Big rich new Templeton magazine

Rod Dreher, director of publications for the John Templeton Foundation, has stopped posting at Beliefnet to edit Templeton’s new online magazine, Big Questions, which has absorbed the older magazine In Character: A Journal of Everyday Virtues.  The first issue features pieces by many of the usual suspects, including Simon Conway Morris, David Sloan Wilson, Heather Wax, and, of course, Robert Wright.  Several of the authors have their research or their projects funded by Templeton.

You may be surprised to see Susan Jacoby among the authors. If you don’t know her, she wrote two books that were highly regarded by militant fundamentalist atheists (and many others): Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism and The Age of American Unreason. Don’t be surprised if in future months you see others like her writing for Big Questions.  Why? Well, as Rod Dreher pointed out when soliciting pieces for the site:

The future is not good. Word of warning to you aspiring freelance writers: don’t quit your day job. I’m very serious.

Happily for writers, the Web publication the John Templeton Foundation will soon launch, Big Questions Online, will be paying good money for essays. We’re interested in smart, insightful pieces on science, religion, markets, morals, and any combination of the four.

The more people like Jacoby publish on Templeton’s website, the more respectability accretes to their mission of reconciling science and superstition.  This is the big megaphone that Templeton hands to journalists, who get paid handsomely to shout.  Templeton is perfectly within its rights to do this, of course.  And—given the American notion that money talks—most wouldn’t even find it unfair. But I can say that it’s disgusting.


  1. Hempenstein
    Posted July 23, 2010 at 7:02 am | Permalink

    I think I’ll continue to hold my esteem with the likes of Alfred Nobel, Howard Hughes and Mary Lasker, for what they did with their fortunes.

  2. Wowbagger
    Posted July 23, 2010 at 7:05 am | Permalink

    I wonder if Templeton threw enough money at these people they’d be write about how we’ve always been at war with Eastasia?

    • steve oberski
      Posted July 23, 2010 at 12:22 pm | Permalink

      Double plus ungood. We have never been at war with Eastasia, they are our allies in the struggle against Oceania.

      The ability to simultaneously hold two contradictory beliefs is a prerequisite to a religious mind set.

      Interesting comparison to Doublethink, one could look at the current accommodationist versus “new atheist” conflict as an attempt to restrict the vocabulary and make it more difficult to express subversive ideas.

  3. Jill Haughie
    Posted July 23, 2010 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    No shikes. It ain’t right what the John Templeton is doing. Nor is it 100% politically or scientifically correct.
    However it dos have a secondary effect of generating dialogue, publicity, and response. This is better than silence across the divide. See arguments of Neo-Humanists, post theists, New Mysterians, Transhumanists,(Kurtz, McGinn, Kurzweil). Seek common ground and religion will fade into the backround.

    • BradW
      Posted July 23, 2010 at 9:20 am | Permalink

      History tells me not to count on religion going away any time soon. For that to happen, we have to do a lot better job of educating the general populace of the world

      Have you recently checked the % of graduating high school seniors in the USNA who are going on to college and DON’T choose math and/or science as their major?

  4. Ken Pidcock
    Posted July 23, 2010 at 8:48 am | Permalink

    Man, this is discouraging. I mean, sharp move and all that, but I confess to having been totally naïve in not anticipating the impact of Templeton money on the market for writing.

  5. daveau
    Posted July 23, 2010 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    Jacoby is one of my favorites. I doubt she’ll take a faithiest stance, but I’m disappointed that she lends her credibility to the project. I guess everyone has their price.

    • NewEnglandBob
      Posted July 23, 2010 at 9:16 am | Permalink

      We shall see the types of work that Jacoby and others like her produce for the ragazine. Maybe she can take swipes at them from the inside. I respect her writings and will wait and see.

    • Posted July 23, 2010 at 11:04 am | Permalink

      I don’t think that this is fair and I know that it is ad hominem. The project doesn’t need her credibility. The Templeton Foundation or this website will still keep rolling along with or without atheist posts. And it is entirely defensible to use its platform to get your message out. What about writing for On Faith at Kaplan Inc. (WaPo / Newsweek)? Is that wrong too?

      The wrongness comes into play when someone like Simon Conway Morris uses science as a justification or explanation for faith. As long as writers don’t do that, I say post away!

  6. Andy
    Posted July 23, 2010 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    I agree that sensible people should stop lending credibility to Templeton. I love Jacoby, but c’mon. Templeton just PAYS people to carry their message (or, to at least not contradict it too sharply).

