Judith Walker, Tom Flynn

In this issue, we conclude our three-part series surveying the prospects for naturalism in academic philosophy—and for philosophy as an intellectual bulwark of secular humanism. We also cast a critical spotlight on the role of the John Templeton Foundation in distorting the handling of religious matters in science (which is well known) but also shaping discourse within philosophy in a more religion-friendly way.

In “A Most Unnatural Alliance,” Flemish philosopher Maarten Boudry evaluates the threats to academic naturalism. They’re real enough, he acknowledges, as he dissects the attacks on naturalism embodied in the work of theologian—and current Templeton Prize winner—Alvin Plantinga. Even so, Boudry hopes that anti-naturalism will ultimately prove “a rearguard fight in philosophy, and will eventually run out of steam”—though he prefaces that prediction with “I may be overly optimistic.” For Boudry, the “unnatural alliance” of science and philosophy benefits both, while it gives little real comfort to frustrated supernaturalists.

In “Wicked Problems,” philosopher Candice Shelby spotlights the challenges of facing “wicked” (that is, complexly intractable) problems in the real world. Far from being irrelevant, she suggests, an approach to philosophy informed by science may be indispensable for addressing problems of such intricacy. Shelby focuses particularly on the “wicked problem” of addiction. Attempts to address addiction and other wicked problems must draw upon many philosophical subspecialties, though those closest to science seem at present to have the greatest importance. As she concludes, “if philosophy is to remain relevant in the ways that she claims to be, then philosophers are going to have to get up from their armchairs and become responsible to the world … by engaging with the sciences, learning what our best empirical scientists have to say, and using those results to push the frontier of human experience forward.”

Free Inquiry Editor Tom Flynn delves into the John Templeton Foundation phenomenon in “The Corruption of Philosophy?” For Flynn, close examination of the Foundation’s recent activity suggests it may pose a threat to naturalism in philosophy greater than many individual academics might be in a position to discern. High-dollar grants were all but unknown in academic philosophy before Templeton swaggered into the discipline, offering unprecedentedly large grants and, critics say, tilting the playing field in favor of philosophers who found value in religion—or were at least prepared to speak kindly of it. An accompanying article describes eighteen major Templeton grants made in this decade, nine in philosophy and, for comparison, nine in other fields. It is sobering to realize how much wealth Templeton has been willing to invest—and to contemplate the often arcane, occasionally disturbing goals of some of the funded projects. ($1,582,636 spent to try rehabilitating the Roman Catholic Church’s traditional claim of authority over all scholarly and scientific disciplines, anyone?)

This feature closes with a wide-ranging and delightful essay by polymath Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, “The Scientists and the Philosophers Should Be Friends.” With engaging mastery, she rebuts currently fashionable varieties of “philosophy-jeering,” many built around critiques of naturalism. Goldstein emphasizes analytic philosophy, which for her captures the core of the philosophical enterprise—in its Anglo-American branch, at least. She contends that such philosophy, inflected as it is by naturalism, plays an invaluable complementary, if not corrective, role with regard to science.

For Goldstein, “science self-corrects,” and its way of doing so “implicates reality in the self-correction. Science is the enterprise that prods reality to answer us back when we’re getting it wrong.” Yet some errors in thinking are not clearly revealed by pondering anomalies in the outside world. This is where sound philosophy comes in, for it above all reveals inconsistencies in thinking. “Compartmentalized creatures that we are, we cohabit happily with our contradictions,” she writes. “It’s philosophy’s goal to destroy that happiness.” A balanced approach toward the problems we face will demand the best of science and philosophy. “With so much to lose, we need to marshal the full resources of human reason,” Goldstein concludes.

Following all this, we return with closing thoughts.

Judith Walker

Judy Walker has degrees in sociology, anthropology, and law. She has served as an Assistant Colorado Attorney General representing Colorado state institutions of higher education and in key positions in development for the University of Colorado. She is currently a CFI Institute fellow specializing in philosophical naturalism and a former CFI board member. Her work has been published in Free Inquiry magazine and other philosophical and freethought publications.

Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn is editor of Free Inquiry, executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism, director of the Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum, and editor of The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief (2007).

A balanced approach toward the problems we face will demand the best of science and philosophy.

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