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Prize in the sky: The Templeton Foundation rewards “spiritual progress,” but what the heck is that?

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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Is there such a thing as a spiritual fact? Finding? Discovery? Something roughly analogous to, say, the discovery of gravity? X-rays? Photosynthesis? The double helix?

This question is brought to mind by the Templeton Prize, which was given last week to the British astrophysicist Martin Rees. John M. Templeton, one of the best stock-pickers in history and a devout Christian, created the prize in 1972 to recognize spiritual achievements, just as the Nobel prizes honor scientific ones.

Templeton gave the Templeton Prize for Progress toward Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities (its original name) instant cachet by making it bigger than the Nobel Prize; the award now totals one million British pounds, and the ceremony takes place in Buckingham Palace. Early winners included religious figures such as Mother Teresa, Billy Graham and Charles W. Colson (the Watergate convict turned born-again preacher) but over the past couple of decades most of the winners have been scientists who view science and religion as somehow compatible—or at least not in conflict.

The prize is administered by the Templeton Foundation, which Sir John established in 1987. In addition to overseeing the annual prize, the foundation spends tens of millions of dollars a year to support academic programs, publications, broadcasts, lectures, conferences and research on topics that supposedly have some spiritual component. Sir John died in 2008, and the Templeton Foundation is now run by his son Jack, a Christian and contributor to conservative political causes, including the presidential campaigns of George W. Bush.

Stung by criticism (from me, among others) that it has a pro-religion agenda, the foundation has purged most references to religion from its mission statement. It now defines itself as "a philanthropic catalyst for discoveries relating to the ‘Big Questions’ of human purpose and ultimate reality." But according to an investigation published this year in Evolutionary Psychology (pdf), the foundation’s religious agenda "seems to have remained the same."

What bothers me most about the Templeton Foundation is that it promotes a view of science and religion—or "spirituality," to use the term it favors—as roughly equivalent. Consider this e-mail that Jack Templeton sent me last summer soliciting nominations for the Templeton Prize. He wrote: "The Templeton Prize parallels growing attention to the idea that progress in spiritual information is just as feasible as progress in the sciences." First of all, the Templeton Foundation has artificially created the "growing attention" to which Jack refers with enormous infusions of cash into science and other scholarly fields.

Moreover, the claim that "progress in spiritual information is just as feasible as progress in the sciences" is absurd, because there is no such thing as "spiritual information". To answer the question I posed at the beginning of this post, the notion of a spiritual fact, finding or discovery is an oxymoron. Spiritual claims abound, of course—"God is love," for example—but there isn’t a shred of empirical evidence for any of them, certainly nothing resembling the overwhelming evidence compiled for heliocentrism, evolution by natural selection, atomic theory and the genetic code. And if spiritual information doesn’t exist, how can there be "progress in spiritual information"?

Some Templeton-funded scholars have tried to drag science down to the level of religion by arguing that science can’t produce truth either. I heard this claim in 2005 when I spent three weeks at the University of Cambridge participating in a Templeton fellowship for journalists, which featured talks by scientists and other scholars. In one talk the Christian theologian Nancey Murphy asserted that scientific claims are just as tentative as religious ones, hence scientists such as Richard Dawkins—who was in the audience—have no right to be so condescending to people of faith.

This postmodern tactic is ludicrous, because millennia of theology, Murphy’s scholarly discipline, have not generated a single "discovery" (and historical or archaeological findings, such as the discovery of the Gnostic Gospels, don’t count). Some might say—and I might agree—that the New Testament, in which Jesus exhorts us to love our enemies, represents an improvement over the eye-for-an-eye morality of the Old Testament. But replacing nasty religious opinions with benign ones in no way resembles, say, Einstein’s improvement on Newton’s model of gravity.

The Templeton Foundation itself may realize the futility of its quest to find common ground between science and spirituality. Martin Rees, the recipient of the 2011 Templeton Prize, has helped refine models of the big bang, black holes and other cosmic phenomena as well as proposing how humanity can avoid being destroyed by bioterrorism or some other catastrophe. But he’s not religious. He calls himself an "unbelieving Anglican" who goes to church out of "loyalty to his tribe."

From Charles Colson and Billy Graham to an unbelieving astrophysicist? Now that’s progress, even if it’s not spiritual.

Photo of Martin Rees courtesy Wiki Commons

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  1. 1. Cramer 6:29 pm 04/11/2011


    I did not claim that humans are not morally better. My statements about evolution say the exact opposite.

    I also never claimed that evolution is the only way to achieve greater self-awareness. But it most likely is for bacteria or frogs.

    The word spirituality is semantics. I already said that I don’t think you believe in ghosts. But you seem to believe in tapping into some type of "ether" for lack of a better word. If not, then our beliefs seem to be exactly the same. You just choose to study the teachings of Buddha to come up with what are probably some of the same ideas (I am not comparing myself to Buddha, some of how I think probably originated with Buddha).

    I do NOT believe "that development of self-awareness and clear thinking in a deliberate manner is an act of futility." They both can be developed. The mind is like a "muscle" that can be developed with its use. Some choose to develop it more than others.

    You asked, "Why are so many of us incurious about the workings of our own minds?" To me this comes down to neurology, just about the same idea that some people are extroverts and some are introverts. Some are "depressed," some are "manic." We are all different and that is a strength to the unity of our species. Many people accept differences, many others do not. Most likely has to do with fear, pride, habit, etc.

    I am always seeking inner truth and trying to discover the root of my emotions, thinking, and actions. People lie to themselves about their true motives all the time.

