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Letter on Templeton

The current issue (2nd May) of New Statesman published the following Letter to the Editor, in response to an article by Martin Rees, attempting to justify his acceptance of the Templeton Prize:-

The Editor New Statesman


You quote me as calling Martin Rees a 'compliant quisling' for accepting the Templeton Prize. That is not strictly accurate. My only comment on his acceptance was (a paraphrase of his predecessor as President of the Royal Society, Robert May): "That will look great on Templeton's CV, not so good on Martin's". I said it in a spirit of genuine concern for the reputation of a great astronomer and, I would like to think, personal friend.

It is true that in March 2010 I wrote "[Templeton] use their money shamelessly to satisfy their doomed craving for scientific respectability. They tried it on with the Royal Society of London, and they seem to have found a compliant quisling in the current President, Martin Rees, who, though not religious himself, is a fervent 'believer in belief'. Fortunately, enough Fellows made a stink about it to ensure that the Royal Society will not flirt with Templeton in future."

Unfortunately, there remains one vestigial connection. In 1951 the Duke of Edinburgh was honoured by election to Fellowship of the Royal Society. He later, probably in all innocence, agreed to present the annual Templeton Prize at Buckingham Palace. He is a man who takes science seriously and might therefore listen sympathetically if Martin Rees's successor as President of the Royal Society were to convey to him how poorly the Templeton Foundation is regarded in the scientific community. The monarchy is supposed to be above public controversy, and Templeton lurks somewhere between controversial and discredited. Royalty should not be playing into their hands by abetting their tireless quest for respectability.

Richard Dawkins FRS



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