Templeton Millions

I’m still on vacation for a few days, but will take a quick break from sitting in a hot tub watching the Northern Lights here in Iceland for a short blog entry.

The Templeton Foundation has just announced a plan to honor the centenary of the birth of Sir John Templeton by giving $5.6 million dollars to physicists and astronomers willing to work on four “Big Questions” of a philosophical sort about cosmology. The multiverse is of course one of them. This program will be run out of the University of Chicago and led by astronomer Donald York, who surely was chosen for this partly because he’s an evangelical Christian:

…plenty of scientists are religious. Take Donald York, PhD’71, the Horace B. Horton professor in astronomy & astrophysics, the Enrico Fermi Institute, and the College. Founding director of both the Sloan Digital Sky Survey and the Apache Point Observatory, York is also an evangelical Christian who served as Intervarsity’s faculty sponsor from the mid-’80s through mid-’90s. “I don’t try to make the literal resolution” between science and Christianity, he says. “We’re always changing and growing, and some things are acceptable at different times.” To him, “Science is a story just like the religious stories.”

A commenter points out here that DAMTP at Cambridge has just posted a job ad for Templeton-funded hiring in “Philosophy of Cosmology”. Note that this hiring is not in the Philosophy department but in the physics department. The announcement says that there will also be a similar job at Oxford. The “Philosophy of Cosmology” grants used to fund this and similar positions in the US seem to involve at least a couple million dollars, more here and in my earlier blog entry about this.

Normally I try and avoid editorializing directly about news like this, but this time I’ll make an exception. I think what is going on here is very dangerous. The Templeton Foundation’s agenda is not the advancement of science, it is the advancement of a particular religious point of view about what science is and how it should be done. They are very cleverly putting large sums of money into backing theology and pseudo-scientific research at the most prestigious academic institutions in the world. One reason that these places are happily taking the money is because public funding is drying up. The organization is extremely wealthy, and now led by Templeton’s son, who when he isn’t spending his father’s money on this is spending it on promoting Rick Santorum’s political career or other far-right causes (see here for example).

At least in physics, some of those who can usually be counted on to do battle with the forces of religion have gone quiet. See for example Sean Carroll’s posting about this recent funding, where he discourages commenters from criticizing the source of this money, since it’s being spent on something he approves of. Seems to me that people in this field need to start seriously talking about the implications of this large new funding stream and its source, not suppressing such discussion.

Update: I’d be curious to hear from anyone at the University of Chicago who knows what the university’s involvement with this actually is. The main page claims it is a project “led by the University of Chicago” and their logo is all over the site, but Donald York is the only University of Chicago affiliate listed (actually, he seems to be the only person listed, others are just “honorary”). Who at Chicago would have had to approve this, and is the university getting part of the grant funds from Templeton?

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52 Responses to Templeton Millions

  1. Shantanu says:

    Peter, forget all this. Haven’t seen any comments form you on Daya Bay result.
    (Is it because neutrino physics doesn’t excite you?) maybe someone should see if string theorists regard this as evidence for string theory :)

  2. Peter Woit says:

    Shantanu,

    Well, I was on vacation, sitting in that hot tub…

    More importantly, I just don’t know that much about this, prefer to leave writing about it to those who know more. It’s a significant advance in the subject, but I don’t have anything of much interest to add.