. . . 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 Ã¢â‚¬â€ three agnostics, one Jew, a deist, and 12 Christians (a Muslim philosopher canceled at the last minute) Ã¢â‚¬â€ 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 Ã¢â‚¬â€ 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. . . .