    Even though you might not think so, I believe our belief systems are very similar. Maybe it is that I just don’t know what you mean by when you say that "positive mindstates" is not science. If there is a cause and effect like you say, then what is the cause. I believe it is something biologically concrete that can be found by science. Do you believe it is tapping into some type of universal ether external to our bodies (for lack of a better description)? If so, that’s okay with me. I actually wish I could believe their is something "greater" like an ether or a god, but that is not a choice I can make. It’s like falling in love — you can’t force yourself to fall in love with another person.

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  2. 2. HerbSPGR 6:30 pm 04/11/2011

    May I respectfully say that there is much evidence out there for the existence of a loving God. He is the fixer of problems not the cause of trouble.

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  3. 3. Cramer 6:37 pm 04/11/2011

    Hi Tessellation,

    Can you give me an example of how I am bullying. I do not feel like that is what I am doing. I would like to learn more about myself and how I might be coming across, so any insights would be appreciated. Or could it be that we just have different beliefs and your reading an attitude into my writing that really isn’t there.

    I also do not like to see science "muddled" with religion and faith (if that’s what you meant).

    Religious faith is not a requirement for morality. That is all I am trying to say.

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  4. 4. Cramer 6:47 pm 04/11/2011

    Are you sure the murder rate for humans is higher than for chimps. John Mitani witnessed what he says was 18 chimp-on-chimp murders from 1999-2008 in a relative small group of chimps. The murder rate in the US is about 6 per 100,000 per year. I don’t know what the worldwide rate is when war is included. Chimps also are thought to wage war.

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  5. 5. Centaurus-A 8:07 pm 04/11/2011

    I do agree with Horgan in this piece! Now this is two articles he’s written that I’ve agreed with. What in the world is going on?

    Horgan is correct in saying that the Templeton statement does not make clear what spiritual progress is. Does it mean that spiritual progress is equated with scientific discovery? What does this have to do with spiritual progress?

    Having said this why do theists need to defend their beliefs. They do not need to do this. Why are atheists attacking Theists again in an article where Horgan is not targeting religion or theists he is merely pointing out the obfuscation of the Templeton Prize.

    Once again I reiterate theism does not need to be proven. It is more of a logical and reasonable position to believe in God than not to believe. You have to swallow more unreasonable premises to stay an atheist than to hold to the belief that God created the universe. And Hawking’s latest book proves how bankrupt science is as a philosophy. Hawking’s God is much too small. It is patently false to ask the question "what came before God?" God by definition is before everything–Before the Big Bang, before all the universes if you believe in that unprovable M-theory.

    Atheists and other like minded individuals who claim scientific understanding are making a religion out of science–it is called "scientism". They make much bigger claims for science than what science can deliever. How many times have I said here on this forum that there are many kinds of knowledge that are not based on the scientific method? Do rational people exist here on this forum understand this? Apparently not! This is why atheism fails because it is a religious movement based on faith in science. Science cannot deliver the goods in everything but these people irrationally hold to it.

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  6. 6. Cramer 8:42 pm 04/11/2011

    I hope you were not referring to what I wrote. If so, you misunderstood (and/or I miscommunicated) what I was saying and you do not understand my belief system. I was only defending that one does not have to be a theist or a spiritualist to have moral values (which is what many were saying).

    The difference in what I wrote and what you wrote is that I was only trying to describe my beliefs and try to understand the beliefs of others. You, on the other hand, were criticizing the beliefs of others and claiming those beliefs fail, but you do not seem to have a full understanding of those beliefs. And I am not talking about knowledge of science. I’m talking about the knowledge of someone’s worldview and belief system and how science might fit in with that.

    If you think you know me that well, that is judgmental and arrogant (having an air of superiority).

    Lastly, I do not consider myself an atheist. I consider myself agnostic (but there are a lot issues in defining these words). I also believe in most of the teachings of Jesus Christ. I just do not believe that he is God. I believe that I behave more in a Christian way than most Christians. Jesus taught never to be judgmental.

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  7. 7. psittacid 8:59 pm 04/11/2011

    Thanks for the information about chimp violence. I think you are right.

    As I wrote my last post I,too, suspected that our views are closer than they appear. There are many ways to ethical/moral thinking and actions, and my Buddhist practice makes no assertion about being the "only way’ to anything. I do think that, like you say, awareness is a ‘muscle" that grows stronger with practice. I keep my practice because, as a longtime atheist and science teacher I am always on the guard for "magical explanations". So far, this has passed the test.

    That said, I am very reluctant to characterize my practice as ‘scientific’, though weeding out bias and delusional thinking is at its core, for I think that science needs to be clearly defined. I do think that it is equally valid. They both serve as paths to truth, but to different and equally important aspects of it. One of my best friends, an atheist who is as ethical as anyone I have met, is a professor of classics who has studied all of the great philosophers. He also informs my understanding in important ways. Another friend, who is a Christian, also informs the way I think about morality…and doesn’t care that I am an atheist.

    That said, I am going to go out on a limb. When I succeed at getting past my story, shed my reactive nature, calm my likes and dislikes, abandon needless obsessing about the past and future, and come more directly in contact with reality as it unfolds for me…the authenticity and immediacy of life is so rich as to be overwhelming. This is not what I am looking for, it is what I get. This thing we call life, and do not understand, does exist; and bare, unsullied awareness of it is hard to describe without words like divine (though I don’t know what that means, either.) These experiences do show up in a rudimentary manner in FMRI’s – they exist in the physical universe and may someday be amenable to detailed scientific study. I, along with millions of Buddhists, will welcome that day.

