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.
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.
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