Templeton uses its wealth to debase philosophy

For a while I thought the Templeton Foundation was changing its stripes and going more mainstream science, quietly shelving its penchant for woo and religion/science compatibility on the grounds of embarrassment.  Well, that doesn’t seem to be the case.  They are changing the names of their programs and awards (the Templeton Prize, for example, was called the “Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion from 1972-1981,  the “Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities” from 1981-2008, and is now apparently called simply “The Templeton Prize. And it’s 1.1 million pounds, by the way, deliberately designed to exceed a Nobel Prize).  The discussions about religion have now become, as the article below notes, “Big Questions.”

I know I bang on about Templeton and its prizes and huge grants, but I see the Templeton Foundation as the #1 force in America devoted to watering down science with religion, thereby confusing the two and eroding habits of rational thinking. Now, a new piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education, “The Templeton Effect” by Nathan Schneider, shows how this corruption is extending into philosophy.

This is all happening because academic philosophers aren’t very well funded—not nearly as well as we scientists—and so have to scrabble for a few measly dollars to fund their research. But Templeton has millions to give to projects in philosophy (their endowment is over 2.3 billion dollars), and so many philosophers line up at the trough, ready to swill. The thing is, Templeton directs its money to projects that involve philosophy and religion (theologians are often involved in these big grants), and so they slant the field toward the kind of research Templeton wants, rather than what philosophers want to work on.  This isn’t true of science. Although some granting agencies do have “problem-oriented” special notices (usually for only a short time), the major funding organizations in the U.S., the National Science Foundation and National Institutes of Health, aim at funding good science of all types, and don’t have an agenda. (The NIH does look for health-related research, but also funds basic research that may deal with human health or evolution.  I was funded by the NIH for my entire career.)

To see how bad this is, and to dispel the myth that Templeton simply wants to fund good research, read the Chronicle piece. I’ll put down some excerpts, but there’s no substitute for reading the piece in its entirety (it’s free online):

One of the areas of Templeton’s interest is free will, and Templeton just gave out a 4.4 million dollar grant for that work to Alfred R. Mele at Florida State University (and some collaborators) for free-will studies.  Eddy Nahmias, the subject of my post yesterday, and a strong advocate of compatibilism, is funded by that grant. (All indented quotes are from the Chronicle.)

But in the past few years, Templeton has been stepping up the number of its six- and seven-figure awards for people in the discipline to study what the foundation calls the “Big Questions.” These “Big Questions” are the kinds of out-there topics that make philosophy seem bold and exciting to a college freshman but can feel thoroughly desiccated after a few years in graduate school: free will, the universe, evil, hope, consciousness.

What about the religion part? (My emphasis in the following):

Controversy, though, always follows money, especially when it’s Templeton money. Partisans of Richard Dawkins and his fellow New Atheists have long despised the foundation, interpreting its interest in dialogue between science and religion as an attempt to buy undeserved credibility for the latter at the cost of the former. Adds Brian Leiter, “It’s clearly more of a windfall for philosophers who have some sort of vague religious angle to what they’re doing.” Yet he also points out that Mele is an exception. His foregoing work on free will expressed scant interest in the religious implications—which makes it all the more noticeable that his Templeton project has a component devoted to theology.

You can see the theology component of Mele’s grant at Templeton’s “Big Questions in Free Will” webpage: there are at least five projects devoted to theology:

Jesse Couenhoven, “Praiseworthy Lack of Control”

W. Matthews Grant, “Divine Agency and Human Freedom: A Thomistic Approach”

David Hunt, “Freedom and Foreknowledge: Divine and Human Agency without Alternative Possibilities.”

Brian Leftow, “Divine Freedom.”

Hugh McCann, “Free Will for Theists: The Theology of Freedom.”

This is religious philosophy, the worst sort of philosophy, and why is it in there? Given Mele’s lack of interest, I suspect that Templeton insisted on it.  It’s all part of the legacy of investor John Templeton, who envisioned his foundation as a way to marry science and religion:

As Templeton’s net worth grew into the billions, [John Templeton] turned his attention to a new kind of investment. He had always lived by an eclectic and homemade brand of spirituality, blending Presbyterian respectability with the New Thought-influenced mysticism of his mother, and those with the pie-chart evidentialism of the boardroom. He was also enamored of science. “What might we learn,” he wondered, “if we applied the same intensity of research energy to the pursuit of spiritual information that has been devoted to scientific inquiry?” The terms of his eclectic vocabulary—”spiritual information,” “humility theology”—framed the charter for the John Templeton Foundation, formally established in 1987. The materialism of modern society cast its “maximum pessimism” on the possibilities of spirit.

