Pharyngula

The physicist Bernard d’Espagnat has won the Templeton Prize. I don’t think much of the Templeton; I think it’s a rather devious organization that’s trying to sidle in support for superstition under the guise of science. However, in this case I have to commend their choice for the nice remark he made on receiving the award.

In a statement d’Espagnat said “I feel myself deeply in accordance with the Templeton Foundation’s great, guiding idea that science does shed light [on spirituality]. In my view it does so mainly by rendering unbelievable an intellectual construction claiming to yield access to the ultimate ground of things with the sole use of the simple, somewhat trivial notions everybody has.”

Oh, snap.

Comments

  1. #1 Heraclides
    March 21, 2009

    Ouch :-) Wonder what the reactions of the awarding committee were… :-)

  2. #2 B.T. Murtagh
    March 21, 2009

    That’s the amazing thing about religiosity to me; the yawning chasm between the grandiosity of the claims and the inadequacy of the justifications.

  3. #3 PZ Myers
    March 21, 2009

    I suspect the awarding committee sits around thinking how sophisticated their beliefs about religion are, so they probably didn’t think he was talking about them.

  4. #4 K.R.
    March 21, 2009

    Oh, snap is right.

    Damn that’s classy.

  5. #5 'Tis Himself
    March 21, 2009

    Lions 1, Christians 0

  6. #6 The Adamant Atheist
    March 21, 2009

    I had a strange argument with a religious person using principles of science in their pitch the other day. He tried to make hay out of the fact that when one dies, that person’s matter survives. He used this to bolster his belief in life after death. Yet, one’s matter surviving and one’s consciousness surviving are quite distinct…

  7. #7 Peter McKellar
    March 21, 2009

    classic :)

    The problem with the Templeton Foundation is it has log-jammed a fortune and dispenses it for the most ludicrous of purposes. It could potentially debase and corrupt scientific objectivity. It speaks highly of the scientific community that the majority of output (that I have seen anyway) ends up showing nothing to support their (the foundation’s) cause and frequently the opposite.

    As such, it is the moral responsibility of researchers to empty the fund as quickly as possible – but without also feeding the Templeton troll.

    I would love to see some other scientific body match grants received from the foundation (effectively doubling the cash) if in the process of research it delivers findings contrary to the foundations goal. Research funding is so starved of funds though that this would be impossible :(

  8. #8 Wowbagger, OM
    March 21, 2009

    It’s amazing what you can feel empowered to say when you’ve got a huge, signed cheque in your hands…

  9. #9 Stacy
    March 21, 2009

    Very nice. I had to read it twice to understand it myself. …but-very nice. It’s quite more than my brain can handle all at once. :-)
    Prize awarded for his work on the…

    “…philosophical implications of quantum mechanics by laying the theoretical groundwork for experimentally testing the violation of Bell?s inequalities…”

  10. #10 Grendels Dad
    March 21, 2009

    I am soooo gonna use that quote the next time the door to door proselytizers come knockin?!

  11. #11 Kel
    March 21, 2009

    B e a utiful

  12. #12 Braiden
    March 21, 2009

    Had to read that twice to get the full impact. A perfect biting statement that appears at first to be inconspicuous

  13. #13 Bobby
    March 21, 2009

    For the slower of us here, can someone here please translate intellectual to layman?

  14. #14 Cath the Canberra Cook
    March 21, 2009

    @Bobby:
    “I feel myself deeply in accordance with the Templeton Foundation’s great, guiding idea that science does shed light [on spirituality].”

    Hai guyz, u r rite, siense tellz us lots abowt teh spirzooalty.

    “In my view it does so mainly by rendering unbelievable an intellectual construction claiming to yield access to the ultimate ground of things with the sole use of the simple, somewhat trivial notions everybody has.”

    I can says: siense makes ur ideaz luk stoopid! LOL pwned!11!

  15. #15 Stephen Wells
    March 21, 2009

    @13: He’s saying that the light science sheds on spirituality reveals it as an empty sham of grandiose and unjustified claims. But he said it better and got away without starting a fight.

  16. #16 Erasmus
    March 21, 2009

    Well, I hope we can all recognize that in this particular instance, the Templeton Foundation is giving a prize to a brilliant intellectual, for important work on a subject that has nothing to do with religion. No strings attached, it seems.

    So, kudos to the Templeton Foundation (again, in this particular instance).

  17. #17 Michael Hawkins
    March 21, 2009

    The Templeton Foundation is like Ken Miller. There’s some good stuff they’ve got going on, what with the intelligent design bashing, but then there’s just all the loopy hoola about magic that somehow manages to pass their arbitrary test of wishful thinking.

  18. #18 Brian's A Wild Downer
    March 21, 2009

    The brackets indicate that someone else added “on spirituality” to his quote. Who was it? Is that replacing something else? I wanna know the real quote.

  19. #19 Matt Penfold
    March 21, 2009

    Do you think Matt Nisbett will ever start talking sense in the unlikely event that the Templeton Prize commitee have a collective brain fart and award the prize to him ?

  20. #20 Ichthyic
    March 21, 2009

    In my view it does so mainly by rendering unbelievable an intellectual construction claiming to yield access to the ultimate ground of things with the sole use of the simple, somewhat trivial notions everybody has.”

    science puts the boot to apologetics based on simplistic, “common sense” claims.

    same thing as if he had said:

    science dispels the notion of a flat earth.

    The only response left to the religionaut is the Courtier’s Reply.

  21. #21 Ichthyic
    March 21, 2009

    Do you think Matt Nisbett will ever start talking sense in the unlikely event that the Templeton Prize commitee have a collective brain fart and award the prize to him ?

    Frankly, yes, I do.

    Nisbet is young to this battle. He will catch on eventually.

    …and then he will be a powerful ally…

    :p

    ITMT, I do hope the larger scientific organizations STOP taking what he say so fucking seriously.

    It’s an embarrassment.

  22. #22 Sastra
    March 21, 2009

    I’m not sure he’s saying what it sounds like he’s saying – or, at least, what we think he’s saying. The Templeton Foundation must have had a specific reason to give him their award. “An intellectual construction claiming to yield access to the ultimate ground of things” might be referring to metaphysical naturalism. “Simple, somewhat trivial notions” could be also be naturalism — maybe.

    I’d have to know more before I can say what I think he means to say here.

  23. #23 MikeMa
    March 21, 2009

    I believe Templeton was a BIG contributor FOR prop 8, and, as such, any dig that can be made in their direction is ok with me.

  24. #24 Ichthyic
    March 21, 2009

    no, sastra.

    he’s simply saying that simplistic notions don’t lead to greater understanding, regardless of the apologetics they are couched in.

    you don’t even have to read the first paragraph to grasp it.

    It’s like him saying that your grandma’s “trick knee” that supposedly lets her predict the weather isn’t really going to help explain meteorology.

  25. #25 MikeMa
    March 21, 2009

    Thought I remembered they were big supporters of Prop 8. According to this site the husband & wife gave 1.2 million. Search in PA. Asshats.

  26. #26 Andyo
    March 21, 2009

    Sastra, @22,
    So, this is like the high-brow version of the Beware the Believers video.

  27. #27 Matt Penfold
    March 21, 2009

    If recall the person behind the Templeton Foundation these days is the son. Templeton senior died not so long ago.

  28. #28 Andyo
    March 21, 2009

    I believe Templeton was a BIG contributor FOR prop 8, and, as such, any dig that can be made in their direction is ok with me.

    In fairness, it was the son of The Guy, and as far as I know, it was his personal thang, not the foundation.

  29. #29 MikeMa
    March 21, 2009

    In fairness, it was the son of The Guy, and as far as I know, it was his personal thang, not the foundation.

    John Jr & Josephine Jr. Guess that makes it the kids. Apple not far from the tree and all that though.

  30. #30 Andyo
    March 21, 2009

    I think it was mentioned that the son was more strident in his religiosity, and the old man was actually pretty honest. I could be wrong though, I just read these things in passing.

  31. #31 Sastra
    March 21, 2009

    From the Templeton site:

    d?Espagnat has written and lectured extensively on the philosophical significance of the universal truths of quantum mechanics. He notes, however, that quantum physics merely predicts observational results. As far as describing reality, it suggests that not only our plain, everyday concepts of objects but also our scientific concepts refer only to phenomena ? that is, to mere appearances common to all.

