On Templeton

A few recent events, including the launch of Nautilus and this interesting thread on Brian Leiter’s blog, have brought the John Templeton Foundation (JTF) back into the spotlight. As probably everybody knows, the JTF is a philanthropic organization that supports research into the “Big Questions of human purpose and ultimate reality,” encourages “dialogue among scientists, philosophers, and theologians,” and seeks to use science to acquire “new spiritual information.” They like to fund lots of things I find interesting — cosmology, physics, philosophy — but unfortunately they also like to promote the idea that science and religion are gradually reconciling. (As well as some projects that just seem silly.) They also have a huge amount of money, and they readily give it away.

I don’t think that science and religion are reconciling or can be reconciled in any meaningful sense, and I believe that it does a great disservice to the world to suggest otherwise. Therefore, way back in the day, I declined an opportunity to speak at a Templeton-sponsored conference. Ever since then, people have given me grief whenever my anti-Templeton fervor seems insufficiently fervent, even though my position — remarkably! — has been pretty consistent over the years. Honestly I find talking about things like this pretty tiresome; politics is important, but substance is infinitely more interesting. And this topic in particular has become even more tiresome as people on various sides have become increasingly emotional and less reflective. But I thought it would be useful to put my thoughts in one place, so I can just link here the next time the subject arises.

In brief: I don’t take money directly from the Templeton Foundation. You will never see me thanking them for support in the acknowledgments of one of my papers. But there are plenty of good organizations and causes who feel differently, and take the money without qualms, from the World Science Festival to the Foundational Questions Institute. As long as I think that those organizations are worthwhile in their own right, I am willing to work with them — attending their conferences, submitting articles, whatever. But I will try my best to convince them they should get money from somewhere else.

I’ve had various opportunities to get money from Templeton, and I certainly don’t come running to blog about it every time the possibility arises. Once I even got a call from a corporate head-hunter who wanted to inquire about my interest in a job with JTF. (Someone had clearly not done their homework.) But it’s not, as many people argue, because I am worried that Templeton works in nefarious ways to influence the people it funds. That is pretty unclear; there are some dark murmurings to that effect, with this piece by John Horgan being perhaps the most explicit example, but little hard evidence. It wouldn’t be utterly shocking to find that a funding agency tried to nudge work that it supported in directions that it was favorable to; that’s the kind of thing that funding agencies do. But there are plenty of examples of people receiving money from JTF and swearing that they never felt any pressure to be religion-friendly. More importantly, I don’t see much evidence that the JTF is actively evil, in (say) the way the Discovery Institute is evil, deliberately lying in order to advance an anti-science agenda. The JTF is quite pro-science, in its own way; it’s just that I think their views on science are very wrong.

And that’s the real reason why I don’t want to be involved directly with Templeton. It’s not a matter of ethical compromise; it’s simply a matter of sending the wrong message. Any time respectable scientists take money from Templeton, they lend their respectability — even if only implicitly — to the idea that science and religion are just different paths to the same ultimate truth. That’s not something I want to do. If other people feel differently, that’s for them and their consciences, not something that is going to cause me to shun them.

But I will try to explain to them why it’s important. Think of it this way. The kinds of questions I think about — origin of the universe, fundamental laws of physics, that kind of thing — for the most part have no direct impact on how ordinary people live their lives. No jet packs are forthcoming, as the saying goes. But there is one exception to this, so obvious that it goes unnoticed: belief in God. Due to the efforts of many smart people over the course of many years, scholars who are experts in the fundamental nature of reality have by a wide majority concluded that God does not exist. We have better explanations for how things work. The shift in perspective from theism to atheism is arguably the single most important bit of progress in fundamental ontology over the last five hundred years. And it matters to people … a lot.

Or at least, it would matter, if we made it more widely known. It’s the one piece of scientific/philosophical knowledge that could really change people’s lives. So in my view, we have a responsibility to get the word out — to not be wishy-washy on the question of religion as a way of knowing, but to be clear and direct and loud about how reality really works. And when we blur the lines between science and religion, or seem to contribute to their blurring or even just not minding very much when other people blur them, we do the world a grave disservice. Religious belief exerts a significant influence over how the world is currently run — not just through extremists, but through the well-meaning liberal believers who very naturally think of religion as a source of wisdom and moral guidance, and who define the middle ground for sociopolitical discourse in our society. Understanding the fundamental nature of reality is a necessary starting point for productive conversations about morality, justice, and meaning. If we think we know something about that fundamental nature — something that disagrees profoundly with the conventional wisdom — we need to share it as widely and unambiguously as possible. And collaborating with organizations like Templeton inevitably dilutes that message.

