The World Science Festival takes place in New York City later this month and philosopher Daniel Dennett (below) will not be attending as scheduled.
His reason? The event (and specifically one of the sessions in which he was slated to participate) is sponsored in part by the John Templeton Foundation, an organization that frequently blurs the line between science and religion.
If you’re someone who doesn’t accept the idea that the two can go hand-in-hand — a position held by many well-known atheists — then a group that suggests otherwise isn’t one you want to be associated with. (At one point, accepting a Templeton grant required you to seek input from theologians. They have since stopped doing that.)
Dennett said in an email to the organizers (published by Jerry Coyne) that he was upset he wasn’t informed about Templeton’s involvement in his panel ahead of time:
I have just learned of the Templeton Foundation’s funding role in the session I was to be participating in, and I don’t do Templeton-funded events, as I have often made clear in public and in print. I wish I had been told of this when first invited. It would have saved us both a lot of time and effort. I remember all too well the appalling sessions curated by The Templeton Foundation at the Cambridge University Darwin Bicentennial in 2009, which were an embarrassment to science and to Cambridge. I don’t know the extent of the advising or consulting role of the Templeton Foundation in the World Science Foundation’s plans, but since I was not informed from the outset about the Templeton Fundation’s role, I consider this in itself to be more than adequate grounds for declining, at this late date, your kind invitation.
Dennett clarified his issue with Templeton in an interview with Religion News Service’s Kimberly Winston:
“I would be very happy to have the Templeton Foundation sponsor research on religion and science,” he said in a phone interview from Spain, where he is lecturing. “But what they are doing now is sponsoring some very fine science with no strings attached and then using their sponsorship of that to try and win prestige for other projects that are not in the same league.”
He pointed specifically to the Darwin Festival held in Cambridge, England, in 2009, which was also funded in part by Templeton. He wrote that some of the presentations there were “full of earnest gobbledegook.”
“I compare it to an art collector who spends a lot of money on excellent art and then has a show with a few pieces by his brother,” Dennett said this week. “It’s trying to elevate the prestige of his brother by having them in the same room with a Cezanne and a Monet.”
Jerry Coyne, who has long been a Templeton critic and whose forthcoming book is about how science and religion don’t overlap, applauded Dennett’s decision and seconded the theory of Templeton using prominent scientists to bolster its own image:
… I don’t think for a minute that the Foundation is interested in advancing science that has no spiritual overtones. They are coopting scientists into their stable and, as [Dennett] noted above, they refuse to separate the pure-science projects from the spiritual projects.
It’s hard to say no to an organization that seems to have unlimited coffers, so I appreciate a prominent author/philosopher having the temerity to do so. If only others would do the same.
Just to blunt some criticism in advance, the problem isn’t that anyone’s afraid of what research involving science and religion would find. It’s that the Foundation tries to put the two on equal pedestals, sometimes in sneaky ways, even though the evidence never merits that.
You might as well have a foundation funding astronomy research that also dabbles in astrology and wedges it in whenever possible.
(Image via Wikipedia)