    Until then, I will just close my eyes, return to this fleeting moment, and smile.

    Take good care,

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  8. 8. Cramer 9:23 pm 04/11/2011

    I have also studied Buddhism and Vedanta. Both had that spiritual component that I could not get past. You have seemed to gotten past that. Maybe I should try again. I do occasionally and voluntarily attend Catholic church services. Almost in the same nature as Martin Rees does. I do like the music, the sermons, and readings (I don’t care for the rituals). And many times I actually hope that faith can "rub off" on me. I don’t believe faith is a choice. I would love to believe.
    You, also take care, Rick.

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  9. 9. Tessellation 10:11 pm 04/11/2011

    Hi Cramer, – I imagine your ideas are probably more similar to mine than they are different. Your response to BillR seemed out of proportion to what he was actually saying. Of course religious faith is not a requirement for morality. I don’t see how BillR intimated that in anything he wrote.
    And yes, you are correct in that I hate the muddled conversations around religion and science. And people are quickly polarized when perhaps, if they were speaking face to face, it would be an easier conversation. I have great respect for science, when it is practiced well, and I have great respect for those at the heart of their belief systems, who are actually living out their beliefs in a life of service.
    It is those who are on the outskirts who end up quarreling over details. And when a magazine like Scientific American gets involved in those kinds of quarrels it is disconcerting to me. Too often there is not enough rigor in the science that they report (and they gloss over this) and too much of an agenda in some of their columns that seems to be looking to get in a tangle with people who do have a belief system.
    I would prefer they spend their energies on reporting good science and exposing sloppy science. Instead they often waste their time and space on columns (and I would include the current column here) that frame the discussion in a way that does not invite actual dialogue.
    I apologize for my bit of name calling. Didn’t live up to my own standards there… To state it (I hope) more clearly I would say that your response to BillR seemed full of feelings and ideas that were not appropriate to what he had actually written.

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  10. 10. psittacid 11:42 pm 04/11/2011

    You say that you hate the ‘muddled conversations about religion and science.’ I suggest that the discomfort of these conversations is a measure of both their uncertainty and importance. There is gray area, for sure, and those areas provide an opportunity to tune our thinking in important ways. Why resist the conversation? You can enjoy it if you have no investment in winning or achieving a clear answer. Muddled areas are where conversations get juicy!

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  11. 11. psittacid 11:55 pm 04/11/2011

    I am signing off of this discussion. Other demands on my time and resources are making themselves known!

    Thanks to all for the thoughtful discussion, but especially to Cramer.

    May you be happy.
    May you be free of inner and outer harm.
    May you find peace with the way things are.
    May you live with well-being and joy.


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  12. 12. Cramer 12:52 am 04/12/2011

    Thank you, too. A thoughtful discussion can always help us better understand ourselves and others. I sure gained better understanding.

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  13. 13. Cramer 1:02 am 04/12/2011


    Thank you for your comments. I hope this doesn’t sound too defensive. I definitely believe Bill was trying to give a balanced and constructive view; and I do not have any animosity toward him.

    In my two comments to Bill, I essential said that my observations were different on a number of things he said (e.g. science facts, proving faith). I was hoping to get clarifications on what he said. I told him where I disagreed with his ideas. I also gave my opinion on why people are bothered by the behavior of spiritual people (not meaning to imply all spiritual people).

    The main sticking point with you seems to be when I said the following:

    "And it appears you are another spiritual person that believes morality can only be obtain through spiritualism. Unless I misunderstood what you meant when you wrote, "[Science is] really not very useful in helping people get along with each other.""

    I could have wrote the first sentence better. It sounds a bit condescending. But I do believe what he said is a view of moral superiority over non-spiritual people. I don’t think he consciously meant it that way. And I also did not mean to be condescending. Unfortunately, he never claimed that he did not mean that. He just said that he does "believe that there is a historical basis to religion being the source of moral concepts and as being a tool to propagate those moral ideas throughout society." This seems to confirm my original perception.

    It is possible that Bill believes that "religious faith is not a requirement for morality," but he did not say that when answering my poorly worded question.

    SA is a lay magazine. I have no problem with them doing short op-ed pieces. And I believe this is an important issue in science considering the problems we have with peoples’ view on freedom of religion as well as our children’s education. From my point of view, it seems like many people believe this is a Christian nation and should legally be ran as one. [I am not saying Bill or anyone commenting here believes that, but people do believe that would help solve the nation's problems.]


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  14. 14. Centaurus-A 1:53 am 04/12/2011

    I was not replying to you, but to the other comments at the beginning which were extremely dismissive of theism. I was just pointing out that theism is more reasonable and logical than its opposite. I know because I used to be on the atheist side. We may not agree on this point but your approach is admirable. Mainly I was voicing the opinion that I agreed with the author about the Templeton statement on religion.

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  15. 15. Cramer 2:07 am 04/12/2011

    Have you ever tried ?

    They seem to be the best source of free science news on the internet. If anyone knows any better websites for science news, please post them.

    Here’s some others I use: (not news)

    Will SA delete this?

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  16. 16. Cramer 2:23 am 04/12/2011

    If it is more reasonable and logical for you, that’s what it’s all about. How did you change from being an atheist to a theist? Did your reasons for being an atheist start to weaken in your mind? To me, it doesn’t feel like a choice; and I lost my faith gradually over a long period of time (1-2 decades).