And of course free will is part of that program:

Follow these contours, and Templeton’s recent projects—even those led by people outside the Christian-philosophy fold—seem to follow a certain apologetic logic. Free will, for instance, is a critical feature of Plantinga’s celebrated defense against the problem of evil; although Al Mele does not partake in religious speculation himself, he is a respected opponent of the brazen neuroscientists, like Michael S. Gazzaniga, who announce free will’s nonexistence. Cosmology, too, is considered one of the most promising avenues lately in arguments for God’s existence, particularly thanks to evidence that basic features of the universe may be “fine-tuned” to provide for the possibility of life. Barry Loewer isn’t particularly interested in arguing for a divine fine-tuner, but his efforts might indirectly lend aid to someone who is. The recent $5-million grant to study immortality went to a philosopher who doesn’t believe in the afterlife, but the very fact that so much money is going to study it might give more credence to those who do.

Templeton cannot, of course, mandate the research findings of its scholars (one of the studies it funded, for example, showed no effect of intercessory prayer in curing heart disease), but it clearly steers money towards projects it likes, and rewards those who produce the desired results with additional grant money. And everyone knows that: to stay on the Templeton gravy train, you have to get the results that it likes.

A prime example of this is Elaine Ecklund, who, after getting a Templeton grant to study the religious beliefs of American scientists, repeatedly interpreted her data—in a way I consider disingenuous and unscholarly—to show that those scientists are more religion-friendly than everyone thinks. She thereby won another Templeton grant.  I suspect that will happen with the free-will stuff, too. Eddy Nahmias, for example, who wrote a compatibilist piece in the New York Times that I mentioned yesterday, won a $3000 Templeton essay prize for those views.

Here are a few more egregious examples of what Templeton funds:

It’s true that one tends to hear more Templeton-branded talk of “Big Questions”—spoken as if capitalized, and without irony—on the lips of philosophers with religious commitments, at religious institutions. When I met Christian Miller two years ago at a Society of Christian Philosophers conference at Wake Forest, the historically Baptist university where he teaches, he was still glowing from news of the three-year, $3.7-million Templeton grant he’d just received. Its purpose is “to promote significant progress in the scholarly investigation of character,” and $2-million of it will go to empirical psychological research, alongside accompanying investigations in philosophy and theology.

Miller wasn’t the only Templeton beneficiary in the room. Also at the Wake Forest conference was Samuel Newlands, a University of Notre Dame philosopher who had just begun spending the $1.8-million he’d received to investigate the problem of evil—that is, the problem of whether worldly pain and suffering can coexist with a perfectly good God. The project includes both textual considerations centered on Gottfried Leibniz and a biological subgrant for research on animal pain. “Historically, the best philosophers that we all think of as the greats were all deeply immersed in the ongoing scientific inquiries of their time,” Newlands explains, “and we think that’s a noble endeavor to continue.”

With the project on evil slated to end next year, Newlands is starting to develop another big project, oppositely enough, about hope and optimism. Receiving funds from Templeton is part of his plan; for undertakings like this, there’s really no other choice.

And for those of you who admire the Templeton Foundation for funding the World Science Festival, think about this:

Much as Notre Dame served as the headquarters of the Christian-philosophy renaissance ushered in by Alvin Plantinga, a 104-year-old evangelical institution on the outskirts of Los Angeles called Biola University has cleared the way for one of the ren­aissance’s most spirited and ambitious outgrowths. Biola supports the Evangelical Philosophical Society, a more doctrinally austere cousin of the Society of Christian Philosophers, and it houses the country’s largest philosophy graduate program, which is devoted to sending Christian students with its master’s degrees to leading Ph.D. programs. For a few weeks each year, Biola is graced by an intensive course by William Lane Craig, the master of public “God debates,” who famously trounced Christopher Hitchens in 2009.

This summer Biola received the largest foundation grant in its history—a $3-million Templeton award to support a new Center for Christian Thought, an interdisciplinary forum led by three philosophy professors. One of them, Thomas Crisp, was a star student of Plantinga’s at Notre Dame, and he first met Michael Murray during a 2010 Society of Christian Philosophers good-will expedition to a symposium in Iran. A year later, Crisp and the others in the center’s “leadership triumvirate” were hard at work on a proposal for the foundation, and he sees Templeton and Biola as an ideal match.

“The Christian community needs to think well about the Big Questions,” says Crisp. “Especially in the evangelical world, we haven’t done a great job of providing resources for our scholars to work collaboratively on these questions.” He hopes that the center will elevate the level of discussion throughout Biola’s curriculum, as well as in the churches they plan to reach through public events. The fellows that the center brings to the campus will vary from year to year, according to a sequence of themes like neuroscience, spiritual formation, and civil discourse. But Crisp expects that philosophers are there to stay.

