Templeton claws its way to respectability

The 1.5-million-dollar Templeton Prize that the John Templeton Foundation awarded Francisco Ayala was a fantastic investment.  For one thing, it’s bought the Foundation an article by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee in the new issue of Science, “Latest prize bolsters Templeton’s shift to mainstream.” The title alone shows you the JTF’s long-term strategy.

Bhattacharjee describes how Templeton used to support the Discovery Institute and its intelligent-design activities. (They gave grants, for example to William Dembski and Guillermo Gonzalez for work on ID.) Subsequently, however, Templeton “disavowed support for the ID movement, allaying the fears of many critics.”

Templeton pulled their support of the DI, of course, because they finally realized that while the DI did adhere to Templeton’s mission of uniting science and faith, supporting that Institute would ultimately cost Templeton all credibility with mainstream scientists.  If Templeton had any interest in supporting real science, they never would have funded the Discovery Institute in the first place.  The withdrawing of their support was a tactical rather than a principled decision.

Templeton is good at tactical decisions: that’s why they pay their management team big bucks.  And now, after years of giving Templeton Prizes to religious figures (like Billy Graham and Mother Teresa) or woo-laden theologian/philosophers (like John Polkinghorne and Charles Taylor), they’ve finally realized that the direct road to credibility is this: give prizes to mainstream scientists who believe that both science and faith are valid ways of apprehending truth, and that each has something to contribute to the other. Ayala was a brilliant choice.

But their mission remains the conflation of science with faith.  Dan Dennett, quoted in the article, recognizes this:

“They are using the prestige and authority of science to improve the prestige and credibility of theology,” says Daniel Dennett, a philosopher at Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. In his opinion, Templeton-funded discussions between scientists and religious figures do for religion what debates between ID proponents and evolutionary biologists would do for ID: “They create the perception that scientists and theologians are academic co-equals, which they are not.”

Physicist Steven Weinberg (surprisingly, in view of his past writings on religion) is not as critical:

“I am not enthusiastic about the message they seem to be selling to the public—that science and religion are not incompatible; I think there is real tension between the two,” says Steven Weinberg, a Nobel Prize winning physicist at the University of Texas, Austin, who has been an outspoken critic of religion. “But for an organization with a message, they are pretty good at not being intrusive in the activities they fund. I don’t wish them well, but I don’t think they are particularly insidious or dangerous.”

Dennett objected to Templeton’s award of several million dollars to Notre Dame for a “Science of Generosity” initiative, studying, among other things, “how empathy affects charitable donation” and “how generosity spreads through social networks.”  Dennett’s take: “What they are trying to do is paint certain topics with a holy glow.”

Bhattacharjee also quotes molecular biologist Matthew Gibson, who got a Templeton grant to study cell division:

Gibson says he decided to accept the foundation’s money “after poking around and finding nothing fishy.” Now a researcher at the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City, Missouri, Gibson admits that he may have been influenced by need. “At the time, I don’t think anybody else would have funded what we were doing.”

How many scientists aren‘t influenced by need? We’re always chasing scarce bucks to fund our research.  Science have the need; Templeton has the bucks.  That’s how they buy respectability.

I’ll stop carping at Templeton when they stop pretending that science and religion have something to say to each other beyond this:  there is no empirical evidence for the tenets of religion.


  1. Posted March 31, 2010 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    Templeton “disavowed support for the ID movement, allaying the fears of many critics.” because, as Charles Harper explains, They’re political:

    : “They’re political — that for us is problematic,” Mr. Harper said. While Discovery has “always claimed to be focused on the science,” he added, “what I see is much more focused on public policy, on public persuasion, on educational advocacy and so forth.”

    At least the DiscoTute is clearly political. The Templeton reach politics through religion (and $$$).

  2. Posted March 31, 2010 at 7:31 am | Permalink

    Mmmm… if Templeton tries too hard to be “mainstream,” they may become too insignificant to be worth carping on. The uber-liberal theologies they’re getting tied up with don’t make anybody happy and aren’t going to promote their goals in the long run. Their desire to use the NAS building was worth complaining about, but I’d ignore them as much as possible.

    • Artikcat
      Posted March 31, 2010 at 9:06 am | Permalink

      second. And if you apply for money disclose it:-)

  3. Jonn Mero
    Posted March 31, 2010 at 10:45 am | Permalink

    A matter of being ‘poor’ with dignity and integrity, or selling yourself like any prostitute?
    Somehow, the latter always seems to catch up with them, almost Faustian.

    • Artikcat
      Posted March 31, 2010 at 10:53 am | Permalink

      whos them? us?

  4. Neil
    Posted March 31, 2010 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    I won’t complain about the direction Templeton is moving. Maybe next year Dawkins will get the Templeton prize.

2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. [...] diplomatically skip over this point. And yes, Ayala indirectly links the organization with a group which once funded the Discovery Institute until they saw the Institute’s politics as a liabili…. Ironically, a fair share of the pseudosciences the NCSE fought in the Kitzmiller v. Dover case [...]

  2. [...] while blithely ignoring any and all replies from the very people he attacks,and cozy up to the Discovery Institute’s former sugar daddy, Templeton for a decent chunk of change. I’d say this would go over like a lead balloon, but [...]

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