There’s no question that Templeton has been actively preventing the above message from getting across. By funding projects like the AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion, the JTF has done its best to spread the impression that science and religion get along just fine. This impression is false. And it has consequences.

So I won’t directly work with or take money from the JTF, although I will work with people who do take money from them — money that is appropriately laundered, if you will — if I think those people themselves are worth supporting or collaborating with in their own right. This means that approximately nobody agrees with me; the Templeton-friendly folks think I’m too uptight and priggish, while the anti-Templeton faction finds me sadly lacking in conviction. So be it. These are issues without easy answers, and I don’t mind taking a judicious middle ground. It’s even possible that I’ll change my mind one way or another down the road, in response to new arguments or actions on the part of the parties involved.

And if anyone is tempted to award me the Templeton Prize, I will totally accept it! And use the funds to loudly evangelize for naturalism and atheism. (After I pay off the mortgage.)

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124 Responses to On Templeton

  1. Tony Rz says:

    No Sally, God really is Love, Love its very self, His very substance is Love. He is made of Love. This I know.

  2. groovimus says:

    NEWT: Who are these “scholars in the fundamental nature of reality”? I think we may be experiencing a classic case of a selection bias. Ironic for a scientist to make this mistake without any peer criticism.

    BRETT: they are called physicists. Try and keep up buddy.

    darned good question newt. These people who have the supreme grasp of reality are people who believe that the universe is built to allow people like them possession of not only the exclusivity of the epitome of knowledge but all of the benefits accruing to those with the most arcane knowledge of all reality. Such as perfectly balanced living and personalities to go with it, the reverence due them by the less fortunate, all of the most beautiful women swooning after them and riches galore, for who would not want to hang with such masters, the masters of knowledge and masters of themselves. I always have been jealous how physicists seem to get all the adoration of the masses and hang with the most beautiful women.

  3. Pingback: Reasonable Words: Sean Carroll on the Templeton Foundation | A Few Reasonable Words

  4. Just_a_Christian says:

    “scholars who are experts in the fundamental nature of reality have by a wide majority concluded that God does not exist.”

    This fact bears a striking resemblance to another fact very well known for Christians: by the end of Jesus’ public life, scholars who were experts in the interpretation of Hebrew Scriptures had by a wide majority concluded that He was not the Messiah.

  5. Ant says:

    @ Bret Lythgoe (May 11, 2013 at 7:50 pm)

    When I say “Traditional,” I mean those who accept that God is a Trinity, as defined by the Nicene Creed. This creed, which was formulated from Greek philosophy, in conjunction with reflections on the Bible, states that God id essential nonempirical, (although these words aren’t used).

    Why on Earth was a Christian creed formulated from Greek philosophy? You couldn’t make it up! (Oh. Except they did.)

    Or, how it all is rendered coherent is beyond our comprehension. That probably sounds like a cop out, I know.

    Yep. Pretty much.

    I don’t pretend to understand what it means to say that God is nonempirical. But an analogy may be helpful. This of universal concepts, such as what we find in mathematics. 2+2=4 is nonempirical. It will always be true, whether humans or some other comparably intelligent being exists to know it. Even if our universe ceases to exist tomorrow, it will be true. Perhaps God exists in a similar fashion.

    Except that “2 + 2 = 4” is very empirical. It’s called counting. Numbers and arithmetic are just reifications of counting (whatever Plato thought). I’ve got twelve baskets with a dozen apples in each basket; how many apples have I got altogether? It’s grossly empirical.

    But how light can be a wave and a particle escapes us all too!

    Not those of us who understand quantum field theory (QFT), as Sean explains elsewhere, quite accessibly to anyone who’s had a high-school education.

    It’s a terrible mistake for Christians, and others to view these passages as God’s will, or punishment. These are the morally primitive, and morally abhorent [sic] views of individuals who wrote the particular biblical passages in question.

    I think you’re in the minority there.

    How do you know which passages are abhorrent, and which not?

    What is the basis of your hermeneutics?