    Losing faith for me has always been about the "success" of the soft science in understanding the mind of man both as an individual and as a group or society (herd mentality). Losing faith has never been about the "failure" of the hard sciences to prove God or the "success" of the hard sciences in finding an alternative to God. Also, losing my faith has never been about the evil in the world–the "why would God let this happen" reason. The free-will argument is good enough for me in that regard.

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  17. 17. Centaurus-A 4:38 am 04/12/2011

    For myself it was the Ethical dilemma that lead me to this. I tried extremely hard to find some kind of workable ethics (and law) based on evolution but could not. It had nothing to do with "survival of the fittest" or anything like the dilemma of why the Neanderthals (or other species) went extinct, but rather it had to do with logically constructing ethics on the foundation of evolution did not give me an acceptable answer. The biggest dilemma of the twentieth century in terms of ethics is the problem of the Holocaust. It was this "test" that I could not pass. I could not say that the Holocaust was wrong or evil from an atheist position because of the changeable nature of laws based on evolution. In the final analysis there is no real "evil" or "good" if ethics are based on evolution. And so I was left with (for me) the unacceptable solution that the Holocaust could not be logically said to be either "evil" or "good." It was good for the Nazis for example. But the totality of the suffering and horrific nature of genocide has to be evil in every instance. It needed to be an absolute. There are no absolutes in evolution. I could not nor can get around this ethical dilemma.

    And I’m not here saying that people who believed in God or believe in God did not commit unspeakable acts of inhumanity in God’s name. It still happens, but this is not the argument I present. Too many of you have missed my point here. I’m not comparing believers to non-believers. I never said that people who believe in God have not done evil, and I’m sure among the Nazis there were those who believed in God in their ranks (though it is clear his ideology was opposed to Judeo-Christian values). The point is the ethical dilemma of not being able to say that the Holocaust (and genocide) is evil in every instance could not be adequately addressed logically by science specifically biology is what opened the door for doubts about its adequacy and its "rubber meets the road" effectiveness in addressing the human condition.

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  18. 18. BillR 9:58 am 04/12/2011

    I know you are a very outspoken person but you really do try to put words into other peoples mouths that are not there. I in no way implied that people who consider themselves non-spiritual are morally inferior. What I was trying to say is that the propagation of moral concepts through out the various societies of the world was principly via the different religions of the world.

    These moral principles become imbedded in the structure of society and are taken up by most members of those different societies irregardless of whether the individual adheres to a particular spiritual focus (or non-focus). Morality then becomes disassociated from the spiritual principles behind it and becomes subject to change via the self justification that we all participate in to modify those principles to our own desires/needs.

    I personally think the world is going through a moral crisis due to this departure from spiritual principle. But that is not the subject of my response. If someone is a person of intergrity and has consideration for others, then they are moral. If someone is self-centered and believes the world exists for their personal pleasure then I doubt they will act in a moral manner. But then again, morality is constantly being redefined by everyone who does not agree with it to suit themselves so… why even bother talking about it.

    The laws of the nation are what help people get along with each other. These laws are based on the concept that our behavior needs to be regulated in order to benefit the whole of society. We have traffic laws which help keep us grom total choas on the roads. We have laws agains murder, stealing, abuse and so on because human nature is inherantly self centered. Most law is actually based on religious principles.

    Since we are raised in a society that follows the rules, we learn to adhere to the rules and they become part of our makeup whether we realize it or not. It is not a matter of whether we learned moral behaviour in a religious setting or in a social setting.

    You point out that there is a great difference between the moral concepts in the old testament versus the new testament as though I was trying to equate them even though I had stated that there has been great progress in spirituality as well as in science. Another attempt to put words in my mouth so you can make a point.

    Also, I have no problem with the Muslim community or their teachings except where they violate my right to live a peaceful life. I would hold all religions including Christianity, to the same criteria.

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  19. 19. HerbSPGR 12:32 pm 04/12/2011

    I believe that the order in the universe (scientists believe there is – the basis for there work) is a gift to them from a loving God

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  20. 20. ormondotvos 6:47 pm 04/12/2011

    What impresses me about morality is how easily children develop it through their (evolved) empathy with others. Generally, the bully is the least empathetic, and the group (with the help of the grownup, who also needs not be spiritual) trains the bully as it trains the wimpy crybaby, with the lash of exclusion, which evolutionarily means death.

    God’s not about morality, but about the power and status to enforce morality. God is invented to provide social force, through fear and doubt, to the "moral pronouncements" of the priest class, which may or may not be combined with the governing class.

    The current clash of civilizations is between theocracy and democracy, holy pronouncements about behavior, or evidentially derived ones. I’m betting on evidence, science, understanding of our human nature.

    Align culture with our nature.

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  21. 21. ormondotvos 6:50 pm 04/12/2011

    Looking at this whole discussion of spirituality and morality, it seems impossible to take any path but an evolutionary one through the logical thicket, and I’ve tried a hundred of them.

    Religion is the name we give moral coercion. I won’t comment on the reality of God, since God is defined as what we don’t know. I do wish more people who shut up about what I should think, though.

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  22. 22. psittacid 8:15 pm 04/12/2011

    Well, I said I’d leave you alone, but here I am.

    Here is an interesting perspective. The old myths don’t seem to work very well in the light of science and reason. The current myth of the rugged, mindlessly consuming individual, isolated and in charge of his/her destiny, is clearly unsatisfactory. This teacher envisions a new mythology based on evolution and science. The talk is 40 minutes long, but you’ll know how interested you are in the first 10. Pretty light-hearted, too. Not much work. Beware, contains some Buddhist ideas and uses the word "spiritual". You’ve been warned.

