Martin Rees and the Templeton Travesty

Astronomer-royal-Martin-R-007Jerry Coyne, also in The Guardian:

Templeton plies its enormous wealth with a single aim: to give credibility to religion by blurring its well-demarcated border with science. The Templeton Prize, which once went to people like Mother Teresa and the Reverend Billy Graham, now goes to scientists who are either religious themselves or say nice things about religion.

Rees is no exception. Though a professed nontheist, he also claims to be an “unbelieving Anglican” who goes to church “out of loyalty to the tribe”. He has criticised Stephen Hawking for arguing that we don't need God to explain the origin of the universe, and supports “peaceful co-existence between religion and science because they concern different domains”.

Templeton funds many other scientists who study Big Questions – those areas of science that the foundation sees, contra Rees, as overlapping with religion. These include studies of cosmology, human altruism, spiritual healing, and the contribution of faith to human virtue. Established scientists, all too eager to take anyone's money in an era of reduced funding, are then paraded by Templeton like prize horses and permanently installed in its online stable.

Templeton's enterprises include a $200,000 “epiphany prize” for movies and television programmes that “increase man's understanding and love of God”. Winners include Mel Gibson's baleful and antisemitic The Passion of the Christ. There are also fellowships for journalists studying science and religion, and stipends for budding theologians.

Many of these awards show a cronyism that has always infected Templeton. As journalist Sunny Bains has shown, the organisation often awards money to the people who run it. At least 8 of the last 13 Templeton Prize winners, for instance, were on Templeton's board of advisers before receiving their award (Rees is not one of them).

Templeton's mission is a serious corruption of science. Like a homeopathic remedy, it dilutes the core of the scientific enterprise, which has achieved its successes by holding doubt as a virtue and faith as a vice. The situation in religion is precisely the opposite, which is why theology remains mired in the Middle Ages.