    Near Death Experiences, where people know of thigs [sic] they could not possibly know about, if we’re just brains, is best explained as a consequence of these individuals leaving their bodies, which leads to the extrapolation that we may be more than neurons firing.

    Except that that isn’t the “best” explanation of NDEs. Because, “things they could not possibly know about” just hasn’t been shown to be unequivocally true.

    I agree with you that the notion of an immaterial being communicating with material beings, God with humans, respectively, seems to make no sense (Many objected to Descartes notion of an immaterial mind communicating with a material brain, on the same grounds), but, perhaps there’s more to the picture than our finite minds can grapple with? Again, I don’t understand how light can be a wave a nd a particle at the same time, this seems incoherent, but it seems to be true.

    As before, the – completely coherent – answer lies in QFT. And watch Sean’s Skepticon 5 talk to understand why an immaterial being cannot communicate with material beings except by using one of the known physical forces (three to five, depending on what energy scale you’re considering: electric, magnetic, and weak nuclear; strong nuclear; and gravity). No others are available at biological energies and length scales. And using one of those forces would make such communications very empirical indeed.

    /@

  6. Ant says:

    @ groovimus

    I think, say, Lisa Randall might take exception to your characterisation of physicists! :-þ

    /@

  7. Ant says:

    @ Just_a_Christian

    Score 1 for those Hebrew scholars!! 😀

    /@

  8. Bob Iles says:

    @Tony Rz “This I know.”

    No, Tony, that you DON’T know! It’s obvious, in fact, that you don’t know diddly squat so why don’t you just quit encumbering this list with your ignorant doodlings. Everybody would be much happier.

  9. Johannes says:

    I will try to explain the notion of God from a classical theistic viewpoint, which is that of Aquinas.

    Anything in the universe, and the universe itself, is a contingent being, a compound of essence and act of being (“esse” aka existence), so that its act of being is:
    – received,
    – limited by its essence, and
    – changeable over time, as previously unrealized potencies are realized into act.

    God is not “a” being, however great, perfect or supreme, but the Subsistent Act of Being Itself (“Ipsum Esse Subsistens”), so that his Act of Being is:
    – unreceived, i.e. from Itself,
    – not limited by an essence, and thus infinite, because God’s Essence is his own Subsistent Act of Being, and
    – eternal, which is not the same as everlasting, as there can be no change in God since there are no unrealized potencies in Him.

    Here I follow the convention to capitalize the verb “to be” when it is meant in a subsistent way, to signify that Being in a subsistent way is essentially different than being in a contingent way.

    Therefore, while for any creature X, which is a contingent being:

    X = X’s essence + X’s (contingent) act of being

    for the Creator, Who is the Subsistent Act of Being Itself:

    God = God’s Essence = God’s (Subsistent) Act of Being = Subsistent Act of Being Itself

    Therefore the very essence of God, and only of God, is Being (as a verb) in a subsistent, i.e. unreceived, unlimited and unchanging way. Therefore God could be defined, to the extent that we can conceive Him, as “He Who Is”.

    So far it was purely philosophical reasoning. Moving on to divine Revelation, we read in Exodus 3:14:

    God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM “; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ ”

    whence the ineffable Tetragrammaton, meaning “He Who Is”. Thus we see a convergence of the philosophy of being, i.e. ontology, and divine Revelation.

  10. James Goetz says:

    Sean, Ironically, your From Eternity to Here helped me to develop my philosophical theory of God and time because you helped me to understand the difference between the passage of time and time coordinates. I also appreciate that your previous blog taught me that a Hamiltonian value of zero would indicate that the passage of time had emerged, which is consistent with the impossibility for a past infinite passage of time intervals. Also, none of your actual science contains the slightest disharmony with my belief in God, not that I can say the same for all beliefs in God. Best, Jim

  11. Tony Rz says:

    Love is a person of infinite knowledge, infinite power, infinite being and is a part of those who Love. Sorry Bob.

  12. Robin Datta says:

    That there is no deity has been known for two and a half millennia. What is more difficult is to ditch the idea of an “I”, at least in the case of oneself. It is not so difficult to see everyone else as meat robots running on the programs in their wetware: automatons devoid of any trace of awareness. But if one follows the two-and-a-half millennia old tradition, it offers the prospect of bringing one to that realisation, not only about others, but also about oneself.

