Cutting Edge
Cutting Edge

Cutting Edge

FAITH Magazine September-October 2008s

A special feature keeping us up to date with issues of science and religion


John Templeton RIP

Having described the life and work of this year’s Templeton-Prize winner, Fr Michael Heller, in the Cutting Edge column in the last issue, we now have sadly to record the death of the founder of the Prize, Sir John Templeton, on 8th July 2008. Born in 1912 in Tennessee, he attended Yale and then Oxford Universities, and made his fortune as a Wall Street investor between 1937 and 1992. He became a naturalised British citizen, and in 1987 was knighted by the Queen for his many philanthropic works.

Templeton started his Wall Street career in 1937 and went on to create some of the most successful international investment funds. In 1972, he established the world’s largest annual award given to an individual, intended specifically to honour living innovators in spiritual action and thought. Past prize-winners include Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Solzhenitsyn and, more recently, physicists, cosmologists and philosophers including Paul Davies, John Polkinghorne, George Ellis and Charles Taylor. His John Templeton Foundation (est.1987) supports scientific research at top universities in such fields as theoretical physics, cosmology and evolutionary biology, and also supports informed dialogue between scientists and theologians.

Templeton was long associated with the US Presbyterian Church. He “did not claim to be a theologian, but he was determined to support the work of those who might deepen our ‘knowledge and love of God’.” It was “Templeton’s [own] belief that rigorous research and cutting edge science are at the heart of human progress.” And indeed he felt that “scientific revelations may be a gold mine for revitalising religion in the 21st century.”

May he rest in peace.

The quotations above are from the offcial obituary which can be read at

‘The Big Questions

A recent project of the Templeton Foundation has been the promotion of a series of conversations on what they have called ‘the big questions.’ The latest question to be tackled in this series is the very direct one: ‘Does science make belief in God obsolete?’ The variety of answers from the thirteen invited contributors range (in brief) from “Yes” to “No, but it should” to “It depends” to “Absolutely not,” and their individual essays expand on these opinions. The public is then encouraged to join in this wide-ranging debate.

One of these thirteen contributors is Cardinal Schönborn of Vienna who reminds his readers that “The knowledge we have gained through modern science makes belief in an Intelligence behind he cosmos more reasonable than ever.” He goes on to comment: “if we wish to explain the observed world in terms of Matter without reference to Mind, then it must be explained by things material, ultimate and simple all at the same time — by indivisible, notional ‘atoms’ and a chance ‘swerve’ that sets them in random motion. If the things of everyday experience are mere aggregates of these ‘atoms,’ and if the cosmos is infinitely old and infinitely large, then chance can do the rest. … [But] modern science has shown that Nature is ordered, complex, mathematically tractable and intelligible ‘all the waydown.’ … And order, complexity and intelligibility exist ‘all the way up’ as well. We see a teleological hierarchy and chain of emergence from quantised physics, giving rise to stable chemistry, enabling the nearly miraculous properties of carbon and biochemistry, providing the material basis for the emergence of life with its own ontological hierarchy of metabolic (plant), sensitive (animal), and rational (human) existence. In short, the Nature we know from modern science embodies and reflects immaterial properties and a depth of intelligibility … To view all these extremely complex, elegant and intelligible laws, entities, properties
and relations in the evolution of the universe as ‘brute facts’ in need of no further explanation is, in the words of the great John Paul II, an ‘abdication of human intelligence’.”

The other contributions and the whole ‘conversation’ around this ‘big question’ is at

Atheism and IQ

A faith–science debate has also emerged in the pages of the Times Higher Education. Taking its lead from the imminent publication of a research paper by Lynn, Harvey & Nyborg entitled ‘Average intelligence predicts atheism rates across 137 nations,’ (in press, in the journal Intelligence), the THE on the 12th June suggested that “High IQ turns academics into atheists.” The authors of the paper report a high correlation amongst their data between IQ and ‘disbelief,’ and that large proportions of academics decry religious belief. However, a retort to these claims by Denis Alexander, research biologist and director of the Faraday Institute at St Edmund’s College, Cambridge, has been published in the THE on the 26th June. He analyses the non-homogeneityof questionnaires used, and points out the discrepancies in this research. “What sort of prediction is it,” it asks, “when UK and US populations are reported to level-peg at IQs of 100 and 98 but have disbelief levels of 41.5 per cent and 10.5 per cent respectively?” He concludes: “More data are needed to draw conclusions, but suggested answers clearly have nothing to do with IQ. Fundamental atheists, as much as fundamentalist religious believers, like simple answers that ignore the complexities. One task of a good education is surely to show how diffcult questions can have quite complex answers. If silly publications about IQ and atheism provide an opportunity to convey this message to our students, then maybe they are not a complete waste of time after all.”

Faith Magazine

September - October 2008