1. rebelest says

    I’m sure that it’s part of the Templeton Foundation’s mission statement to blur the line between religion/spirituality and science/technology.

  2. Vic says

    The Foundation’s motto is “How little we know, how eager to learn”. Well, they got it half right.

  3. Vic says

    The Foundation’s motto is “How little we know, how eager to learn”. Well, they got it half right.

  4. says

    I’m not going to fault Shermer on this, while these ideas are a travesty to science they do need some discussion. One could think of it as a way of bringing in the loonies to show the scientists just how loony the loonies are, them being the subjects for exercises in mediocre thinking… it’s a long shot but what else is there to go on?

    But seriously, what right0minded scientist is going to take a theologian who says that people don’t pray for amputees with anything other than contempt? For a science conference it may have been tainted in religious propaganda, but for a sceptic convention it does seem ideal.

  5. Vic333 says

    The Foundation’s motto is “How little we know, how eager to learn”. Well, they got it half right.

  6. Janine ID AKA The Lone Drinker says

    During the debate Michael asked her why God hates amputees, since He refuses to answer anyone’s prayer to heal them. Her answer was that she doesn’t know anyone who has prayed on behalf of amputees. Amputation isn’t fatal and doesn’t seem prone to cure, and so limb growth just isn’t something that people pray for. A heckler clarified, “Oh, so it’s Christians who hate amputees!”

    I was under the impression that most amputations are done in order to save lives. In other words, amputations are the result of potentially fatal situations. And also, would not an amputation be fatal if there is not proper medical care?

    The sheer stupidity of this is painful. If I thought that there was a big sky daddy and if I thought prayer worked, I would pray for my mother to get her right leg back.

  7. ChemBob says

    I have to confess. As a lefty, liberal, “no doubts atheist,” scientist, I find Shermer a bit odd and occasionally somewhat, dare I say, murky in his thinking. IMHO he seems to conflate things a bit much, e.g., trying to tie evolution to things that are more likely culturally Lamarckian, such as monetary systems. I find myself not really agreeing with his writings and interviews, more so than I disagree with, for example, Dawkins or Stenger. Am I the only one who has this reaction to him?

  8. Leslie in Canada says

    At least there was a chance for Mr. Deity to perform live! This probably makes up for some of the crap about the Sky Fairy and so on. I heard Michael Shermer speak at the Cato Institute once and he was fine so I am a bit surprised by this.

  9. CW says

    Am I the only one who has this reaction to him?

    Not at all. He does seem, as you say, somewhat sloppy at times. (I was rather disappointed by his rather protracted contrarian stance on AGW.) He also seems (to me anyways) to go completely off the rails at other times. This is especially apparent when his Randian-cum-Libertarian beliefs completely trample his skepticism and he goes tearing off into Mind of the Market territory.

  10. 386sx says

    During the debate Michael asked her why God hates amputees, since He refuses to answer anyone’s prayer to heal them. Her answer was that she doesn’t know anyone who has prayed on behalf of amputees. Amputation isn’t fatal and doesn’t seem prone to cure, and so limb growth just isn’t something that people pray for. A heckler clarified, “Oh, so it’s Christians who hate amputees!”

    Man, talk about affirming the consequent.


    “She is currently Professor of Christian Philosophy at Fuller Theological Seminary. Murphy received a B.A. in psychology and philosophy at Creighton University in 1973, a Ph.D in Philosophy of Science at the University of California, Berkeley in 1980, and a Doctorate of Theology at the Graduate Theological Union in 1987.”

    Pretty impressive! Cuckoo!

  11. Jared Lessl says


    Oh, it gets better. On very rare occasions a small child can regrow part of a lost finger. If their parents are religious, care to guess what agent they will likely attribute the regrowth to?

  12. says

    Yeesh. I could live with the idea that some of this needs to be discussed, if it wasn’t apparently all Xian (with perhaps a bit of Jewish) nonsense being presented. Sure there was some skepticism of it, but come on, this wasn’t even good apologetics–you know, where God is hidden in the deepest mysteries, presently safe from questioning.

    I have the feeling that one could very quickly find amputees for whom someone prayed, namely themselves. But “believers” don’t pray for (other) amputees (knowing that “God doesn’t do that”), and “believing” amputees don’t go around pointing out that their prayers weren’t “heard.” And above all, “believing” non-amputees don’t seek out “unanswered prayer.”

    What is more, there was even a case where an amputee had prayed for re-growth of a limb, and actually claimed that it was beginning to grow. It was a very pathetic (claimed) growth, which I’m sure has not resulted in a usable limb (it’d be splashed all over the news if it happened). Like I said, though, failures don’t fit the confirmation bias, so…

    Glen D

  13. Badger3k says

    Obviously, amputees aren’t Real Christians (TM). Everybody knows that God doesn’t answer the prayers of non-Real Christians (TM), except when he does, but then the answer is “No”, but he’s still answering, see…. (chirp, chirp)

    The review was ok, but I’m disappointed he didn’t include the dualist-unknown-force guy in the woo section where he belongs.