    The Diamond Sutra – A New Translation by Alex Johnson, Chapter 14:
    Such a person will be able to awaken pure faith because they have ceased to cherish any arbitrary notions of their own selfhood, other selves, living beings, or a universal self. Why? Because if they continue to hold onto arbitrary conceptions as to their own selfhood, they will be holding onto something that is non-existent. It is the same with all arbitrary conceptions of other selves, living beings, or a universal self. These are all expressions of non-existent things.

  13. Bret Lythgoe says:

    Hi Ant,

    It’s good to talk with you. Thank you for your comments.

    With respect to the Nicene Creed, it would seem foolish to me for the early Christians to not use the best of Greek philosophy. The latter is full of rich ideas, from some of the greatest minds. it would be irrational for early Christians to not use the rational conclusions derived from Greek thinkers in the formulation of the Trinity.

    With respect to mathematics, and I say this with respect, because you seem like an intelligent person, you seem confused. Mathematics is not empirical. one can USE mathematics to deal with real world empirical situations, but the mathematics itself is not material, or empirical.

    Concerning biblical interpretation, I’m not a Biblical scholar, and I doubt that you are either. Biblical interpretation is a HIGHLY complicated process. I statrt with the premise that God is All good, and therefore, would not eggae in the behavior described in certain Biblical passages.

    NDE’s have been shown to occur in people who were unconscious, and yet, still knew of things (such as details of their operations, that were subsequently corroborated by their doctors. Are the doctors lying?

    Scientists can only answer scientific questions. Whether God is immasterial isoutside of science

  14. Ant (@antallan) says:

    Thanks for your response, Bret.

    With respect to the Nicene Creed, it would seem foolish to me for the early Christians to not use the best of Greek philosophy. The latter is full of rich ideas, from some of the greatest minds. it would be irrational for early Christians to not use the rational conclusions derived from Greek thinkers in the formulation of the Trinity.

    Would it? Why would the early Christians need to “formulate” (i.e., make up) anything? Either the Trinity is or it isn’t. If the early Christians actually knew the Truth from God’s words, why would they need recourse to Greek philosophy?

    With respect to mathematics, and I say this with respect, because you seem like an intelligent person, you seem confused. Mathematics is not empirical. one can USE mathematics to deal with real world empirical situations, but the mathematics itself is not material, or empirical.

    Well, I am an intelligent person (I have a Ph.D. in theoretical physics), but it is you who are confused. I never said that mathematics is empirical; I said that numbers and arithmetic are fundamentally empirical; a reification of counting. If I hold up two fingers on one hand and two fingers on another, how many fingers am I holding up? You can easily find the answer empirically. Geometry is fundamentally empirical, too; just think of all the textbook exercises that use compasses and a straight-edge. Mathematics is a logical (mental) abstraction from these bases.

    Concerning biblical interpretation, I’m not a Biblical scholar, and I doubt that you are either. Biblical interpretation is a HIGHLY complicated process. I statrt with the premise that God is All good, and therefore, would not eggae in the behavior described in certain Biblical passages.

    Why would you doubt that? I’m not, as it happens, but I know several commenters on blogs such as this who are! But that’s by the by. What’s your justification for that premise?

    NDE’s have been shown to occur in people who were unconscious, and yet, still knew of things (such as details of their operations, that were subsequently corroborated by their doctors. Are the doctors lying?

    I’m afraid nothing of the sort has been “shown” to occur; we have only unsubstantiated claims. I’m not suggesting that doctors or anyone else is necessarily lying (although I suspect that there are some attention seekers who have lied); what I am suggesting is that people are mistaken when they claim that they could not know any of the reported details by any mundane means. Even when we are unconscious, our brains may be active and receptive to sensory inputs (such as conversations amongst clinical and surgical staff).

    Scientists can only answer scientific questions. Whether God is immasterial isoutside of science.

    Well, the first is a tautology! (What is a scientific question? Do you know the limits of science? I don’t. And that’s not a claim that science is unlimited, btw.) But the immateriality of God wasn’t the claim I was discussing. If God, whether He is immaterial (purely “mental”) or not, communicates with us (our material bodies and brains) or interacts with the everyday world in any way, the LHC results tell us that there are only the known forces that are available to Him and thus we would be able to detect His activity. (But we don’t.)

