Templeton keeps up the woo

My science friends who criticize me for going after the John Templeton foundation too critically, saying to me, “Hey, they fund real science and not just woo,” should have a look at this 6-minute video (click on screenshot) called “Science and the Big Questions”.  It shows how reputable scientists like Brian Greene (physics) and Martin Nowak (evolutionary biology) have been coopted by Templeton to help sell their aims. (Greene’s World Science Festival is largely funded by Templeton, as is a huge chunk of Nowak’s research.)

Screen shot 2015-07-29 at 9.54.43 AM

Note the implicit references to theology, as in Greene’s statement that “We want the person who think about the world one way to come into contact with someone who thinks about the world perhaps a different way and see: are they really at odds? Are there points of contact? Are there ways they can meld together and yield a richer picture of the way reality is constructed—or not.” Now one could say that he’s not talking about theologians, and perhaps he isn’t, but then have a listen to the rest of the video.

Frankly, I’m not sure how anything other than science can tell us “how reality is constructed.”

Shortly after Greene appears, we see Martin Nowak, a Catholic, being more explicit: telling us why scientists should talk to theologians.

The whole tenor of the Templeton Foundation is to change its words without changing its aims. “God” and “theology” are largely disappearing in favor of “The Big Questions, ” “Meaning and Purpose,” “Other Perspectives,” “Spirituality” and “Getting Other Points of View.” But make no mistake: the intent is still to find a rapprochement between science and religion. If you read Faith versus Fact, you’ll see that Templeton continues to hand out millions of dollars to projects, even scientific ones, that involve input from theologians. Theologians have nothing to contribute to understanding our cosmos. Yes, they can tell us about the history of thought about God, but that’s not much difference than telling us the history of thought about Zeus, Wotan, or Santa.

Philosophers I have no problem with, for they can provide valuable input to some scientific research programs. But theologians? Those who study nonexistent beings? They have no place in any endeavor that aims to tell us about reality.

Line up, you impecunious scientists! For the small price of selling your soul, you have over a 50% chance of getting a big grant proposal funded (my emphasis). I almost hate saying this, as I can see the scientists saying, “Hey, Coyne has told us that we can get some big money!”

Some stats:

Founder: Sir John Templeton
Established in: 1987
Size of endowment: $3.34 billion (2013)
Location: West Conshohocken, a suburb of Philadelphia, PA
Number of employees: 82
First year Templeton Prize was given: 1973
Templeton Prize value: £1,100,000 sterling (approximately $1.7 million)
Number of living Templeton Prize Laureates: 19
Total grant payout and charitable activities: $966 million (1987-2013)
Total grant payments: $103 million (2013)
Number of grant requests: 360 (2014)
Number of grants approved: 188 (2014)
Average grant size: $1,021,000 (2014), with 35% under $250,000
Geographical range of grants: International
Year Templeton Press was established: 1997
Number of books published by the Templeton Press: 216 (to date)

And their mission:

The John Templeton Foundation serves as a philanthropic catalyst for discoveries relating to the Big Questions of human purpose and ultimate reality. We support research on subjects ranging from complexity, evolution, and infinity to creativity, forgiveness, love, and free will. We encourage civil, informed dialogue among scientists, philosophers, and theologians and between such experts and the public at large, for the purposes of definitional clarity and new insights.

Our vision is derived from the late Sir John Templeton’s optimism about the possibility of acquiring “new spiritual information” and from his commitment to rigorous scientific research and related scholarship. The Foundation’s motto, “How little we know, how eager to learn,” exemplifies our support for open-minded inquiry and our hope for advancing human progress through breakthrough discoveries.

The operative words here are “new spiritual information.”

65 Comments

  1. Randy Schenck
    Posted July 30, 2015 at 12:25 pm | Permalink

    Seems that everyone in the video is interested in the “Big Questions.” Maybe one question is How big is that grant going to be?

  2. Pete
    Posted July 30, 2015 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    “For the small price of selling your soul, you have over a 50% chance of getting a big grant proposal funded (my emphasis).”

    This gives new meaning to Pascal’s wager.

  3. Heather Hastie
    Posted July 30, 2015 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    I can’t see the video, but I think that’s my fault. I think the Foundation can give money to whomever it wants, and in a world of limited scientific funding, I understand why some scientists would take it. I admire those like Jerry who won’t have anything to do with them though.

    It’d be nice if more funding was available from sources that don’t have an agenda. I don’t know how you fix the situation. If even 1% of the money paid to sports and entertainment went to research, imagine what a difference it would make? Maybe that’s the answer – a 1% tax on ticket prices for a state or federal research fund?

    • jamese4556
      Posted July 30, 2015 at 3:41 pm | Permalink

      I don’t have a problem getting funding from a source that has an agenda, it just should be an agenda I agree with and want to be associated with.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted July 30, 2015 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

      This is my fantasy if I were to become a billionaire. I’d fund stuff I thought was cool.

      • Heather Hastie
        Posted July 30, 2015 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

        I have fantasies like that too. 🙂

  4. Posted July 30, 2015 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    I wonder if they would be interested in funding a historian like me. I could use some of that sweet, sweet Templeton grant money. I won’t even try to pretend I cannot be bought off but I promise I’m not cheap!

  5. eric
    Posted July 30, 2015 at 1:44 pm | Permalink

    I am actually kind of amazed at that combination of acceptance rate and grant size. They must have a number of pre-application filters to be able to get both those numbers in combination.

  6. Kevin
    Posted July 30, 2015 at 1:51 pm | Permalink

    Templeton needs to look at science fiction. They should study how it is written, how it has transformed and how it is believed to be true or possible.

    Do we believe in a space ship whose controls look like those found in a P-51? Do we still believe aliens will be dressed in spandex and have large breasts and extendable tongues? Do we believe in flying monkeys or Stay Puft Marshmallow Men?

    What are writers (novels/film) willing to write? What are they willing to think their audiences will believe? What Templeton will find is that science, not woo, is constraining the paradigm of fiction. This is an important dialogue going on between those who have thought about big questions and those who are fed something to think might be possible.

    Templeton can pay me for the study’s conclusion: Science appears to be the only way people know anything and those who know more science control those who do not.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted July 30, 2015 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

      And people envision the best future as one in which secular and Enlightenment values are the norm, as in Star Trek.

      • Scott Draper
        Posted July 30, 2015 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

        People that already possess secular and Enlightenment values envision a future like Star Trek. No one else does.

        I’m resigned to the fact that the future will look nothing like Star Trek.

  7. Sastra
    Posted July 30, 2015 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    Oh, so much slyness!

    Charles Townes:

    “Science is the attempt to understand how the universe works, how do things work. Religion is an attempt to understand what is the meaning and purpose of this world — the meaning and purpose of life, the meaning and purpose of the world. Well, if it has a meaning and a purpose, that must have something to do with how it works and how it’s built. So the two are broadly related and if we understand one, well, it may help us understand the other.”

    Notice here the sneaky implication that religion is answering a question which has already been answered. The “meaning and purpose of this world” is a given. Religion is only trying to understand it. Like science.

    Now here’s a great loaded question:

    Paul Davies:

    What is life? Is life a quirky, irrelevant aberration which occurred in just one insignificant corner of the cosmos? Or is it a deeply cosmic phenomenon and somehow part of the bigger scheme of things?

    Uh huh. And what are YOU, gentle reader? Are you a worthless piece of crap which the universe shit out for no reason, empty and meaningless … or are you a loveable and desirable human being who really matters? I’m just asking. No attempt here to influence your answer.

    No push one way or another — despite the fact that the Big Questions cycling and recycling on the webpage’s link in the background are:

    Are Miracles possible?
    Is there life after death?

    Let us explore the “possibilities,” shall we?

    And finally:

    Jeffrey Schloss:

    The unique contribution that Templeton Foundation makes is rolling the sleeves up and saying we don’t know how this conversation is going to turn out.

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Oh, my. *sniff*

    Ah, Jeffrey — that was brilliant. You’re such a wag, you. Comedy gold.

    • Heather Hastie
      Posted July 30, 2015 at 3:17 pm | Permalink

      And all that is so much what religion is all about – an appeal to the egomaniac inside us. We all like to think we’re important and special, and religion buttresses that idea.

      It always reminds me of the thing (I’ve forgotten it’s name and I can’t be bothered to look it up but someone else will know) that Zaphod Beeblebrox stepped into that shows you just how important you really are in the scheme of things, and everybody who’d ever entered lost their minds. He, of course, came out saying what a great guy he was because it wasn’t the real machine, it was one from an alternate reality in which he actually was important. Religion is the machine in the alternate reality of our minds.

      • John Harshman
        Posted July 30, 2015 at 3:44 pm | Permalink

        Total Perspective Vortex. You’re welcome.

        • Heather Hastie
          Posted July 30, 2015 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

          Thank you! 🙂

          • Stonyground
            Posted July 31, 2015 at 1:46 am | Permalink

            I seem to recall that there was a piece of cake involved.

            • John Scanlon, FCD
              Posted August 2, 2015 at 5:32 am | Permalink

              …and a really hot cup of tea, iirc.

    • Kevin
      Posted July 30, 2015 at 3:25 pm | Permalink

      How Charles, how is it going to help? I know your dead, but you never really believed you would die, so am asking you in the afterlife.

      Irritation is all I get when I read these fluffy, happy miracles of deep cosmic thrusts into the orifice of transcendence. It’s not dark in there is it? Can some one tell me?

      No really, I am still waiting Charles…for an answer? [Note: I would have still worked for you in a heartbeat; brilliant, but caught in a generation behind.]

    • darrelle
      Posted July 30, 2015 at 3:53 pm | Permalink

      This comment was a pure pleasure to read. Damn, you are STRIDENT!

    • peepuk
      Posted July 30, 2015 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

      “What is life? Is life a quirky, irrelevant aberration which occurred in just one insignificant corner of the cosmos?”

      As far as we can know this is true.

      “Are you a worthless piece of crap which the universe shit out for no reason, empty and meaningless”

      I’m 100% sure I am and I can prove it. If anyone would give me 10^6 dollars I certainly would become a believer and publicly refute atheism. I would sooth my conscience by assuming that everyone would do the same.

      But until then I find it appalling that people sell their soul for money. Integrity is much more worth than money.

    • Posted July 30, 2015 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

      “Science is the extraordinarily successful attempt to understand how the universe works, how do things work. Religion is an on-the-whole unsuccessful attempt to understand what is the meaning and purpose of this world…”

      There.

      /@

  8. Adam M.
    Posted July 30, 2015 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    Is it just me, or does Brian Greene look like he’s about to kow-tow (to Templeton, presumably) in the screenshot? ;-P

    • Rodrigo Küfner
      Posted July 30, 2015 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

      Haha. Looks to me like a proper “What the f- am I doing here” expression.

    • rickflick
      Posted July 30, 2015 at 9:03 pm | Permalink

      I thought he looked like a cat trying to retain it’s dignity while someone is waving a piece of raw fish on a string.
      Follow the money…follow the money…

  9. jamese4556
    Posted July 30, 2015 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    But theologians? Those who study nonexistent beings?

    But theologians? Those who study what other people think about nonexistent beings?

    FIFY.

  10. Rodrigo Küfner
    Posted July 30, 2015 at 4:05 pm | Permalink

    10k from that sweet sweet Templeton money and I’ll prove beyond any question from Scientist conspirators that Yahweh exists, loves you and will torture you with incandecent probes beyond the grave if you misbehave, reconciliating science and sadomasospirituality in the process. And I’ll do it using the metamathematology of epistemolinguistical ontogenics alone. Heck, make it 20k and I’ll prove it just through fierce wishful thinking.

    • peepuk
      Posted July 30, 2015 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

      You are cheap 🙂

      • Rodrigo Küfner
        Posted July 30, 2015 at 4:29 pm | Permalink

        I don’t think they would fund a no-name woo peddler like me if I charged them as much as a Chopra or a Lane Craig… But beware of the day when I become a rockstar con-man: I’ll wear EYEGLASS-STUDDED DIAMONDS IN MY FACE and mock Richard Dawkins EVERY NIGHT FOR FAILING TO APPEAR IN MY PORCH TO DEBATE ME, THE CHICKEN.

    • charlize
      Posted July 30, 2015 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

      You’re coming perilously close to a fantasy I’ve been harbouring for the longest time:

      That one of our leading lights starts cranking out Templeton caliber woo in a secret conspiracy calibrated (without arousing suspicion) to win the $1.7 million prize only to then turn around after having won to say “you’ve been punked!”.

      A sort of Sokal Hoax with a big payoff – draining some moolah off of these smarmy smug bastards (the chairman and president of the John Templeton Foundation was an evangelical christian republican who donated money to efforts opposing same-sex marriage).

      • TJR
        Posted July 31, 2015 at 4:52 am | Permalink

        Every time we get a new pope I’m hoping for exactly that to occur.

        There must be loads of people in the popish church who don’t believe any more, all it takes is for one of these to have the political skills to be made pope and the desire for his name to ring down the centuries.

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted August 1, 2015 at 12:03 am | Permalink

          They’ve had some pretty dodgy popes over the centuries, I believe. I wouldn’t be surprised if they numbered some – unconventional – beliefs among them. (But I have no actual knowledge, maybe someone more savvy can enlighten us?)

          cr

        • John Scanlon, FCD
          Posted August 2, 2015 at 5:37 am | Permalink

          – the desire to be famous as one of those popes who died after only a few days in office?

        • charlize
          Posted August 5, 2015 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

          That would be da bomb. Could you imagine a Matt Dillahunty type (once a priest now leading antitheist)pope?

          That would do to the RC Church what The K/T Extinction Event did to the dinosaurs. It would become known as the Vatican Implosion.

  11. EvolvedDutchie
    Posted July 30, 2015 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

    Woo is Templeton?