    Still, d?Espagnat warns, experiments often falsify theories and so there must exist, beyond mere appearances, something that resists us and lies beyond the phenomena, a ?veiled reality? that science does not describe but only glimpses uncertainly. In turn, contrary to those who claim that matter is the only reality, the possibility that other means, including spirituality, may also provide a window on ultimate reality cannot be ruled out, d?Espagnat insists, by cogent scientific arguments. Although he concedes the theological implications of the term ?veiled reality,? he guards against using it as justification for specific religious doctrines which can be falsified by reason and fact.

    In his nomination of d?Espagnat for the Templeton Prize, Nidhal Guessoum, Chair of Physics at American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates, wrote, ?He has constructed a coherent body of work which shows why it is credible that the human mind is capable of perceiving deeper realities.?

    These perceptions offer, d?Espagnat has said, ?the possibility that the things we observe may be tentatively interpreted as signs providing us with some perhaps not entirely misleading glimpses of a higher reality and, therefore, that higher forms of spirituality are fully compatible with what seems to emerge from contemporary physics.?

    Ok, I’m starting to both get a sense for why he was chosen, and how to interpret his remark on receiving the award. He doesn’t seem to be dismissing “sophisticated” versions of spirituality. He also seems to be endorsing “other ways of knowing.” He also writes:

    ?Artistic emotions essentially imply the impression of a mysterious realm which we may merely catch a glimpse of,? he said. ?Science and only science yields true knowledge. On the other hand, concerning the ground of things, science has no such privilege.?

    Artistic emotions help us catch a glimpse of the mysterious realm implied by quantum physics? Uh huh.

  32. #32 windy
    March 21, 2009

    Seems like Sastra is right, here’s more:

    “Materialists consider that we are explained entirely by combinations of small uninteresting things like atoms or quarks,” said d’Espagnat, whose latest book in English — “On Physics and Philosophy” — was published in 2006.
    “I believe we ultimately come from a superior entity to which awe and respect is due and which we shouldn’t try to approach by trying to conceptualize too much,” he said. “It’s more a question of feeling.”

    Oh, well. I suppose if he was as sensible as we first supposed, he wouldn’t have won the prize.

  33. #33 Erasmus
    March 21, 2009

    Artistic emotions help us catch a glimpse of the mysterious realm implied by quantum physics? Uh huh.

    But he didn’t say that. There’s no reason to believe he’s an idiot. Very likely he knows massively more about quantum physics than you and would not subscribe to such a ludicrous notion.

  34. #34 Erasmus
    March 21, 2009

    Oh, well. I suppose if he was as sensible as we first supposed, he wouldn’t have won the prize.

    The guy is 87 years old. So he talks a little nonsense when he’s going senile, big deal. You’re clearly being unreasonable.

  35. #35 Blake Stacey
    March 21, 2009

    I simply don’t understand these people. Everything we know about quantum physics, we know because we did science. How exactly do you get from “science is successful in finding out about all these exotic things” to “science is limited, spirituality FTW!”?

    “Materialists consider that we are explained entirely by combinations of small uninteresting things like atoms or quarks,” said d’Espagnat, whose latest book in English — “On Physics and Philosophy” — was published in 2006.

    Well, that’s one philosophy book I know I’ll never have to read. What does this guy think about music? A symphony can’t just be made of uninteresting things like “notes”. It must come from a higher power!

    ?Artistic emotions essentially imply the impression of a mysterious realm which we may merely catch a glimpse of,? he said.

    Yeah, like the inside of the artist’s motherfucking head.

  36. #36 Sastra
    March 21, 2009

    Erasmus #33 wrote:

    But he didn’t say that. There’s no reason to believe he’s an idiot. Very likely he knows massively more about quantum physics than you and would not subscribe to such a ludicrous notion.

    I’m not questioning his understanding of quantum physics itself: I’m trying to get at what he thinks the “philosophical significance of the universal truths of quantum physics” are. My paraphrase was fairly close to what he wrote, I thought.

    In the article windy linked to in #32, he is quoted as saying “When they hear very good music, people who like classical music have the impression they get at some reality that way. Why not?” This presumably ties into quantum physics, and endorses what’s been called Quantum Mysticism.

    I think.

  37. #37 Sastra
    March 21, 2009

    Erasmus #34 wrote:

    So he talks a little nonsense when he’s going senile, big deal.

    Apparently a big enough deal for some — it just got him 1.42 million dollars.

  38. #38 Wowbagger, OM
    March 21, 2009

    Blake Stacey wrote:

    I simply don’t understand these people. Everything we know about quantum physics, we know because we did science. How exactly do you get from “science is successful in finding out about all these exotic things” to “science is limited, spirituality FTW!”?

    Oh, it’s simple – don’t you know? Everything that science can find that agrees with their religious/spiritual preconceptions is within the grasp of science; everything that science finds that disagrees with them is where science is limited.

    A bit like the bible – every time the bible gets it right it’s a fact and means the bible can be relied on to be accurate. Every time it gets it wrong is where what’s written is a metaphor and not to be taken literally because the bible isn’t just a book, it’s a collection of texts written different genres.

    Double standard? Nooooooooh, not at all…

  39. #39 Numad
    March 21, 2009

    “small uninteresting things like atoms or quarks”

    I think that’s a very telling phrase… he wants someone to tell him a good story.

  40. #40 Blake Stacey
    March 21, 2009

    Sastra (#36):

    In the article windy linked to in #32, he is quoted as saying “When they hear very good music, people who like classical music have the impression they get at some reality that way. Why not?” This presumably ties into quantum physics, and endorses what’s been called Quantum Mysticism.

    Even if d’Espagnat doesn’t intend for the two ideas to tie together, enough people will draw the inference that he does, and the discourse will continue to degrade.

    (My fellow physicist and blogger Moshe Rozali has convinced me that the discussion about the “foundations” or the “interpretation” of quantum mechanics draws too little upon quantum field theory. Empirically speaking, Nature has been telling us to take quantum mechanics seriously, and that Einstein’s special theory of relativity was a darn good idea; put the two together, and you get QFT, a subtle construction indeed. Philosophy hasn’t quite caught up.)

  41. #41 Erasmus
    March 21, 2009

    In the article windy linked to in #32, he is quoted as saying “When they hear very good music, people who like classical music have the impression they get at some reality that way. Why not?”

    No, that’s a BS, coldly uncharitable interpretation of what he said. You’re accusing him of a clear non sequitur: OBVIOUSLY classical music has nothing to do with quantum mechanics.

    A more plausible interpretation, which has the added virtue of being bloody good food for thought, is that he meant something like this. Our vague aesthetic sense of beauty in art might be guided by something objective — for instance, maybe we’re attracted to mathematically simple symmetries, or the golden ratio. Something like that.

  42. #42 inkadu
    March 21, 2009

    He notes, however, that quantum physics merely predicts observational results.

    And astrology merely predicts the movements of planets.

    And physics merely predicts the the pressure of a volume of gas in a container at a specific temperature.

    And neurology merely predicts what happens when you apply stimulus to parts of the brain.

    And biology merely predicts what happens when you change the environment of an organism.

    And relatively merely predicts what happens when an object approaches light speed.

    And evolution merely describes how life can to be in all its forms.

    Jeez, when it comes right down to it, science really doesn’t tell you much of anything at all — just mere facts and mere concepts and mere theories.

    As far as describing reality, it suggests that not only our plain, everyday concepts of objects but also our scientific concepts refer only to phenomena ? that is, to mere appearances common to all.

    Why is the inanity of a concept always directly proportional to the number of dependent clauses in which the concept is explained?

  43. #43 Erasmus
    March 21, 2009

    Even if d’Espagnat doesn’t intend for the two ideas to tie together, enough people will draw the inference that he does, and the discourse will continue to degrade.

    Again: he is 87 years old. Cut the guy some slack. If he’s like most people his age, he is in no condition to guard his words from being twisted by God Squad.

    Many scentists think the fundamental questions of quantum mechanics are “beyond science” and all that jazz. In fact something to that effect is asserted, as if it’s an axiom, in a standard graduate textbook on quantum mechanics (by Albert Messiah). I agree with you that it’s rather silly, but still, this d’Espagnat guy isn’t the only offender.

  44. #44 Matt
    March 21, 2009

    @inkadu #42
    I’m sure you meant astronomy, not astrology.
    Somewhere Phil Plait is hitting his head on a desk and he doesn’t know why.

  45. #45 Blake Stacey
    March 21, 2009

    OK, I’ll be explicit about this: I have no evidence to suggest that d’Espagnat is a bad person. Being inclined to be charitable, I will presume him innocent until I have reason to think him guilty. Knowing effectively nothing about the man’s personal life, if I use his name, I do so metonymically, referring to his ideas in an anthropomorphic way.

    A man may deserve courtesy, but a metonym? Never! Moo hoo ha ha!

    I am far more incensed by the Templeton family and Foundation than I am by any particular recipient of their largess.

  46. #46 Sastra
    March 21, 2009

    Erasmus #41 wrote:

    No, that’s a BS, coldly uncharitable interpretation of what he said. You’re accusing him of a clear non sequitur: OBVIOUSLY classical music has nothing to do with quantum mechanics.

    I’m not sure it’s obvious — particularly to the folks at Templeton. And this seems to be a longterm theme of his, with books written on this subject.

    ?Artistic emotions essentially imply the impression of a mysterious realm which we may merely catch a glimpse of.”

    A more plausible interpretation, which has the added virtue of being bloody good food for thought, is that he meant something like this. Our vague aesthetic sense of beauty in art might be guided by something objective — for instance, maybe we’re attracted to mathematically simple symmetries, or the golden ratio. Something like that.

    A much more plausible interpretation, yes. I’m still not convinced it’s an accurate interpretation of his views.

  47. #47 Erasmus
    March 21, 2009

    A much more plausible interpretation, yes. I’m still not convinced it’s an accurate interpretation of his views.

    Well all I know is that “classical music => quantum mechanics” is just total nonsense. No sane person could make that argument. I’m going to assume he’s sane, in the absence of further evidence. Albeit maybe a little senile and led astray by French philosophical obscurantism.

  48. #48 Blake Stacey
    March 21, 2009

    If I wanted to talk about the hypothesis that we have an innate aesthetic sense, geared to symmetry groups or whatever (the golden ratio business is basically bollocks), I wouldn’t do it by bringing up some putative “mysterious realm” only visible in glimpses. And I wouldn’t say the sort of things d’Espagnat is quoted as saying (see windy‘s link in #32).

    Some baffling discoveries of quantum physics led him to believe all creation has a wholeness and interrelatedness that many scientists miss by trying to break problems down into their component parts rather than understand them in larger contexts.

    One of these is entanglement, the way that paired subatomic particles remain linked even if they move far apart, so that experimenting with one automatically effects [sic, I think] the other without any apparent communication between them. [ah, it's a shoddy explanation of entanglement, anyway]

    This view clashes with the materialist outlook widespread among scientists.

    For extraordinarily naive values of “materialist”, maybe.

    D’Espagnat says this [quantum physics] points toward a reality beyond the reach of empirical science. The human intuitions in art, music and spirituality can bring us closer to this ultimate reality, but it is so mysterious we cannot know or even imagine it.

    “Mystery is not something negative that has to be eliminated,” he said. “On the contrary, it is one of the constitutive elements of being.”

    Euh. . . .

  49. #49 The Adamant Atheist
    March 21, 2009

    #47

    Come on, Francis Collins believes in the Resurrection, yet it’d be inaccurate to classify him as insane in a clinical sense. Sometimes wacky ideas spring forth from otherwise balanced individuals.

  50. #50 Mike M.
    March 21, 2009

    I suspect the awarding committee sits around thinking how sophisticated their beliefs about religion are

    Hey PZ, have you been following your own blog lately? How about your readers’ comments? Talk about the pot calling the kettle black…

  51. #51 Erasmus
    March 21, 2009

    Well, look. He was a distinguished theoretical physicist, holding a prominent post a highly respected university. He did important work on how to test the Bell inequality (which is the reason cited for his Templeton Prize). He’s now 87 and is being quoted, always vaguely, as advocating airy-fairy obscurantism. (Shades of Anthony Flew there.) He has even said explicitly that his comments shouldn’t be interpreted as giving support to religion. I’m going to give him the benefit of the doubt, unless I see unambiguously damning evidence.

    Here’s an article he wrote in his younger days. You can see he isn’t an idiot and was capable of writing quite clearly. He holds dubious, Penrose-like views about the connection between consciousness and quantum mechanics, but that isn’t in itself indefensible or scornworthy.

  52. #52 Erasmus
    March 21, 2009

    Another point is that I think that kind of talk about “mysterious realms” and so on is a logical tactic, if your goal is to provide consolation to religious-minded individuals, without actually siding with them. Many militant atheists find it hard to believe, but not all competent scientists feel comfortable telling non-scientists that the world is a veil of tears and that religion is all hogwash.

  53. #53 Sastra
    March 21, 2009

    Mike M #50:

    When PZ talks about the “sophisticated” religious beliefs, I think he’s referring to beliefs in spiritual realms where “mystery is one of the constitutive elements of ultimate reality, which is so mysterious we cannot know or even imagine it.” This sort of high spirituality isn’t really saying much or going anywhere.

    I do think PZ is mistaken when he thinks d’Espagnat is denouncing this, though. I think he’s endorsing it.

    We folks in the comments section may think we understand things we don’t really understand, but we’re not promoting this sort of obscure handwaving and calling ourselves ‘sophisticated.’ At least we anchor ourselves to more rational ways of being wrong.

  54. #54 Erasmus
    March 21, 2009

    …veil of tears

    Bah! Vale.

    Growl.

  55. #55 Wowbagger, OM
    March 21, 2009

    I guess in one sense what the Templeton people are doing is a good thing – by which I mean that every single ‘experiment’ or study they do is finding absolutely zero evidence for god/s and related supernatural entities.

    Eventually it’s going to reach a point where we can point to the body of work they’ve funded and say, ‘uh, guys? You’ve found dick to support your beliefs. Maybe now it’s time to try giving your money to science that actually finds shit, and by doing so benefit the whole world and not just provide excuses for apologists and the few remaining scientists clinging to their archaic religious beliefs.’

  56. #56 The Adamant Atheist
    March 21, 2009

    #52

    Hm. To sort of paraphrase Richard Dawkins here, does the scientific community owe religious people consolation? If what you’re suggesting is true, and some scientists muffle themselves to an extent in order to console the religious, that is very disturbing indeed.

  57. #57 Jadehawk
    March 21, 2009

    sastra you poopyhead, you ruined all the fun :-p

    anyway, I’m also more inclined to think that he meant that those “grounds” are so different and un-understandable to humans that the human mind can’t get at it… i.e. “god works in mysterious ways” for the sophisticates. he says “common sense” can’t get at those spiritual grounds, not that there aren’t any

  58. #58 The Science Pundit
    March 21, 2009

    I have a new hero!

  59. #59 Sastra
    March 21, 2009

    Erasmus #51 wrote:

    He did important work on how to test the Bell inequality (which is the reason cited for his Templeton Prize)

    Well, it’s mentioned, but since the Templeton Prize is specifically for “progress towards research or discoveries about spiritual realities” I think what you’re calling his “airy-fairy obscurantism” is what’s being rewarded. If it’s nothing more than a “logical tactic” or a deliberate attempt to create misunderstanding, that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be criticized or analyzed.

    Like you, I’d like to give him the benefit of the doubt, or see him as another Flew, senile and exploited. I’m not that familiar with him, or his work. But given that I have nothing to go on but these articles, I can’t help but think that saying it’s all pandering is probably kidding myself.

  60. #60 Blake Stacey
    March 21, 2009

    Yes, the man wasn’t an idiot. He did good work. That’s beside the point. What matters now is that his name and reputation are now part of an image which a well-funded agency for misinformation has constructed to advance their agenda. The statements attributed to Bernard d’Espagnat, Templeton Prizewinner, are ludicrous, transparently fallacious, pissing in the meme pool. Was he an active participant in the tarting-up of his own philosophy? I don’t know. The only things I can judge are the textual effects.

  61. #61 Jim
    March 21, 2009

    D?Espagnat, 87, who was born a Catholic

    I hate constructions like that. He was born an atheist, in the most fundamental sense, as was every other human who ever existed.

  62. #62 Blake Stacey
    March 21, 2009

    Many militant atheists find it hard to believe, but not all competent scientists feel comfortable telling non-scientists that the world is a veil of tears and that religion is all hogwash.

    Oh, it’s easy to believe. We’re confronted with evidence of it all the time. Doesn’t mean it’s a status quo which anybody has to like.

  63. #63 Sastra
    March 21, 2009

    Religion isn’t all hogwash. I like a lot of the art and music, and the bake sales are often very good. It’s worth it to buy the cookbooks.