Biola University, of course, was formerly the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, and is now a college that is profoundly anti-evolution; according to Wikipedia:

Biola holds to the key doctrine of Biblical inerrancy, the idea that the original writings of the Bible were without error with regard to both theological and non-theological matters. The institution officially holds to the teaching of premillennialdispensationalism,and requires its faculty members to be in accord with this theological and cultural perspective. As a final guarantee of strict adherence to its theological worldview, the university requires every faculty member, when first hired and again upon application for tenure, to submit their understanding of and complete agreement with each item of the doctrinal and teaching statements to the Talbot School of Theology for evaluation.

You can see Biola’s doctrinal statement here; it’s scary.  Really, Templeton recipients, do you want to be associated with this kind of stuff? Because even if you think you’re doing unsullied pure science, you’re still installed in Templeton’s stable of horses right beside the theological thoroughbreds.  Those scientists who take Templeton money will protest, as one did yesterday, that their research is not being used to support an agenda, but, given Templeton’s history they’re being disingenuous. For the notion that Templeton doesn’t direct its money in certain spiritual-friendly ways is belied by this bit from the Chronicle article (my emphasis):

Barry Loewer, a philosopher at Rutgers University at New Brunswick, isn’t likely to turn up at a Society of Christian Philosophers meeting with Newlands and Miller. “I myself have no interest in philosophy of religion and am not a religious person,” he says. For years, Loewer has been working with a group of philosophers, mathematicians, and physicists in the New York area, meeting and collaborating on papers—nothing very expensive. But about five years ago a colleague at Rutgers, Dean W. Zimmerman, told the group about the Templeton Foundation and suggested that they apply for a grant. Zimmerman, a top Christian philosopher, had already served on Templeton’s advisory board and participated in many foundation-sponsored activities. [JAC: Templeton has an incestuous relationship between its directors and its grantees; they’re often the same people!]

The idea at first was to do a project about quantum mechanics and the foundations of physics, which was an interest of Loewer’s group. Templeton had other ideas. The foundation pointed the group in the direction of cosmology, with the prospect of a much bigger grant, and the researchers jumped at the idea. They realized that cosmology encompassed the questions of time and physical laws that had concerned them all along.

What a realization! Thanks, Templeton! And, sure enough:

The nearly $1-million grant his team received from Templeton last year coincided with another, slightly larger one called “Establishing the Philosophy of Cosmology,” which was awarded to scholars at the University of Oxford. Despite the change of plans at Templeton’s behest, Loewer stresses, “They’ve been really helpful, and totally noncoercive in terms of any agenda that they might have. I had my eyes open for it.”

What? The “change of plans at Templeton’s behest,” with the plum of a larger grant dangled before them if they did change their plans—this was “noncoercive”?

It’s through the offer of money to conflate science and religion that Templeton corrupts science.  There’s nothing either I or you can do about this, for they are rich and independent and we are just small voices in a wilderness of grant-hungry philosophers.  In academia, money talks.

Nevertheless, I decry any scientist, sociologist, or philosopher who takes money from the Templeton Foundation. Theologians, of course, are already beyond the pale.


  1. Posted September 5, 2012 at 6:42 am | Permalink

    I do have sympathy for grant recipients. I don’t doubt they will conduct their studies rigorously, so Templeton won’t affect that, and from reports they’re not so daft to interfere anyway. Plus, any money that goes to scientists and philosophers leaves a little less for theologians, which can’t be a bad thing. I suppose it could be argued (I think the article hints at this) that participation from scientists and philosophers should be encouraged to dilute the effect of Templeton’s agenda.

    But because they are such a large player in academia they do necessarily skew what is studied in line with their agenda.

    I think the only thing to do is to ensure everyone is aware of the skew, so some compensation measures can be considered.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted September 5, 2012 at 6:44 am | Permalink

      In other words, more of a distraction than an corruption??

    • raven
      Posted September 5, 2012 at 6:54 am | Permalink

      I do have sympathy for grant recipients.

      We do all have to eat and pay bills. And it is no secret that the economy is weak and good jobs much less any jobs are hard to find.

      I suppose there are worse ways to earn money. They could be proving that you can cut taxes, increase spending, and still balance the federal budget or finding weapons of mass destruction in some small country with lots of oil.

  2. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted September 5, 2012 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    Both Robert Price and Jerry DeWitt have talked about stages of unbelief, Price using Kubler-Ross’s stages of dying (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance) as a model. These guys are doing intense bargaining.

    “Nay, if our wits run the wild-goose chase, I am done; for thou hast more of the wild goose in one of thy wits than, I am sure, I have in my whole five.” – Mercutio in “Romeo and Juliet” Act 2, scene 4
    and origin of phrase “wild-goose chase”

    • Posted September 5, 2012 at 9:53 am | Permalink

      Ironically, Elisabeth fell hook, line, and sinker for Jay Barham (founder of the Church of the Facet of the Divinity). Apparently, she had difficulty gettting past the first stage.

