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.