    /@

  15. James Cross says:

    I am not a Biblical scholar or physicist.

    Regarding the Nicene Creed, it was primarily an attempt by early Christians to consolidate political power and wipe out the non-literalist factions – the Gnostics. As for Greek philosophy, Christianity from the New Testament is primarily Greek (the Word the Logos of John) in its philosophical origins. It is an expropriation of the Greek mystery religions with the mystery removed. I think much of the literalist problems of contemporary Christianity arise directly from this period.

    Regarding NDEs, it sounds like you are talking about Eben Alexander.

    You can read my own take on it here:

    http://broadspeculations.com/2013/04/13/lets-explore/

    I am certain it will make both sides of this argument unhappy.

    I am highly skeptical that Alexander experienced anything that he could remember while he had no brain activity. More likely his visions occurred during the period when his brain was firing back up, not while there was no activity, and there is nothing in his account which would lead one to believe otherwise other than his assertion. His actual experiences are remarkably similar to experiences of shamans and people who take hallucinogens.

    On the hand, “NDEs and experiences with hallucinogens are often life changing. They can result in people changing their behavior and beliefs. In many cases, people with these experiences will count them among the most significant of their lives. At some level, these experiences may be brain waves firing. Brain waves are firing while I see the tree outside my window. Brain waves fire when a scientist makes a great discovery. The perception of the tree, the discovery of the scientist, and an NDE may all be brain waves firing. Why should we diminish the value or significance of the NDE?”

  16. Bret Lythgoe says:

    Hi Ant,

    Thank you for your response. I disagree with you concerning God’s existence, but I don’t doubt your sincerity, and I respect the intelligence and insights that you provide.
    Concerning the Trinity, certainly you’re correct that it’s either true, or it isn’t. And although the Bible can provide great insight into God’s nature, there appeared to be a need to incorporate the findings of Greek Philosophy, in the formulation of the Truine nature of God. This implies that God, being the creator of all, not just the inspired passages of the Bible, would allow his nature to be deciphered from Greek Philosophy, or any other true aspects of reality. The Bishops who attended that great Council, that came to the conclusion that God is a Trinity, made a discovery, it could be argued. They didn’t “make it up.” They came to a conclusion, on the basis of the Bible, and the logic of philosophy, particularly aspects of Platonism, that they considered to be a true finding.
    Concerning mathematics, perhaps we’ll have to agree to disagree. I think that mathematics is immaterial, and is applied to empirical situations. It’s immateriality,
    enables it to be free of the contingency of the empirical world. But your position is certainly highly respectable. In fact, it seems very similar to Aquinas’s view! The latter believed, that all knowledge is derived from the senses, and the mind, formulated “universals” from this sensory data, so math has its basis in the senses.

    God is, as St. Anslem said, the greatest that can be thought. One of the essential traits, of the greatest of all beings, is complete moral goodness. Clearly, many of the passages in the Bible, that assert that God “commanded” certain things, that anyone, with moral moral reasoning, and a moral heart, would conclude are the most horrible things, cannot conclude that the greatest of all beings commanded them.
    Regarding NDE’s, I think that, if the doctors and nurses directly involved in the care of the person who had the NDE’s can corroborate what the patient claims happened to them during their NDE, such asout of body experiences where the person saw certain things that he couldn’t possibly have seen, since he was unconscious, we should give it some serious consideration. True, this does not constitute rigorous scientific evidence for the legitimacy of the supernatural aspects of NDE’s, but it does indicate that further study is warranted, and we cannot dismiss it, because it contradicts materialist assumptions of reality.
    With regard to God and whether we can study him, or know him, scientifically. That depends. If one accepts that God is omnipotent, he can choos e to communicate however he wishes with us. Since he created everything, out of nothing, all that he created is subject to his control. We cannot say, unless we accept, which is not the Christian view, that God must conform to material objects and forces, that God “has” to communicate with us via certain forces. He can if he wants, but he doesn’t have to. We have, essentially two problems here. If God is immaterial, and not subject to empirical investigation, he cannot be proved, or disproved, scientifically. The other problem, is God’s sovereignty, or omnipotence. If he doesn’t want to communicate through certain forces that are currently known to scienitists, he doesn’t have to. The fact that he doesn’t communicate through these forces, or isn’t known to us through these forces, implies nothing about his existence. he could decide to communicate in ways not subject to scientific investigation, or he could decide to communicate, scientifically, through other empirical means, currently unknown to science. However he chooses to do so, or not do so, is up to him, and the matter and forces that he’s created, must obey him, not the other way around.