      The hooks of unreason run deep…

  3. raven
    Posted September 5, 2012 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    Much as Notre Dame served as the headquarters of the Christian-philosophy renaissance ushered in by Alvin Plantinga,..

    Is this true?

    AFAICT, it vastly overstates the case.

    Plantinga is an idiot and just wasted a bunch of dead trees and some ink splicing logical fallacies from the past together with a dash of weak sophistry. Anyone with a bit of time and minor amounts of education can pick it apart in a few minutes.

    If this is what passes for a xian philosophy rennaissance, the atheists are safe forever.

    Among Plantinga’s more cuckoo and dishonest moves, everything I’ve seen starts with the assumption that god exists. He uses this “fact” to prove that…god exists. It’s just Presuppositionalism thinly disguised.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted September 5, 2012 at 6:52 am | Permalink

      I’m surprised if it’s disguised. He’s a Calvinist. Wouldn’t he then flat-out admit it’s presuppositionalism? Well, he calls it “Reformed epistomology”. Maybe that sounds superficially better.

      I’m amazed at the awards Plantinga has achieved. Wikipedia reports “In 2006, the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Philosophy of Religion renamed its Distinguished Scholar Fellowship as the Alvin Plantinga Fellowship”.

      Maybe the Renaissance of Christian philosophy can’t be centered on Thomism, because the Aristotelian model of causality has been so discredited by modern physics. However, the Calvinist philosophy Plantinga advocates relies far more heavily on simply asserting things rather than actual argumentation!!

    • Posted September 6, 2012 at 2:40 am | Permalink

      “…everything I’ve seen starts with the assumption that god exists. He uses this “fact” to prove that…god exists.”

      Just as the Bible requires a presupposed God to reveal it, so that it can then be used as evidence for the existence of God.

      Even Jesus understands this fallacy, but only when applying to Islam:

  4. raven
    Posted September 5, 2012 at 6:49 am | Permalink

    Well it isn’t that bad.

    Thanks to all the hacks and morons in philosophy, it is a somewhat disreputable field that no one pays much attention to.

    There are some philosophers doing important and interesting work to be sure, valuable people and world resources that I admire.

    Too bad they are a minority of philosophers.

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted September 5, 2012 at 6:54 am | Permalink

      There are a lot of really fascinating and fantastic philosophers out there. The problem is that there is no agreement on methodology in the field.

      • onkelbob
        Posted September 5, 2012 at 9:04 am | Permalink

        There are a lot of really fascinating and fantastic philosophers out there.

        When I taught writing I urged students to avoid using “terrible” because it connotes something that inspires terror. Likewise I advised them to avoid “fantastic” because its roots are in fantasy. While I believe you wished to use it in the vernacular (meaning good) I see it as its true meaning; and I wholeheartedly agree, I also believe much of philosophy is rooted in fantasy.

    • Michael Johnson
      Posted September 7, 2012 at 8:39 am | Permalink

      [citation needed]

      I mean, really, if I went around saying “thanks to all the hacks and morons in molecular biology, it is a somewhat disreputable field”, you’d expect some evidence, and a list of a handful of people wouldn’t do it. Why is it different in philosophy?

      Take the three best philosophy departments in America– NYU, Rutgers, and Princeton. Which of the philosophers there do you think are morons and hacks?

      There is a selection effect on what you read about philosophy, if you’re not a philosopher. Likely you only hear about those philosophers that enter into debates about, for instance, science and religion. And then you get your Graylings and Dennetts and Sobers and also your Midgleys and Plantingas and Craigs. And maybe the people “selected” on one side of this debate are more moronic and hackish than the people on the other side.

      But what evidence do you have that philosophers in general are moronic and hackish? Who are you talking about? Which philosophers? What are your reasons?

  5. aspidoscelis
    Posted September 5, 2012 at 7:05 am | Permalink

    “The thing is, Templeton directs its money to projects that involve philosophy and religion (theologians are often involved in these big grants), and so they slant the field toward the kind of research Templeton wants, rather than what philosophers want to work on. This isn’t true of science.”

    You’re joking, right? Science funding is heavily fad- and buzzword-driven. Try getting anything in taxonomy or systematics funded right now that doesn’t have words like “high-throughput” and “genomics” written in the grant proposal. Morphological is essentially non-fundable, and more traditional genetic techniques are rapidly headed that way; they just aren’t “sexy” any more. Examples could be multiplied as necessary. As someone who’s pursued “sexy” research for most or all of your career, you may not have dealt with this kind of nonsense too much firsthand, but trust me, it’s happening.