    Last – Shermer does seem to be a bit of a wanker some times. He does go off the rails sometimes when it conflicts with his beliefs (as stated). He also seems to be a little too skeptical of real science sometimes (his anti-AGW stance for so long, and maybe his organic-oil semi-belief, among others). He can be disappointing sometimes.

  14. keiths says

    I confess that I also find Shermer’s thinking to be disappointingly murky at times, and not what you’d expect from the founder of the Skeptics Society.

    It turns out that Shermer’s skepticism was quite late in developing.

    From his Wikipedia bio:

    Shermer wrote, “I became a skeptic on Saturday, August 6, 1983, on the long climbing road to Loveland Pass, Colorado”[5] after months of training under the guidance of a ‘nutritionist’ with an unaccredited Ph.D. After years of practicing acupuncture, chiropractic and massage therapy, negative ions, rolfing, pyramid power, fundamentalist Christianity, and “a host of weird things” (with the exception of drugs) to improve his life and training, Shermer stopped rationalizing the failure of these practices.[6]

  15. Fred Mounts says

    My only experience with Shermer has been reading Science Friction, much of which I didn’t enjoy for some reason. I remember an extreme dislike of the chapter(s?) dealing with statistics. I enjoyed the chapters about the cultural anthropologist and the Bounty mutiny.

    My experience with the book was such that I can’t muster much enthusiasm for reading any of his other writings.

  16. says

    What Templeton money touches is tainted, I’m afraid.

    What a one-sided comment, PZ. I am currently funded by a Templeton grant. I am doing a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology. Is my research tainted? Please explain.

    Shermer has already responded to the affiliation with Templeton, and it would be much more interesting and constructive to respond to that directly, instead of this kind of hand-waving generalization.,3071,Origins—The-BIG-Questions-2008-Skeptics-Society-Conference,Skepticcom

    As for the Origins conference, it’s true there were some curious creationists there (Ross and Murphy), but it made for an amusing panel discussion. They were thoroughly attacked by the audience – and Shermer – for their muddled thinking.

  17. uncle frogy says

    I guess it is because the west and the U.S. in particular are predominantly christian that the discussion always seems to be the christian bible god and the christian creation when the discussion involves science and religion.
    I can understand that when it starts with the religious but I do not see how that is good scientific thinking if it starts with science.
    Why would you limit it to one religion if the idea is to understand or even reconcile religious thinking and scientific thinking. Seems so ethnocentric, culturally biased so western as if the rest of the world does not count or have anything to bring to the discussion. There is only one biology one earth history after all.
    Oh I forgot there is only one god we can not allow any of the other gods to join in.

  18. ggab says


    My opinion (feel free to attack me for it).
    Templeton funds some very worthy work.
    I believe they do this for the very reason we see in your post.
    You may be willing to defend them, and seemingly, they’re cause.
    We have certainly seen Shermer do so.
    Are you in bed with the enemy? Do some research and see what you think. I have already formed my opinion, but I’m open to new evidence.

  19. says

    One could argue (and this would probably fall into the “apologist” category), that a Real Scientist(TM) taking Templeton money but not kissing woo-ass is at least preventing that money from going to some god-bothering wankerite.

    Like, if somebody comes in and takes a crap all over your living room, you have to clean it up*, so, like “religion is important” in the way that “sanitation is important.” If you take the money and say “this has to be cleaned up” then maybe there’s actually a contribution, or the lack of degradation.


    *This exact same metaphor can probably be applied to the Bushwar. ShtFckDmn.

  20. says

    Lest anybody get the wrong idea, I should have said:

    “dealing with religion is important”

    because religion is nothing like sanitation; pretty much the opposite.

    Just being proleptic here.

  21. andyo says

    While most of us wouldn’t agree with Paul Davies about his opinions on the matter, I don’t think he’s a christian at all, as the blogger states (there’s an update at the end that semi-corrects this, but the statement is very clear still in the post). That’s very unfair. I’m almost certain he’s an agnostic, or he might even just be an atheist, but doesn’t say so.

    I think the worst Davies, who as others say, is a well-respected cosmologist, could be accused of is of writing a wishy-washy enough book (and some articles) to deserve the Templeton Prize, but again, he’s no christian. To talk about him almost in the same breath as such a kook as Hugh Ross and über-deluded Nancey Murphy is just disingenuous, if not utterly misinformed. Ken Miller’s religious beliefs are closer to Nancey Murphy’s but the man is still in another category altogether. Those two were just awful.

    Another thing, the conference didn’t start with the great Susskind, but with Prothero. Just sayin’, but it takes away from the “The conference began with a real bang – the Big one of course…” allusion. Still the Cambrian “explosion” could be used as a pun. Since I didn’t know the faces of some of the speakers very well, I thought it was Stuart Kauffman (who may just be the Paul Davies of biology nowadays), because his talk was very similar to what I’m reading on Kauffman’s At Home in the Universe old book, including pictures.

