Tuesday, September 4, 2012

$4.4 million granted to study "free will"

Free will is an imaginary concept made up by religious people to rationalize other imaginary concepts like heaven and hell and good and evil.

There, may I have the money and get back to a question science can address?

What's that? Not so fast, you say? I first need to pay homage to the Christian philosophers that have continually tried to wriggle their way into relevant dialogue with the help of wealthy philanthropists?

One such source is the John Templeton Foundation. There is an article in the Chronicle Review of Higher Education this week that explores some of Templeton's recently funded projects. The topics are disappointing. Free will, immortality, and evil top the list. All of them being studied from the slanted angle of philosophy rather than science.

Here is Nathan Schneider in a piece titled "The Templeton Effect"
In the past few years, Templeton has been stepping up the number of its six- and seven-figure awards for people in the discipline to study what the foundation calls the "Big Questions." These "Big Questions" are the kinds of out-there topics that make philosophy seem bold and exciting to a college freshman but can feel thoroughly desiccated after a few years in graduate school: free will, the universe, evil, hope, consciousness.

Controversy, though, always follows money, especially when it's Templeton money. Partisans of Richard Dawkins and his fellow New Atheists have long despised the foundation, interpreting its interest in dialogue between science and religion as an attempt to buy undeserved credibility for the latter at the cost of the former. Adds Brian Leiter, "It's clearly more of a windfall for philosophers who have some sort of vague religious angle to what they're doing." Yet he also points out that Mele is an exception. His foregoing work on free will expressed scant interest in the religious implications—which makes it all the more noticeable that his Templeton project has a component devoted to theology.
Read the rest of this article here at the Chronicle of Higher Education.

For me, the problem with Templeton funding is where the foundation is choosing to make these grants - Universities.  By distracting wide-eyed college freshman with a false carrot at the end of a never ending tunnel of philosophy Templeton is doing a disservice to institutions of higher learning.  If the foundation wants to give grants for young people to enter the seminary fine, but I'd prefer they keep their money out of the University. 

Philosophers may argue with me and say that Templeton funding is a boon to their field and that I should not rain on their parade. I call bullshit here. Why do you need funding above and beyond your salary? By accepting money for pseudoscience "experiments" you are hurting your field. If you are taking these huge sums and buying nicer armchairs you are no better than the clergy fluffing their nests with church donations. 

I will grant that not all people who have received some money from Templeton have automatically been turned into faith-pushers. Brian Greene and Tracy Day launched one of the most powerful science expositions in history with a starter grant given in part by Templeton - the World Science Festival.  Though there have been some controversial panels at the World Science Festival these should not overshadow the general awesomeness this festival offers. I have volunteered there three years in a row and it just keeps getting better. I highly recommend it.

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