    The difference, I suppose, is that the control of funding in science is directed more at promoting currently popular methods and questions, rather than promoting a particular -answer-. That is an improvement, but it is hardly a removal of the stranglehold that funding decisions have on what research is done.

    • Posted September 5, 2012 at 9:38 am | Permalink

      “The difference, I suppose, is that the control of funding in science is directed more at promoting currently popular methods and questions, rather than promoting a particular -answer-.”

      Well said. This has been happening in geology for a generation. If you aren’t using the right sales pitch and buzzwords, you don’t get funding. There has been some return to basic geology in recent years (after two decades adrift in supertoy la-la land) but it’s still in service to piecemeal projects that are designed around funding options.

    • couchloc
      Posted September 6, 2012 at 6:14 am | Permalink

      Actually, this is the great elephant in the room that Jerrybhas failed to consider. Am I really to think that there are not questionable economic influences to be found in certain areas of scientific research? I’m not suggesting this is happening everywhere, but we all know there are economic and business interests affecting certain kinds of scientific research. How many more articles do I have to read about how, surprise, surprise, some pharmaceutical company has either written up or surreptitiously promoted a scientist’s research showing that some drug it sells is more beneficial than it is. Or some medical researcher is found to be a paid member of the board of some company, and his “research” happens to confirm what the company wants to hear. There are surely good examples of scientific research being “slanted” in the way Jerry describes in various areas of science. This doesn’t mean the slanting is OK, but it does suggest that it is not simply philosophers and Templeton recipients who are subject to these types of forces. Indeed, Jerry should probably be grateful there’s nobody out there reporting on these problems in science with a blog because the results wouldn’t be pretty. The fact that there may be some slanting in cases is not inconsistent with lots of good slant-free work being done.

  6. Nicolas Perrault
    Posted September 5, 2012 at 7:09 am | Permalink

    The tobacco industry was to cancer “researchers” what the Templeton Foundation is to “philosophers”.

    • Michael Johnson
      Posted September 7, 2012 at 8:55 am | Permalink

      Put your money where your mouth is. Go read a paper by the cosmology group– Tim Maudlin or Barry Loewer or David Albert– and then come back here and argue with a straight face that the Templeton foundation has turned them into the equivalent of cancer apologists for the tobacco industry. I think the anti-Templeton bandwagon has turned you into someone with no critical thinking skills.

  7. Posted September 5, 2012 at 7:21 am | Permalink

    Big dumb questions seems to be Templeton’s specialty.

    Of course, the facts that silly thing like immortality is being “studied” is used as validation to policy makers and in the media. It must be a serious scholarly debate if it has a big research project going.

    If it was a really dumb idea it wouldn’t have a multimillion dollar research project, would it!? How could it be a fraud if all these serious academics and scientists are going to conferences on it — congressman?

    Clever and evil tactics.

    Sadly, philosophy is such a dead area of study it eagerly embraces the money for credibility scam.

    The original John Templeton was a master con artist. He was hyper-active in promoting the standard ideologies needed to get money from people to invest. US, evangelical, Christianity was part of his old fashioned boosterism – wish and it will make it true.

    His foundation and son are just spending money to prop up silly ideas that have been and are currently extremely profitable to the businesses named Templeton.

  8. Posted September 5, 2012 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    While we’re on the topic, it’s worth noting that the Templeton Foundation gets its wealth in no small part from Franklin Templeton Investments, one of the largest mutual fund corporations on the planet.

    Any all y’all with retirement funds in the Templeton Growth Fund, the Mutual Growth Fund, the Mutual Discovery Fund, the Franklin Income Fund, or any of hundreds of other funds run by the company are helping to pay for this bullshit.

    And, even if you’re not directly invested in any Templeton-run funds, there’s a pretty good chance that whatever you are invested in is giving money to Templeton.

    This would be all y’all’s cue to review your finances….



  9. Posted September 5, 2012 at 8:16 am | Permalink

    The influence of Templeton on philosophy was a subject discussed at some length by philosophers here:


    If you read through the comments, you will see a number of projects very far removed, indeed, from Templeton’s religious proseltyzing aims.

    It’s also a mistake, historically and conceptually, to associate compatibilism about free will with religion; it is incomptabilism conjoined with the idea that the human will can operate outside the causal order that is the typical position of the religiously inpired. Compatibilism has been the dominant view among atheist philosophers since Hume.

    • Sastra
      Posted September 5, 2012 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

      It seems to me that all that Templeton Foundation requires is that the recipients of its grants all sound like they’re going in a direction which refutes “materialistic atheism.” It doesn’t matter if any of the studies actually DO contradict what materialistic atheists believe. All that matters is that whatever they come up with on free will, cooperation, cosmology, forgiveness, aesthetics — whatever — is something religious people can use as fodder against the straw-man version of materialistic atheism which spiritual people carry around in their heads.