  64. #64 Blake Stacey
    March 21, 2009

    Sastra (#59):

    [S]ince the Templeton Prize is specifically for “progress towards research or discoveries about spiritual realities” I think what you’re calling his “airy-fairy obscurantism” is what’s being rewarded.

    The prize announcement from the Foundation says his “explorations of the philosophical implications of quantum physics have opened new vistas on the definition of reality and the potential limits of knowable science” (emphasis mine). Of course, judging what they actually wanted to do from what they say is a bit of a dangerous game.

  65. #65 Wowbagger, OM
    March 21, 2009

    Blake Stacey wrote:

    What matters now is that his name and reputation are now part of an image which a well-funded agency for misinformation has constructed to advance their agenda.

    Indeed. It allows the religious to point to someone like him and go, ‘See! see? There are plenty of very clever, accomplished scientists who don’t believe in atheism, so it must be wrong.’

    Chequebook credibility.

  66. #66 Blake Stacey
    March 21, 2009

    Aw, bugger all. I’m turning into the mean guy in this thread. And the further we get from physics, the deeper we go into shades-of-meaning and speculations-about-motive, the less fun it becomes. (Not that it’s particularly easy to actually discuss physics on this site, but never mind.)

    I’m off to go drink.

  67. #67 recovering catholic
    March 21, 2009

    We often count on Sastra to keep us honest here. I really admire her for her refusal to take things at face value and to dig deeper. I think she just won a Molly or I’d nominate her again. (Isn’t Sastra a she???)

  68. #68 Erasmus
    March 21, 2009

    Indeed. It allows the religious to point to someone like him and go, ‘See! see? There are plenty of very clever, accomplished scientists who don’t believe in atheism, so it must be wrong.’

    Eh, who cares? Whatever mysticism these people subscribe to isn’t going to affect your life, even remotely. They’re not trying to teach ID or ban stem cell research. And if Pharyngula is a fair sample of atheists, Templeton woo-woos are in general far more pleasant people than atheists. I can’t understand this animus for the Templeton Foundation, sorry.

  69. #69 Wowbagger, OM
    March 21, 2009

    OT, but interesting: ‘Deadly’ stampede at Pope speech – the Christian god rewards his dedicated followers by allowing them to die while trying to see the Pope.

  70. #70 Erasmus
    March 21, 2009

    And if Pharyngula is a fair sample of atheists, Templeton woo-woos are in general far more pleasant people than atheists.

    Sorry, I’m very tired. That was unclear. I’m an atheist and am including myself in that estimate. I’d say most of those liberal Christian types are far nicer people than me, and most people on Phayngula, for that matter). They have a few silly, harmless metaphysical beliefs; big deal.

  71. #71 Sastra
    March 21, 2009

    Erasmus #68 wrote:

    Eh, who cares? Whatever mysticism these people subscribe to isn’t going to affect your life, even remotely. They’re not trying to teach ID or ban stem cell research.

    This isn’t just an attenuated Deism or vague imaginings about the possible. The Templeton Foundation is specifically looking for scientific evidence that supports supernatural claims about religion or — more obscurely — spiritual realities. They are explicitly hoping to undermine ‘materialistic naturalism,’ and re-enchant the universe.

    At best, they’re wrong. At worst, they’re promoting a form of pseudoscience which can and probably will be used to justify other forms of pseudoscience (energy healing, anyone?)

    In either case, they’re open to criticism — on scientific as well as philosophical grounds. Pharyngula specifically deals with the interface and clash between science and religion, and most of us are naturalists. So, I guess it means we “care.”

    The fact that the people are pleasant isn’t relevant to whether or not they’re right on this particular matter — as you know.

  72. #72 Wowbagger, OM
    March 21, 2009

    Eh, who cares? Whatever mysticism these people subscribe to isn’t going to affect your life, even remotely.

    It might be a stretch but I’d say that if the sizable amounts of money donated to the people trying to find Jesus Particles or some other evidence to support their dopey beliefs was going to medical or energy research my life, and the lives of people I care about, might end up being a lot better – and/or longer.

    So, in that sense – yes, it does affect my life. But I do see your point.

  73. #73 The Adamant Atheist
    March 21, 2009

    “a few silly, harmless metaphysical beliefs”

    Well, they may seem harmless at first. I remember the desecration of the host incident on this site. Lots of Christians were militantly angry that Dr. Myers stabbed a cracker. Not sure if it’s wise to discount the danger of these heartfelt religious beliefs, however harmless they seem at the time.

  74. #74 Kel
    March 21, 2009

    Being judged on net behaviour is hardly a good way to judge character. The semi-anonymous environment combined with incendiary subject matter is bound to promote an extreme in behaviour. I know speaking from personal experience is bad, but there’s a music forum I’m on where it’s a constant battle between people. Yet meeting these people offline and they are almost the exact opposite of their online persona. It’s not a good reflection to judge others based solely on one aspect of their personality that they express in a semi-anonymous environment.

    Too many judgemental fools come on here, this is why people hate concern trolls. Judge not lest ye be judged motherfucker!

  75. #75 Kel
    March 21, 2009

    Eh, who cares? Whatever mysticism these people subscribe to isn’t going to affect your life, even remotely.

    Give an inch, they take a mile. Just look at some of the diffuse arguments for God; The argument from first cause for example. Now regressing there must be a causeless cause, and that’s fair enough. But then they call that causeless cause god, and not only a god but God – the Christian construct of God. A God who created all the universe so it would reward and punish one particular species on one planet for a matter of thoughtcrime, a God who has conscious will in the universe and answers prayers, a God who made us in his own image. Give them an inch…

    i.e. it’s not so much that mysticism is a problem, rather that the philosophy is misused. I couldn’t give a shit what mystical beliefs people have, but surely it can be appreciated that those mystical beliefs are but a few short steps from absolute woo and that these mystical beliefs are used as justification for keeping dogmatism.

  76. #76 Moses
    March 21, 2009

    That was so goddamn funny…

  77. #77 'Tis Himself
    March 21, 2009

    Sastra #63

    Religion isn’t all hogwash…It’s worth it to buy the cookbooks.

    Those cookbooks are heavy into “add one can of cream of mushroom soup” and light on using garlic and dry white wine.

  78. #78 Alan Kellogg
    March 21, 2009

    Looks to me like some people are commenting on the man because he irritates them.

    As the one-liner goes, “It works fine in practice, but what about theory?”

    Where quantum mechanics (and Evolution, and Special and General Relativity) are concerned, they are descriptions of how we understand things to work, based on what we currently know. We do not know everything about this universe, and cannot know everything about this universe so long as we are part of this universe. Thus our knowledge of this universe, and the things of this universe will remain incomplete, and ultimately speaking all that we know of this universe will always and forever be wrong.

    In short, all we know is an approximation of the reality. Science is based on that, and our desire to know better the world we live in.

  79. #79 skeptic
    March 21, 2009

    Hmmmmmm. I haven’t read all of the comments, so maybe someone has pointed this out. But I’m not so sure d’Espagnat was talking about the nominating committee (i.e., religious folk). He is known as an iconoclast with regard to the standard “scientific” understanding of “reality”. The “intellectual construction” he may be referring to is the scientifice(minus quantum mechanics) understanding of reality. This quote could be interpreted as saying that the spirtual understading of reality is closer to the truth than, say, the Newtonian-physics understanding of reality. I hope I’m wrong, but anyone who wins the Templeton Prize doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt. Anyway, I prefer PZ’s reading of the quote….

  80. #80 Geoff
    March 21, 2009

    Those cookbooks are heavy into “add one can of cream of mushroom soup” and light on using garlic and dry white wine.

    Um… I have a cookbook. I gave a copy to PZ when he was in Toronto. He seemed to like it.

    It’s not very Christian though. They’d probably object to all the dark arts in there.

    Just sayin’ is all.

  81. #81 Sastra
    March 21, 2009

    skeptic #79 wrote:

    Anyway, I prefer PZ’s reading of the quote….

    So do I, but I think you’re right.

  82. #82 Moses
    March 21, 2009

    It’s an interesting argument… No, it’s not interesting…

    Here’s how I see it: physicists, sometimes, get all geek-emo-romantic and twaddle out this metaphysical BS. Oppenheimer, Teller, Feynman, Dyson, Einstein and a whole bunch, including many confirmed-hard-core atheists, have gone all “spiritual twaddle” at times and written crap like this…

    They’re just being poetic and expressing their love of what they do, what they see, how they see it and what not. Making more of it, especially in light of those comments, I think is a bit silly.