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  23. 23. Cramer 10:19 pm 04/12/2011


    Centaurus-A, why do you believe that the Holocaust was good for the Nazis? I know that you know the outcome of WWII. It’s possible that the Holocaust cost Nazi Germany the war. In economic terms it was an inefficient use of resources, but it also doesn’t make scientific sense in many more aspects, including trust.

    As far as evolution, the most efficient species (both in terms of an individual and as a group) tend to survive. Most species (especially mammals) also rely on group cooperation and support (division of labor, caring for the sick, etc). This helps in efficiency and survivability. Mammals evolved into existence when the mammary glands appeared so mothers could nourish their young (the young rely on their parents).

    Why has the birthrate dropped with advancement, wealth, and intelligence? People previously had large family as a support system in case they become unable to take care of themselves, especially in old age. Also to help them survive in general. Children are a huge cost (even in the stone age). You want to take care of children because it cost more to have a replacement child (mammals do not lay millions of fertilized eggs, then abandon them in a hole in the sand). This has all resulted in a reliance on others. Most advance countries have a social security system for the old and weak (reducing the need for as many children).

    When a need for efficiency leads to division of labor, we definitely needs others to exchange goods with. All these reliances, interactions, and exchanges require trust. Without trust it all begins to breakdown.

    Even if the Nazis would have waited until after they won the war to "purify" their race, it still would have broke down. When would they stop purifying? Do you know the 1939 poem by Martin Niemoller that starts with, "First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out…" It was 1939. He did not write this as a fact of what happened to him, he wrote it as what he thought was to come; and it all had to do with the breakdown of trust.

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  24. 24. Cramer 10:19 pm 04/12/2011

    TRUST (continued)

    Over thousands of year, this requirement of trust evolved into the Golden Rule. The Golden Rule creates trust. It is the most important rule holding our society together. Why is it that the Golden Rule is a part of about every unrelated religion? It’s because the Golden Rule came first, then came religions that defined themselves based on the Golden Rule. Maybe there were earlier religions tens of thousands of years ago that were based on stealing from your "neighbors." It easier to steal (more efficient for the individual). Probably didn’t work too well. Inter-species stealing might work, but not intra-species stealing.

    It is somewhat the same concept of why most religions also have a story of a flood. This was not just a parable. It’s because the flood came first, most likely due to melting glaciers and rising sea levels at the end of the ice age.

    Most of the more common moral rules are derived from the Golden Rule. Do you want people to steal from you, lie to you, kill you, have sex with your spouse? The more people do these activities, the more trust breaks down which leads to a failure of society or even a small working group of hunters and gatherers.

    Religions are simply systems promoting cultural doctrines of rules and beliefs that are believed to best promote the survival of a society or group. Most likely many religions existed that did not work too well. Those religions went extinct.

    Many of the beliefs also resulted from the necessity to reduce uncertainty, risk, and fear (all are very related).

    Religion doesn’t require a god, spirit, soul, or afterlife; but these are what most of our religions are based on due to our quest for knowledge and to reduce uncertainty, risk, and fear (especially regarding death).

    Did morality culturally evolve or did God provide us the rules, as in the burning bush and the Ten commandments?

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  25. 25. Cramer 10:26 pm 04/12/2011


    This sounds like a debate confused over semantics, as well as, a chicken-or-the-egg debate. First, to me, morality is not spirituality. Spirituality is not religion. Spirituality is the state, quality, manner, or fact of being spiritual (related to a spirit, god, or soul; incorporeal). Religion is a personal, cultural, or institutionalized system based on a set of beliefs and values. Christianity is an Abrahamic monotheistic religion. Christianity requires spiritual beliefs; some other religions do not.

    I have nothing against religion. I still voluntarily go to church. Religion has help promote moral rules in our society just as laws have, but I do not believe that those rules came from a spiritual belief, god, soul, or afterlife. This whole discussion about morality got rolling because 3 or 4 spiritual commenters brought up morality, essentially, equating morality with spiritual progress. Why bring up morality in the context of science and spirituality if spirituality is not required for morality? zaqueing said "spiritual information" is a concept like "sex must be consensual." What that statement says to me is the belief that God communicated to man that "sex must be consensual." As if God had not said that, we would all be fine with rape and it would not be illegal.

    "Most law is base on religious principles…"
    …that are based on the cultural evolution of our species and even species before us; not given to us by a spiritual god (this is my belief). Moral rules existed before there were any formalized laws. Humans are not the only species with moral rules.

    Laws have no effect on me personally getting along with others. I have no desire to steal from or kill people. I also do not want to lie to others or sleep with married women; and there are no laws against those behaviors. How many of the ten commandments have laws that enforce the commandment? I don’t do immoral things because I am an empathetic person. I believe a majority of our society also are empathetic. This is a human condition based in biology. Some animals also have empathy.

    There is a balance between self-centeredness and benevolence/cooperation. If one wants to be cynical, maybe benevolence is based on self-centeredness. There are also costs in immoral behavior that curtail that behavior.

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  26. 26. Cramer 10:45 pm 04/12/2011


    Why would you think that: "the world is going through a moral crisis due to this departure from spiritual principle?" Using the definition of spiritual that I gave above, that further confirms my belief that you think spiritual people are morally superior. That statement speaks for itself. With respect to all the people that are moral or immoral to various degrees, is there any correlation with a person’s spirituality (belief in God)?

