Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Science of Schlock

I wrote in a recent post about the Templeton Foundation’s funding of initiatives called “The Science of Gratitude” and the “Science of Intellectual Humility.” Recalling other questionable “sciences” of Templetonian provenance, I decided to do a quick search. Here are a few more initiatives:

  • The Science of Generosity

  • The Science of Free Will

  • The Science of Love

  • The Science of Godly Love

  • The Science of Forgiveness

  • The Science of Optimism and Hope

  • The Science of Wisdom

  • The Science of Virtue

  • Now, new concepts can arise based upon our developing understanding of the world or changes in it: addiction or sexual harassment, say. And some phenomena – ecology, for example - warrant the creation of a new field of science. We can also use approaches from existing sciences to illuminate areas of interest (and, in turn, use this application to educate about science).

    But here “the science of” doesn’t seem to have any real meaning. These are not concepts defining previously unrecognized or new phenomena. There can be and have long been, of course, scientific (anthropological, sociological, psychological, evolutionary) analyses of altruism, aggression, and so on. But this doesn’t appear to be what’s going on here for the most part. Even if funded initiatives in “the science of forgiveness” could or do to some extent include worthwhile research, “Godly love” doesn’t seem to lend itself to similar scientific investigation.

    What appears to be going on at root is that concepts connoting or reminiscent of religion (and specifically Christianity)* have been strategically chosen as themes,** and to these the gloss of “science” has been applied to lend the initiatives, and by extension religion/Christianity, credibility. This rhetoric and the fact that so much of this scholarship is explicitly religious subtly reinforce the connection in people's minds between, say, love and wisdom on the one hand and religion/Christianity on the other. It’s at heart religious propaganda and distorts the meaning of science. That’s nothing new for Templeton, of course, but I wanted to draw attention to it because it’s such a transparently manipulative and schlocky strategy.

    *The idea being reinforced, needless to say, is that goods such as generosity and intellectual humility are inherently the province of religion.

    **The more suited to rightwing political-economic efforts, the better.

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