Templeton Prize

[Cross-posted from The Corner at NRO]

Astrophysicist Sir Martin Rees, who has a walk-on part in We Are Doomed (and who is properly written of as “Lord Rees,” though nobody seems to bother any more) has been awarded the Templeton Prize  “for career achievements affirming life’s spiritual dimension.”

Previous winners of the prize, which seeks to promote better understanding between science and religion, include Catholic nun Mother Teresa, U.S. preacher Billy Graham and Russian novelist Alexander Solzhenitsyn as well as many leading scientists.

This will be good for some rhetorical fireworks from the more militant kind of atheists. In those precincts, unbelievers who accept the  Templeton Prize are regarded as wishy-washy “accommodationists.” Richard Dawkins has already harrumphed.

Sir Martin has described himself as “an unbelieving Anglican who goes to church out of loyalty to the tribe.” I’d suspect that this position is utterly incomprehensible to anyone not (a) raised an Anglican, (b) in England, and (c) more than 50 years old. Compare George Orwell’s oft-quoted remark — it’s in Jeffrey Meyer’s biography  somewhere — that “I like the Church of England better than Our Lord.”

My NRO review of Sir Martin’s splendid gloomy look at the human race’s near future (he doesn’t think we have one) is here.

The converse of an unbeliever who goes to church is a believer who doesn’t. The Audacious Epigone has crunched some numbers from the General Social Survey on this (though I think that “less than” in his penultimate paragraph should read “more than”).

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14 Responses to Templeton Prize

  1. John Farrell says:

    I saw Sir Martin at this past weekend’s Lemaitre conference at Sidney Sussex College in Cambridge. He gave a great talk after the opening dinner. I’ve met him a few times now and really enjoy his conversation and sense of humor.

  2. Florida resident says:

    Following the review by John Derbyshire, and also a recommendation by a senior friend of family, who knows Sir Martin personally, I bought and read a book by Sir Martin.
    I do not remember the particulars, but the general impression was rather bland.

    John Derbyshire’s “We Are Doomed” is much clearer. From the latter book (WAD) you can see that human, social, demographic problems are much more of a threat to survival of civilization, than geological or astronomical.

    Respectfully, F.r.

  3. Susan says:

    I strongly suspect that the cadre of nonbelievers who go to church out of loyalty to the community, or for whatever social, professional, political, or business benefits may accrue from church membership is MUCH larger in scope and number than just the population of post-fifty Anglicans living in England. In fact, I know it is.

  4. Susan,

    Conservative writer Richard M. Weaver (d. 1963) wrote about the conservative approach to religion. According to Weaver, a big part of the religious impulse for conservatives involves just the sort of “tribal” affiliation noted by Derbyshire. It is reverence and respect for one’s ancestors and their wisdom, not piety alone, that inspires conservative respect for and devotion to religion. Personal faith may or may not enter into it, but that notion of ancestral respect is critical in Weaver’s view.

    For what it’s worth!


  5. Susan says:

    Mark, that sounds like a variation on Shintoism, doesn’t it?

    That whole business about religion as a form of tribal affiliation applies to blue collar white ethnic Roman Catholics as well, particularly in New England. They are Democrats because they are Catholics–or “Catlicks,” as they are wont to pronounce it–and they are Catholics because they are Democrats.

  6. Acilius says:

    @Florida Resident: You may already know this, but John Derbyshire is a very close associate of our host, Bradlaugh.

    @Mark: I’ve long admired Weaver’s case for tradition, thank you for mentioning him. I can recommend a book that takes a very different perspective than Weaver’s, The Religious Case Against Belief, by James P. Carse.

    In politics, Carse is more or less a standard-issue academic liberal, so his goals are the opposite of Weaver’s. As a long-time professor of Religious Studies at New York University, Carse takes an approach that is as much informed by the social sciences as Weaver’s was by literary study and philosophical training. And as the title indicates, Carse doesn’t limit himself to the claim that religious practices can be beneficial even in the absence of the belief systems that typically go along with them, but actually argues that they are sometimes better without the belief systems, certainly better without legalistic belief systems.

  7. SFG says:

    “and who is properly written of as “Lord Rees,” though nobody seems to bother any more”

    Derb, sweetie, we’re Americans. We banned that stuff in our Constitution and we’re happy to be rid of it.

    Human nature being what it is, we have to read about Lady Gaga instead…

  8. Susan says:

    From Count Basie and Duke Ellington to Lady Gaga…talk about decline and fall.

  9. Polichinello says:

    Derb, sweetie, we’re Americans. We banned that stuff in our Constitution and we’re happy to be rid of it.

    In fairness, though, it should be noted that Rees didn’t inherit the title. He earned it. It’s certainly less embarrassing to say “Lord Rees” than “Sir Elton John” (or any other pop figure, for that matter).

  10. Florida resident says:

    Dear Acilius !
    Thank you for the information that Bradlaugh and John Derbyshire is the same person.
    I knew that.
    I wanted to emphasize that the review was signed by name John Derbyshire, as opposed to the post we are commenting now, signed by Bradlaugh.
    Respectfully, Florida resident.

  11. Susan says:

    Actually, Derbyshire sounds like a name that ought to have a title attached to it, doesn’t it? John, Earl of Derbyshire. Bradlaugh, too, come to think of it. “Lord Bradlaugh” could be a notorious eighteenth-century rake. Maybe even a member of the Hellfire Club. Begock.

  12. RandyB says:

    I think “Lord Bradlaugh” sounds like it should be the name of an upper-class twit from Gilbert and Sullivan, like the Ruler of the Queen’s Navy or the Modern Major General.

  13. Susan says:

    That would depend on whether the name is pronounced “Brad-law” or “Brad-laff,” Randy.

  14. Acilius says:

    @Florida Resident: I thought you might know that Bradlaugh and John Derbyshire do everything together, as I indicated in my original comment. My first thought when I read your original was that someone else might read what you’d written and not realize the nature of their association. There is after all no reason why anyone but regular readers of this site should be expected to know who “Bradlaugh” is. Since a first-time reader may well have valuable comments to offer, I was eager to spare that hypothetical first-time reader any embarrassment that comments offered in ignorance of the connection between Bradlaugh and John Derbyshire might bring.

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