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Oxford to study faith in God

From article:

University of Oxford researchers will spend nearly $4 million to study why mankind embraces God. The grant to the Ian Ramsey Center for Science and Religion will bring anthropologists, theologians, philosophers and other academics together for three years to study whether belief in a divine being is a basic part of mankind’s makeup.

“There are a lot of issues. What is it that is innate in human nature to believe in God, whether it is gods or something superhuman or supernatural?” said Roger Trigg, acting director of the center.

He said anthropological and philosophical research suggests that faith in God is a universal human impulse found in most cultures around the world, even though it has been waning in Britain and western Europe.

“One implication that comes from this is that religion is the default position, and atheism is perhaps more in need of explanation,” he said.

The study will be funded by the John Templeton Foundation, a U.S.-based philanthropic organization that funds wide-ranging research into questions that deal with the laws of nature and issues of spirituality.

According to the Wikipedia entry on the agency funding the study, the John Templeton Foundation has in the past been accused of right-wing associations and supporting intelligent design (as opposed to evolution-based) proponents.

Also from the Wikipedia article, regarding debates in the scientific community about this organization:

In 2006, John Horgan, a science journalist and the author of several books, wrote in an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education (reprinted in Edge) of his “misgivings about the foundation’s agenda of reconciling religion and science”. He claims that a conference he attended favored scientists who “offered a perspective clearly skewed in favor of religion and Christianity”, and says that a Templeton official “told us that the meeting cost more than $1-million, and in return the foundation wanted us to publish articles touching on science and religion”.

In his book The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins (an evolutionary biologist) repeatedly criticizes the Templeton Foundation, referring to the Templeton Prize as “a very large sum of money given…usually to a scientist who is prepared to say something nice about religion.” Concerning the conference that he and John Horgan attended, and to John Horgan’s resulting article, Dawkins comments, “If I understand Horgan’s point, it is that Templeton’s money corrupts science.”

The question for me is how this new venture will shape up. It’s not anything new – a debate between scholars of different fields coming together to discuss one of the world’s oldest questions. The financial sponsor is a corporate (albeit non-profit) entity which must have its own interests at stake. So, let’s see what comes out of it.

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