Friday, November 09, 2012

THE SCIENCE & RELIGION DIALOGUE: PAST & FUTURE

The Science and Religion Dialogue: Past and Future.  An International and Interdisciplinary Conference Documenting 25 Years of Global Research Sponsorship by the John Templeton Foundation
 
Well, that is a mouthful, eh?  The conference was held in Heidelberg, October 25-28, and the full schedule of events and speakers can be found here.  Although the Conference was 'by invitation only' I was able to secure an 'invite' via a University of Heidelberg/Center for American Studies colleague.  As suspected from the title of the conference, a fair number of Templeton Foundation executives attended including current President and Chairman, John [Jack] M. Templeton, Jr.  The opening was held at the Alte Aula of the University of Heidelberg, and for me the highlight was the opening and closing by the Baroque Orchestra L'arpa festante, with the opening being Vivaldi's Concerto for 4 violins, strings and basso continuo b-Minor op.3 No.10 (RV 580) and closing with J.S. Bach 3:Brandenburg Concerto G-Major BWV 1048.
 

Vivaldi


Bach


The second highlight of the evening was a brief reception in the bel étage followed by a wonderful dinner at the Palais Prinz Carl.  Thus the Welcomes and Lectures came in third.  Among the five welcomes, the most interesting was by Dr. Michael Murray, Executive Vice President of Programs at Templeton.  Some of the numbers that he shared were staggering:  $800 million in current endowment, headed toward $3 billion when Sir John's estate is completely settled; 432 active grants totalling ~$100 million; about $60 million funds the Humility in Theology Program "that seeks to define new spiritual realities via science and religion"; 72 folks working in Conshohocken, PA, near Philadelphia. All of this brought to mind an article by Nathan Schneider in the Chronicle of Higher Education entitled "The Templeton Effect."  The full article is here and worth a read as are some of the comments.  Interestingly I later noted that some Templeton folks including Jack were perusing the article even though it came out September 3, 2012.  While some folks, particularly theologians, philosophers and some scientists are supportive of Templeton's activities, others (Coyne - scientist) (Pigliucci - philosopher) are less than impressed.  A second-hand side note about the dinner at the table of Herr Professor Dr. Dr. Dr. Michael Welker, Conference organizer and host.  Apparently for a number of years the Templeton Foundation has funded awards to young scholars for professional development.  As is Templetons wont, for programs to continue beyond initial funding, other funding sources need to be secured, and thus the program will continue as the Lautenschläger awards.  Apparently the Obama-supporting Dr. h.c. Manfred Lautenschläger and the right-wing conservative Jack Templeton did not see eye-to-eye on some things, and Dr. Welker had to moderate the discussion.  I was several tables away, but sure would have loved to eavesdrop on those conversations!
 
DAY 1 - I will start with a few comments.  First, I had anticipated that the Conference would be truly more of a dialogue between science and religion, but if I had been paying close attention to the full title, I should have deduced that it was more of a report of what the Foundation has been funding in this area, provided by the people who the Foundation has funded.  Second, I would be labeled by some as an accommodationist, which is a pejorative used by both the atheist/nontheist/agnostic folks and by the fundamentalist Answers In Genesis crowd.  However, I do not define the term in the same way, but rather have the perspective that people cannot dichotomize their understanding of their faith and their understanding of science, and thus if they are going to be serious about their religion and their science, they need to develop a solid understanding of each.  Third, I am a modified NOMA, [the non-overlapping magesteria of science and religion] which is also not acceptable to many scientists, theologians, philosophers, etc.  The NOMA-in-Chief, Stephen Jay Gould, has been ripped on by a lot of folks, but I find merit in non-overlapping magesteria - but I would not call them magesteria.  Magisterium synonyms include autocratic, dogmatic, egotistic and imperious, and I have a problem with authority :-)  I prefer the term Realm or Sphere and find that there is little in common between science and religion regarding the nature of the quest for truth and understanding.  Science has a well-accepted set of rules about the nature of evidence that is allowed to enter the discussion of hypotheses, theories, evidence, etc., whereas Religion has no such agreed upon set of rules.  As others have noted, science and religion can be authoritative but should not be authoritarian.  Also, science by its very nature should remain agnostic, and sacred religious texts should not be considered authoritative scientific documents.  If Genesis is your authoritative reference for science, you have a big problem, whereas if you find Matthew 25:32 and ff authoritative, you find no conflict because there is no reference there to scientific understanding. 
 
