Thursday, 17 November 2011

Islamic Templeton?

Oddly enough, shortly after I write a piece pointing out that Templeton is just an organisation that promotes Christianity, not 'science and religion', they announce an initiative to encourage research into science and religion that includes other religions:
As productive as it has been, we at the John Templeton Foundation believe the science-religion dialogue has yet to investigate the full range of possibilities. In particular, it has largely been carried out from a perspective that is theistic (usually Christian), Western, methodologically focused, concerned primarily with the physical sciences, and has often been pitched at an introductory level. We believe that there is value in more work, particularly advanced research, which engages other scientific fields, more of the world’s religions, a wider spectrum of cultural foundations, and a greater breadth of specific topics.
Interesting that there is an admission that the science and religion meme they've pushed has indeed been Christian. I'm sure it had everything to do with my article! Previously there was this million dollar study on Islam and science, but I can't find any fruit for all that cash.

It will be interesting how far they will go with this, particularly with regard to Islam. I don't see that Islam is any less antithetical to science than Christianity, so there really is nothing different about its relation with science - I mean, they're similarly bad for scientific advancement because they promote ways of knowing objective truth that are inscrutable. But, any reconciliation of Islam with science would undermine the efforts that Christians regularly make to establish that Christianity is peculiar in its encouragement of science. It's good to see Ronald Numbers in a lecture for the Templeton funded Faraday Institute say:
...although Christians, as I’ve already pointed out, often contributed and made crucial contributions to the growth of science in the 16th, 17th and later centuries, I think it’s a conceit for Christians to argue that only Christianity could have produced science as we know it today.
However, Peter Harrison, in another Faraday lecture, on The Royal Society, argues for a social legitimacy for science among the religious scientists who founded it:
Whereas we often tend to think of religious influence manifesting itself unhelpfully in the content of scientific ideas, far more important for the period in question is the manner in which religion lent social legitimacy to scientific activities and institutions, provided motivations for key individuals in those institutions and, not least, informed their goals and methods. When we pose these kinds of questions, the importance of religion in the establishment of the Royal Society and in the public justification of its activities seems undeniable. 
He goes on to argue against Harry Kroto's views that "religious commitment, and certainly the clerical vocation, is necessarily inconsistent with ‘the scientific mindset’ and ‘intellectual integrity’". But while Harrison draws on much evidence for how religious people participated in the formation of The Royal Society, and how some of the ideas that sprang somewhat from their religious views informed their scientific approach, and allowed them to work at their science, he does not consider the basic religious proposition that is incompatible with science: that there is something objectively true that must be paramount to one's study of the universe. Surely everyone realises that even the most hardened dogmatist can 'do science' at some level, and most of the time this will not make the slightest difference. This still makes it incompatible in some way to free enquiry. It would be like saying that a football Premiership season is compatible with free competition if all teams competed against each other on an even footing throughout the season, but at the end Manchester United were declared the winners regardless of their standing (OK, sometimes it seems like that happens anyway). What is more likely, one can conclude, is that something mitigated the chilling effects of the religious approach, and with that in mind things look very different for science and religion.

Further, if Harrison's view are to be taken seriously, then presumably he must agree that Islam did not offer social legitimacy for science in the same way (since we're trying to figure out why science sprung up when and where it did, after all), in which case the approach that provided the encouragement for science is independent of religion. Furthermore, we can point out that secular approaches can provide social legitimacy for science too, so, all in all, these arguments for science and religion stand up to very little scrutiny. They go together like oil and water.

So a series of Templeton funded studies on how science and different religions are compatible, or not, would be a worthwhile project and may break the Christian hold on the science and religion meme. They can either hold to the idea that Christianity is pre-eminent and true, or let go and allow that any religion may be true, and Christianity therefore holds no special flame for truth. We shall see.


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