templeton prize changes the uk. ok, not really.

April 8, 2011

Another year, another £1 million award for accommodationism from the Templeton Foundation, and this time it went to Lord Martin Reese, an accomplished and highly prominent scientist who’s not known for devoting a whole lot of time and attention to spiritual matters, unlike many past winners. In fact, the award itself seems a tad awkward since Lord Reese basically took the money and ran, saying that he only went to church once in a while, mostly for the decor and the organ music. Sure, there was the half-hearted jab about obnoxious debate on religious matters and the ham-fisted invocation of the non-overlapping magisteria meme, but it felt forced, as if the astrophysicist was saying "look, can I just take my million pounds home and call it a day?" But that’s not what Templeton wants and it’s not for what their patrons shelled out the cash. They wanted their winners on a soapbox, preaching the harmony of science with religion to bright lights from the world’s media but their latest pick just didn’t seem to be doing the job. And that’s why they outsourced their message to a lackey who attended their fellowship program on obfuscation and intellectual impotence through pseudo-eloquence.

Like I’ve said before, when it comes time to deal with the facts, accommodationists always rush to talk about tone and having an open mind because frankly, that’s all they’ve got. Were they to actually take a stance on a religious issue, they would fall into a certain spectrum of beliefs which will inflame believers they desperately want to please. This isn’t just a hypothetical statement. One of Templeton’s major projects, BioLogos, took a stance on the notion of Biblical inerrancy and was swiftly smacked down by a prominent theologian for the blasphemous refrain that maybe the Bible isn’t necessarily true and correct in every word. So this time, when handing over their message to someone on the payroll, Templeton had Mark Vernon stick to waxing poetic about his patrons’ award marking the end of atheism in the UK, arguing the following inanity in earnest…

But with Rees’s acceptance [of the Templeton Prize] , the substantial resources of the Templeton Foundation have, in effect, been welcomed at the heart of the British scientific establishment. That such a highly regarded figure received its premier prize will make it a little bit harder for Dawkins to sustain respect amongst his peers for his crusade against religion.

Let me recap. So because his benefactors gave a lot of money to a very famous and distinguished scientist, the entire scientific establishment of the UK hasn’t just accepted, but welcomed accommodationism with its arms open, and Dawkins is now in for a slog every time he mentions how religious fundamentalism can and often does poison our society and our knowledge? Why do I find it so hard to believe? Last year, Templeton’s vast war chest bought them the temporary cooperation of the National Academy of Sciences and allowed them to present their bribe in the same establishment in which scientists received awards for their hard and peer reviewed work. This year, they got absolutely no help from the British scientific establishment and a shy and uncommunicative Reese who grabbed his money and ran after doing the absolute bare minimum when he had to sit down to be interviewed about his opinion on secularism and atheism. And one of their fellows is now trying to spin this waste of time and effort as a subtle victory over atheists? Hell, if Dawkins were to send an AI expert a check, using Vernon’s logic, I could pen a self-indulgent column arguing that atheism has been warmly welcomed into the computer science community, and it’ll be that much harder for mathematicians like Berlinski and Dembski to pursue their declarations in favor of creationism. And I would be just as wrong.

Now, I’m well aware that Templeton was very, very rich and that his son is just as wealthy. I also know that it’s money they made and they can spend it on anything they wish, be it buying their way into science, or buying a fleet of gold-plated yachts ran by sailors who once commanded the Navy’s top vessels and staffed entirely by former Playmates. But at the same time, I just can’t help thinking that the millions they waste on exercises in confirmation bias passed off as research, buttering up scientists and reporters, and flooding the media with ruminations about how important it is to believe and books declaring that everything humans ever learned was at the very least inspired by religion, could be spent in much more productive ways. Obviously, since it has always been run by Christian Evangelicals, the Templeton Foundation sees the money it spends on the incessant publicity efforts and religiously themed pseudoscience as being invested in humanity’s souls and the best way to use its wealth. However, if I had the kind of cash they have laying around, I would be handing out millions to fund competitions between private space tourism companies, sponsor medical labs, and get into joint ventures with organizations which bring clean water, food, and vaccines to the developing world. But of course, I don’t have Templeton’s deep pockets and it’s quite obvious that we have very different values and priorities. They’re much more concerned about quieting mouthy atheists and their afterlives…

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