April 19, 2005

Sean Carroll, Charles Townes, and Chewbacca

Posted by Arcane Gazebo at April 19, 2005 11:25 AM

Enough pope-blogging! For balance, we will now bash a Protestant organization. Sean Carroll has decided not to give a lecture at a symposium in honor of Charles Townes' Templeton Prize. While this unfortunately means I won't have a chance to hear him lecture at Berkeley (although it's unlikely I would register for the symposium anyway), I have to agree with his reasons:

Upon further review, I've changed my mind, and decided not to go to the conference after all. (As of right now my name is still on the list of participants, but it will go away eventually.) I talked to Mark, with whom I've discussed these issues before, and he made an argument that seems pretty convincing. The point is that the entire purpose of the Templeton Foundation is to blur the line between straightforward science and explicitly religious activity, making it seem like the two enterprises are part of one big undertaking. It's all about appearances. You have a splashy scientific conference featuring a long list of respected participants, and then you proudly tout the event on a separate web page for your program to bring science and religion together. It doesn't matter that I am a committed atheist, simply giving a talk on interesting findings in modern cosmology; my name would become implicitly associated with an effort I find to be woefully misguided. There are plenty of conferences, with less objectionable sources of funding; I can give this one a pass.

It seems to me that the Templeton foundation is attempting a kind of Chewbacca defense of religion, in which they point to various unrelated aspects of science and try to claim that this demonstrates compatibility with (or evidence for!) religion. So I can understand Sean's reluctance to play the part of Chewbacca.

On the other hand, I disagree with PZ Myers, who says,

I don't see any difference between the Templeton Foundation and Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church—both are endowed with overflowing buckets of money and a dearth of reason, and are pouring that cash into efforts to subsidize public insanity.

Sure there's a difference—Sun Myung Moon is actively, overtly evil, Bond-villain evil, straight up black-hat, tie-you-to-the-train-tracks, soon-my-electro-ray-will-destroy-Metropolis bad. By contrast the Templeton Foundation is just sort of silly (unless they are involved in secret political machinations I don't know about).

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