      “Look — hope helps people cope! Take THAT, Richard Dawkins!”

      Watching God stretch back and forth — now it’s a personal spirit, now it’s a principle of creativity, now it’s the fact that people are caring, then back again — is both fun and frustrating.

      • Posted September 5, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

        It seems more simple — using pretend trappings of “science” — but not evidence, never evidence — to support magical thinking: mind over matter/wish and it will be true.

        Something along the lines of — My father made a billion dollars thinking good thoughts, believing in Jesus, selling simple boosterism and we’ll prove it was no fraud. Wishing can make it so. It’s the wisdom of the ages.

        All that is standard salesmanship and normal behavior — but so is calling a lie to false statements. If a salesman makes a statement you know to be true what do you do?

        Templeton is just a (very) big and rich sales organization. But all sales claims can be challenged.

        Mind over matter? OK, where’s the proof?

    • okcrounders
      Posted September 5, 2012 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

      Sastra and Brain for Business purport to reply to Brian Leiter’s comment. In actual fact, they fail to address anything that Leiter wrote. Indeed, it seems that Sastra and Brain for Business didn’t even bother to visit Leiter’s website, wherein many philosophers – i.e. precisely the professionals who are the subject of this thread – are discussing the Templeton Foundation’s impact on the discipline. If they had, then they would’ve read some very insightful comments by Ned Block and others about the very issue they’re complaining about. But, I suppose its always easier to beg questions than think seriously about contentious issues.

    • okcrounders
      Posted September 5, 2012 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

      Sastra and Brain for Business purport to reply to Brian Leiter’s comment. In actual fact, they fail to address anything that Leiter wrote. Indeed, it seems that Sastra and Brain for Business didn’t even bother to visit Leiter’s website, wherein many philosophers – i.e. precisely the professionals who are the subject of this thread – are discussing the Templeton Foundation’s impact on the discipline. If they had, then they would’ve read some very insightful comments by Ned Block and others about the very issue they’re complaining about. But, I suppose its always easier to beg questions than think seriously about contentious issues.

      – An amused philosopher

    • ayatollahso
      Posted September 12, 2012 at 11:33 am | Permalink

      Brian Leiter is correct. Not only is compatibilism unpopular with religionists, but Plantinga’s “free will defense” against the problem of evil, which Jerry mentioned, is explicitly premised on incompatibilism. Once Templeton figures out that compatibilists like Eddy Nahmias offer people a way to keep the free will baby while jettisoning the religious bathwater, they will be rudely surprised.

      As for whether skeptics should accept Templeton funds, I’m thinking having some foxes in that henhouse couldn’t be all bad.

  10. Bob Carlson
    Posted September 5, 2012 at 8:29 am | Permalink

    …I see the Templeton Foundation as the #1 force in America devoted to watering down science with religion, thereby confusing the two and eroding habits of rational thinking.

    And I suppose that Templeton may serve as a role model to other wealthy entrepreneurs with a religious outlook to do fund similar projects. According to Avalos, 2007, a Harvard Divinity School professorship has been founded by Tom’s of Maine entrepreneur Richard T. Watson. It’s name is the Richard T. Watson Professorship of Science and Religion and “is intended to advance research and thinking on the contemporary interrelations of science and religion via multidisciplinary initiatives.” Avalos pointed out that Templeton also had its hooks into Harvard Divinity School, where it provided a grant “to study the origins of altruistic behavior through the lenses of biology, theology, and ethics.” Avalos went on to discuss religionism at the University of Chicago and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

  11. Roo
    Posted September 5, 2012 at 8:33 am | Permalink

    What a sad example of good (I’ll charitably assume) intentions gone awry. In the case of the tobacco industry or other well funded special interest lobbying groups, the underlying intent seems to be good old fashioned greed and narcissism. I don’t know that the Templeton Foundation, however, has much to gain from their misguided efforts, so I assume it’s a case of the road to hell being paved with good intentions. So much time, money, and effort invested in these projects that could, in the same (again, I’ll assume) charitable spirit be spent somewhere really productive.

    What’s disappointing is that they seem to be trending towards more dogmatic lines of thinking. There’s plenty of room for Brian Greene type work in there – look at how crazy and wild the universe is, who the heck knows what we might be or what might be possible? Wonder, possibility, and hope for a Big Crazy Story don’t have to end with giving up one dogmatic version of religion or an ancient doctrine. If they left it at that I’d be fine – it seems as if there’s a real dedication in starting with those points, though, and then tying in dogma about free will, evil, and the like. (Edit: Leaving what I wrote above, but a quick Google search shows me that Brian Greene, Templeton, and, in fact, Jerry Coyne, have already crossed paths. Le sigh.)

