There's been a lot of talk lately about whether public broadcasting shows too much lefty bias. Generally, I don't put much stock in this talk, but I had to listen to this Morning Edition piece on the John Templeton Foundation
twice to decide what I thought about it.
(Sidebar: More than once, my very wise brother has called me on not really listening, but thinking about my response to the part I did hear. And he's right; it's a debater's trick which I really have to look out for. I caught myself doing it while this piece aired, so I went back to force myself to really just listen. I'm interested in your feelings about the segment, but only if you're prepared to do the same. Just listen, then decide.)
In a nutshell, the John Templeton Foundation
has started giving away significant sums of money to physics researchers, apparently primarily in the cosmology and astrophysics areas. Templeton is an expressly pro-religion foundation, interested in the intersections of theology and sciences. (Based on a very limited amount of research, it does seem that they probably have a rightward bent on social issues.) Some physicists aren't comfortable taking their money.
This brings up two areas of interest for me. I plan to work the rest of my life in non-profit higher education. I know that all money has strings, and you have to be on the lookout for the conditions you can't live with. But as far as I'm concerned, if you can establish that the strings aren't that bad, take the money and run. Do what you gotta do so you can do what you wanna do.
One string is that the donor always wants to be acknowledged. (Library Lesson 1: make sure you pull your This Book Is A Generous Donation From
bookplates before you take a book out of the collection. Boy, do they not like finding their donations in the second-hand booksale.) Some organizations, you don't dignify with your name. It's not like I'd take money from the Klan or NAMBLA. On the other hand, I once told a colleague that, not only would I take money from Philip Morris, but if they wanted to buy me a private jet, they could paint ashes on the nose and a filter tip on the tail. (I can't speak for my bosses, but for personal use, the offer still stands.)
Another string is what kind of control the group wants over the work and its outcomes. As near as I can tell, it's not like Templeton wants weapons-applicable technology here. On the other hand, they do want people to participate in conferences and awards which don't fit The Official Ivory Tower Mold. They want to motivate scientists with money, and that bothers some people.
Well, guess what, folks: scholarly communication is broken. And you scholars broke it. It costs way too much to buy the scholarly information you need to do your job. In large part, it's because you took your eyes off the bottom lines of whether you got paid, and how much your institution has to pay. You let yourself get boxed out of the market; you lost control of the products of your labor. So you know what? Maybe it wouldn't kill us any deader to remember that your work has financial value to some people.
Gentle readers, highly educated folk with a fair amount of non-profit experience that you are, I put it to you: am I a mercenary or a realist?
The second point, perhaps, explains the first. I don't have a problem with the foundation's money because I agree with them, at least in part and on this issue. I believe that the universe was designed, intelligently, by a God well described in the Judeo-Christian tradition. I further believe that He gave us intellects to puzzle out and marvel at this amazingly complex creation. (In fact, Catholics, by rule, believe that faith and science cannot be in contradiction
I believe these things.
What I can prove is that He did it with physics, and chemistry, and biology.
(I can also remember the difference between religion class and science class, and the good reasons
we don't want governments deciding which religions to teach... until the winds change.)
So it rather follows that I wouldn't see the harm in taking money from people who think the same thing. (And why I would go back, to see if an organization I trust were really bashing an idea I agree with.) I do, though, think that Templeton might very well be barking up the wrong tree.
I think that Templeton isn't just interested in illuminating the process of creation, but on the hunt for the so-called proofs of the existence of God. Catholics are very fond of these little logical games. I've had people try to teach them to me no fewer than 4 times over the years, and I'd bet I'm forgetting a few. But what I remember, with one exception, is that they're all bunk.
All the so-called proofs seem to me to much better fit the formula "there is a God, and you can tell because" than "because of this phenomenon, there must be a God." I see no reason to believe that a watch implies a Watchmaker, any more than a hole implies a hole-digger. Everything seems to have a source in something else, but I believe it's a logical leap to assume that the First Mover was a conscious plan and not a random chance.
Oh, and Pascal's Wager
? That's not a proof, it's a supernatural sports book. Don't you think God Almighty will know you're only betting on him because the atheists lay an afterlife worth of points?
Nah, the only guy who had a clue was Wittgenstein
. Rationality belongs in science. I accept
evolution because all the evidence points to it, but I don't believe
in evolution any more than I believe
in the speed of gravity or of light. These things are provable. I don't have to believe in them.
Faith is for those things which don't make sense but we assert them anyway. Like love and joy and hate and pain, it doesn't add up. It just makes us alive.
Then again, if me and Wittgenstein are so smart, where's our prize money?