    And the fact that you might know some atheists or agnostics that are highly moral does not prove otherwise. Racists have been using that same argument for years to deceive themselves ("Oh, I’m not racist because I like so-and-so."). In the meantime they do not consider hiring a person from a specific minority group because of a belief they might be lazy or whatever. They might not even consciously think this, but there is just a gut feeling or rationalization that someone else would make a better employee (although it might not be true).

    I am not saying you are this way, but these are the thoughts and behaviors that lead to discrimination; and especially more so during economic crisis and war (think of the Great Depression and WWII). If crises in the world grow to a tipping point, it is easy to believe there could be atheist genocide in spiritual parts of the world to help increase spiritual principles. Again, I am not saying you, but the Holocaust did happen.

    Maybe it would be better to say "the world is going through a moral crisis due to this departure from MORAL principles." Then I would agree because it has nothing to due with belief in a God. However, that sounds kind of redundant, so we know what you really believe, whether consciously or sub-consciously.

    It is amazing that you don’t understand the explicit attitudes in your own statements. It is just so natural to you to believe the way you do, just as Europeans used to think of Native Americans as savages, even though they did trade with them and attempt to be friends with them from time to time. [and many of those were fleeing from religious persecution; how ironic, but that culture]

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  27. 27. Cramer 10:59 pm 04/12/2011


    I never put any words in your mouth. I asked you questions to clarify your statements about morality, because your statements appeared to support a the premise of moral superiority.

    I compared the Old and New Testaments to share with you my belief that moral values have evolved through history (Horgan did the same). That’s why you see in the preceding sentence where I said, "I believe…" The statement had nothing to with your beliefs or the progress in spirituality. You NEVER even mentioned the progress of spirituality.

    "Progress in spirituality" is not the same as cultural evolution of moral values in my view. I don’t even know what "progress in spirituality" is. Is it more people believing in God and the soul? Polls in Europe find that less than half of Europeans believe in God (only 23% in Sweden). I don’t know how that is spiritual progress.

    I haven’t found where you gave any view of the evolution/progress of spirituality or morality. Your statement in comment 39, "Religion also has come a long way…" doesn’t come close to saying that. A religious institution is also not a religion. The Catholic church used to wage war. Religion is not spirituality is not morality. These words mean different things to me, do they for you? None of them require any of the others.

    If you said such a thing about evolution of morality (or even spiritual progress), please point it out. So, no, it was NOT "another attempt to put words in [your] mouth."

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  28. 28. psittacid 11:29 pm 04/13/2011

    Did anyone listen to the link I sent. I guarantee that it is less painful than assuming the worst about each other and fighting over semantics.

    I submit that what we need to get us through this morass is something to be felt, not thought. When will we come to see the limitations of intellect (without dismissing the benefits it provides us.)

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  29. 29. Wilhelmus de Wilde 12:18 pm 04/15/2011

    This is the SPIRIT of Scientists !!!

    What a beautifull discussion, thanks a lot Cramer, and that all because of the fact that a prize has been awarded to a scientist who thinks about consciousness, spirituality, morality and of course is searches for his GRAAL, like Einstein said the thoughts of (a) GOD.

    We all want to be Gods , but we cannot because of the fact that we are just humans living in a 4-D deterministic causal Universe, that has limits our consciuousness and soul and spirit are able to think of a much broader universe, we can THINK of INFINITIES, infinities that are the cause of so much problems in the world we live in, but we keep on thinking and keep on searching or in a scientific way or in a philosophic way, the religious way is a way that is accepted by most of the human kind, and why ? because it is for them the theory of Everything, why is religion dangerous ? Because there are always people who use it to take the POWER over people, so true religion is spiritual and not materialistic, magic happens ? but we cannot explain it , paralel universes exist ? but we cannot prove them by experiments.

    if interested you can read my essay on FQXi (sponsored by Templeton but also by SCIAM!!!!)
    I explain there why (we)observers created their own Universe, and applied Hermes Trismegistus : The Formation of the Microcosm is in accordance with the Macrocosm.

    keep on thinking


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  30. 30. bewertow 10:41 pm 04/15/2011

    Religion is a disgusting disease. I can’t wait until we have a cure.

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  31. 31. psittacid 1:17 am 04/16/2011

    @ bewertow
    How insightful. Thanks for your detailed analysis.

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  32. 32. ZoePittaki 5:51 pm 04/16/2011

    Anyone has the right to adopt any kind of extreme view he believes is right for what he wants to support. If, however he happens to be placed among those called experts, he also has to remember the words of Plato: “knowledge without justice and virtue is cunning rather than wisdom”. I also think that such a person, but also all of us, should pay close attention to the following excerpt from the book “The Revelation After Ioannis” of the writer and gnoseologist Ioannis G. Tsatsaris:
    “…Man on Earth is dominated by two kinds of emotive feelings: the subjective and the objective. The subjective derives mainly from the sense of touch and influences the nervous system, leading the individual to a multitude of lower level desires. This results in the individual creating a central axis at the lower quarter of the Soul, where the Senses reside, and from where he observes and follows things, differentiating among them and making choices. Of course he does not even suspect that by functioning in this way the only thing he succeeds in doing is in creating false idols that cut him off from his higher inner self”
    (Ioannis G. Tsatsaris, “The Revelation After Ioannis”, Vantage Press-2004, p. 318)

    Zoe Pittaki – Economist / Athens, Greece

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  33. 33. bewertow 5:59 pm 04/16/2011

    No problem, any time.

    It’s so sad that people still believe in sky wizards and magic in this day and age.

