations which I downloaded in which he justifies his skepticism of the possibility of life elsewhere in the universe with some very dubious back of the envelope calculations.

  14. Sastra
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 11:24 am | Permalink

    I’m not sure what they’re looking for here. Is Francis Collins’s Frozen Waterfall Conversion story suitable? Is the fact that someone went to church and was inspired to go back to her lab to study the Mind of God what they want? What about a priest getting a revelation that God worked through evolution?

    Yes; yes; yes; yes. All stories would no doubt be suitable. Just as there is no wrong way to come realize there is a God, there is no wrong way to realize science and religion are friends.

    “The public is invited to these events to learn about the project and the resulting narratives, engage with the authors and mentors, and join in the conversation about harmonies between science and religion.

    I really hate this way of shutting down even the mere possibility that “the public” might want to disagree with the thematic narrative. If anyone brings up an alternate view then they’re not “joining in the conversation about harmonies between science and religion,” are they? They’re breaking in to it, they’re interrupting it, they’re going out of their way to intrude and impose and all that sort of horrible thing. How rude of them. Find your own community.

    This one gets to use the museum. Because it’s nice.

  15. Posted August 29, 2016 at 11:32 am | Permalink

    “Hello. I’m Leonard Nimoy. The following tale of alien encounters is true. And by true, I mean false. It’s all lies. But they’re entertaining lies. And in the end, isn’t that the real truth? The answer is: No.”

  16. Posted August 29, 2016 at 1:20 pm | Permalink

    Here’s an article about the pitfalls of creative nonfiction in the words of Lee Gutkind, the project leader and founder of the creative nonfiction genre:

    https://www.creativenonfiction.org/online-reading/whats-story-2425

    He says that many writers of creative nonfiction “…are not in any way attempting to achieve balance or objectivity. This is a significant way in which creative nonfiction differs from journalism. Subjectivity is not required in creative nonfiction, but specific, personal points of view, based on fact and conjecture, are definitely encouraged.”

    None of these stories will be verifiable, there are no hard rules about what creative nonfiction writers can and cannot do, and creative nonfiction is often unapologetically one-sided, like the “conversation” this project is inviting. The fellows have been told what they are to conclude at the end of their two-year paid fellowship. Given all of this, how can anyone, even someone open to being persuaded, possibly trust the writing that comes out of this?

    Kelly Houle
    MFA ’05 in Creative Writing
    Arizona State University

  17. Christoph
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    Perhaps you can hold another fun contest like the Puffho one. The best title for a “creative nonfiction” story reconciling science and religion. Your usual prize of an illustrated copy of one of your books would be more valuable than anything Templeton could offer.

  18. leonkrier
    Posted August 29, 2016 at 7:58 pm | Permalink

    Serendipitously, this morning I pulled Facts and Mysteries in Elementary Particle Physics by Martinus Veltman off my bookshelf which had been collecting dust since I read about ½ the book in late 2003.

    Skimming through the book, I came across this passage regarding J.C Polkinghorne (In 1997, I had previously read his “The Metaphysics of Divine Action” in Chaos & Complexity: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action):

    “In 1979 Polkinghorne became an Anglican priest, instantly becoming the best physicist among Anglican priests. Recently he received the enormous Templeton prize. I think it was for something indeed not that easy: bridging the gap between sense and nonsense.” Veltman, p. 286

  19. GM
    Posted August 31, 2016 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

    Our project advances a different proposition: that science and religion can reinforce each other to allow a more nuanced, profound, and rewarding experience of our world and our place in it. We will use creative nonfiction writing to explore and advance this proposition.

    We have the incompatibility clearly expressed right there in these two sentences.

    They have decided what the truth is on the subject a priori and proceed from there.

    Which is completely incompatible with science, where the idea and goal is to accept whatever conclusions are forced on you by evidence and logic.


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