    • Jeremy Stangroom
      Posted July 23, 2010 at 10:04 am | Permalink

      Sorry, but this is bollox. I was paid well to write an essay for “In Character”.

      There was absolutely no pressure, none, not one iota, not even a little bit, to tow any Templeton line.

      And frankly it’s a bit rich for people with well-paid tenured positions to pontificate about what sorts of publications freelance writers, many of whom will be struggling financially, should and should not write for. (And yes, yes, I realise things become complicated if we’re talking about something such as “Stormfront Weekly”.)

      • whyevolutionistrue
        Posted July 23, 2010 at 10:17 am | Permalink

        Have you possibly considered that, to a scientist who doesn’t want science polluted with superstition, the Templeton magazine is an insidious and corrupting venture?

        I didn’t think you had.

      • Ken Pidcock
        Posted July 23, 2010 at 10:50 am | Permalink

        I had never suspected that Templeton attempts to influence anybody’s writing, any more than drug companies attempt to influence anyone’s prescribing.

        They do kinda shape the conversation, though.

      • articulett
        Posted July 23, 2010 at 8:47 pm | Permalink

        No matter how you slice it, Templeton money is used to get the public to think that faith based thinking is on par with fact based science. It isn’t.

        Religious thinking is on par with superstition, but I doubt Templeton will pay those who say so.

    • Insightful Ape
      Posted July 23, 2010 at 11:30 am | Permalink

      I very much regret Jacoby doing this. But she is not the only one. Michael Shermer has done it. Even Victor Stenger admits in his new book “the New Atheism” that he has received funding from Templeton.
      I guess the main point is to maintain your perspective. It is a challenge, but it seems to be possible.

  7. Posted July 23, 2010 at 9:12 am | Permalink

    Values are provisional in the wake of high finance. The sad reality of the “free” marketplace of ideas.

    • BradW
      Posted July 23, 2010 at 9:26 am | Permalink

      Yeah! I think it also might say something about the talents and commitment(more accurately lack thereof) to principles on the part of the writers.

  8. ennui
    Posted July 23, 2010 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    I, for one, welcome our new Templeton media masters, and would like for them to address some really Big Questions:

    > What good is having a purpose, if it is someone else’s?
    > How does god know that it knows everything?
    > wtf–why so many species of beetles?
    > the burrito/microwave paradox thingie
    > Why doesn’t god just communicate directly, in an inter-subjectively verifiable way, its existence/presence/plan/rules?

    • BradW
      Posted July 23, 2010 at 9:29 am | Permalink


    • Posted July 23, 2010 at 10:08 am | Permalink

      > How did God even think of dirt? And the follow up statement: Erasable pens make my head hurt.

  9. Greg Peterson
    Posted July 23, 2010 at 10:29 am | Permalink

    I see your point of course, but Jacoby is such a profound force for good that it’s painful to see her criticized. Maybe another approach that would give an eff-you to Templeton would be to praise her to the skies for Trojanning that horse?

    • Posted July 23, 2010 at 10:57 am | Permalink

      But Jerry isn’t criticizing Jacoby, he’s criticizing Templeton.

    • sherkat
      Posted July 23, 2010 at 11:07 am | Permalink

      The problem is that she’s the horse, not the soldiers. This has always been Templeton’s M.O. Throw a bone to legitimate scholars or journalists, then stack the deck. It gives legitimacy to the crackpots, and usually it also tempers the opinions of those funded by these foundations. “I got money from them, so what could be wrong.” Yeah.

      • Posted July 23, 2010 at 11:35 am | Permalink

        I know. I’m just saying, the villain in Jerry’s post is Templeton, not Jacoby.

  10. Charles Jones
    Posted July 23, 2010 at 10:46 am | Permalink

    Two posts in a row with the phrase ‘militant fundamentalist atheists’. I really don’t like this label, even if used ironically, just because it is unhelpfully inaccurate and misleading. I much prefer ‘rationalist’ or just ‘atheist’.

  11. Chuck
    Posted July 23, 2010 at 12:35 pm | Permalink

    There’s an even more fundamental (and obvious) manipulation going on here, the title “Big Questions Online”.