  17. Bret Lythgoe says:

    Hi James Cross,

    It’s good to talk with you. certainly the early Christian period was a time when what constituted Christian beliefs was in flux. I come from a Mormon background. Although I no longer believe in the truth of Mormonism, I have great respect for it. And the Mormons believe that the notion that God is one in substance, and yet a Trinity, to be incorrect. They believe that God, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are three distinct material beings. Their notion has certain similarities with some early Christians who viewed Christ as not God, but close to it (e.g., Arius).

    Concerning NDE’s, Alexander is a neurosurgeon, which implies that his own brain probably functions pretty well, so I’m disinclined to say that his experience was due exclusively to dyfunctional neurons. But you may be right. You make a good point about the life changing aspects of NDEs. If we told thesewho had these life changing events that their experiences were “really” just neurons behaving rather badly, I doubt that the life changing aspects would continue.

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  20. Ant says:

    @ Bret

    Apologies for a tardy response; I’ve been travelling on business.

    But why should there be a need to incorporate the findings of Greek philosophy in the formulation of the triune nature of God? How did the Bishops who attended that council make a “discovery”? Why should Plato, from a Hellenic tradition whose theology I presume you would not hesitate to dismiss as myth, have anything meaningful to say about the Abrahamic God? Absent any empirical evidence, they certainly did “make it up.”

    I don’t think we have to agree to disagree about mathematics’ being immaterial; it’s a mental construct. My initial remark was only that numbers and arithmetic, as reifications of counting, are empirical.

    Epicurus refutes Anslem, I think.

    Regarding NDEs, the whole thing hinges on the claim that the patient saw certain things that they couldn’t possibly have seen – or known about in some other way. That hasn’t been established. I don’t mean to suggest that further study isn’t warranted, but a naturalistic explanation seems (according to the studies that have been done) far more likely than a supernatural one.

    Materialism isn’t an assumption, but a working hypothesis that has not been falsified in hundreds of years. If reality includes the purely mental (i.e., if minds can exist independent of material bodies: mind-brain dualism), then why should the evidence for it not be as easily accessible and as clear as all the evidence we have for our materialist theories? The world of fermions (matter) and bosons (forces) that quantum field theory describes would seem like the wildest fantasy to a medieval theologian or Hellenic philosopher, yet it is intricately supported by experimental evidence, in exactly the same way that the crudest ideas of dualism aren’t.

    What’s more, if dualism is true, how does the mental interact with the material? We’re back to the conclusions from Sean’s Skepticon 5 presentation: If our minds are discrete and distinct from our brains, they cannot interact with our brains via anything but one of the known forces, which is empirically not observed.

    This conclusion is strong wrt God, too. You state that an omnipotent God could use a force unknown to science to communicate with us? Well, I suppose He could use whatever He wants, but we are very much material and anything that interacts with us can do so only via the known forces. So God could be “shouting” at us, but we’re completely “deaf” to that. The only other option for an omnipotent God is that He somehow hides this “sixth” force (I’m not counting things strictly; it’s more analogous to the idiomatic “sixth sense”) from the LHC results, that He somehow prevents this force that can interact with our protons from being seen when we smash those protons together at near-the-beginning-of-the-universe energies.

    But I don’t think that such a deceitful God is anything like Anselm’s greatest of all beings with His inherent moral goodness.

    /@

  21. Ant says:

    * … in exactly the same way that the crudest ideas of dualism isn’t.

    [ I was too eager to get an H2G2 reference in there to spot the subject-verb disagreement! 😉 ]

  22. Bret Lythgoe says:

    Hi Ant,

    No need to apologize, I understand being busy. Thank you for your, as always, highly intelligent response.

