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Martin Rees accepts the Templeton award

Martin Rees's acceptance of the £1m Templeton award has, no surprise, been condemned by a number of prominent atheists, including Richard Dawkins. Rees says that he has no religious beliefs. but the Templeton Foundation is concerned with fostering "spiritual" awareness, which some see as a sneaky way for religion to infiltrate science and education.

The Foundation's "mission statement" (an appropriate term in the present case?) is as follows:

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.

I have the greatest admiration for Rees's popular writings on science, a number of which are reviewed on my site. I wouldn't presume to judge his motives in accepting the award, a decision which I'm sure he thought about seriously. Even a couple of his critics, speaking on the radio this morning, admitted that they would themselves have found it difficult to turn down such a large sum, though one of them said he would use it start an anti-Templeton foundation! To refuse it would have been a noble (or Quixotic?) gesture, but Rees, though not religious, regularly attends Anglican services which he describes as "the customs of his tribe", and he also believes that there are aspects of reality that our brains are probably incapable of comprehending, so I expect he found no great difficulty in endorsing the Foundation's aims to the very limited extent that he has.


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