    • Posted September 5, 2012 at 8:41 am | Permalink

      Sorry to disappoint your charitable instincts, but Templeton has long been in bed with the Koch Brothers.

      There’s very, very big money to be had in controlling the religious views of a population.


      • Roo
        Posted September 5, 2012 at 8:59 am | Permalink

        Dang. 😦 Thanks Ben.

    • Posted September 5, 2012 at 9:32 am | Permalink

      Here’s another problem with contemporary philosophers and intellectuals — for the most part they are absent from important public discussions of policy, science and governance.

      There are far more philosophers and public intellectuals defending the supernatural, magical beliefs and ideologies defending the status quo than doing any critical thinking on real world matters.

      We criticize the media for pandering to magical thinking and pop beliefs — but that’s their job. The job description of intellectuals and academics includes critical thinking. This they have abandoned — to keep their jobs, we assume.

      Scientists are the only ones in societies doing ANY consistent critical thinking anymore.

      Clearly, the agenda of the Templeton group of enterprises is to silence and throttle critical thinking where ever it can be found by paying for voices to dilute the serious and important debates.

      Even University of Chicago takes money to lie: support unfactual claims and ideas.

      Bless his heart and thank Buddha for him, but when Our Jerry, a bone fide specialist biologist, has to create one of the main, and very few, serious sites for critical discussions of this matters (in the richest country in the world and richest in the history of the world!)– we’re in trubble. Big trubble.

      But brain science has taught us that the dumness of the human mind is endless.

      One would think that an august enterprise like the Chronicle for Higher Education would be aggressively sponsoring open and energetic evidence-based discussions of the serious problems of our day. Instead they pander to magical thinking.

      You would think the Chronicle, and others would ask — is there a single item of fact that the millions spent by Templeton has uncovered.

      Martin Reese got over $1mm — how did that further human knowledge and society?


      • Roo
        Posted September 5, 2012 at 9:42 am | Permalink

        “Clearly, the agenda of the Templeton group of enterprises is to silence and throttle critical thinking where ever it can be found by paying for voices to dilute the serious and important debates.”

        Yeah, I really hope this is not the case. I don’t know if I hold that most people are good at heart, but I at least believe everyone who isn’t a total sociopath has a lot of ‘good’ intentions in there somewhere (competing, of course, with many ‘selfish’ ones – quotes because this is a website covering evolution, after all.) I suspect groups like this are a mixture of self-serving motives glossed over by self-deception, and some genuine (misguided) ‘good’ intentions. I’m not positive about that position, of course, but oftentimes I can’t keep myself from giving others the benefit of the doubt (which is not to say they shouldn’t be opposed, of course.)

        • Posted September 5, 2012 at 10:01 am | Permalink

          Hoping everyone is good is just lazy thinking.

          Studies of “altruism” and lying suggest that whatever boosts reproductive fitness is the default.

          Also diversity of opinions and transparency seem to lead to optimal decisions. The problem with outsized money, as Templeton demonstrates, is that it distorts the discussion in favor of a very narrow POV.

          There are other group processes at work.

          Of course, Templeton is and will further, degrade exactly the people and professions it hopes to promote. There is a self-harming paradox in the “loudest voice” group behavior — long-term.

          All organisms are selfish. Templeton just has a lot more resources to be selfish with.

          • Roo
            Posted September 5, 2012 at 10:36 am | Permalink

            Yeah… I think the point I’m trying to make here is that I’m not willing to attribute intentions to them and say I “know” this is why they’ve decided to do something. They may be trying to quash critical thinking in order to make more money. They may be misguided in thinking that Jesus himself wants them to go on a holy crusade of love to save the world. It may be a bit of both. Theory of mind only takes you so far before you have to shrug and acknowledge that it’s a best guess, and I try to err on the side of condemning harmful ideas without getting too trigger happy in attributing harmful intentions to the purveyor. I think that leads to dehumanization.

            • Posted September 5, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Permalink

              Intentions are unknowable and irrelevant and likely a false concept. We can just look at the behavior.

              Templeton’s behaviors, mainly giving people money to support anti-fact-based or supernatural ideas, is corrosive in many ways.

              Are there ways that would help Templeton as a business, the argument can be made yes.

              • Roo
                Posted September 5, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

                “Intentions are unknowable and irrelevant and likely a false concept. We can just look at the behavior.”

                I do not concur, but many people far smarter than I am would agree with you completely. At any rate, thanks, I always enjoy picking apart a difference in point of views until I can see the fundamental place where we diverge. I didn’t mean to imply that I disagreed with the bulk of what you wrote above, by the way – great post.

              • Posted September 5, 2012 at 6:40 pm | Permalink

                Well research suggest strong, individual principled argument, with opposing views, is the best way to optimal ideas.

                Have at it, I say.

