christine~ (eppylover) wrote,

Sunday Sermon ~ Michael Heller: seeing God lurking in equations

Two years ago there was a writeup by Amanda Gefter, Opinion editor of New Scientist, who spoke with the scientist/theologian Michael Heller. In 2008 he had won the so-called Templeton "Prize" for, among other things, his claim that he had mathematically provided indirect evidence for the existence of God.

Ms. Gefter's article clarifies matters for me:

I have to admit, when I picked up the phone to call Michael Heller, the Polish cosmologist and Catholic priest who was today awarded the $1.6 million Templeton Prize, I was a little uneasy. I am strongly committed to the idea that science and religion don't mix, while the prize is awarded by the Templeton Foundation for "progress toward research or discoveries about spiritual realities".

The Templeton Foundation is a strange beast indeed. On the one hand, it is not officially committed to any particular religion, it does not support hack religious theories like intelligent design, it funds lots of fundamental theoretical physics that is not otherwise readily funded, and it doesn't explicitly interfere with or influence the scientific results of the various projects it funds.

On the other hand, the foundation's primary goal is to support science that in turn supports religion, to use science as a tool to promote a religious agenda. It's as if, rather than fighting against science the way some religious factions — like creationists — do, they figure: we'll just buy science and use it for our own ends.

Consider this: when Sir John Templeton established the Templeton Prize in 1972 he stipulated that the monetary value should always be higher than that of the Nobel Prize — his way of saying that theology is more important than any other intellectual enterprise. Still, Sir John always seemed to be more of an eccentric billionaire than a dangerous force.

Now, however, his son Jack has taken over the foundation, and as Alexander Saxton pointed out in a Free Inquiry article, Jack is a gung-ho Evangelical Christian. In light of all this, some scientists feel it undermines their integrity to accept Templeton money. Others think, why not just take their money and put it to good scientific use?

When I talked with Heller, my concerns were eased. Heller comes across as a contemplative, kind and brilliant man with an impressive intellectual range, flitting easily between talk of complex philosophical ideas and sophisticated mathematical physics. (I was intrigued that his current work is focused on ridding physics of the big bang singularity — despite the fact that many Catholics have latched on to the idea of the singularity as the space left for God and his creative power.)

He is the kind of physicist who is so awestruck by the mathematical order of the universe that he sees God lurking in equations. For him, science and religion are difficult to separate. And after talking with him I could understand why — Heller grew up in a family environment in which intellectualism and religion were deeply intertwined, and in a political environment in which both were persecuted by the Communist regime in Poland. The point is, the Templeton Foundation's efforts to buy scientists might be dangerous. But Michael Heller certainly isn't.

Here's something to ponder: Would you take $1.6 million from an organisation whose motives you didn't agree with?

Amanda Gefter, Opinion editor

So I can see why Michael Heller clings to the god thing ~ because religion and intellectualism were persecuted in the society where he was raised.

In my opinion, everyone should be free to embrace whatever spiritual or non-spiritual mindset that they feel is most comforting and logical to them, as long as they don't try to force it on others.

However, the danger lies in promoting agendas rather than sharing knowledge. Heller is trying to share what he feels and believes ~ but the Templeton Foundation obviously promotes an agenda (theology is more important than any other intellectual enterprise).

A comment on another forum says it best:
On atheism being "the state religion" of the Soviet Union ~

I don´t see where it was atheism that caused this repression.
Rather it was tyranny — which is willing to hide behind ANY ideology.

I am a socialist, but Hitler claimed to be that, too!
In my book though, what he did had nothing to do with socialism, and everything to do with tyranny and repression.


Finally, regarding Amanda Gefter's concluding question, "Would you take $1.6 million from an organisation whose motives you didn't agree with?" ~ I must agree with one of the commenters, who says:
I guess I'm the only one, but I would definitely not take the money.
Even if I was putting it to better use.
It would just encourage them, it wouldn't be polite, and it might reinforce negative stereotypes about atheists.


Below link courtesy of Facebook friend Styvyn Larson

National Academy of Sciences criticised
for hosting £1m spiritual award | Science |
The Guardian
"This is the same group that refused to honor Carl Sagan, but they host for a Templeton? Shameful!"
~ Lisa Rosati- Bridenbecker

"This is a painful stab at the legitimacy of American science. Templeton is always trying to find a way to weasel themselves into situations that favor them in the eyes of science. BAH"
~ Chad Brown

"Templeton has a fairly overt agenda that some scientists are comfortable with, but very many are not. In my opinion, for a prestigious scientific organisation to work with them sends the wrong message."
~ Sean Carroll, physicist, California Institute of Technology

A scientist that would have anything to do with Templeton is simply an intellectual prostitute.
~ Gerald Evenden
{{ HERE }} is a great blog entry on the accomodationism of Templeton.

Tags: hypocrisy, science, sunday sermon

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