Thursday, 10 November 2011

Test of Science

Massimo Pigliucci has declined funding from The Templeton Foundation, a decision I applaud, and would urge any academic to follow. The reason he cites is:
...I simply don’t like having my name associated with right wing and/or libertarian organizations like the JTF, the American Enterprise Institute or the Institute for American Values.
Fair enough, and while surely right wing organisations have every right to operate as they see fit, within the law, I think the JTF may be too right wing for comfort. Sunny Bains conducted a study of its activities and noted:
For instance, the Templeton Freedom Awards are administered by the Atlas Economic Research Foundation, a group that is perhaps most notable for its opposition to taking action against climate change and for being a defender of the tobacco industry that has traditionally given them funding.
Certainly tobacco and climate change are the typical bugbears of right wingers, but from what I've seen of Templeton, Bain's conclusion is a more disturbing aspect of the JTF:
Its agenda can at best be called unclear. At worst, its agenda is pro-religion and anti-science.
Further she says:
I call on the scientific community to boycott Templeton Foundation research funding and events. If that is too much to ask, I suggest that all those accepting Foundation funding, through whatever route, investigate the Foundation and the other activities that it funds, and to put on the record what they think about that work.
Of course, if the Templeton Foundation is benign and open-minded, as their advertising claims, then this dissent should not cause anyone to lose their funding. On the other hand if, as I suspect, the Foundation is more interested in promoting pro-religious activities than doing real science, then some people may find that their grants are not renewed when the time comes.
Well done to Pigliucci for carrying out his research, but my view is that Templeton are aiming to further the meme of science and religion so as to undermine the proper conduct of science to protect Christianity from criticism. What I mean by this is that Templeton want the Christian presuppositions to be the norm when science is conducted. For science to be untainted, it needs to follow the evidence, wherever it leads. The Christian project makes that impossible, in principle, since a dogmatic belief in the truth of Christ must always trump science, for a believer.

I've written a few times about the Templeton Foundation before, noting the corrupting effect it may well have on the proper conduct of science, and indeed, perhaps, aims to have. For example, here's a 'paper' from the The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion (note the science and religion), a Templeton funded organisation. It's called Human genomics and the Image of God, by Graeme Finlay. In the summary at the very start, it says:
Our DNA tells a story that describes our biological origins during mammalian evolution, but that is not sufficient to account for our origins as persons. We are formed as persons only as we hear and assimilate stories transmitted in our families and communities. Christians believe that the story that is essential to the development of a fulfilled humanity is that which relates God’s redeeming action in Jesus Christ.
What Christians believe is wholly irrelevant to the science of DNA. Now, by all means, Finlay is welcome to  publish papers reconciling with science whatever odd beliefs he has, but to publish such a paper under the auspices of a reputable sounding organisation (with science in its title, don't forget), based at one of the leading universities in the world is calculated to undermine the scientific project. Other dubious papers, in the scientific sense, are also listed.

A recent news bulletin from Templeton pointed me to their Test of FAITH project. Its aim is to supply "accessible materials on science and Christianity for everyone who is interested in these issues". They have sections for youthworkers, schools and kids (a work in progress at time of writing). They have produced a film which "explores the relationship between science and religion, and the generally perceived idea that they are in conflict. Scientist believers discuss how they fit their faith and professional science work together." There is a sample lesson plan for teachers, with session one entitled The myth of conflict. The myth? Oh, really? Under a section discussing evil and suffering, they suggest the teacher:
Point out that science specialises in knowledge, but wisdom tends to be associated with religious traditions. They could use Einstein’s quotation, ‘Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.’
References are made to the good that science has done for us, but apparently only as an excuse to also point out the bad things it has enabled. It's plain that the subtext of the whole project is not science-friendly, but Christian-centric.

Now it may be that there are areas of reality immune to scientific investigation, but that doesn't allow us to claim a compatibility between religion and science. Every claim that religion has made that science can test has been found to be wrong. Religion has no track record of successful epistemology; in fact, since competing religions come to different conclusions, we can be confident that they are more wrong than right, and possibly completely wrong.

More to the point, Templeton isn't pursuing a way to reconcile science and religion, but a way to reconcile science and Christianity. Under the heading Schools & Youth - UK - Test of FAITH: Live!, we find:
This is an exciting new youth and schools initiative led by Chip Kendall, former lead singer of thebandwithnoname, and DJ Galactus Jack. Events include music, video, live science experiments and a short talk from a scientist. If you are interested in hosting Test of FAITH: Live! at your school or youth event, please contact us for details.
Spreading the Christian message to schools - the promo makes it very obvious this is an evangelical operation:

"It's a great way of providing a vehicle for the gospel for people to engage with". That's pretty up front. I must say it disturbs me that these people are visiting schools spreading this unscientific message under the guise of science. I have only found evidence of two school visits though, shown above, to Wick and Thurso High Schools.

This is outside of school time, but is this really an appropriate use of state schools? What about their obligations to religious diversity? These are supposed to be non-denominational schools. The distribution of lesson plans preaching a Christian message, and rock musicians and scientist believers spreading a science and Christian message is just not what I expect our schools to be used for.

Jerry Coyne has posted a quote from physicist Robert L. Park about Templeton:
Not everyone was happy about the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) selling its soul to Templeton. Why had the most important scientific organization in America, perhaps in the world, allowed the voice of antiscience to assume the guise of a dialog between science and religion?
I agree that Templeton are simply promoting science and religion to promote their antiscience voice, as Park says,and I think the evidence above shows that.


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