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John Horgan’s reflections on the Templeton Foundation

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. . . My ambivalence about the [Templeton] foundation came to a head during my fellowship in Cambridge last summer. The British biologist Richard Dawkins, whose participation in the meeting helped convince me and other fellows of its legitimacy, was the only speaker who denounced religious beliefs as incompatible with science, irrational, and harmful. The other speakers — three agnostics, one Jew, a deist, and 12 Christians (a Muslim philosopher canceled at the last minute) — offered a perspective clearly skewed in favor of religion and Christianity.

Some of the Christian speakers’ views struck me as inconsistent, to say the least. None of them supported intelligent design, the notion that life is in certain respects irreducibly complex and hence must have a divine origin, and several of them denounced it. Simon Conway Morris, a biologist at Cambridge and an adviser to the Templeton Foundation, ridiculed intelligent design as nonsense that no respectable biologist could accept. That stance echoes the view of the foundation, which over the last year has taken pains to distance itself from the American intelligent-design movement.

And yet Morris, a Catholic, revealed in response to questions that he believes Christ was a supernatural figure who performed miracles and was resurrected after his death. Other Templeton speakers also rejected intelligent design while espousing beliefs at least as lacking in scientific substance.

The Templeton prize-winners John Polkinghorne and John Barrow argued that the laws of physics seem fine-tuned to allow for the existence of human beings, which is the physics version of intelligent design. The physicist F. Russell Stannard, a member of the Templeton Foundation Board of Trustees, contended that prayers can heal the sick — not through the placebo effect, which is an established fact, but through the intercession of God. In fact the foundation has supported studies of the effectiveness of so-called intercessory prayer, which have been inconclusive. . . .

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Comments

Tina,

What is your view of ID, and God's process to bring about life forms?