  83. #83 windy
    March 21, 2009

    Erasmus:

    (me:) Oh, well. I suppose if he was as sensible as we first supposed, he wouldn’t have won the prize.

    The guy is 87 years old. So he talks a little nonsense when he’s going senile, big deal. You’re clearly being unreasonable.

    Actually, I was aware of his age and the thought did cross my mind that it might have played a role, but then I decided that insinuating that he was senile would be too mean-spirited. Interesting to see that the self-appointed judges of “nice” have no such scruples, eh?

  84. #84 John Morales
    March 21, 2009

    Alan,

    … and ultimately speaking all that we know of this universe will always and forever be wrong.

    Maybe so, but all you’re really saying is that all we’ll only ever know is that which can be known. D’oh.

    I think we all know that. Whatever is so mysterious that it can’t be known is not exactly going to affect us, is it? :)

    Your use of ‘wrong’ seems somewhat ambiguous, too.

    Classical mechanics is not so much wrong as it’s incomplete, and that quantum mechanics is perhaps also incomplete also doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

  85. #85 Wowbagger, OM
    March 21, 2009

    Here’s how I see it: physicists, sometimes, get all geek-emo-romantic and twaddle out this metaphysical BS

    Yeah – IIRC there were a couple of physicists involved in that What The Bleep Do We Know? movie that came out a couple of years ago. Scary.

  86. #86 Holbach
    March 21, 2009

    Wowbagger @ 69

    Anytime religious insanity makes the news it should never be considered OT, especially considering the nature and topic of our rational comments. So do intrude with any news of religion rum amuck, as to what better forum can it be addressed as here on Pharyngula?
    How are things in Adelaide? Still maintaining its livability?

  87. #87 Geoff
    March 21, 2009

    Yeah – IIRC there were a couple of physicists involved in that What The Bleep Do We Know? movie that came out a couple of years ago. Scary.

    Yeah I agree but then wouldn’t Einstein, Oppenheimer, Teller, Feynman, Dyson have a greater understanding that the folks who produce that movie crap (like What the Bleep…) not able to distill with any realistic certainty the way Carl Sagan was able to?

    Sagan said he was spiritual but not religious. Maybe he and all those great minds just saw something that, I as a dummy, did not? I’m open to the emotional implications in the newest Hubble telescope photo.

    It might not explain ‘God’ does it not as skeptic(s) (myself included) play into our own sense of wanting to understand the universe better?

    I just don’t blame Einstein et all, for the faults of the media to explain that. I actually rely on the likes of PZ and other scientists for more explanation.

    I’m even comforted by that, and that there are people smarter than me figuring all this out.

    Just my thoughts.

  88. #88 Holbach
    March 21, 2009

    skeptic @ 79

    Agree with you on any person who wins the Templeton prize does not deserve the benefit of doubt, especially when their remarks are ambiguous to say the least. After all, there is no doubt that the Templeton Foundation exists for the propagation of religious intent.

  89. #89 Wowbagger, OM
    March 21, 2009

    Holbach,

    I guess I called it that ’cause it isn’t directly related to the thread’s content. I’d have emailed it to PZ but I imagine he’s out at some godless atheist baby-eating orgy, mocking assorted gods and desecrating crackers.

    Things in Adelaide are good. We’ve just had our Fringe festival, so I’ve been out pretty much every night for the last month seeing (and reviewing) cabaret and comedy and theatre – including the phenomenal Tim Minchin, who really sank the boot (well, the foot; he tends to go shoeless on stage) into religion in a few of his songs.

    Now I’m going to have to go through withdrawal; I’ve gotten used to be being crazy-busy.

    How are things with you? I haven’t noticed you commenting much of late.

  90. #90 Chris
    March 21, 2009

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who needed a translation of what he said

  91. #91 Ben
    March 21, 2009

    Any fellow Texans here?

    Please go to the Texas Freedom Network blog and smite a particularly obnoxious creotard.

    http://tfnblog.wordpress.com/2009/03/19/what-does-terri-leo-really-want-to-teach/#comments

  92. #92 Alan Kellogg
    March 21, 2009

    John Morales, #84

    And by that measure we shall always be wrong. Wrong in that we can never know completely and fully. What we know shall always be an approximation of what is. Unless and until we are able to see our universe from a vantage point outside it, there will always be that uncertainty.

    I do realize that most of us here know that, but how many people really understand it? And what of all those who speak with great authority that nothing we could ever learn in the future can ever change their minds?

  93. #93 Holbach
    March 21, 2009

    Wowbagger @ 89

    I had to take a long breather from the comments of the religious morons who are just too damn impenetrable to reason, and are, after a while, just a waste of time and brain cells to bother with. I would prefer to discuss Astronomy and other science subjects that are in your face reality, and not that stultifying mindless religious crap that no amount of blatant reason will dissuade. A good example is the recent underwater volcanic explosions near Tonga, nature in all it’s rawness and physical manifestations. If the eruptions continue over a period of time, they might increase the land surface of Tonga. This just amazes me, and extrapolate this occurrance say, on Jupiter’s moon Io, or any other planet or moon in our galaxy or other galaxy and the mind just reels with utter amazement and enthrallment! I just don’t have the inclination or temperment to deal with brain dead religionists. Life is moving too swiftly to waste one’s time with that crap. I’d like to be riding Cassini as it explores Saturn and it’s incredible moons and just wonder at it all, and all without superstitious creation to detract from the natural beginnings.
    Does Adelaide have a good Science Museum and Planetarium?

  94. #94 windy
    March 21, 2009

    Re “Materialists consider that we are explained entirely by combinations of small uninteresting things like atoms or quarks”

    Young whippersnapper Murray Gell-Mann pre-emptively pwns d’Espagnat-type mysticism here.

  95. #95 AlanWCan
    March 22, 2009

    Blake Stacey #35 for a Molly. Exactly!

  96. #96 frndn
    March 22, 2009

    I wonder what he actually said in the “[on spirituality]” brackets.

  97. #97 AnthonyK
    March 22, 2009

    Peeps! Peeps! Can we all just agree on one thing?
    PZ’s after the Templeton.
    It’s so obvious. Admiring the winner’s statement – I mean he’s written his own hasn’t he – and it’s even more subtly doubtful of religion, and he’s itching to get it out there.
    Well I wish him all the best. He has already done so much to take the woo out of Christianity that he like totally deserves a medal for his services to Religion.
    Next year, with just a little more effort it’ll be him out there giving the snark, and no better man!
    The only thing is that IMNSFHO he should just try to be a bit more…spiritual…just a little a day at first..just until he sees the tail-lights of Enlightenment..then, he can give it to them with both barrels of Unknowing!
    Or do I have him wrong?

  98. #98 John Morales
    March 22, 2009

    Alan @91, ok, perhaps it was a point worth making. Sorry.

    You’d think it was obvious, but such as Facilis apparently can’t accept that there is no epistemic certainty to be had about reality.

    Revelation is self-delusion on the part of those who claim it and wishful thinking on the part of believers; intuition is a good way to generate ideas to explore, but far less reliable than science as a way, if not to Truth, then to truth.

    I won’t (further) quibble about the semantics of ‘wrong’.

  99. #99 DLC
    March 22, 2009

    It appears to me that Templeton wants some post-modernist babble that will allow them to keep injecting woo into science.

  100. #100 windy
    March 22, 2009

    Alan:

    I do realize that most of us here know that, but how many people really understand it? And what of all those who speak with great authority that nothing we could ever learn in the future can ever change their minds?

    Who would those be? And what does this have to do with our criticism of d’Espagnat? It seems to me that most people here are not arguing that he is wrong because science does too give us the ultimate truth, they object to the implication that art and other “ways of knowing” somehow reveal ultimate reality better than science.

    But you’re right on one thing, the man does irritate me, because so far it looks like he shamelessly contradicts himself. Maybe something was lost in translation?

    “I feel myself deeply in accordance with the Templeton Foundation’s great, guiding idea that science does shed light [on spirituality]. In my view it does so mainly by rendering unbelievable an intellectual construction claiming to yield access to the ultimate ground of things with the sole use of the simple, somewhat trivial notions everybody has.”

    Simple, trivial notions… like, aesthetic experiences? So do they access the ultimate ground of things or not?

