What on earth has got into the US National Academy of Sciences?

The John Templeton Foundation, that’s what.

And Richard Dawkins (among others) is furious over the fact that this body of faith-heads has managed to infiltrate the NAS, which has agreed to host the 2010 Templeton Prize this Thursday, March 25.

The Templeton Prize was established to recognise:

Exemplary achievement in discoveries regarding life’s spiritual dimension.

Its monetary value, currently £1,000,000, always exceeds that of the Nobel Prizes, which was the late Sir John Templeton’s way of underscoring his belief:

The late Sir John Templeton

That advances in the spiritual domain are no less important than those in other areas of human endeavour.

By agreeing to host the event, Dawkins said today, the NAS has “brought ignominy on itself”.

This is exactly the kind of thing Templeton is ceaselessly angling for – recognition among real scientists – and they 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 will not flirt with Templeton in future.

Dawkins also poked fun at the “fatuous” request in capital letters in the middle of the Foundation’s announcement of Thursday’s event:

If you guess the winner, please honour a strict embargo (you can’t tell anyone) until 11.00 am on Thursday March 25th 2010.

Snorted Dawkins:

Embargo a guess? It is one thing to put an embargo on privileged information, but embargo a GUESS? Well, I suppose that is just another indication of the way a faith-head’s mind works. Their whole world-view, after all, is founded on an inability to distinguish evidence from an ill-informed guess.

He added:

Well, let’s all guess away to our heart’s content. Which leading scientist has done the most to betray science in favour of his imaginary friend? You can rule out the people they’d privately like to honour (such as Intelligent Design “theorists”) because that would go against the official policy of courting respectability among scientists … In the early days they didn’t even make a pretence of finding a scientist at all: the 1982 winner was the notorious creationist Billy Graham!

Dawkins concluded by saying that the “smart money” is on Dr Francis Collins:

He’s the person who finds C S Lewis persuasive, and who saw the Trinity in a three-pronged frozen waterfall.

According Google Books, Francis Collins, head of the Human Genome Project:

Is one of the world’s leading scientists. He works at the cutting edge of the study of DNA, the code of life. Yet he is also a man of unshakable faith in God and scripture.

Collins is the author of The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief.