The end of god-19: Why religious institutions do not seek evidence for god


(For previous posts in this series, see here.)

In the previous post, I said that sometimes the argument is made that the scientific community should pursue even tentative clues for the existence of god or the paranormal because the people who originally stumble over them do not have the kinds of resources and expertise to mount the kind of sophisticated studies to validate them.

It is true that good studies require resources, knowledge, and skill. But it is not as if the scientific community has a monopoly on these things and that believers in god have no access to them. After all, religion is probably the world’s biggest industry. (I am tempted to use the word racket.) Billions of people all over the world, even among the world’s poorest, are persuaded to give vast amounts of money to religious organizations. If there is one institution that has the money, the interest, the skills, and the expertise to pour into finding conclusive evidence of god, it is organized religion and its associated institutions.

So why don’t the Catholic and Protestant and Orthodox churches and Jewish synagogues and Muslim mosques around the world set up research institutes to find evidence of god, instead of expecting others to do their work for them? Even if a very tiny fraction of their annual revenues were set aside to fund such institutes, those bodies would have huge budgets, enabling them to staff and resource them at a very high level, unimaginable to any secular research organization. People who have tentative evidence for god can send it to these research institutes for more thorough investigation instead of pestering scientists who have many other things to do.

So why don’t religions do this? Why don’t they go full throttle to research and find conclusive evidence once and for all for the existence of god?

I think it is because the leaders and theologians of all religions already know that they will not find any evidence and they are scared that such an effort would reveal to the world the total bankruptcy of the idea of god. They would prefer that this be a secret known only to them and atheists. That way they can continue to delude people that these non-existent gods exist, and more importantly, keep persuading people to contribute money to keep the churches and clergy and assorted hangers-on in the style to which they have grown accustomed. This would explain why religious leaders raise ‘faith’ to such high esteem when it comes to religion, while praising reason and critical thinking in all others spheres of human activity. When it comes to religion and religion alone, they insist that it virtuous to strongly believe in something in the absence of any credible evidence whatsoever, behavior that would be considered madness in any context other than religion.

A telling example of this desire to actually avoid doing any research that might reveal the bankruptcy of their ideas can be seen in the behavior of the intelligent design creationism (IDC) people. In the Templeton Foundation, they have an organization that has a lot of money and is eager to fund research into finding evidence that belief in god is compatible with a scientific outlook. Physicist Bob Park gives some background into the foundation and its founder and what it seeks to achieve.

It was initially the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, and the first winner in 1973 was Mother Teresa. Winners have included Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists. Billy Graham got it in 1982, Charles Colson of Watergate fame in 1993 and Paul Davies in 1995. But in 1999 Ian Barbour, a student of Fermi, was the recipient. A professor of physics and theology at Carleton College, Barbour was credited with initiating a “dialog between science and religion.” Templeton admired Barbour, and coveted his dialog. The scientific revolution, after all, led to the fantastic growth in the world economy that made him a billionaire. Templeton believes God has chosen him to show the world that, as he put it, theology and science are two windows on the same landscape. So he changed the name to the Templeton Prize for Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities. It is the largest prize for intellectual accomplishment in existence, chosen to be bigger than the Nobel. Since that time, six of the last eight winners of the Templeton Prize have been physicists. They all relied on the anthropic principle in their Templeton Prize statements.

There are 8 physicists among the 34 recipients so far of the Templeton Prize, and Park says that a couple more had degrees in physics.

The Foundation is currently running a series of dialogues on the question “Does science make belief in God obsolete?”. The answer is, of course, a resounding “Yes!” as this series of posts has pointed out, but clearly the foundation is hoping that the answer they get is no.

So did the IDC people submit proposals to the Templeton Foundation asking for support for investigations to find evidence for an intelligent designer? Well, no. As this news report said:

The Templeton Foundation, a major supporter of projects seeking to reconcile science and religion, says that after providing a few grants for conferences and courses to debate intelligent design, they asked proponents to submit proposals for actual research.

“They never came in,” said Charles L. Harper Jr., senior vice president at the Templeton Foundation, who said that while he was skeptical from the beginning, other foundation officials were initially intrigued and later grew disillusioned.

What the IDC people want to do is run a purely public relations campaign, consisting of books, articles, debates, films, all of them whining about how scientists are being mean to them and ignoring the evidence of a designer. But when it comes to doing actual research to back up their claims of having evidence, they refuse to even ask for money to pursue this line of research from an organization eager to fund them.

The major religions and their theologians and religious apologists also show this strange reluctance to do any actual research to find evidence for the existence of god while simultaneously seizing on anecdotal reports of crying statues and visions and stains on highway overpasses as evidence.

There is, of course, a simple explanation for this seemingly contradictory behavior. I have said before that I think that the Pope and other high-ranking clergy and theologians of all religions are very likely to be secretly atheists. They are smart people who have thought a lot about all the arguments against the existence of god that have been raised by the new atheists and elaborated on in this series of essays. Unlike for ordinary people, these arguments cannot be new to them and they are smart enough to recognize their force. They must know in their hearts that they have absolutely no basis for believing in god. The most charitable view I can assign to them is that they believe they believe because they desperately want to believe, a form of self-delusion. The more cynical view is that these high-ranking church dignitaries are laughing all the way to the bank, amazed that there exist so many suckers in the world willing to believe in the pious platitudes they put out, and to donate money to support them and their parasitic institutions.

I am not referring to ordinary worshippers or their local clergy, many of whom are likely to be genuine believers. My cynicism is directed at those occupying the top rungs of the hierarchy, who have the means and ability to truly investigate the evidence for god but refuse to do so and instead prattle on about the virtues of evidence-free faith.

Thus the first approach of apologists, to try and elevate religious beliefs to the level of science has failed. In the next post we will look at the second approach, and see how they are trying to lower science to the level of religion.

POST SCRIPT: On being happy

We can learn a lot from the Icelanders about how to be happy.

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