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  34. 34. R.Blakely 8:04 pm 04/16/2011

    "Martin Rees, the recipient of the 2011 Templeton Prize, has helped refine models of the big bang…" but, in fact, the big bang is only an illusion. Since we know that photons are attracted by gravity, and so photons have gravity, the universe is not expanding. Therefore, the redshift is due to photon-to-photon gravity, which acts as photons travel thru space and diverge from each other.
    A person that should win the prize is one that can expose the illusion of the big bang.

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  35. 35. bewertow 8:59 pm 04/16/2011

    @ R. Blakely

    Your logic is very poor. Photons are attracted by gravity because gravity is the curvature of spacetime. The photons are just travelling in geodesics. Photons themselves do NOT curve spacetime.

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  36. 36. mhenriday 11:32 am 04/17/2011

    Ah, John, «spiritual progress» definitely exists ! Consider : in the past, our ancestors killed each other with stones, and spears and swords and knives, claiming that the slaughter was God’s will ; now, however, we bomb people from the sky, appealing to our «responsibility to protect». Surely this represents a great leap forward in moral consciousness, which fully merits the epithet «spiritual progress» ?…


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  37. 37. Abhijith Asok 8:17 am 04/18/2011

    The approach of the Templeton prizes towards the balance between science and religion is very good.Throughout history,we have seen science and religion conflicting each other and trying to devastate each others’ provinces.We have also lost many eminent personalities too early who tried to support each cause;Copernicus for an example.The concept of the society called ‘Illuminati’ presented by Dan Brown in his book ‘Angels and Demons’,who straightaway oppose the clergy,whether it may or may not have existed presents a hypothesis that it is very much possible,undercover.And after all this,I don’t think many of us have a clear idea as to how these two co-exist,if at all both of them do exist.In such a direction,the work by the Templeton prizes is certainly worth a praise,as they try to congratulate people who try to find the magic of harmony between science and religion.

    Interested people,please refer to my blog post called "Realm of faith,an undercover fear" ,which contains my thoughts on why god should exist and why can’t people give a solid explanation as to "why they pray",rather just plainly following what their ancestors imbibed in them.It might just enable you to think on it,and maybe give yourself a self-satisfaction that you found out why you pray to god,which is solely my purpose,rather than establishing science is the zenith and religion is the trench,or vice-versa.

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  38. 38. bewertow 11:27 am 04/18/2011

    Why should religion and science coexist? Religion has nothing good to offer. It is outdated and useless.

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  39. 39. Abhijith Asok 11:46 am 04/18/2011

    I do not blame anyone for their belief.You’re belief might be right for you.But,everyone’s prospect and vision on all that is around,is naturally different.The way I see it,religion is a pathway and God,if he exists,exists at the end of it as a form of inspiration.I do not believe in multiple Gods,but I do believe in the existence of one supreme being…All this is already explained in my blog post.If you are interested,please go through it.

    Everything has to have a beginning.If u say God does not exist,how can you explain the things around you,because all those needed to be formed somehow,and science can never give you the ultimate answer,because always there will be a deeper level to think of(the content of another one of my blog posts called "Infinity Thinking")….

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  40. 40. Cramer 5:12 pm 04/18/2011

    Abhijith Asok,

    I agree with your opinion that Templeton deserves praise in trying "to congratulate people who try to find the magic of harmony between science and religion."

    But I must add that Templeton must not allow pseudoscience to be part of their efforts. Otherwise, no harmony will ever exist. There is no such thing as pseudoreligion. That’s kind of a redundant term.

    Attempting to bring about harmony is at least better than people trying to supplant science with religion, such as is being attempted with creationism and evolution in our schools.

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  41. 41. Abhijith Asok 6:03 am 04/19/2011

    Agree with you on that Cramer.Pseudoscience should not be allowed to come up.The committee should be very careful while choosing the recipients,to assure the prize does not go into the wrong hands or to a non-deserver.They should also actually encourage researches pertaining to the co-existence of science and religion.As long as science cannot tell us the ultimate truth of everything,and religion can’t give us exact proof of what it is preaching,these two have to co-exist.

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  42. 42. Wilhelmus de Wilde 11:42 am 04/19/2011

    If you think that religion is an illness, 80% of mankind is very sick, if you think that science is logic, actually scientists are tumbling over each other in virtual dimensions.
    Religion is one of the explanations for mankind for the WHY question, and most important gives mankind the HOPE for a life after death.
    Science is one of the explanations for mankind for the HOW question, and gives mankind the hope that he will understand the ultimate deterministic HOW, and so he comes back to the WHY search.
    Religious people all think that their religion is the only one with the real truth, therefore they kill each other.
    Scientists (most of them) have the tendancy to think that their theory is the only truthfull and defend it peacefully.
    So the difference is clear, relegious people have to learn RESPECT towards other religions and towards science.
    The Templeton organisation is in principle an organisation that likes to mobilise scientists in order to find scientific solutions that are convenient for their religious ideas, i.e. the existance of a GOD as the creator of this whole shebang, therefore the Big Bang was a very good idea to them (even the pope thought so).
    I personally don’t believe in a Big Bang, think of the following : in about 100 billion years our Galaxy and Andromeda have melted together and the other Galaxies have so far moved away from us that we cannot perceive them any more , so the astronomers of thet era can only come to the conclusions that they live in a great static and eternal assemblement of stars, surrounded by empty space (like the astronomers did in the beginning of the 20th century), this means we are all subject to the observations that we can do.

    Aren’t we a little like these future astronomers ? Is the Beginning the beginning we have in mind or just like an idea named GOD ?