    With respect to the Trinity, and Greek Philosophy, I think that if we go back to the early Christian period, we see that there was little uniformity in beliefs. We had some, who accepted essentially the view that Jesus was a mere man, but a very important man, not unlike a prophet. Then others, who said, is there one god, or many? And if we have many, how do we decipher which god is “in charge,” if you will, of the universe. Having one god seems to resolve this problem. But what’s the ontological status of Jesus? To make a profoundly long story immensely brief, the bishops mad an intellectual, conceptual, discovery (as opposed to an empirical one) that Greek Philosophy, particularly Plato’s theory of Forms, could be incorporated into our understanding of God. Why didn’t God just tell us all this in the Bible? I don’t know, accept to say that I think a lot of people (particularly Fundamentalist Christians) think that the Bible should be more than what it is. It’s not meant, in my opinion, to be a work where all answers are to be found.

    Plato is an interesting figure. What he precisely believed, religiously, is a mystery. In his Timaeus, he asserts that a Demiurge, constructed the universe ob the basis of the Forms. Christians reject the existence of the Demiurge, or designer, as superfluous. Whether Plato accepted the existence of the homeric gods, is debatable. But the Christian concept of the Trinity relies only on Plato’s philosophical arguments, and not on any of the religious myths that were a prevalent aspect of the classical greek milieu.

    There’s something profoundly mysterious about mathematics. It, and logic generally, possess a universality that just doesn’t exist in contingent, empirical reality. You may be right that it’s just a mental construct, but you would certainly have to agree that it’s objective? I still am inclined to believe that math exists on a level beyond space and time, and is not merely the workings of neuronal firings. If your position is correct, how could math, or logic generally, be objective?

    Concerning NDEs, Michael Sabom, a cardiologist and NDE researcher, has accumulated a large amount of empirical data, of people who said that they have had NDEs, and claimed to observe things that occurred while they were unconscious, or even clinically dead. The doctors, and nurses, who seem to have no dog in this fight, have confirmed what those NDE patients claimed. Perhaps the patients made good guesses, or the doctors and nurses, possibly for religious reasons, want to “help,” with the story, but I doubt it. The details are too precise, and, without evidence as a basis, it wouldn’t be fair to argue that the doctors and nurses are lying for the patients,here. (I know you’re not claiming that they’re lying.) There’s an interesting case, that I’m agnostic about, regarding its supernatural aspects, that you might find interesting:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pam_Reynolds_case

    Certainly, many NDEs are best explained as a natural consequence of brain dysfunction. But not all of them. And for some who claim that they’re all merely a result of some brain dysfunction, ironically, they’re relying on speculation. Speculation, on the basis of an acceptance of materialism as axiomatic. But the only way that they can provide a reasonable case for NDEs being purely naturalistic, is to firmly provide direct empirical connections between which brain regions are dysfunctioning, and the NDE traits. This has not been done, in a rigorous way, to my knowledge.

    People, billions, over human history, have claimed to have communicated with God. Surely they cannot all be delusional? Certainly delusional beliefs in a God or Gods would be less than advantageous to one’s survival in the prehistoric period of humanity? Clearly many claims of people communicating with the supernatural are bogus, but not all. And if God communicates with us, the fact that he cannot be detected by the currently known forces, really doesn’t tell us much. We can know that something exists, without understanding its precise mechanism.

  23. Bret Lythgoe says:

    Hi Ant,

    I might add, science, of course, is provisional. There are few “established, irrefutable” facts. If new evidence emerges, we may have to discard our current theories. It was, “established fact,” that Ptolemy and Aristotle’s conception of the cosmos, was correct, based on reasonable empirical evidence that was available at the time. Of course, as you know better that me, Newton and Einstein disavowed scientists of this complacency. cerianly if someone was to claim that God could not be detected, on the basis of Aristotelian and Ptolemaic notions of space, one would be forgiven for being disinclined to believe them?

  24. kashyap Vasavada says:

    This is addressed to James Goetz: I read your interesting comment.I do not want to comment on Judeo-Christian religious views because of my limited knowledge of these religions. However let me say that Hindu philosophy solves the problem of God as an observer in a beautiful way.The God (Brahman) is present in everything, every particle.He (,she,it) is not like a commander in chief watching from outside the universe. Then, as the observer is in the system itself , there is no one to clock it.It is time independent.So God would be eternal. According to the Schrodinger equation the total wave function of the universe would not change with time and the Hamiltonian would be zero. This would be consistent with current model of the universe starting with vacuum with zero total energy. People like us (mere mortals!) who separate observer and observed systems (subject-object split) would surely see time dependence. Let people call this a complete pseudo-science if they wish. It is OK with me. But I find this idea fascinating.
    Kashyap Vasavada