By James A. Haught
A half-century ago, billionaire investor Sir John Templeton was the Warren Buffett of his era – and he felt strong religious urges. He made public declarations like:
“God is revealing himself more and more to human inquiry, not always through prophetic visions or scriptures, but through the astonishingly productive research of modern scientists.”
Templeton thought the Nobel Prizes ignored religion, so he created a bigger jackpot for holy people: The Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion.
(I always wanted to take a photo of an abandoned church that had been turned into a bookstore, and submit it for the “progress in religion” prize.)
Later, the award name was changed to “Progress Toward Research or Discoveries About Spiritual Realities.” (Whatever “spiritual realities” are.)
At first, the Templeton Award went mostly to religious figures like Mother Teresa, Billy Graham, Watergate felon Charles Colson, Campus Crusade for Christ founder Bill Bright and various theologians. Then it veered to major scientists who didn’t denounce supernaturalism. They reaped million-dollar bonanzas. The prize is high-prestige, presented by Prince Philip in Buckingham Palace.
Biologist Jerry Coyne said the Templeton Awards are designed to “give credibility to religion by blurring its well-demarcated border with science.” Nobel-Prize-winning physicist Martinus Veltman wisecracked that winning a Templeton is “bridging the gap between sense and nonsense.”
The latest winner is a brilliant Brazilian physicist, Marcelo Gleiser, who denounces atheists and calls himself an agnostic. He told Scientific American:
“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 Templeton Foundation apparently gave him $1.5 million for taking a hard stand for agnosticism, against atheism.
Well, the Brazilian physicist is correct – you can’t find scientific evidence to disprove gods, devils, fairies, werewolves, vampires, angels, heavens, hells, and all the rest of the supernatural spectrum. No clear lines of proof lead to solid conclusions. Supernatural questions simply are unanswerable.
Aztecs once sacrificed humans to an invisible feathered serpent. Nobody today can prove scientifically that the invisible feathered serpent didn’t exist. But that’s a pretty good hunch.
Intelligent people have wisdom, and can make common-sense judgments without provable evidence. They can decide that Santa Claus is a make-believe fantasy, although they lack clear scientific proof of it. The same for leprechauns, poltergeists, etc. – all the way up the supernatural ladder to gods.
Actually, there’s clear proof that an all-loving, all-powerful Father-Creator god doesn’t exist. It’s called “the problem of evil.” Such a merciful deity wouldn’t have created hideous diseases or natural tragedies, and do nothing to save people from them. And he wouldn’t have designed nature to be a bloodbath of carnivorous slaughter. That clinches it for me. It doesn’t disprove a cruel god, but it wipes out a compassionate one.
Finally, the Templeton Foundation must be near desperation in its quest for “spiritual realities.” If it gives $1.5 million each to scientists who call themselves agnostics instead of atheists, it’s approaching the bottom of the barrel.
(Haught, longtime editor of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail, is a weekly contributor to Daylight Atheism.)