    Lets struggle on.

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  43. 43. WWDenham 5:21 pm 04/21/2011

    A large number of the first 97 contributions to this discussion seem to come from people who “love” science and “hate” religion. I understand that a lot of scientists or science-advocates are really tired of being bashed around by religious extremists, but I do not understand why they display the same kind of hate mongering here that they seem to resent when it comes from those who fundamentally reject science. As a scientist, I feel that this exchange has revealed a really nasty side of the science advocates, many of whom seem to know little or nothing about science. The credibility and viability of science are not enhanced by such behavior. Shame on you.

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  44. 44. Abhijith Asok 5:41 am 04/22/2011

    True.A large number of the previous comments are of the view to utterly demolish religion as a whole through any insane methodology,and confirm that science exists at the summit of the society.But,since,as normal human beings,we do not have any clear idea or proof as to which one is real of the two or are they both real,we have to respect the dogmas of both these sides of the same coin.I cannot but repeat my points in my earlier posts.

    If there were no religion and no God,then how can anyone give an explanation as to how all this began first of all?There has to be a beginning for everything,and following the pathway of the framework of our universe,this so-called human masterpiece called science is incapable of giving an ultimate answer to anything.There will always remain a deeper level to discover,in anything science attempts.Maybe it is the property of our particular 3-D universe(or 4-D as of late,when time was included into the dimensional fabric).As the possibilites of a 5-D or 6-D or even more dimensional universe,existing elsewhere are not ruled out(those which we cannot imagine at all);the same way,there might exist another universe elsewhere outside our own,where we can reach the ultimate division of length or so.But,still,in the case of our universe,it is not an option and science cannot give an ultimate answer to the questionnaire…whatever it may be..

    On the other side of the coin,the proposition that God exists is not in any way a licence for people to discard science completely and spend their lives just praying to God for good things to happen.If God is a person who gives you good things only if you pray to him,then the people who say God is the ultimate are themselves proving that God is cruel.God is just visualized as a normal human being with emotions and all,who wants everyone to look upto him and one who does not give anything good to a person who does not pray to him.Thus,in my opinion,the people who are praising God so much are recursively making way for a common belief that God is cruel.

    Well,I believe that there is one supreme creator above who controls everything going on down here.No Jesus,no Krishna,no Buddha…..just one supreme being.If he paved the way to this world,then he is the one who takes care of everything,whether you praise him or not.Purely impartial attitude.And,science is actually comprised of the various methodologies that he implemented to take care of everything going on……

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  45. 45. bewertow 12:08 pm 04/22/2011

    If god created the universe, then who created god? God doesn’t explain anything. Religion is a useless artifact.

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  46. 46. Cramer 5:50 pm 04/22/2011

    What I saw was the following:

    "A large number of the first 97 contributions to this discussion seem to come from people who love [religion] and hate [the beliefs of others and possibly hate others themselves]."

    That seemed clear when several believe that agnostics and atheists have no foundation for morality.

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  47. 47. Abhijith Asok 9:26 am 04/25/2011

    That is the whole point.Unless we cannot get a clear answer for anything in this universe,we cannot but follow science and religion to an extent.Through science,you always ask questions about the next level,never able to stop anywhere.In such a condition,we have to actually at least,stabilize a POSSIBILITY that there is one above who has remained there…It is unacceptable to questioning minds like me,you and many others…but as long as science does not give its final solution,this has to remain in a side-track…

    Say,today’s science follows the big bang theory..gases got together and exploded…but how did those gases get there in the first place?

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  48. 48. Wilhelmus de Wilde 11:23 am 04/26/2011

    I read : "everything has to have a beginning", this is true in a causal deterministic Universe, ours. Just trying to think of a dimension(extra) where there is no causality makes it possible that a "beginning" is not needed, Everything IS, there are scientists who call this a "GOD" view, we must try not only to think of GOD but also have the ultimate goal to think LIKE GOD.
    (PS I do not hate religion, I respect it)

    keep on thinking

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  49. 49. amanzed 2:03 am 05/17/2011

    The Templeton Foundation has questionable ethics and terrible politics. It is a right-wing political action group, promoting not just Christianity, but their preference for the "right" kind of Christianity (i.e., not too lefty, not doubting the validity of the "big questions").

    They should be exposed for the activists they are — however cleverly they drape themselves in comforting, neutered language suitable for public radio.

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  50. 50. klatu 8:42 am 05/26/2011

    If ‘spiritual progress’ seems a oxymoron, that’s only because the very conception of human spirituality is probably an illusion. As an aspirational species the confusion was probably unavoidable. It is difficult to consider our species, destroying it’s own environment by a predominant material perception and values as ‘spiritual’. Yet if the thousands of historical attempts to pin the idea down have failed, the potent potential remains untapped. Should the language ever exist to clearly define the idea within our highest enlightenment criteria, the possibilities would defy the imagination. and it may have already happened while no one was looking!

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  51. 51. mkh 11:27 pm 10/18/2011

    If I’m not mistaken, the title “doctor” originated from the church, so it is historically problematic if one claims that “doctors” can exist only in science.

    More than the distinction between doctors of science and of divinity, have we discussed what “social science” and “political science” mean? Is it OK that both areas use the same titles and status as “real science”? To a mathematician, “political science” is an oxymoron.

    Re the question if there is “spiritual data”, I wouldn’t answer in the negative so readily. What would one call the placebo effect? In fact, what would one call the whole of political science? What kind of knowledge is that? It usually is not quantitative, but it is qualitative.

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