    If a Foundation publishes stuff under Big Questions Online, they must be BIG THOUGHTS, right? Especially if they PAY you, too. So you have already fallen under the same seduction that lets your editor Dreher elevate his random, addled ADD associations (let’s see…a spatula plus farming plus a rocketship plus God…oh, WOW!) into epochal BIG QUESTIONS ONLINE, naturally to be set for the big screen in a gigantic, 3-D stone font by Terry Gilliam.

    You’re the cutting edge, now, baby, you’re a pure wave front of BIG ORIGINAL THINKING, like a gamma ray burst washing over civilization.

    Good luck after that self-editing out any of your naturally pompous flights of fancy or your last call, napkin-scrawled hypotheses, you’re within the event horizon of BIG THINKING now. And, pssst, you’ve already decided what you are for the night, you’re only still quibbling over the price of your next trick.

  12. Gingerbaker
    Posted July 23, 2010 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    Here is a Big Question – just how ethical is it to accept money to bolster the religious outreach efforts of a man who played a major part in bankrolling Prop 8?

  13. pazuzu
    Posted July 23, 2010 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    Yes, yes, for a while you still can.

  14. Posted July 24, 2010 at 5:39 am | Permalink

    Sampling the Big Articles.

    Well the one by Roger Scruton on Mohammed and morality and usury is a real jaw-dropper. (Not in a good way.)

    The BQ combination is stupid – science religion markets morals.

    • ennui
      Posted July 24, 2010 at 7:34 am | Permalink

      I spent a couple of hours clicking through the site; it is a rather foul-tasting cobbler.

  15. Posted July 24, 2010 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

    I take Jerry’s point. But as I’m sure Jerry realises, most writers struggle to make any money at all from their work. We’re not all Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens, with large book contracts.

    My own experience as a freelance writer is that I am flooded with people who’d like me to write or speak for free (or on a basis where I am actually out of pocket … sometimes by quite a lot … because there’s travel involved and I’m not fully reimbursed for my real expenses). I usually do this, for a range of reasons (from selfish ones to do with self-promotion to altruistic ones to do with helping out, or getting the message out, even at my own expense).

    It’s very difficult to work as as a freelance writer without actually running at a loss, even harder to make a small profit, and almost impossible to make enough to live on. In my case, I think there might have been one year (around 2002/2003) in which I succeeded in making enough money from my writing to live on very frugally, though even then it was not enough to cover the expenses of my (relatively modest) middle-class lifestyle.

    So what are we supposed to do? As freelance writers, are we supposed to ignore a market that will actually pay us properly for our work? That’s all Templeton is doing in this case.

    I probably will ignore this particular market, though I don’t make any guarantees. If approached by them to put my side of the story, I’d have to think about it.

    I did once write a piece for a Templeton-funded journal when approached – in that case, I wasn’t paid anything, but I had the chance to dissent from the emerging Templeton line on a topic. It was before all the recent sensitivity about Templeton, and I’d hesitate now, but what if they wanted me to put my side of the story on say the “New Atheism” – and paid me properly for it?

    I’d hesitate, and maybe I wouldn’t do it. I do worry about writing for Templeton, for the reason that Jerry gives. But until “our” side puts up significant money to support the work of people like me – and as I’ve said before, it’s not so much me personally, since I can get by through having built up some assets from an earlier career – we’re in trouble.

    I think this is what really needs to be addressed. How do we get people who are on the side of secularism and reason and science, and who have large assets, to put up a decent amount of money to support our own foundations, etc., so that the work of writers and intellectuals on our side can be properly supported? If that doesn’t happen, the writers on “our” side, who need to eat just like everyone else, have no choice but to sell our work to whoever will pay us.

    The issue isn’t that Templeton is the bad guy for what it’s doing in this case, i.e. paying its contributors properly. That’s to its credit. The elephant in the room here is that “our” side is so lousy at it. It depends on its people being prepared to work for very little or at a loss.

    That’s not the fault of anyone in particular – e.g., I’m sure that the CFI would do far more if it actually had the money it needs. But the problem needs to be fixed somehow. I think that addressing this should be a priority.

  16. Steve Jones
    Posted July 25, 2010 at 9:02 am | Permalink

    two of the times “our” side have been asked to put their hands in their pockets
    – the atheist bus campaign
    – the Haiti secular charity appeal
    I think everyone has been surprised at the response.

    Churches never seem be shy to ask for money at every opportunity.

    You could have a WEIT good cause (some big,some small) that changes each month or so , that readers could give a spare few $ or £ to.

    I think there is money around but perhaps more spread around instead of a few huge benefactors.

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