I am not going to comment extensively on the presentations because they will all be published.  However, several Day 1 presentations were interesting.  Denis Alexander, Director Emeritus of the Faraday Institute at Cambridge gave an overview of some of the Institute activities directed toward better understanding of science among church members, with particular reference to the Test of Faith and LASAR projects.  To me, this project sounds closely akin to BioLogos, so I asked the obvious question - how do you deal with the religious folks like Ken Ham and Al Mohler who challenge your acceptance of cosmology, astronomy and evolution in relationship to faith, and he said that he simply ignores them.  Well that probably works in Great Britain, but surely is not a strategy that would work in the US, particularly if you are seeking to free young people from the blinkered confines of an authoritarian church and extreme dogmatists such as Ham and Mohler [be sure to check out Mohler's assessment of the election - using the word "aftermath" in the title should give you a clue as to where he is going].  The Astronomy session with Jennifer Wiseman and Chris Imprey was good it was good science [exoplanets] and good educational outreach [astronomy instruction to Buddhists].  A look at the titles for the Mathematics and Physics sections will give you an idea of the esoterica, and I must admit that I was not unpleased when the Psychology session was cancelled.  Again, one of the highlights of the day was dinner - this time at the Herrenmühle - where real dialogue between science and religion could take place.
 
DAY 2 - Again I will start with some comments.  While the speakers/readers on the first day were fairly conscientious, many of the speakers on day 2 seemed to be clueless.  What is so *** difficult about preparing a presentation that fits in to the time allotted?  It's not rocket science!  Several folks were told that they had 2 minutes remaining and expressed shock, yes shock since they were only on page 8 of their 20 page exposition or on slide 70 of the 150 they had planned.  Admittedly folks going over their time slot is a real peeve for me, and I am quite ruthless as a session moderator, giving several indications of remaining time, issuing one overtime warning, and then cutting it off!  To me such expansive exposition is indicative of oversized ego and misguided self-assessment of the importance of one's work.  Ditto for those who purportedly are asking a question during the Q&A and bloviate for several minutes, presenting their own mini-lecture.  After someone rambles for a minute or so, my favorite response is "Is there a question in there somewhere?"  And, if they respond that theirs was a comment rather than a question, I am tempted [but have never followed through] to say "If the conference organizers had wanted you to give your comments, they would have invited you to give a presentation."
 
The day's presentations were dominated by non-science types, some of which left me bewildered about the usefulness of the seemingly non-contributory-to-understanding-anything nature of the work presented.  Suffice it to say that I will not mention names here, but I am convinced that the efforts of some of these folks is important to a very small portion of the academy and thus negligibly important in general.  I will specifically say that my anabaptist perspective makes me cringe when I hear Calvinists. There was much Sophisticated Theology, with discussions of dual-aspect monism, non-interventionist-indeterminate-objective, divine-action [NIODA], with perhaps the most insightful thing said being "civilization is the triumph of reason over force."  Günter Wagner's presentation was interesting, but being basically a seminar appropriate for presentation at EMBL-Heidelberg, it was probably only interesting/understandable by several of us in the audience.  Simon Conway Morris is always entertaining, often offering a new twist - this time calling for a more serious study of the many reports of pilots and others who have experienced some sort of time travel.  Another worthy presentation was by Jan Stievermann who as a German academic has a much more accurate perspective on the history of religion in the US than do most Americans.  Finally, the presentation by Timothy Winter, Cambridge, was a fascinating story of attempting to work with the leadership of the growing Muslim community in Great Britain regarding science education.  He made his presentation in typical western professional dress, and during his presentation, a colleague leaned over to me to ask if I thought he was a convert, to which I opined that I doubted it.  Boy was I wrong - Winter is considered Britain's most influential Muslim.
 
 
Timothy Winter
 
 
Sheikh Abdul-Hakim Murad
 

 
The conclusion of a very long day was a most lovely dinner at the Schloss Heidelberg restaurant where once again, connections were made and conversations ensued. 
 
 
 
 
I perhaps was not enlighted by the Conference as much as I thought that I might have been, but enjoyed listening to folks who I would normally not listen to or even hear of. My take-home: Templeton Foundation is somewhat of a paradox, puzzling to both evangelicals [funding studies of evolution] and scientists [discovering spiritual realities], and is explained somewhat in this article - Honoring His Father.
 
 
John & Jack

16 comments:

Bizzy Brain said...

I believe the good Sir Templeton to be a spiritual crackpot. However, he is in good company. I believe Bruce Wilkinson became a crackpot, and Rick Warren is well on the way, if not already arrived at that destination.

