March 10, 2005

Templeton Prize

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at March 10, 2005 2:23 PM

Berkeley physicist Charles Townes (inventor of the laser, Nobel Laureate, Caltech alum) has won the Templeton Prize, "which honors and encourages those who advance knowledge in spiritual matters".

PZ Myers is not impressed.

Interesting things I just learned about the Templeton Prize: (from the UC Berkeley press release)

In creating the prize, Templeton stipulated that it always be worth more monetarily than the Nobel Prizes to underscore his belief that research and advances in spiritual discoveries can be quantifiably more significant than those recognized by the Nobels.

I can't decide what's funnier: that he felt the need to establish the superiority of his prize over the Nobels, or that he used a big pile of money to do so. After all, the world's great religions agree that nothing is more spiritually powerful than wealth...

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I have to say that even with all my rants against religion in all its forms, some people who I respect greatly (including Townes and Freeman Dyson) have won this prize.

The stipulation about the money (which is always brought up when this prize is awarded) is a strange bit of penis envy...

Posted by: Mason | March 10, 2005 6:00 PM

Yeah, I've also got a lot of respect for Townes (and so does the department here). I think Myers is a bit harsh on him; while I agree with him that Townes' statements about science and religion are pretty silly, "pious fraud" is slightly over-the-top. I don't think Townes is being intentionally deceptive, and the stuff he's saying is pretty harmless anyway.

It seems to me that Townes gains respectability when he wins the Nobel Prize, but it's the Templeton Prize that gains respectability from honoring Townes.

Posted by: Arcane Gazebo | March 10, 2005 7:19 PM

I agree with the last statement. I even phrased my previous comment about their rewarding the prize to people I respect.

I can't even imagine myself saying that about the Nobels.

Of course, I have disagreed with certain awards not being awarded jointly before. E.g., Ginzburg should have won one a long time ago, and Charles Plott should have shared the prize with Vernon Smith, who shared the prize with someone (Daniel Kahneman) who did something entirely different.

Actually, Vernon Smith submitted a blurb for the Caltech Legends book, so when I responded I let him know that (with all due respect) I felt that Plott should have been co-awarded the Nobel he won. Smith's response to my e-mail was a lot kinder than I had any right to expect (I think in part because he actually agreed with me, although he didn't phrase it precisely in those terms).

(Yes, I really do have enough chutzpah to e-mail a Nobel Laureate and tell him he should have shared his prize. Would you expect anything less?)

Posted by: Mason | March 11, 2005 10:28 PM
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