  101. #101 Grendels Dad
    March 22, 2009

    I think that Moses @82 may be more than a little correct here. I have a whole section of bookshelves dedicated to physicists speculating on metaphysics. It?s sort of a sad cautionary reminder that brilliance in one field doesn?t necessarily equate to even minimal competence, or ability to express themselves clearly in other fields.

    Sometimes I think it comes down to jargon. People speaking outside their area of expertise don?t always realize all of the baggage associated with the metaphorical terms that they employ.

  102. #102 Leigh Williams
    March 22, 2009

    Ben, the misleading-named creationist troll “Science-minded” has been duly smitten.

    Here’s the smiting itself, since my comment is awaiting moderation:

    “Science-minded said: ?Some people, including me, just happen to believe differently than you. Hey Ben, I don?t hold your beliefs against you, I just don?t accept your beliefs. And here enters the concept of faith. Since you, nor I, currently do not have any way to provide absolute proof about our own personal beliefs in regards to when life appeared on earth, we must rely on faith. ?

    Pure nonsense. Ben doesn?t have ?beliefs?. He has the scientific method. Science is not about faith. Science is about what can be demonstrated empirically, which we call facts or evidence. It?s about testing hypotheses against facts that come from experiments and observations from paleontology, geology, genetics, microbiology, and astronomy (just to name a few of the disciplines involved). It?s about evaluating evidence and duplicating results so that we?re sure about our facts. It?s about constructing theories that can be tested, and about looking at new evidence that comes to light through research and ensuring that these new facts don?t invalidate our theories. And it?s also about correcting things we get wrong along the way when the new evidence is better than we had before.

    All of this evidence from all of these disciplines hangs together, and all of it demonstrates the truth of the theory of evolution, including the length of time life has been on our planet. Does that mean we know everything about how evolution works? Heck, no. But it does mean we?re on the right track. In fact, the ToE is probably the best-supported scientific theory we have, and new discoveries are being made literally every day that reinforce its value.

    So it?s not ?faith? that supports Ben?s assertions about the earth and life on it. It?s a huge framework of observed evidence across almost every scientific discipline. THERE IS NO CONTROVERSY ABOUT THE THEORY OF EVOLUTION ? other than that created out of whole cloth by poorly-educated religious fanatics. Nobody?s looking for ?absolute truth? in science, you fool. That?s not how science works, and no scientist would ever claim she?d found it.

    And thus you demonstrate that you know NOTHING about science, ?Science-minded?. Tell the truth from now on and call yourself ?Creationist-minded?. Lying in public forums disgraces the name of Christ.”

  103. #103 Leigh Williams
    March 22, 2009

    John Morales said: “Classical mechanics is not so much wrong as it’s incomplete, and that quantum mechanics is perhaps also incomplete also doesn’t mean it’s wrong.”

    Yes. And furthermore, everything we know in science is provisionally true. We are always open to further evidence, which may prove our current understanding wrong, may simply refine our model, or may demonstrate that our current model is a simple case of a more complex model.

    Of course, we CAN use science to demonstrate what’s wrong. We can also use it to demonstrate what’s right, as long as we bear in mind that it’s provisionally right.

    That’s the part I don’t think the public at large really “gets”. They get very bent out of shape when scientists “change their minds”.

  104. #104 Grendels Dad
    March 22, 2009

    Leigh is spot on too. I have had former co-workers (at an aerospace company for crying out loud!) argue that the ?experts? had said one thing in the past and something else now, so why believe them? As I tried to pick my jaw up off the floor I asked, ?So, you think changing your mind when you get new information is bad??

    I was met with hauntingly vacant stares. The idea of revising what you believe seems totally alien to some people.

  105. #105 Alan Kellogg
    March 22, 2009

    John Morales, #98

    Yes, I am taking “wrong” to an extreme. We will always be wrong about what we know because we can never know completely and without doubt. Something which bothers those people (and not just visitors to this blog BTW) who need to know completely. Some people just can’t handle uncertainty.

    Where science is concerned I think the old saying applies, “Close enough for a PHD.”

  106. #106 Shaun Fletcher
    March 22, 2009

    “We do not know everything about this universe, and cannot know everything about this universe so long as we are part of this universe. Thus our knowledge of this universe, and the things of this universe will remain incomplete, and ultimately speaking all that we know of this universe will always and forever be wrong.”

    Which demonstrates that a seemingly coherent sentence containing no evident factual errors can nevertheless be utterly devoid of information. The fact that there will always be something we dont know means everything we do know is wrong? What fluffy-minded twaddle that is. Knowledge is not binary, we do not either know everything or nothing, we can happily know some things and have no problem with being aware that some of those things are approximations (but still true) and that there remain an infinite number of further things to know.

  107. #107 inkadu
    March 22, 2009

    I’m sure you meant astronomy, not astrology.
    Somewhere Phil Plait is hitting his head on a desk and he doesn’t know why.

    Probably a Capricorn.

    Thanks for the correction.

  108. #108 AdrianT
    March 22, 2009

    John Templeton, incidentally, donated over a million dollars to supporting the Proposition 8 campaign to strip gay people of their marriage rights. A pretty repulsive character.

  109. #109 Rudi
    March 22, 2009

    Won’t he have to give the prize back now?

  110. #110 TigerRepellingRock
    March 22, 2009

    Full text of his acceptance speech here.

    So it looks like what he means by “an intellectual construction claiming to yield access to the ultimate ground of things” is a kind of naive realism.

    His ideas seem to basicly mirror Kant via Schopenhauer, so I guess the Templeton prize isn’t for originality. I don’t really see why he feels the need to justify those views with Bell’s inequalities. The basic thrust of his argument is that the world in itself isn’t acessible to science, but maybe you can know something about it by “other means”.

    I’m guessing what won him the cash was the last two sentences, where he calls the unknowable ground of things “The Divine” and winds up with:

    I like concieving it to be infinitely lovable and am thereore convinced that those among our contemporaries who believe in a spiritual dimension of existence and live up to it are, when all is said, fully right.

    Kerching!

  111. #111 Marc Abian
    March 22, 2009

    Well, I hope we can all recognize that in this particular instance, the Templeton Foundation is giving a prize to a brilliant intellectual, for important work on a subject that has nothing to do with religion. No strings attached, it seems.

    Yeah right. Just buying credibility for themselves to help support their agenda. They don’t exist to fund science, they exist to promote religion.

  112. #112 Knockgoats
    March 22, 2009

    There’s an interesting article in March Sci.Am., “A Quantum Threat to Special Relativity” by David Z. Albert and Rivka Galchen, which if I interpret it correctly, takes the opposite view to d’Espagnat (I agree with Sastra and Blake Stacey that d’Espagnat is expressing a form of wooism): that QM, and its corroboration by Aspect’s experiments, do give us insight into the nature of the real, physical world – specifically, that it is non-local. Albert and Galchen claim that Bell showed that: “locality was incompatible not merely with the abstract theoretical apparatus of quantum mechanics but with certain of its empirical predictions as well”; and since Aspect showed that Bell’s inequality is indeed violated, locality is false. Any comments from Blake, or other physicists?

  113. #113 MadScientist
    March 22, 2009

    That’s hilarious – so he’s no Freeman Dyson then.

  114. #114 Felix
    March 22, 2009

    #104,

    I have had former co-workers (at an aerospace company for crying out loud!) argue that the ?experts? had said one thing in the past and something else now, so why believe them?

    Usually the people called experts are those who keep track of current developments and publications. If being an expert would mean keep things the way they are working now, we’d all be dragging our stuff across the ground – why would anyone propose using round things connected by a rod to make it easier? He’d only be ridiculed. Idiocracy indeed.

  115. #115 Tony Sidaway
    March 22, 2009

    Yesterday I attended God in the Lab, a set of four talks by scientists who had researched human theistic beliefs, organized by the recently formed CFI UK at Conway Hall in London.

    One of the speakers, Justin Barrett, who is a Christian, acknowledged Templeton funding for his work. The thing that struck me about this particular piece is that it sheds light on the way in which religious concepts develop.

    In short, it appears that a age 3-4 a child has an unsophisticated concept of mind and is unable to distinguish his own beliefs from reality and from the beliefs of others. Using a simple repeatable experiment he demonstrates that a child tends to attribute omniscience to all others including animals, trees, etc. A theory of mind only develops in later stages of development where the child is able to distinguish beliefs from facts, to attribute false beliefs to others, and to recognise his own fallibility. Moreover both children and adults are promiscuous teleologists–we tend to see agency where there is none.