I provided you each the other's email address. Take this offline. -ds avocationist
April 10, 2006
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Assuming for a moment that the designer is the Christian God, it would seem perfectly consistent with the Biblical doctrine of "The Fall" when we find the artifacts of design in nature. If we begin with the presupposition that nature has been corrupted and is in a state of decay due to the introduction of sin, it would make sense that we would not see a nice clean pattern of design, but rather a sort of broken record that gives the appearance of "tweaking", but in reality simply demonstrates eons of entropy and groaning in the creation (and our inability to fully grasp things). Just a thought.Scott
April 10, 2006
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I have had extensive discussions with TE supporters on this blog. I think the place where they diverge from ID is on two main points (let me clarify that I also find their perspective to be inconsistent and bizarre): One, they believe that the laws of the physical universe, such as gravity, resonance, electromagnetism, chemical bonding, etc. are the expressions of God's Will. THis will, manifested in the form of these seemlessly operating laws, is adequate to explain the development of life. In this view, there is no "animism" no "information" which infuses matter with life. Life is the logical result of the automatic interactions within dead matter. THe reason this strikes me as woefully inadequate is that spiritual life is SO NOT limited to matter. Consciousness, insight, inspiration, prophecy ,visions, etc. all imply a direct experience of a substance or part of the human being which is non-material. Their own stated belief in the existence of a soul is a non-materialist concept. It just doesn't make sense to deny categorically that anything beyond matter and its laws is required for life's development. It makes sense to say you hold this to be true, but that would be because you do not believe in anything beyond matter, in other words, you are a materialist. However, for a non-materialist to insist that matter is all there is in life is truly odd. Second, they differ from some ID proponents ( and I definitely agree with them on this one ) who claim that "the designer" only intervenes on specific occasions to "tweak" the process in a particular direction or another. This seems like a silly view of God to me, but it is apparently one which is quite popular with many IDers. On the other hand, it is by no means a necessary aspect of ID theory, which just states that some aspects of life are best explained by design rather than chance, which is not the same as saying that everything else wasn't designed. I agree with ajl that the TEs seem to have an overweeningly intellectual approach to their religion, as if they are a bit embarassed by God, and want to protect the sensibilities of their scientific colleagues who view them as ignorant for persisting in their medieval beliefs. On the other hand, I have communicated with many TEs who genuinely oppose the "engineer-god" which is depicted as goofing around with the genome for kicks now and then!tinabrewer
April 9, 2006
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"The Templeton prize-winners John Polkinghorne...." Polkinghorne is no ID supporter, I can tell you that. He's fine with cosmology, but he appears totally wedded to naturalistic explanations for evolution. He sees God's sporadic intervention as bad theology as it makes God less consistent with His nature. He said something of the effect (I'll look for the link tomorrow) that it is troubling to think of a fickle God who does things on a whim, and sometimes does not do the same thing in another circumstance. He sees some overarching sovereignty that God maintains, but not a checking in/checking out of intervention. To him, that is a less trustworthy God. I know this isn't a Christian blog, so sorry for posting this next statement, but it is in line with the discussion: (just my opinion here, I am willing to be corrected) TEs seem to take a more intellectual approach towards God, and I see very few of them really expressing a heartfelt love for God.ajl
April 9, 2006
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It seems to me that TE's just want God to be completely disconnected from the universe, to prevent Him from getting "dirty" (or something). It's a stance that's religiously and philosophically motivated, and doesn't accord with the evidence. (The next step is to say that God is so great that he doesn't even need to exist!) "God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob, not of the philosophers and scholars!" -- Pascal
And yet Morris..revealed in response to questions that he believes Christ was a supernatural figure who performed miracles and was resurrected after his death.
Not to mention the Incarnation. Also from the Horgan essay:
At least one fellow said that his faith was wavering as a result of Dawkins's dissection of religion. And if the Templeton Foundation can help bring about even such a tiny step toward my vision of a world without religion, how bad can it be?
Now that's sad. And for more than one reason.j
April 9, 2006
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"They believe in miracles and other supernatural things, but somehow refuse to believe that the creator left any empirical evidence of design" Dave, it all seems to stem from a pre-supposiional view at the outset: that is, TEs firstly subscribe to methodological naturalism. I have heard TEs from evangelical churches go so far as to say that we have to conduct science "as though God did not exist". There isn't really a scientific basis for that, but rather a bias that says "we're going to conduct science in a totally naturalistic way". Others have indicated to me that God is too big to fit into a box we would try and put him in. In many ways, perhaps, its good science. But, I have never really understood their theology in the same ways you indicate. It seems to be a "have your cake and eat it too" situation: a. I want to have my Christian beliefs (Sunday, Wednesday night) b. I don't want to muddy my science by bringing Christian beliefs into it (Monday - Saturday, excluding Wednesday night) In many ways they are putting God in a box by saying "you can perform your little miracles over here in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, but don't you dare do it here in my biology class Slightly off topic: I have never gotten a straight answer from a TE on this, so perhaps if there is a TE lurking about, they could answer the question: "why bother praying for someone with cancer or some other disease, since your philosophy is that God set up the primary causes, and then lets them run their course"ajl
April 9, 2006
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Rabbite: "I don’t know the bible that well, but isn’t God supposed to say somewhere “Without faith I am nothing.” Firstly, I don't think that quote exists in the Holy Bible. Secondly (Off topic), "faith" is not "I believe without evidence". Christian faith is more like "I will trust in God because of Who He is." Naturally, this knowledge comes after some evidence. Thirdly, the TEs' belief that the Intelligent Agent Who created biological forms did not leave evidence is in deed illogical in my view.Mats
April 9, 2006
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rabbite Nope, that doesn't fly either. They believe that God allows us to witness miracles. So they aren't averse to the notion that God does things that can be observed. They're just averse to the notion that God allows evidence of creation to be observed. That's why I just don't get it. They make no sense in this.DaveScot
April 9, 2006
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I don't know the bible that well, but isn't God supposed to say somewhere "Without faith I am nothing." Maybe some Christians view finding evidence of a creator, e.g through intelligent design, as a contradiction to that statement.rabbite_uk
April 9, 2006
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Dave, I have to agree with you on that. Theistic Darwinists don't seem consistent. One would think that they, above all, would on the ID camp, but I guess after years and years of telling their congregations that "evolution is a fact", pride comes in the way when conceeding that science CAN in deed be God-friendly. My view on this is that those TEs (Theistic Evolutionists) are composed mainly of two people: 1. The hardline evolutionists, who pretend to be Christians (Like "Bishop" Spong) 2. The genuine Christian who allegorize Genesis in order to avoid conflict with "science". This last group of people is composed of genuine God believers and God worshipers. The problem is that they believe that darwinism has been proving over and over again, so it must be true. Instead of checking the Darwinisn evidence, they "harmonize it" with Genesis and try to move the issue to other areas of theology (ressurrection, atonement, etc) Perhaps another group worth mentioning are the anti-Fundamentalist "Christians". These type of "Christians" totally despite Fundamentalists, and would suport anything that goes against Christian Fundamentalism. In this process, evolution, abortion, gay marriage and etc are endorsed by this group BECAUSE the Christian fundamentalists are against it. All these groups use evolution for something else. If a scientifc theory undermines their "God is not Evident in creation" mindset, they see this as an attack (or an hindrance) for their ultimate goal: a. The first group sees this as a hindrance to the total destruction of CHristianity. b.The second group sees this as a hindrance to the Gospel, since it puts us talking about origins and not the atonement, and c. The later group sees this as a hindrance to the total destruction of only a particular sect of Christian (Fundamentalis) which they consider as "not really Christians".Mats
April 9, 2006
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I don't get it, Bill. Theistic evolutionists believe that life has divine origins. They believe in miracles and other supernatural things, but somehow refuse to believe that the creator left any empirical evidence of design. What on earth, or anywhere else, causes them to have the belief that the creator of life here hid all evidence of creation? I don't get it. The notion that the creator is concealing all evidence of design is vacuous. Or am I missing something?DaveScot
April 8, 2006
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Conway Morris is against ID? His own book, from what I understand, espouses essentially the same mechanism of ID/Evolution as does Denton.johnnyb
April 8, 2006
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