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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Speaking of Templeton

Ophelia Benson has an excellent, balanced article on the Templeton Foundation in the latest issue of The Philosophers' Magazine. (A paper copy of this turned up here the other day, and I can report that it contains much else of interest, including an interview with Jerry Fodor conducted by Julian Baggini.)

Did I mention that the article is balanced? Yes, I did. Benson is no fan of the Templeton Foundation - far from it - but her piece isn't a hatchet job. It is an exemplary piece of philosophical journalism, exploring the pros and cons of a coontroversial organisation. Would that the same sort of balance could be achieved by all those folks who are currently fawning over Francisco Ayala, now that he's won a huge sum of money for his dubious and philosophically naive views on the relationship between science and religion. One of the evils of the Templeton Foundation is that it can bestow an aura of legitimacy upon very questionable ideas simply by awarding their expositors with a cash prize so egregiously large that journalists are compelled to take notice.

Ophelia's conclusion:

This is the issue in a nutshell. Are philosophy, science and theology different branches of the same kind of inquiry into life and being, which can be usefully and happily united? Or are they fundamentally different kinds of thing, with substantively different ways of inquiring and evaluating the results of inquiry? Templeton clearly considers the first answer correct, while the irreligious tribe of philosophers mostly (but not unanimously) opt for the second. With so much Templeton money hinging on the answer, it could be the $6 million question.

I'm not quite with her on this. I (and probably a lot of other philosophers) actually think that philosophy and science are continuous with each other, and it's not clear where one ends and the other begins. They are part of the larger realm of rational inquiry, and the divisions made within this realm are more practical and pedagogical than anything else.

Theology is a mixed bag. Lot of different and ill-matching stuff gets shoved into theology. Insofar as it includes, for example, rigorous historical-textual analysis of the holy books, it is part of the larger field of rational inquiry. But the core of it is, indeed, something fundamentally different. Still, it can conflict with philosophy and science because it often makes claims that these have the resources to contest.


Janet said...

Yes, philosophy and science grow into one another. After all, they are both concerned with the nature of the universe we inhabit—and there is only one universe (accessible to us, anyway). It is inevitable that over time the two disciplines will converge,at least so long as they are both being practiced by honest men.

Ophelia Benson said...

Heh. Very kind of you to say so. The truth is of course it had to be balanced. Still - I could see much of what the pro-side said, and I had an interesting extended conversation with Dean Zimmer, who seems like a sterling fella. I especially could see the attraction of conferences that draw the top people in a lot of disciplines so that one gets to talk to people one wouldn't otherwise. (But then, the fact that Templeton has attractions is in a way the problem...)

I didn't mean to say that most philosophers think science and philosophy are distinct. That's not what I think; I know nothing about either of them and I like to blend my ignorance of both into a tasty broth.

Jerry Coyne said...

I don't think that biblical scholarship is really part of theology. The former analyzes the sources and history of the Bible as a book, the latter analyzes (and sometimes promotes) religious ideas. We have several Biblical scholars at our Divinity School at the U of C, and they'd really get offended if you called them "theologians"!

Glendon Mellow said...

Oh, goody! It looks like you've had a visit from the Asterisk Fairy, Russell!

Jean Kazez said...

"I (and probably a lot of other philosophers) actually think that philosophy and science are continuous with each other, and it's not clear where one ends and the other begins."

I'd love to see philosophers polled on this, but my guess is that most are painfully aware that they are not scientists. When a philosopher puts forth a theory of justice, or an account of causation (or whatever) reasoning goes into it, but nothing like "scientific method." So there isn't the same possibility of proving things once and for all, or resolving disagreements, etc. I think philosophers worry about what philosophy is and how it can make claims about the world, and these worries are very different from others they have about the nature of science.

NewEnglandBob said...

How is that weather in Granby?

Russell Blackford said...

No feeding the troll, Glendon.

Anonymous said...

I have to question placing the biblical scholars under the umbrella of the sciences. Once they are in can the rest of the literary critics be far behind? Before you can say ‘different ways of knowing’ we will be up to our Sokals in post-modern relativists.

Glendon Mellow said...

You're right Russell. The troll followed me home.

Ergun Çoruh said...

"My son is taking a course in philosophy, and last night we were looking at something by Spinoza and there was the most childish reasoning! There were all these attributes, and Substances, and all this meaningless chewing around, and we started to laugh. Now how could we do that? Here's this great Dutch philosopher, and we're laughing at him. It's because there's no excuse for it! In the same period there was Newton, there was Harvey studying the circulation of the blood, there were people with methods of analysis by which progress was being made! You can take every one of Spinoza's propositions, and take the contrary propositions, and look at the world and you can't tell which is right."

Richard P. Feynman, The Pleasure of Finding Things Out