Most people in the religion game know of the Templeton Foundation—a philanthropic organization that funds research and scholarship that explore the crossroads of science and religion. I’ve worked for magazines, journals, and book publishers that have pursued Templeton grants in return for titles that address evolution/creation, genetic engineering, physics and metaphysics, free will/determinism, etc.
Well, Templeton has just upped the ante and handed philosopher John Fischer five million clams to pursue “aspects of immortality”:
Anecdotal reports of near-death experiences, out-of-body experiences and past lives are plentiful, but it is important to subject these reports to careful analysis, Fischer said. The Immortality Project will solicit research proposals from eminent scientists, philosophers and theologians whose work will be reviewed by respected leaders in their fields and published in academic and popular journals.
“We will be very careful in documenting near-death experiences and other phenomena, trying to figure out if these offer plausible glimpses of an afterlife or are biologically induced illusions,” Fischer said. “Our approach will be uncompromisingly scientifically rigorous. We’re not going to spend money to study alien-abduction reports. We will look at near-death experiences and try to find out what’s going on there — what is promising, what is nonsense, and what is scientifically debunked. We may find something important about our lives and our values, even if not glimpses into an afterlife.”
Fischer noted that while philosophers and theologians have pondered questions of immortality and life after death for millennia, scientific research into immortality and longevity are very recent. The Immortality Project will promote collaborative research between scientists, philosophers and theologians. A major goal will be to encourage interdisciplinary inquiry into the family of issues relating to immortality — and how these bear on the way we conceptualize our own (finite) lives.
One of the questions he hopes researchers will address is cultural variations in reports of near-death experiences. For example, the millions of Americans who have experienced the phenomenon consistently report a tunnel with a bright light at the end. In Japan, reports often find the individual tending a garden.
And what kind of results can we expect? 37% of people who believe in life after death drive Yugos. 67% of people who have had near-death experiences are 33% less likely to floss. Most Westerners record seeing a bright light at the end of a tunnel because they’ve spent an eternity waiting on line for the new iPad. While Japanese tend to see someone tending a garden during their near-death experience, Chinese see only other Chinese. Atheists never have intimations of hell, except when debating William Lane Craig, while Buddhists see mandalas made of rainbows and soy crisps. And, of course, fish oil will not contribute to immortality, but never dying ups your chances 16%.
I have got to get me some of this money. Do you know how many near-death experiences I’ve had? Anyone who lived through the Dinkins administration in New York City knows what I mean. And then there was the first Star Trek movie. Have you ever been on a British Airways flight somewhere over the Atlantic only to have the stewardii announce they’ve run out of coffee? Or tried the garlic parmesan buffalo wings at Pizza Hut? And don’t get me started about high school. Our motto was “I die daily,” and we meant it.
What a racket. If you’re going to cough up five million simoleons for a study of immortality, at least demand something more substantial than a pie chart and a few conferences where pointy heads will talk about whether you’ll still have dimples in heaven. I say, demand eternal life.
And whatever you do, ask for a receipt.