    Within this developmental framework the emergence of the idea that there is an all-knowing being who satisfies those teleological assumptions (the omniscient creator God) is natural. In that sense, we are preprogrammed for certain kinds of theistic belief.

    While this kind of work is correctly seen as tending to refute a naive “indoctrination” theory of the propagation of religious beliefs, it’s neutral with respect to belief, as science should be, and provides us with a better tool for modelling the development of theistic cultures, including our own. It explains in particular why religious belief in adult life is so tenacious. That’s useful science and if it’s the kind of thing the Templeton Fund is producing I welcome it.

    A live blog of that talk is here. The other three talks are covered in adjacent entries on the same blog.

  116. #116 Erasmus
    March 22, 2009

    Albert and Galchen claim that Bell showed that: “locality was incompatible not merely with the abstract theoretical apparatus of quantum mechanics but with certain of its empirical predictions as well”; and since Aspect showed that Bell’s inequality is indeed violated, locality is false.

    The violation of Bell’s inequality doesn’t show that. The inequality depends on the notion of locality, i.e. that information can’t be transmitted faster than the speed of light, together with realism, i.e. the notion that particles, before we measure them, have definite spin, momenta, position, etc. The experimental violation of the Bell inequality shows that one or both of these assumptions are wrong. There’s not yet any consensus as to which assumption(s) is (are) wrong, and it’s still a subject of controversy.

  117. #117 June
    March 22, 2009

    First d’Espagnat says it is not for him to speak on spirituality, then he speaks on it and takes a $1.4M prize.

    He seems perfect for a job as executive with AIG.

  118. #118 Knockgoats
    March 22, 2009

    Erasmus@116,
    According to the article, while Bell assumed realism, this assumption was not made by Einstein, Podolsky and Rosen, and their argument “rules out the possibility of quantum locality without the realism Bell uses”. The article (and everything else I’ve read on the subject) also says you’re wrong about what non-locality means: not all forms of non-locality allow FTL transmission of information; and specifically, quantum entanglement does not do so.

  119. #119 Blake Stacey
    March 22, 2009

    I think realism is a terrible name for the position it represents, and so I will declare by fiat that it is the wrong assumption to make. Physics by spite! :-)

    Wowbagger (#85):

    IIRC there were a couple of physicists involved in that What The Bleep Do We Know? movie that came out a couple of years ago. Scary.

    David Albert, physics professor at Columbia, was duped into appearing in the film, and said later that if he’d known what it was really about, he would have refused to appear.

    Geoff (#87):

    Sagan said he was spiritual but not religious. Maybe he and all those great minds just saw something that, I as a dummy, did not?

    Sagan used “spiritual” to refer to the feelings of awe and wonder elicited by understanding the natural world. Maybe it was a poor choice of phrase — in The Demon-Haunted World, he tries to justify it with an argument from etymology which I find unconvincing — but it was not an unconsidered one. After reading The Varieties of Scientific Experience, I find it difficult to believe he would ever have been in the running for a Templeton.

    windy (#100):

    But you’re right on one thing, the man does irritate me, because so far it looks like he shamelessly contradicts himself. Maybe something was lost in translation?

    He is large, he contains multitudes. . . .

  120. #120 Erasmus
    March 22, 2009

    According to the article, while Bell assumed realism, this assumption was not made by Einstein, Podolsky and Rosen, and their argument “rules out the possibility of quantum locality without the realism Bell uses”.

    Sorry, you’re misunderstanding this. The whole point of the EPR paradox is that IF you don’t assume realism, you get “spooky action-at-a-distance” — which Einstein et al thought impossible. So they concluded that the world IS real, and there are “hidden variables” that quantum mechanics doesn’t describe.

    Yes, I wasn’t giving a rigorous definition of locality, I was just giving a rough one. If you can’t go FTL, then locality holds. But we don’t necessarily have the converse, because some local theories allow FTL propagagation of information. But there are other objections to FTL transmission, and as far as I can tell the idea isn’t very popular. So I wasn’t taking it into account.

  121. #121 Evangelatheist
    March 22, 2009

    @Ben #91
    Love the “Satan-wrote-the-bible” theory!

    A little more science in the theory and you could be the next recipient of the Templeton Prize.

  122. #122 peter g
    March 22, 2009

    It was pure poetry.
    That is all.
    peter g

  123. #123 Ben
    March 22, 2009

    Leigh @102. Well done. Of course, reason bounces right off these pinheads. Thanks for helping.

    Evangelatheist @121 Thanks. It’s bulletproof, I tell you.

  124. #124 Knockgoats
    March 22, 2009

    Sorry, you’re misunderstanding this. The whole point of the EPR paradox is that IF you don’t assume realism, you get “spooky action-at-a-distance” — which Einstein et al thought impossible. – Erasmus

    As I understand it, Einstein et al. formulated EPR as an argument that QM must be incomplete – that there must be hidden variables. Yes? As for the rest, I’m just relaying what Albert and Galchen say – which seems to contradict what you’re saying, and which they admit is not the majority view. I’m not claiming to know whether they are right. They say:
    “Bell had shown that any theory capable of reproducing the empirical predictions of quantum mechanics for entangled pairs of particles… had to be genuinely physically nonlocal.
    This message has been virtually ignored. Instead, what almost everyone says is that what Bell showed is that… any so-called hidden-variable, deterministic, or physically realist theory – would have to be nonlocal if it could reproduce the quantum-mechanical predictions for EPR systems”

  125. #125 gaypaganunitarianagnostic
    March 22, 2009

    Well, the pagan stripe in me would LIKE to believe that there is a connection between consciousness and the cosmos. Without any valid scientific support, however I will continue to think in terms of symbolism and psychology.

  126. #126 Erasmus
    March 22, 2009

    As for the rest, I’m just relaying what Albert and Galchen say – which seems to contradict what you’re saying, and which they admit is not the majority view.

    This talk about locality can cause a horrendous amount of confusion, to be honest. I would like to recap (more for my benefit than anyone else’s). Some claim that “Bertlmann’s socks” phenomena are themselves proof that locality doesn’t hold (e.g. if an up spin at one detector necessarily implies a down spin at another detector). But that misses the point of Bell’s socks analogy: surely we don’t find it very mysterious when someone sends off two parcels — one containing a blue sock, one containing a red sock — and we know to a certainy the content of one parcel when we open the other.

    The point of the EPR thought experiment is that IF we don’t assume realism, we can’t appeal to the socks analogy. If in both parcels you start off with a mysterious superposition of blue and red socks, and one collapses into a blue sock when you open it…well, you can’t argue: “The other must be red because I knew beforehand that one sock was red.” There were no definite socks beforehand if we’re not assuming realism. What we have to do is invoke non-locality. EPR took this as a reductio ad absurdum of not assuming realism.

    So, to recap, realism + locality is ruled out by experiment. Non-realism + locality is ruled out by EPR. That leaves us with non-realism + non-locality, and realism + non-locality.

  127. #127 Sardine
    March 22, 2009

    If d’Espagnat had any balls, he would have refused the prize. He is a hiipocrite.

  128. #128 Sardine
    March 22, 2009

    And I can’t spell.

  129. #129 davidm
    March 22, 2009

    Interesting! And yet, in case no one has caught this yet, here we have the following quotes from the prize winner, from Times Online:

    ?Dr d’Espagnat said in prepared remarks that, since science cannot reveal anything certain about the nature of being, it cannot tell us with certainty what it is not.

    “Mystery is not something negative that has to be eliminated,” he said. “On the contrary, it is one of the constitutive elements of being.”

    He said that he is “convinced that those among our contemporaries who believe in a spiritual dimension of existence and live up to it are, when all is said, fully right”.

    Speaking to The Times, Dr d’Espagnat, a Roman Catholic, said his work as a physicist had convinced him of the existence of a deeper reality. “When we hear great classical music or look at very great paintings, they are not just illusions but could be a revelation of something fundamental. I would accept calling it God or divine or Godhead but with the restriction that it cannot be conceptualised for the very reason that this ultimate reality is beyond any concept that we can construct.”

    Is it possible, then, that his position is being misrepresented in this blog entry? Oh, snap!

  130. #130 Alan Kellogg
    March 22, 2009

    Shaun, #106

    The fact that there will always be something we dont know means everything we do know is wrong?

    Exactly.

    Let me elucidate.

    The best we can get in any subject is an approximation. Said approximation can be very close, but never quite get to the truth of the matter. Thus, in the end, our knowledge will be wrong. Wrong because we don’t know, and we can’t know what it is we need to know to know the subject.

