Friday, May 15, 2015

Philosophers for censoring religion

I have criticized Sean M. Carroll and Massimo Pigliucci for promoting their unscientific beliefs as science, and now I see that they are joined by another atheist philosopher in protesting a scientific event with only the vaguest connection with religion.

Religion News Service reports:
A prominent philosopher-scientist has pulled out of a popular public science forum over concerns about one of its funders, the John Templeton Foundation.

Daniel Dennett, co-director of the Center for Cognitive Studies at Tufts University, said he will not appear at the World Science Festival due to a long-standing “personal embargo” against Templeton money. The World Science Festival will be held May 27-31 in New York City and attracts upwards of 100,000 people to its public events.

The John Templeton Foundation, named for Sir John Templeton, a British-American businessman and philanthropist who died in 2008, funds numerous projects centered on creativity, love, freedom and gratitude. It focuses on what it calls “Science and the Big Questions,” and has regularly sponsored projects that investigate links between science and religion.

Dennett said he objects to Templeton sponsorship because he finds some of the projects they fund scientifically questionable. He is one of several scientists and philosophers who have refused to take Templeton money in the past, including physicist Sean Carroll and philosopher Massimo Pigliucci. ...

“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.”
That sounds a little crazy to me. Anyone who sponsors projects finds that some of them end up much better than others.

This is like refusing money that has "In God We Trust" on it.

Dennett is against any association with religious folks:
In the Wikipedia entry on Templeton, Dennett describes the experience of debating astrologers at an event and finding to his dismay that just doing this raised the respectability of astrology in the eyes of the audience. Templeton is not about the study of religion but about making sure that religion keeps a seat at the table when it comes to big questions. There is no better way to do this than to mix it up with scientists and philosophers. Can you imagine the reverse ever being necessary?
By this reasoning, physicists should avoid all association with philosophers.

Leftist-atheist-evolutionist Jerry Coyne agrees with Dennett, and complains about the
Templeton Mission:
The John Templeton Foundation serves as a philanthropic catalyst for discoveries relating to the Big Questions of human purpose and ultimate reality. We support research on subjects ranging from complexity, evolution, and infinity to creativity, forgiveness, love, and free will. We encourage civil, informed dialogue among scientists, philosophers, and theologians and between such experts and the public at large, for the purposes of definitional clarity and new insights.

Our vision is derived from the late Sir John Templeton's optimism about the possibility of acquiring “new spiritual information” and from his commitment to rigorous scientific research and related scholarship. The Foundation's motto, "How little we know, how eager to learn," exemplifies our support for open-minded inquiry and our hope for advancing human progress through breakthrough discoveries.
Coyne particularly opposes anyone advocating free will.

I am all in favor of people denouncing that they think is superstitious, or unsubstantiated, or immoral, or whatever, but this is just ridiculous. Dennett was going to be on a panel with Steve Pinker and two others. Pinker is a Jewish atheist who is active in anti-religion organizations.

Dennett once trashed a book on free will because the author got some Templeton funding. Don't these guys realize that the US Government has funded some questionable projects? So has Harvard, and everyone else. They are giving atheism a bad name.

I am not expecting science to have too much to say about "forgiveness, love, and free will", but if someone wants to have an informed dialog between scientists and theologians, I do not see this as anything to be afraid of.
Meanwhile, here is Pigliucci in one of his rants:
“Pigliucci has always come across as anti-science to me — saying things like “every scientific theory has been proven wrong” and other screeds”

I didn’t make that up, it is a trivial result of studying history of science.

“He strikes me as bitter that scientists don’t take his cherished philosophical musings as seriously as he would like”

Sigh. For the umpteenth time: I am also a scientist. Indeed, I have spent most of my academic career in a biology lab.

“going so far as to fabricate the label “scientism””

Scientism is a widely discussed concept, which I most certainly did not invent.
No, every scientific theory has not been proven wrong. His attitude shows why scientists have no respect for philosophers. The problem is not just him; apparently it is considered "a trivial result of studying history of science" that all scientific theories have been proven wrong. He writes books attacking pseudoscience but he is also part of an academic philosophy enterprise that is anti-science to the core. See also how he trashes someone for being skeptical about global warming.

Isaac Asimov wrote an essay on The Relativity of Wrong, where he attacked the foolishness of a non-scientist for criticizing science for having their theories proved wrong:
The young specialist in English Lit, having quoted me, went on to lecture me severely on the fact that in every century people have thought they understood the universe at last, and in every century they were proved to be wrong. It follows that the one thing we can say about our modern "knowledge" is that it is wrong. The young man then quoted with approval what Socrates had said on learning that the Delphic oracle had proclaimed him the wisest man in Greece. "If I am the wisest man," said Socrates, "it is because I alone know that I know nothing." the implication was that I was very foolish because I was under the impression I knew a great deal.

My answer to him was, "John, when people thought the earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the earth was spherical, they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together." ...

Naturally, the theories we now have might be considered wrong in the simplistic sense of my English Lit correspondent, but in a much truer and subtler sense, they need only be considered incomplete.
That's right. Theories like the round Earth, Newtonian celestial mechanics, and Maxwell's electromagnetic are incomplete, and not wrong. When Philosophy and English Lit majors say that they were wrong, they are just showing an ignorant contempt for modern science.


  1. "..a Jewish atheist"


    A man was accosted while walking down the street. He was asked "are you a Protestant or a Catholic?" "I am an atheist", he replied. "Fine", came the response, "so are you a Protestand atheist or a Catholic atheist?".
    That is usually told as a joke.

    1. Pinker describes himself as a "Jewish atheist". Asimov and Coyne could be described that way also. I added links for verification. No, it is not a joke.