  12. Posted September 5, 2012 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Simpleton: It’s like a private equity firm for white noise.

  13. pmh
    Posted September 5, 2012 at 11:40 am | Permalink

    Michael McPhee: Can you make money from philosophy?
    Max Dugan: Yeah, if you have the right one.

    (Niel Simon, Max Dugan Returns)

  14. sailor1031
    Posted September 5, 2012 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    The Big Questions eh? “free will, the universe, evil, hope, consciousness”. Philosophy has been wrestling with these questions for centuries, in some cases millenia, and has achieved precisely nothing. No answers at all!

    I think there’s just too much faking of thought experiments going on coupled with poor peer review practices. Or maybe an educated philosopher’s unsupported guess is just no better than anyone else’s. Time to admit philosophy is a failure and get rid of all those Philosophy Faculties.

    And no, I don’t think Philosophy necessarily teaches you to think…..Science teaches you to think, Mathematics teaches you to think.

    • Posted September 5, 2012 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

      How about big questions like food sustainability or clean water, etc.? Maybe those are too “big.”

      Of course, no one can pretend there are metaphysical answers to those questions.

    • okcrounders
      Posted September 5, 2012 at 3:31 pm | Permalink

      Uh…how exactly does one fake a thought experiment? Say you have a particular thought experiment in mind when in fact you don’t? Or, you ‘perform’ a thought experiment in your head and deliberately report the wrong results?

      – An amused philosopher

      • Posted September 6, 2012 at 5:28 am | Permalink

        By being unable (for whatever reason) to see through all the consequences of what is claimed. For example Thagard (and myself) have pointed out that Putnam’s “Twin Earth” is nomologically incoherent and results (if rendered consistent with itself) in an incredible science fiction scenario.

        Subsequently one shouldn’t trust one’s “intuitions” until this is more full worked out.

        • Michael Johnson
          Posted September 7, 2012 at 9:10 am | Permalink

          Where did Putnam claim it was nomologically possible that XYZ exists? And why does that matter to his main point that (in his idiom) intension doesn’t determine extension?

          You say Putnam couldn’t see through the consequences of the thought experiment, whereas the consensus view is that you don’t understand what’s at issue.

          • Posted September 8, 2012 at 5:20 am | Permalink

            It doesn’t have to be nomologically possible by itself – but when you have its *role* be inconsistent within the same thought experiment (it cannot be that XYZ falls from the sky as rain and that creatures anything like us exist, since we need hydrogen dioxide for condensation reactions in our bodies), why be confident of one’s conclusion about anything? Ex falso, and all that. How do you *draw* conclusions from an inconsistent (or at least one requiring “miracles”) situation? At the very least, with great difficulty. (BTW, the reference to Thagard is in his recent _The Cognitive Science of Science_.)

  15. Ken Pidcock
    Posted September 5, 2012 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    Suspicions about some secret religious agenda tend to lessen the more widely the foundation’s substantial sums begin to spread.

    Yeah, that.

  16. Posted September 5, 2012 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    Here’s the thing, Templeton is funding crackpot ideas. I have nothing against crackpot ideas, the human brain seem dominated by them. Even us free thinkers have our own cherished ones. I will always strenuously object, however, to pretending otherwise.

    “Crackpot theory, a pseudoscientific theory — Pseudoscience is a claim, belief, or practice which is presented as scientific, but does not adhere to a valid scientific method, lacks supporting evidence or plausibility, cannot be reliably tested, or otherwise lacks scientific status.

    Pseudoscience is often characterized by the use of vague, exaggerated or unprovable claims, an over-reliance on confirmation rather than rigorous attempts at refutation, a lack of openness to evaluation by other experts, and a general absence of systematic processes to rationally develop theories.

    A field, practice, or body of knowledge can reasonably be called pseudoscientific when it is presented as consistent with the norms of scientific research, but it demonstrably fails to meet these norms. Science is also distinguishable from revelation, theology, or spirituality in that it offers insight into the physical world obtained by empirical research and testing. Commonly held beliefs in popular science may not meet the criteria of science. “Pop” science may blur the divide between science and pseudoscience among the general public, and may also involve science fiction.

    Pseudoscientific beliefs are widespread, even among public school science teachers and newspaper reporters.

    The demarcation problem between science and pseudoscience has ethical political implications, as well as philosphical and scientific issues. Differentiating science from pseudoscience has practical implications in the case of health care, expert testimony, environmental policies, and science education. Distinguishing scientific facts and theories from pseudoscientific beliefs such as those found in astrology, medical quackery, and occult beliefs combined with scientific concepts, is part of science education and scientific literacy.

    The term “pseudoscience” is often considered inherently pejorative, because it suggests something is being inaccurately or even deceptively portrayed as science.”

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