The London Times has a piece on Ayala’s Templeton prize, and it annoys me early:
Professor Francisco Ayala, who won the £1 million Templeton Prize for scientific thought,
Say what? There’s no amount of science you can do that will win you a Templeton prize. It’s a prize for religious apologetics, nothing more.
And then Ayala reveals why he won the prize. Not for science, but because he doesn’t like those annoying atheists.
said that attacking religion and ridiculing believers provided ammunition for religious leaders who insisted that followers had to choose between God and Darwin. “Richard Dawkins has been a friend for more than 20 years, but it is unfortunate that he goes beyond the boundaries of science in making statements that antagonise believers,” he said.
That Dawkins antagonizes believers is a given, but then, antagonizing them is a trivial exercise — run a sign past them that says “Don’t believe in God? You aren’t alone” and they’ll scream “oppression!” Many of us are quite happy to antagonize deluded believers in superstition, and we aren’t too happy with scientists who suck up to them instead.
But that other comment about going “beyond the boundaries of science” is a curious one. Where? I think that when you invoke an invisible, undetectable ghost in the sky who diddles quanta or turns into a man who raises the dead, then you are going beyond the boundaries of science. When someone points out that there is no evidence of such activities, that the claims of supernaturalists are contradictory and unreasonable, or explains that the material claims of priests are fair game for critical examination, they are actually operating entirely within the domain of science.
I would like to see a specific example from Ayala of an invalid scientific argument from Dawkins or any of the other ‘New’ Atheist scientists — or is it his belief that antagonizing believers is sufficient to make a claim unscientific? In which case we’d have to argue that the Catholic Church was acting ‘scientifically’ in their treatment of Galileo.
Ayala has more Templeton-worthy comments to make.
The professor, who was born in Spain and is a naturalised American, says science and religion cannot be in contradiction because they address different questions. It is only when either subject oversteps its boundary, as he believes is the case with Professor Dawkins, that a contradiction arises, he said. “The scientific fundamentalism proposed by Dawkins implies a materialistic view of the world. But once science has had its say, there remains much about reality that is of interest. Common sense tells us that science can’t tell us everything.”
Again with the boundary. Where is this boundary, please, and where does Dawkins cross it? Be specific.
It is absurd to claim that science and religion can’t be in contradiction. Look at Ken Ham’s Creation “Museum”; that’s pure religion through and through, and it is clearly in contradiction with science. QED. Perhaps Ayala wants to claim that his religion (if he has one) is not in contradiction to science, but that’s also bogus; science obtains its information from empirical observation of the real world, not magic and not revelation and not the interpretation of sacred texts. Almost every religion proposes an alternate source of information from a supernatural entity; science challenges those explanations.
What aspects of reality are not subject to science, or materialism, or natural investigation? I’d like to know. Is Ayala proposing ghosts or angels or gods capable of intervening in the world? (I will do him the credit of assuming that he’s not going to trot out the idiotic claim that love is not natural, which is the usual inane example that gets thrown at us.)
One interesting thing about Ayala is that he always avoids the topic of his own personal beliefs about gods, which he claims is to avoid biasing people about his views, but which instead to me looks like intellectual cowardice: if you will not lay your ideas out on the table plainly, no one can criticize them. Here’s a standard disclaimer from Ayala in a Spanish source (google translation).
Question. In his youth he was ordained a Dominican priest. Are you still a man of faith?
Answer. Never answer that question. Do not want any of the parties, faith or religion, influence how people perceive my views.
Either he’s one of those faitheists, who doesn’t personally believe but thinks other people should, or he holds a few ideas about gods that he knows are indefensible. Either way, I’m unimpressed. It means he’s going to hide his opinions safely away, and as we can see in the Times article, snipe away at atheists (we already know he won’t snipe at his fellow travelers in the Templeton world, which hints at where his loyalties lie already.)
He also gives two of the usual NOMA arguments for religion: that it’s domain is answering the “why” questions and providing morality.
Science and religion are two windows to look at the world. The world is watching it. But what is seen from the windows is completely different. Religion is the meaning and purpose of life and moral values and science attempts to explain the composition of matter, the origin of organisms. Areas are different, but not at odds. It is possible to maintain a scientific position and being religious.
An answer on the meaning and purpose life built around an untestable and often falsified proposition is no answer at all. I could declare right now that the meaning of life is found in the worship of Saturn, which is where the aliens who created life on earth reside, and where our souls will return at death, and sure, it is an answer, but it’s wrong and it’s a lie. Christians can declare that the meaning of life is found in Jesus all they want, but I don’t believe it (and neither do the Muslims or Hindus or Shintoists), and it isn’t a good answer, since they’ve got no reason but tradition and fear to back it up. Religion is a free-floating myth, completely wrong and therefore invalid as an answer.
As for morality…what a joke. Has he looked at the ethical shambles of his former church? The child abuse revelations keep pouring out. We cannot possibly take religion’s leadership in moral issues seriously — the purpose of the church is to maintain power and an exalted status for its leadership, not to provide any insight into the beneficent desires of a heavenly patron of our species. Unless, of course, the message is that raping children is a good and kind act.
Anyway, now you can see why Ayala won the Templeton Prize. He’s a master of the non-committal waffle, the pious denial of any problem with faith. He’s definitely not acting on the side of science in his declarations about religion, because science tends to be a bit more open and bold than that.