Back to Alaska

No, that's not a giant pink marshmallow in the sky in the new header. It's Denali at 11 pm, just after sunset. The landscape seems just slightly "philosophical" (well, meditative) but not in the cliched manner of clouds, sunsets, and beaches. So maybe this header will stay for a while. It's a nice reminder of our trip to Alaska last summer. (I'm ready to go back...)

There was an interesting two-page ad in the New York Times today. The Templeton foundation asked scientists and religious thinkers whether the universe has a purpose. A couple said no, a couple maybe, and a plurality said yes. (All the answers are here.)

It's hard to know what to think of the Templeton people--their official agenda is to fund research on "big questions." That sounds good, but the underlying agenda is to fund a close nexus between science and religion. They are not necessarily interested in promoting "free inquiry," wherever it may lead. (Barbara Ehrenreich has a good article about the Templeton foundation here.)

Whatever the agenda, I have to say there were some interesting answers (e.g. from Neil DeGrasse Tyson, who said No; and from Elie Wiesel, who said "I hope so").


Anonymous said...

Tyson, being a scientist, actually officially said Not Sure, although I agree Probably Not would be a better summary of his essay. On a first read-through, he was the best, and Kraus and Atkins were good. Wiesel I actually didn't understand. Some of the others were depressingly dreadful, especially the women (and Gelenter and Davies). Couldn't they have found a less wet female scientist than Goodall? And didn't you just love Murphy's theodicy, which I hadn't come across before? Er.....

I am a pragmatist about the Templeton Foundation; people may as well take their money up until the point at which they actually suppress or distort anything, which AFAIK has not yer happened.

Nature or someone should organise a different set of 12 people.

Jean Kazez said...

Re: Murphy's theodicy. Why get into all the deep stuff about physical constants? An omnipotent God could have just caused Hitler a little miraculous accident in the bathtub at age two. It takes a huge amount of "spin" to convince yourself this would have been a bad idea.

Fun little fantasy ethics problem--what if Templeton offered me a million dollars to think about some "big questions." What would I do?

It's not true that funding necessarily corrupts. Possibly I could hang onto that thought on the way to the bank.

Anonymous said...

And why on earth would an omnipotent God be bound by the way physics obsevably works so as to have be constrained by those constants? Surely he could just have changed physics?

If Templeton offer you a million dollars, take the money and run. If you're worried that your innate human sense of reciprocity will make you bend over backwards not to come to conclusions they won't like, you can always use part of the dosh to employ someone to be devil's advocate to keep you on the strait and narrow. (How about Ophelia?)

Money is just money.