This review could similarly end on the mild, modest verdict that Mele has done his job and done it well. But there is a larger context worth considering.... The science may be of the highest quality, honestly and sincerely reported, but do remember that the message delivered was the message hoped for by the funder. This is not reporting a finding contrary to the goals of the fact-seekers.
So it is important to note that Mele’s research, as he scrupulously announces, and not in fine print, is supported by the Templeton Foundation. In fact, Mele is the director of a $4.4m project, “Free Will: Empirical and Philosophical Investigations,” funded by the Templeton Foundation, almost certainly the most munificent funding of any philosopher in history. The Templeton Foundation has a stated aim of asking and answering the “Big Questions,” and its programmes include both science and theology. In fact, yoking its support of science with its support of theology (and “individual freedom and free markets”) is the very core of its strategy. The Templeton Foundation supports, with no strings attached, a great deal of excellent science that is otherwise hard to fund. The Foundation supports theological and ideological explorations as well, and it uses the prestige it garners from its even-handed and generous support of non-ideological science to bolster the prestige of its ideological forays. It could easily divide itself into two (or three) foundations, with different names, and fund the same research—I know, because I challenged a Templeton director on this score and was told that they could indeed, but would not, do this.
Alfred Mele is in an unenviable position, and there is really nothing he can do about it. Was his decision to stay strictly neutral on the compatibilism issue a wise philosophical tactic, permitting him to tackle a more modest project, demonstrating the weakness of the scientific argument to date, or was it a case of simply postponing the more difficult issue: if, as science seems to show, our decision-making is not accomplished with the help of any quantum magic, do we still have a variety of free will that can support morality and responsibility? The Templeton Foundation insists that it is not anti-science, and demonstrates this with the bulk of its largesse, but it also has an invested interest in keeping science from subverting some of its ideological aspirations, and it just happens that Mele’s work fits handsomely with that goal. And that, as I persist in telling my friends in science whenever they raise the issue, is why I advise them not to get too close to Templeton.--Daniel C. Dennett. [HT Bence Nanay and Daily Nous.]
If JTF [=John Templeton Foundation--ES] likes neutrality about compatibilism, I’m their guy; I’ve pretty much had that market cornered for almost 20 years [before JFT entered the scene--ES].--Alfred Mele.
The two key claims in Dennett's piece are: (i) "it uses the prestige it garners from its even-handed and generous support of non-ideological science to bolster the prestige of its ideological forays;" (ii) "Alfred Mele is in an unenviable position, and there is really nothing he can do about it." Before I say more about (i) and (ii), both, that is (i-ii), are fully compatible with Al Mele's individual virtue and epistemic integrity.* It is important to recognize this because Mele's response misses the point. His integrity is not at stake. I don't know if we are dealing with a deliberate strategy (where Mele and his pro-JTF supporters will relentlessly 'stay on message' and continue to turn this issue into a question of personal integrity), or that Mele simply did not have time to think through what Dennett is saying and so -- this is a natural response if one feels attacked -- responded to defend his integrity. I do worry that by insisting he does not plan "to continue discussing this issue," Mele thinks there really is no more to what's at stake here.
Note to reader: if you are impatient to focus on (i)&(ii) skip the next three paragraphs.