  131. #131 Sardine
    March 22, 2009

    Yes, Dr. Myers is just as prone to hyperbole as those that he dismisses as lunatics. Worse yet, his sychophants ignore it.

  132. #132 aratina
    March 22, 2009

    #128
    Posted by: Sardine | March 22, 2009 4:58 PM

    And I can’t spell.

    “sycophants”

  133. #133 'Tis Himself
    March 22, 2009

    And “hypocrite”

  134. #134 windy
    March 22, 2009

    @129

    Interesting! And yet, in case no one has caught this yet…
    Is it possible, then, that his position is being misrepresented in this blog entry? Oh, snap!

    @131

    Yes, Dr. Myers is just as prone to hyperbole as those that he dismisses as lunatics. Worse yet, his sychophants ignore it.

    FFS, look at the dozens of comments from Sastra’s #22 onwards where we discussed the error.

    PZ, maybe it would be a good idea to amend the post, since so many smug asses can’t be bothered to read the comments.

  135. #135 PZ Myers
    March 22, 2009

    No need to amend. I don’t think it’s “hyperbole” to remark on what I thought was a nice comment, nor is it a misrepresentation to say I agree with the quoted remark.

    That there are other comments here that show he’s got a much sloppier position is just expansion and clarification, and is perfectly OK.

  136. #136 Sastra
    March 22, 2009

    PZ Myers #135 wrote:

    I don’t think it’s “hyperbole” to remark on what I thought was a nice comment, nor is it a misrepresentation to say I agree with the quoted remark.

    Except that you don’t agree with what it appears d’Espagnat intended by his remark. It’s not a dig at fuzzy metaphysical thinking. He means the opposite. It’s a dig at scientific naturalism, which uses fuzzy metaphysical thinking.

    He says that science sheds light on spirituality “by rendering unbelievable an intellectual construction claiming to yield access to the ultimate ground of things with the sole use of the simple, somewhat trivial notions everybody has.”

    The unbelievable “intellectual construction” is the view that science tells us the true nature of reality. The “simple, somewhat trivial notions everybody has” is naturalism (or perhaps science and reason.) The “ultimate ground of things” is a special realm which we can only access through emotions like our love of music — or something like that.

  137. #137 windy
    March 22, 2009

    No need to amend. I don’t think it’s “hyperbole” to remark on what I thought was a nice comment, nor is it a misrepresentation to say I agree with the quoted remark.

    No, but it’s misleading to say that d’Espagnat “oh, snap”ped Templeton. If it seems likely on balance that he didn’t mean it that way, isn’t that a form of quote mining? (although you didn’t willfully misinterpret him)

    It would be better to say that Templeton got hoisted with their own petard, since d’Espagnat’s criticism fits religion and spirituality better than scientific materialism.

  138. #138 Owlmirror
    March 22, 2009

    I have had former co-workers (at an aerospace company for crying out loud!) argue that the ?experts? had said one thing in the past and something else now, so why believe them? As I tried to pick my jaw up off the floor I asked, ?So, you think changing your mind when you get new information is bad??

    The way that I have formulated this is: “That’s what learning is.”

    Feel free to try it on them next time the point comes up, and see how it works.

  139. #139 Sven DiMillo
    March 22, 2009

    I haven’t been able to find my damn petard for years.

  140. #140 thalarctos
    March 22, 2009

    I haven’t been able to find my damn petard for years.

    They’re easier to find in the morning.

  141. #141 Owlmirror
    March 22, 2009
    I haven’t been able to find my damn petard for years.

    They’re easier to find in the morning.

    OH, SNAP!

  142. #142 Grendels Dad
    March 22, 2009

    Hmm, I have no trouble finding mine, but it has been a while since it could hoist me.

  143. #143 PZ Myers
    March 23, 2009

    No, I don’t agree with what he intended. So? All I knew of D’Espagnat was that one quote. People here have found more, which does make clear what he intended. I have no problem with seeing his deeper views as profoundly silly.

  144. #144 John Morales
    March 23, 2009

    OK, I see Sastra @136 and PZ @135&143 have summed up the thread.

  145. #145 Major Tom
    March 23, 2009

    @ PZ (143)

    Profoundly silly is better than trivially silly any day.

    D’Espagnat’s papers and books are fascinating – he is one of those rare scientists who is also a really good philosopher. His work with Alain Aspect on the violation of the Bell inequality in entangled quantum systems represents one of the most important experimental tests of quantum theory.

    While I too do not think much of the Templeton Prize, I note that he is giving the money to family, charity, and scientific research…

  146. #146 AmericanGodless
    March 23, 2009

    Thirty years ago Bernard d’Espagnat authored an extremely good article on quantum mechanics and Bell’s inequality (“The Quantum Theory and Reality”, Scientific American, November 1979) that helped sort out the issues of the EPR paradox; but it does not really surprise me very much that the Templeton Foundation would find his work worthy of their prize. He has always been willing to suggest that there is a path to knowledge beyond what can be known by observation.

    In his article nearly 30 years ago, he quite lucidly demonstrated that the experimental confirmations of the predictions made by quantum physics, and the falsification of those made by classical physics, made it necessary to abandon one of three postulates required by classical physics: naive realism, Einstein separability, and inductive inference. The probabilistic “Copenhagen interpretation” of Neils Bohr can be identified as favoring the abandonment of naive realism. Along with David Bohm, d’Espagnat himself favored abandoning Einstein separability, claiming that to give up realism was to deny that there was any reality independent of human observation, and that inductive inference itself must depend upon such realism. But others claim to have demonstrated that inductive inference is itself logically equivalent to abandonment of either realism or separation; that is, that induction is safe as long as either one of the other two postulates is retained.

    But it has always seemed to me that, once the choice is pared down to giving up either realism or separability, there is no real choice, since they are equivalent. Quantum mechanics, after all, is predicated on a simple set of postulates about what the mathematical properties must be for any consistent description of a physical system, that might express all that can be known about that system. That is, it concerns the physical limits on the gathering of information — the essence of physical epistemology. So what difference does it make to say, as does Bohr, that the ultimate exact reality of a measured system is forever hidden in an irreducible random “uncertainty,” or as do Bohm and d’Espagnat, that it is entangled with the reality of all other particles with which the system has ever interacted, including those that are outside our “light cone,” residing in the “absolute elsewhere?” There are some things that we just can’t know.

    Over the years, however, I have noticed that there is a subtle difference between the two views. Not a difference that would logically favor one over the other, but one that might emotionally favor the retention of naive reality, and the dismissal of Einstein separability. First, there is the misrepresentation of “observation” as necessarily involving the human mind (as indeed d’Espagnat did 30 years ago), rather than identifying it as any interaction between two physical systems where one might leave evidence of its status by triggering a cascade that resists entropic reversal (the decaying body of Schrodinger’s cat is, after all, a quite competent observer of its own death). And, most importantly, there is also the hope that, if naive reality can be maintained, such that there can be said to be an absolutely real answer to all things unobserved, even if it can only be imagined to reside in “hidden variables,” or in entanglements with the absolute elsewhere, then, there is always a chance, as d’Espagnat has been quoted as saying (Sastra, comment # 31 above, quoting from the Templeton web site): “that the things we observe may be tentatively interpreted as signs providing us with some perhaps not entirely misleading glimpses of a higher reality…” And this can then help support others when they go on to say (as did physicist Nidhal Guessoum in his nomination of d’Espagnat), that “it is credible that the human mind is capable of perceiving deeper realities.?

    Physics may put limits on what we can know, but the “spiritual” mind will always strive to know the unknowable. After all, if you can fool yourself into thinking you have access to the knowledge of Gods, think what you might achieve… (fade to the image of Jacob Bronowski standing in the pool of ashes at Auschwitz).

  147. #147 Major Tom
    March 24, 2009

    @ AmericanGodless

    Good post…

    Shorter version:

    That quantum systems violate Bell’s inequality essentially means that if there are so-called ‘hidden variables’ in entangled systems, then they must be non-local variables.

    So – We are faced with a dilemma – Give up the claim that all the information in entangled systems is ‘objective’, or give up the claim that such information is constrained to local spacetime.

    Even shorter version:

    You can’t have your cake and eat it too.

  148. #148 Andrei
    March 31, 2009

    @#115
    @#119
    @#125
    @#136

    you have summed up the common thread: there is spirituality, and it stems from the unknowable of the universe. enjoy life, just don’t get sucked into a hole!

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