The Debate on Martin Rees’ Templeton Prize

Last week, the theoretical astrophysicist Professor Martin Rees, former president of the Royal Society and current Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, accepted the Templeton Prize. Funded by a massive endowment from the Tennessee-born billionaire Sir John Marks Templeton (1912-2008), the prize is awarded, according to its website, to ‘a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works.’

That Rees’ acceptance of the prize has caused controversy should surprise few, given the number of highly opinionated and vocal participants in the current science-religion debate. Indeed one thing Rees was undoubtedly being rewarded for was his unusually conciliatory contribution to this often hostile conversation. But those who feel their hostility to be justified, particularly on the scientific side, regret what they perceive as the conversion of Rees into Continue reading “The Debate on Martin Rees’ Templeton Prize”

Evolutionary Origins of Religious Violence

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

In a recent interview for Philosopher’s Eye, John Teehan claims that one “driving concern in writing [his 2010 book In the Name of God: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Ethics and Violence] was to get a better sense of religious violence.” He points out that “the violence done in the name of God is not an aberration, it flows from the moral logic embedded within religion itself.” This moral logic centres on what Teehan calls “an in-group/out-group divide”. Religious systems of morality evolve to uphold standards of non-violent conduct within a select group. They fail to prohibit violence towards those outside the group, and often justify it.

But Teehan has relatively little to say about an extremely common and violent feature of religion: the ritual of human sacrifice. René Girard has studied this aspect of religion since his 1972 work Violence et le sacré (Violence and the Sacred). Girard’s explanations Continue reading “Evolutionary Origins of Religious Violence”