Tuesday, 15 February 2011


After many recent 'Science and Religion' accommodations, noticed by folk like Jerry Coyne and Ophelia Benson, often centring around the activities of the Templeton Foundation, one becomes sensitive to any hints of agenda setting from that source.

Taner Edis highlights the sort of misunderstanding that has been successfully propagated by those who are Templeton beneficiaries. He's been reading Paul Froese and Christopher Bader's America's Four Gods, and quotes them saying:
Although the arguments of the New Atheists are certainly engaging, they tend to misrepresent the current relationships among science, progressivism, and belief in God. Today, Democrats and cultural progressives are overwhelmingly likely to believe in God. Many professional scientists are also devout believers. In sum, a large swath of America is religiously devout, politically liberal, and scientifically savvy—three things we are told cannot go together.
This makes the usual mistake of equating accommodationism between science and religion with the ability for individuals to accommodate both science and religion. This latter fact has always been true, and will no doubt continue to be, for some people, but it has no bearing on their respective epistemic standings. Science is the most reliable way of knowing we have discovered, whereas religion has had almost no success as a way of knowing. In fact, it would appear that anything that religions say that is true, such as certain moral rules, pre-dates those religions. If they have 'discovered' anything that didn't pre-date them (and I cannot think of anything right now), any such discovery would be accidental, because they have no method of justifying their beliefs; the beliefs would simply be held dogmatically.

Froese and Bader's reference to many professional scientists being devout believers is a little dubious; maybe it relates to some research from another Templeton beneficiary, Elaine Ecklund. She claims that fifty percent of scientists are traditionally religious, but as Jason Rosenhaus points out, the data disagrees:
Asked about their beliefs in God, 34% chose “I don't believe in God,” while 30% chose, “I do not know if there is a God, and there is no way to find out.” That's 64% who are atheist or agnostic, as compared to just 6% of the general public.
An additional 8% opted for, “I believe in a higher power, but it is not God.” That makes 72% of scientists who are explicitly non-theistic in their religious views (compared to 16% of the public generally.) Pretty stark.
The worry with Templeton funding is the corrupting influence it may have on the good conduct of science. Tom Rees notes just how bad a Templeton funded divine healing research project, run by Candice Brown, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University, and published last year, is:
It's a useless study, then. Now, a lot of people set out to do useless studies, but mostly they don't get funded or published. So what happened here?
Well, it won't surprise you to learn that the Templeton Foundation paid for this pitiful charade of science. They got their money's worth, though, in terms of gullible press headlines.
And the journal (the Southern Medical Journal) that published this nonsense?
They publish a lot of stuff on prayer - 137 articles in the last 5 years alone.
Not too surprising; a simple search on 'prayer' at Templeton yields 4 projects with a total funding of $4.5m. And this doesn't include the Candice Brown study that Rees mentions, since it's been funded from the Flame of Love project, another Templeton waste of money, doing 'Scientific Research on the Experience and Expression of Godly Love in the Pentecostal Tradition', to the tune of $2,326,362.

To draw from this feeble research the, admittedly tentative, conclusion that 'proximity could be the key to success' of prayer is laughable. That money is wasted on so many theo-scientific projects, that could be used to deliver genuine medical advances using real science, is a crying shame.


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