templeton takes science writers for a ride…

February 28, 2010 — 2 Comments

While building bridges with everyone from creationists to anti-vaccination groups, Chris Mooney is seeing a real return on his investment, mainly an all expense paid, two month fellowship in England along with a highly generous $15,000 grant, courtesy of the very wealthy and very powerful Templeton Foundation. Wow, and I’m just sitting here, content that I’ve been able to start a real back and forth with the Singularity Institute about the future of technology. Perhaps I should take an example from Mooney, compose a 1,500 word essay and apply for a grant to study AI under the Institute’s supervision? At least the Singularitarians are truly interested in real science unlike the Templeton Foundation, which is willing to bribe its way into the scientific world. That’s right, forget the flowery words about common ground. Templeton exists for just one purpose: to force their leaders’ Evangelical Christian views into science by any means necessary and this fellowship is one of their tools.

I’m not going to fault Mooney for taking a chance at a lucrative grant with a lot of perks because it would be very hypocritical and disingenuous of me. Science writing doesn’t pay the bills all that well and many professionals put up with very small paychecks and syndication fees for their work, so if you’re thinking of science writing as a potential career, I highly advise you to come up with a backup plan. This is why quite a few science bloggers are either in academia or perusing fellowships: we offer a specialty product that’s not valued highly by the vast majority of publications out there and getting your foot in any door takes a lot of effort, persistence and luck, as well as the constant support of your readers. But while I can’t criticize Mooney’s need to pay his bills and keep his resume filled with relevant accolades, I can take issue with his decision to become a mouthpiece for very disingenuous people who promise money in return for articles that serve to advance their mission. If he thinks this fellowship will somehow open the doors of communication between scientists and theologists, he’s very wrong. Instead he’s already being used to advance the Foundation’s agenda and will continue to be used for incendiary pieces ridiculing atheists and quote-mining scientists for the glory of “open dialogue.”

And of course, open dialog is what the Foundation thinks is appropriate. When John Horgan was a fellow with the program, he was politely told to keep his views that people may one day outgrow religion and that this may be a good thing, to himself. He was also reminded that the Foundation spent about $1 million for this shindig and they expected certain articles from their fellows in return. In other words, if Mooney thinks he’s headed to jolly old England to sing Kumbaya around the campfire just like he preaches, he should instead prepare to become a content generating machine for his benefactors who are spending way too much money not to get what they want. And in fact, they’ve already gotten Mooney and Kirshenbaum to write fiery screeds about how a person who won’t try to find common ground with a creationist zealot who sees him as an agent of Satan is a terrible, rude and uncivil person in their book and on their blog. No doubt these were used as his credentials for reconciling science and religion in the press according to Templeton’s standards. Maybe I’m just too cruel and pessimistic but none of this sounds like building bridges. Instead, it seems much more like doing a very wealthy group’s bidding for the chance to get access to money and prestige.

I remember how the Unscientific America blog war left a bad taste in my mouth and this turn of events is not much of an improvement. Either Mooney believes that he really discovered the secret to fostering real respect for both science and religion and mutual respect between atheists and theists while playing Templeton’s little game, or his talk of building bridges and understanding has been a shallow and self-serving campaign to get a lucrative and high brow grant. I really hope it’s not the latter because I’d hate to start picturing Mooney as one of the popular science world’s Machiavellian characters. Likewise this fellowship and his recent eight months of work also don’t leave a pleasant mental image. He talked a big game about communication but instead, he went on the warpath with his critics. He inserted himself into important debates as if he had solutions but his suggestions actually solved nothing, simply demanded that scientists be pitted against zealots who refuse to listen and only want to shout the experts down. And to cap it all off, he applied for a fellowship with a group of very manipulative and disingenuous proselytizers, and will be going off to play their games. Well, if his goal is to become another incarnation of Michael Ruse, I suppose he’s on the right track…

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  • reggie

    Chris Mooney doesn’t disappoint when it comes to being disappointing. When he started taking this Accommodationist stance, I thought he saw an opportunity to capitalize on a niche market on that boundary between theist and atheist and it made me groan. Since then, I have seen others there, too, like Ruse. Perhaps his goal all along was to achieve this end. I wonder if he will heed the call to publish his application essay for this Fellowship?

    Furthermore, I wonder how this will effect CFI and Point of Inquiry? Mooney’s image is so tarnished in my view, that I don’t think I can sit through a Point of Inquiry podcast with him hosting it.

  • DamianD

    I’m one of those scientists that believes science and religion don’t have to conflict… but the only way they can exist without conflicting is if religious people stop crossing the line that divides them and accept that their beliefs have no place in science.

    There will always be questions that science hasn’t been able to answer yet, and if one is so inclined, they can turn to religion for those answers in order to feel better about their existences. So long as they keep those beliefs in the realm of theology and away from science classrooms and research, there doesn’t have to be a problem. Unfortunately, if history has shown us anything, it’s that theists have no intention of keeping their beliefs where they belong. So I certainly do not expect there to be harmony between the two disciplines at any point in the near future… if ever.