Dr S said...

However, Bizzy, I believe that you and John Jr would be bosom buddies!

Bizzy Brain said...

Okay, wiil take your word for it Dr. S. Have got plenty of ammo against Sr., now have to check out Jr. and report back.

Bizzy Brain said...

Hey, thanks for the tip, Doc! Jr. is my kinda guy! He found God, while dad was still seeking Him in a test tube.

Bizzy Brain said...

"I will specifically say that my anabaptist perspective makes me cringe when I hear Calvinists."
Whoa, Doc. You're going to have to explain that one.

Dr S said...

Slight correction about Sir John - probably notlooking in a test tube but rather looking in the piles he made he made as an investement guru.

Second - Calvininsts - one concept - predestination - don't believe it. Go read this: http://www.orlutheran.com/html/calvinisttheology.html

Bizzy Brain said...

A lot of confusion surrounding predestination. I believe God has foreknowledge of who will spend eternity with him and who won't. That doesn't mean He controls the outcome. Predestination relates to believers who are predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son. Romans 8:29.

Dr S said...

Bizzy - no doubt a lot of confusion, but I know that I am not confused. I see a lot of folks doing a lot of fine dancing around with much hand waving trying to explain the inexplicable [IMHO] - if God knows the outcome, the game is rigged; the whole thing is a sham; free-will is simply an illusion; and on and on.

Bizzy Brain said...

Maybe the Jehovah's Witnesses have nailed it. Remove the concept of eternal damnation (the JW's believe the unsaved cease to exist) and all the arguments about election and predisination and the existence of free will are moot, because nothing's at stake.

Misses Nothing said...

Biz, you need to proofread a little better - "predisination" for "predestination?" Oh, well, it's late. You are forgiven.

Bizzy Brain said...

Hey, Nothing, out of curiosity, do you have any friends?

Dr S said...

Bizzy - isn't there a difference between pre-choosing and choosing? You can still have your 'final evaluation' as it were based primarily on the choices you make during your stint in this realm. Polkinghorne talks about this as God being self-limiting by not knowing the future, "like a musical performance not from a fixed score but rather an improvisation" with all players involved.
http://processandfaith.org/writings/ask-dr-cobb/2008-03/polkinghorn-response

Dr Bill said...

Many thanks for your lively descriptions. Your comments certainly added a great deal of the “you are there” event perspective one can get only from being there in person. I couldn’t agree more with your comments about those who ran out of time/ran overtime with their presentations. After warning all participants in advance that they could not go overtime, when the allotted time ended I would always say, very loudly, “You have one minute to summarize,” and after that I would stand, thank the speaker and lead the applause that would drown out whatever continuing remarks he might have been trying to add. Not a popular technique with some speakers, but highly popular with audiences.

Thanks also for linking the beautiful musical selections, as I wouldn’t have even have thought I could have found them. I thought I heard the chair tell the presenters they had until 1 April to turn in their manuscripts. If that is the case, I hold out no hope of an early conference publication.

The numbers you gave for the Templeton Foundation’s assets were stunning. While each of us might prefer to follow our own ideas in dispersing such large sums, I have always viewed those who were publicly critical of the foundation as rather petty and small-minded. Perhaps they are just jealous that they are not candidates for one of its awards,

I had the opportunity to have breakfast with Sir John at Oxford, during one of the early Templeton-funded workshops there, and found him a delightfully personable and humble man.

Bizzy Brain said...

I agree with you that there is a difference between pre-choosing and choosing. I think of pre-choosing as election or predestination, the idea that even before time began, God picked the winners and losers. That would be the Calvinist understanding. However, I think of choosing as something mortal men do, the exercise of their free will to receive or reject the gospel. You mention the idea of God being self-limiting and provided a link to process theology, which is a way of making sense of God that, well, never made sense to me. I do understand the appeal of process theology to evolutionists.

Bizzy Brain said...

Am amazed at the complexity of religious philosophy and dissensions back in the 17th century. I had never heard of lapsarianism until this week. Add to that supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism. These relate to Calvinist doctrine over when and whom God predestined. Did he choose who to save before or after the Fall? Yes, they spent A LOT of time arguing and attempting to resolve that issue. Even today you can get on the internet and see preachers and religious scholars ripping each other to shreds over obscure doctrine, with utmost vituperation. All that is missing are stakes, firewood, and matches. Kind of a far cry from my simplistic, modern day religious philosophy such as “love your neighbor as yourself.

Dr S said...

Bizzy - a hearty Amen to that!!