Templeton Prize 2011: Intellectual Schizophrenia?

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The winner of the Templeton Prize (1 million British pounds) was announced today. Is this a turning point for Templeton, or more of the same?

What is the purpose of this award?

The Templeton Prize honors a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life's spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works.

According to The Guardian:

Previous winners have included Mother Theresa, the US evangelist Billy Graham, and last year, a molecular biologist and former Dominican priest, Francisco Ayala, who advised Bill Clinton and helped overturn legislation in Arkansas that would have permitted schools to teach Creationsim alongside evolution in science classes.

The 2011 winner is Sir Martin Rees, the astronomer royal and former president of the Royal Society. His acceptance speech can be found here.

Interestingly, Sir Rees does not directly address faith in his speech but alludes to it:

As regards my own "philosophy", I continue to be inspired by the music, liturgy and architectural tradition of the Anglican Church in which I was brought up. No one can fail to be uplifted by great cathedrals - such as that at Ely, near my home in Cambridge. Ely Cathedral overwhelms us today. But think of its impact 900 years ago - think of the vast enterprise its construction entailed. Most of its builders had never travelled more than 50 miles; the Fens were their world. Even the most educated knew of essentially nothing beyond Europe. They thought the world was a few thousand years old - and that it might not last another thousand.

The award of this year's controversial Templeton Prize has brought its share of criticism, including an insightful quote from Sir Harold Kroto:

... the "congenital wishful thinking" embodied by religion made it incompatible with science. "There is no problem, with a million-quid lure to hook a few eminent scientists, to say that they personally see no conflict between science and religion, but they are suffering from a form of intellectual schizophrenia,"

Indeed, attempts focused on "affirming life's spiritual dimension" reconciled with the pursuit of science could lead to various forms of "schizophrenic" thinking.

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"an exceptional contribution to affirming life's spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works"

I am not quite certain what Templeton Sr. meant with those words, but I still think it was cool that Freeman Dyson got the award back in the 1990s. After Sr. died and the more fundamentalist Templeton Jr. took over, it was anticipated that the award would go downhill ...and it did.

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 06 Apr 2011 #permalink

Young Earth Creationist Charles Colson got the award in 1993. I hope Rees enjoys the company he is keeping.

By Reginald Selkirk (not verified) on 06 Apr 2011 #permalink

What about the authors of two new Atheist Bibles to win next year's Templeton Prize. We could only give it to the author of one of them because the other does not have an author.

The specific nature of these two Atheist Bibles and the fact that you will not find a strident word in either means that given this year's award, this is not as outrageous an idea as it sounds on its face.

The Good Book is by AC Grayling and 21st Century Testament has no author.