Wednesday, 31 January 2018

The Non-existent Agenda?

Peter Harrison recently wrote a negative review of Yves Gingras's new book, Science and Religion, An Impossible Dialogue.

Yves Gingras has responded to Harrison, and Harrison has responded to Gingras's response:

Gingras makes some good points, but perhaps wants to have his cake and eat it by suggesting that he is primarily conducting a review of the history of science and religion, and not advocating a conflict thesis, whilst advocating it! I should say that I haven't read Gingras's book yet, so I'm not saying that his book is good or bad.

Harrison is surely in denial, however, when he says, while doubting Gingras's claims that the Templeton Foundation has had a distorting effect on the history of science:
My review sought neither to praise nor bury the Templeton Foundation, but simply offer a factual account of its operations and correct the misconception that it is in the business of funding historical research.
But this claim that, effectively, Templeton has had a neutral effect on the recent history of science is implausible, as Harrison's reviews themselves show. He is no impartial observer here; he was a director of Oxford University's Ian Ramsey Centre for Science and Religion, an organisation whose very name is predicated on challenging the conflict thesis, and promoting the 'dialogue' thesis. In his response Gingras writes:
[Harrison] is also silent on the fact that I take care to define the meaning of the word “dialogue,” identify its main apostles, and show that the discourse involving dialogue takes off only after 1979, followed by an exponential growth after 1993, when the Templeton Foundation’s visibility and money was also ramping up. And far from explaining that growth by a single cause (namely Templeton money), as Harrison suggests, I clearly identify (p. 149–152) three other causes of the rise of the “dialogue” rhetoric: 1) the return of the religious after the 1970s (well analyzed in Gilles Kepel’s The Revenge of God), which led to the creation of many organizations promoting a dialogue with science, and which also put organizations like the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) on the defensive; 2) Pope John Paul II’s creation (in 1979) of a committee to reconsider Galileo’s trial and to promote “dialogue” with science; and 3) the emergence of a postmodern lexicon among historians eschewing “false dichotomies” and “conflict” in favor of such terms as “conversation” (as used by Harrison), “meeting,” “exchanges,” and “encounters,” all suggesting that, after all, “everything is in everything,” and that making conceptual distinctions is a bit passé.
A reminder of the mission of the Ian Ramsey Centre:

"Members of the Centre also carry out extensive work on the history of science and religion, often challenging simplistic accounts of what has been a complex and varied interaction." (my emphasis)

We know what 'challenging simplistic accounts of what has been a complex and varied interaction' means in this context. Harrison continues this very mission when he concludes in his response to Gingras's response:
Finally, “there were many cases over the last 300 years of conflict between science and religion.” Quite, although we might quibble about what counts as “science” and “religion,” and how many is “many.” The point is that this is only part of the picture, and leaves out equally decisive cases of creative and mutual support between science and religion, and the more common instances of indifference or peaceful coexistence. Attempting to understand examples of conflict is indeed the role of the historian, but an understanding that considers only instances of conflict will be impoverished and partial, and will likely give rise to the kind of flawed and one-sided perspective that we encounter in Science and Religion: An Impossible Dialogue.
And the Ian Ramsey Centre 'receives significant financial support from the John Templeton Foundation'. Two recent Templeton grants to the Centre:

Special Divine Action, $2.4m

Science and Religion in Latin America, $0.5m

Templeton also supports the The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion at Cambridge University – it has recently given it $2.4m to expand. These are substantial sums of money, and Templeton are welcome to give it. But the rest of us need to be aware that Templeton’s religious underpinning is playing a role, at the very least, in the fostering of this pseudo-discipline of science and religion. And this must surely have an effect on historians of science.

The Institute's role:
The Faraday Institute has a Christian ethos, but encourages engagement with a wide diversity of opinions concerning interactions between science and religion, without engaging in advocacy. It aims to provide accurate information in order to facilitate informed debate.
The Institute says it doesn't engage in advocacy, and it certainly doesn't advocate for the conflict thesis. Consider these research papers:

The Science and Religion Debate - an Introduction - "Science and theology have things to say to each other since both are concerned with the search for truth attained through motivated belief."

Does Science Need Religion? - "Must science constitute a closed system, assuming all reality is within its grasp? So far from science being autonomous, and its method defining rationality, it itself rests on major assumptions. We may take for granted the regularity and ordered nature of the physical world, and the ability of the human mind to grasp it. Yet theism can explain this by invoking the rationality of the Creator."

Models for Relating Science and Religion - "Interactions between science and religion are varied and complex, both historically and today. Models can be useful for making sense of the data. This paper compares four of the major types of model that have been proposed to describe science-religion interactions, highlighting their respective strengths and weaknesses. It is concluded that the model of ‘complementarity’ is most fruitful in the task of relating scientific and religious knowledge."

And so it goes on; papers all suggesting that conflict between science and religion is a myth. So, by consistently denying the conflict thesis, it appears to be advocating something.

All this evidence strongly indicates that Templeton is in the business of funding historical research to counteract the conclusion that science and religion conflict in many ways, and Peter Harrison is being disingenuous if he denies this.

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