Twin Towers and Ivory Towers

By Ayres, Ed | World Watch, July-August 2004 | Go to article overview

Twin Towers and Ivory Towers

Ayres, Ed, World Watch

Who won the Templeton Prize this year, and why? I didn't have a clue. Winning a "Templeton" doesn't have quite the same ring as winning a "Nobel" or "Pulitzer." So, I listened with curiosity in March as National Public Radio announced that a prize of 795,000 pounds ($1.4 million) had just been given to George F.R. Ellis, a physicist who specializes in "relativity theory and its applications to cosmology"--the study of the origin and evolution of the universe.

Right away, I felt a vague irritation. It's fascinating to hear scientists talk about things that happened billions of years ago and perhaps billions of light-years away, but right now we have a billion people living in poverty and a million or so other species headed for extinction. What could George Ellis have done that deserved such rich reward in a field like that, at a time like this?

The Templeton Prize, said the announcement, is awarded each spring by the Canyon Institute for Advanced Studies, of Phoenix, Arizona, "for progress toward research or discoveries about spiritual realities." That seemed suspiciously vague, and I wondered what a hard scientist could possibly have to say about spiritual realities. A few seconds later I was listening to Ellis himself, who was explaining to the NPR reporter what he'd been up to.

Historically, he noted, science and religion have had little to say to each other. But many serious thinkers now believe that with the planet in growing crisis, it's essential that we achieve clearer communications between the disparate patterns of thinking and belief on which conflicting human movements are based. Ellis had been studying the pitfalls of reductionism, a pattern of thinking that is fairly basic to how most people in the Western world tend to analyze--and try to cope with--this crisis.

Progressives have often criticized reductionist thinking as a kind of unexamined belief that even the most complex and mysterious of life's phenomena--mental illness, passion, addiction, hate--can ultimately be explained in terms of molecular or atomic phenomena. It's the kind of thinking that underpins the recent drift of mental health treatment, for example, from traditional "talk" therapy to increasing focus on splicing genes and prescribing psychopharmacological drugs. What interested Ellis was the inference that if such "reduction" is really possible in all things, then even the conscious choices we think we are making are really determined by biochemical activity at a microscopic level. In his view, this inference is dangerously mistaken. He does not believe that humans have no free will. We are, he suggests, much more than the sum of all our molecules. We have responses to "the big picture" that cannot be predicted just by knowing the positions of all the individual pixels that make up that picture.

As I listened, I realized that far from being irrelevant to the day-to-day problems we face, Ellis's view could explain a lot about why the world seems to have become so destabilized in so many ways all at once--whether in the incidence of weather catastrophes, terrorist attacks, corporate collapses, cultural conflicts, or epidemilological crises.

Around the same time that the Templeton Prize was announced, for example, an alarming series of news stories was coming to a head in Washington, D.C. In many of the city's houses, the faucet water had been found to contain high levels of lead. Children who ingest lead (most typically from the dust of lead-based paint on the walls of aging houses or apartments) are known to be at increased risk of damage to the brain, nervous system, and kidneys. The government had mandated that when the water in a house has a lead level over 15 parts per billion (ppb), the pipes must be replaced. In Washington, 157 houses had over 300 ppb. One house registered 1,250 ppb. Moreover, reporters found that some of the responsible officials had known about the elevated lead problem for many months, but nothing had been done to warn residents. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Twin Towers and Ivory Towers


Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25,

    New feature

    It is estimated that 1 in 10 people have dyslexia, and in an effort to make Questia easier to use for those people, we have added a new choice of font to the Reader. That font is called OpenDyslexic, and has been designed to help with some of the symptoms of dyslexia. For more information on this font, please visit

    To use OpenDyslexic, choose it from the Typeface list in Font settings.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search


    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.