I've been thinking about this since last week, when the winner of the 2019 Templeton Prize said it wasn't.
The John Templeton Foundation's goal is to show that religion and science can ideologically co-exist, and their $1.5M Prize
...recognizes an individual “who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension.”The winner, theoretical physicist Marcelo Gleiser, "a 60-year-old Brazil-born theoretical physicist at Dartmouth College," told SciAm's Lee Billings
I honestly think atheism is inconsistent with the scientific method. What I mean by that is, what is atheism? It’s a statement, a categorical statement that expresses belief in nonbelief. “I don’t believe even though I have no evidence for or against, simply I don’t believe.” Period. It’s a declaration. But in science we don’t really do declarations. We say, “Okay, you can have a hypothesis, you have to have some evidence against or for that.” And so an agnostic would say, look, I have no evidence for God or any kind of god (What god, first of all? The Maori gods, or the Jewish or Christian or Muslim God? Which god is that?) But on the other hand, an agnostic would acknowledge no right to make a final statement about something he or she doesn’t know about. “The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence,” and all that. This positions me very much against all of the “New Atheist” guys—even though I want my message to be respectful of people’s beliefs and reasoning, which might be community-based, or dignity-based, and so on. And I think obviously the Templeton Foundation likes all of this, because this is part of an emerging conversation. It’s not just me; it’s also my colleague the astrophysicist Adam Frank, and a bunch of others, talking more and more about the relation between science and spirituality.I just don't get this. I wonder if Gleiser is agnostic about the existence of thousand-legged purple elephants? Billion-legged? Purple elephants with 105846 legs?
Is there a scientific reason why elephants can't have 1000 legs? Maybe too much body mass to eat for...or maybe we just haven't discovered the ninth force that makes 1000 legs possible but rules out any more or less as impossible.... What about 120 legs, then? Polka-dotted pachyderms? Does Gleiser think somewhere on Earth there may be a (natural) polka-dotted elephant with a head the size of a dump truck? With antlers? That can play Beatles songs on the guitar? Does he keep an open mind or does he say, no, those don't exist.
I think (s)he -- or anyone -- would say such a creature doesn't exist. (S)he wouldn't equivocate about it -- 'jee, we just don't know, ya know?' -- they'd make a definitive statement. Because leaving your mind open to all such possibilities is impossible -- otherwise we'd never have evolved to this stage, we'd never get anything done. If a writer thought he had to worry about the possibility of all the air in his room suddenly gathering in the top northward corner -- a possibility calculated by (I think it was) George Gamow in One, Two, Three Infinity -- he'd never get anything on the
Sure, you could say you're agnostic about that possibility -- jee, we just don't know -- but what's the point of that? To me it seems just a (too) cute rhetorical device to say we ought to be open to a god's existence (a god which no one ever describes in enough detail to seriously envision), the god John Templeton wants you to accept, so read your Bible and say your prayers and tithe to his church. Which is just a way to defend one's belief in a supernatural something even when there is no evidence whatsoever, to have your wafer [and wine] and eat it too. To me that seems to preclude serious thought, not encourage it.
I have no problem, of course, if someone is religious. But I think it's going too far to tell me I ought to be religious because jee, we just don't know. There are too many amazing things in this world that I want to see and learn about for me to spend time on something I've concluded I shouldn't spend any more time on because there's no evidence for it. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, not a mind so open it can make no sense of the world. Personally I think this world would make more sense and be kinder and more peaceful if religion and its intense belief in things without evidence -- beliefs that lead some of its adherents to violence and wars and horrific, premeditated violations of others -- didn't exist.
People who are kind will be kind whether God exists or not. But people who are not kind too often use religion to hide their unkindness. I think that's what Gleiser's philosophy leads to -- excuses. In other words I don't think his argument is morally neutral. He wants us to ignore arguments -- ignore our way of successfully navigating the world and discovering its workings -- about thousand-legged purple elephants when, and only when, it comes to God.
Anyway, I got that off my chest. What do you think?