A name to conjure with

The Templeton Foundation is having more and more success at getting its message under the radar. The Times Higher for instance tells us about an upcoming lecture which will include some things we have grown familiar with in recent months.

It is often assumed that religion and science have always been locked in a life-and-death struggle…Such views would have startled the scholars, including some of the greatest names in British science, who founded what became the Royal Society 350 years ago. In a Faraday Institute public lecture, to be delivered in Cambridge this week, Peter Harrison, Andreas Idreos professor of science and religion at the University of Oxford, will challenge such arguments about the impossibility of being both scientific and religious, pointing out that they “obviously didn’t apply to the earliest fellows”.

Right…and we have learned some things in those 350 years, so what people thought 350 years ago is not necessarily a conversation-stopper now, but no matter – do go on, I’m listening.

In reality, Professor Harrison said, “almost without exception, early modern natural philosophers cherished religious convictions, although these were not invariably orthodox. Some – but by no means all – made the point that they were motivated to pursue scientific inquiry on account of these religious commitments.” Far from being militant atheists, they “believed that the disinterested study of the structures of living things could offer independent support for the truth of the Christian religion, and refute atheism”.

But that of course is not the really important part of what Professor Harrison has to say. I wonder if you can guess what is?

A historian with a first degree in zoology and “an overt religious commitment”, Professor Harrison regards the recent spate of anti-religious polemics headed by Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion as “intellectually vacuous, although their popularity is sociologically interesting”.

That’s it! It’s another deadly blow at the ‘spate’ of anti-religious books (the one that occupies two feet of shelf at most at the University Bookstore here, two feet which are embedded in long shelves packed with pro-religious polemics stretching to the horizon).

The really interesting thing about this is that the article never mentions – never mentions – the fact that the ‘Faraday Institute,’ which sounds so sciency and academicky and serious, is a creation of – wait for it – the Templeton Foundation.

Thanks to Karel De Pauw for the article.

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