  22. andyo says

    By the way, I think Shermer did just fine. I don’t like him all the time, but this time he was better than usual. He didn’t even say much, his answers to the theists were concise and to the point, and effective, though the crowd was not a tough one (for him). I think people, especially at the Richard Dawkins site, are giving him too much flak for issues out of his control as a science promoter. He just has to make compromises to get things done (but he doesn’t call them “compromises”, of course, and money always helps.

  23. ggab says

    When Shermer shouted down Kroto at BB06, it really rubbed me the wrong way.
    Kroto was wrong on one of his points, but the basic point that Templeton has a religious bias is absolutely true.
    For Shermer to get that animated in defense of the guys signing his checks was a little tough for me to take.
    My hope is that it will all turn out to be an elaborate
    Michael’s explanations always point out how well he was paid. I just worry that it was twenty pieces of silver.

  24. says

    See, I always get dismayed when we Skeptics and Science minded people just can’t stand it when someone who is obviously VERY wrong and full of woo-woo gets up to speak about what they believe.

    I, for one, find it a MASSIVE educational tool, and something that all of us should embrace, and not tear down or run from. If I were on ‘their’ side on this, I’d look at the commentary by the majority of us and feel even MORE confident in my strange and useless supernatural belief systems.

    If we can do more events like this, over and over, and NEVER speak ill of them, or avoid them. It would be more to our benefit, rather than enforce their assumed thought about how we are.

  25. says


    I suppose taking money from the Bush administration through DARPA, NSF, NIH, etc. is an endorsement of the last eight years of White House fun. Sure, we can use that money to do research that doesn’t have anything to do with their policies, or even do research that the administration directly opposes, but just taking their money puts you into bed with the enemy, right?

    I do not pretend to defend the Templeton Foundation. I defend taking money from them. If that is all you do, then I can’t see anything wrong with the affiliation. I know that Shermer would have made it the same conference if the money had come from somewhere else, so what’s the difference?

  26. says

    I enjoyed the chapters about the cultural anthropologist and the Bounty mutiny.

    That essay on the Bounty mutiny is one of the best historical essays I have ever read! It was fantastic.

    Why People Believe Weird Things is well worth a read.

  27. says

    I also attended the ‘Origins’ conference, though I have yet to post about it at my blog. I have to say that while I agree with some of David’s observations regarding the religious, he’s got some fact-checking issues.

    He claims, for example, that the Templeton Foundation is an ‘ID think tank.’ This is incorrect. In fact, the TF issued a formal statement disassociating themselves from the ID movement back in 2005. Jason Rosenhouse (EvolutionBlog) reported this both on his blog and at The Panda’s Thumb:

    He also describe Paul Davies as a ‘Christian speaker.’ This is not correct, though I could understand why you might get that impression if you only read the titles of books like ‘The Mind of God.’ At best, Davies is sympathetic to the possibility that some form of deism might be consonant with the Universe as described by science.

    BTW, during the afternoon sessions I found myself accosted by total strangers on either side of the science/religion divide who wanted to use me as a whetstone for their ideological ax. I expect that from members of Hugh Ross’s personality cult who have heavily invested in his brand of creationism, but I found myself having to disengage from a couple of passionate kooks on the other ‘side’ as well. That was a new experience for me, and more than a little unsettling.

  28. ggab says


    This is the kind of thing that makes me uncomfortable.
    If you’re OK with it, more power to ya.
    I understand what you’re saying. It’s not as if I’ll ever be in a position to test my values by turning down an offer. I’m a freakin’ illustrator and coffee shop owner.
    Maybe if I was in your place, I’d take it too.
    I’m just uncomfortable.

  29. says

    ggab, I have now read the Edge article by John Horgan.

    Money has trickled from TF down to me through my adviser, who is as atheist to the core as I am. My adviser got a $200,000 grant, I think it was, and my stipend have until now been paid with that money. My adviser has been to one TF meeting, where he gave a purely scientific presentation, and he will be going to another soon, where he will do the same, and hope to get even more money. If he succeeds, we will both be very pleased.

    And, if I ever got the chance to receive any of their money, I would be quite accepting, as long as I knew by myself that I could do and say as I wanted. I note with a grin that the Templeton official who noted that Horgan shouldn’t have accepted the TF money while holding such views, because at that point she could do nothing about it. I say to Horgan, if they offer you again, take it, and repeat to their face that you still hope humanity will eventually outgrow religion.

    It’s like this: If I were offered the $1.4M Templeton Prize, I would accept, because I would know that I had not sold out in order to get it. Just because past winners are wankers doesn’t mean I would have been.

    I do agree that TF has a shady agenda – which is probably going to take a hard turn for the worse after Sir John’s death – and it leaves me too with a bad taste in my mouth. But that doesn’t mean that Horgan, Shermer, or my adviser will be any less polemic when it comes to religion, etc. I suppose that is why you would otherwise feel uncomfortable?