    • charlize
      Posted July 30, 2015 at 4:43 pm | Permalink

      Yes.

      • EvolvedDutchie
        Posted July 30, 2015 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

        It’s quite hard for a foreigner to make an english pun, I think I succeeded! 🙂

  12. Posted July 30, 2015 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    sub

  13. windy
    Posted July 30, 2015 at 4:48 pm | Permalink

    More woo in this week’s issue of Nature:

    http://www.nature.com/news/faith-and-science-can-find-common-ground-1.18083

    “Pope Francis is clearly a man on a mission to shake things up. Could the world’s leading Catholic help to bridge the divide between science and the Protestant views that dominate the religious ‘anti-science’ movement? I think that he could.”

    New Atheists also get a mention:
    “The same polarization is urged by many prominent popularizers of science and the ‘New Atheists’ — with Richard Dawkins as their figurehead. Is it so surprising, then, that in the United States especially, atheism is over-represented among scientists, and that science–faith polarization is increasingly reflected in political and cultural discourse?”

    • Posted July 30, 2015 at 5:15 pm | Permalink

      “nothing in the official teaching of Catholicism opposes evolution”

      Adam and Eve?

      Souls?

      Pfft.

      /@

      • EvolvedDutchie
        Posted July 30, 2015 at 6:24 pm | Permalink

        Popes say catholicism and evolution are compatible, yet they never show examples of their compatibility. But here we go again, those pesky atheists demanding “evidence”.

      • Posted July 31, 2015 at 11:51 am | Permalink

        As far as I can tell, “evolution” in official catholic teaching still is code for “except for human psychological faculties!”

        • Rodrigo Küfner
          Posted July 31, 2015 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

          Maybe they mean… Spiritual evolution(TM)?

  14. Andrikzen
    Posted July 30, 2015 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

    The purpose of religion is to keep humans at the center of the universe, at least some humans, and to tell us we are special, created in the image of God(s). The conclusions of science; we are not so central (outside of our human-verse) or significant – how is that compatible.

    Religion is the catharsis for our existential conundrum – a personal stake in an impersonal universe.

  15. Diana MacPherson
    Posted July 30, 2015 at 5:24 pm | Permalink

    Templeton makes me think of Hamlet who told us “….one may smile, and smile, and be a villain.”

    Also Mephistophiles.

  16. Andrikzen
    Posted July 30, 2015 at 5:30 pm | Permalink

    The purpose of most religions is to keep humans at the center of the universe (at least some humans) and special, created in the image of God(s). The conclusions of science, on the other hand; we are not so central nor are we so special (outside of our own conceit). How is that compatible?

    Religion is the catharsis for the extensional conundrum we wrestle with – each of us has a personal stake in an impersonal universe.

  17. harrync
    Posted July 30, 2015 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

    One of the strangest names in business is the “Franklin-Templeton Fund”. Franklin, who virtually disowned his son for going over to the British; Templeton, who disowned his country [and went over to the British] to save a few [hundred million] dollars in taxes. So remember, all those Templeton awards are funded in part by U.S. taxpayers, who had to make up the difference of what Templeton avoided by renouncing his citizenship. And I can’t get over the American conservative “patriots” who celebrate a man who renounced his American citizenship.

  18. Posted July 30, 2015 at 5:39 pm | Permalink

    meanwhile, in other news, why should islamists have all the fun?

    Religious assailant attacks Jerusalem Gay Pride parade, wounding six

    REUTERS — An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man stabbed and wounded six participants, two of them seriously, in the annual Gay Pride parade in Jerusalem on Thursday, with police saying the suspect was jailed for a similar attack 10 years ago.

    About 5,000 people celebrating the event were marching along an avenue when a man jumped into the crowd, apparently from a supermarket, and plunged a knife into some of the participants, witnesses said.

    … Police said they arrested the suspected perpetrator, an ultra-Orthodox man. Spokeswoman Luba Samri said he was the same assailant jailed for the stabbing of three marchers at a similar Jerusalem event in 2005. Israeli media said the suspect had been released from prison several weeks ago.

  19. keithcook 0r more
    Posted July 30, 2015 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

    Reconciling a fiction for a fact is an eternal labour, it is non gratifying to know that they have the funds to do exactly that.
    I take it they the science they do do.. makes contributions to our understanding of how things work but clearly their motivation is, as you say professor, plain and simple, WOO.

    • Rodrigo Küfner
      Posted July 31, 2015 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

      So, a $966 million business in Science Fiction?! Is Templeton a secret subsidiary of LucasFilms?

  20. Posted July 30, 2015 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

    Reblogged this on dyke writer and commented:
    Worse than funding nonesense – they are bending real science to their mandate of woo.

    http://dykewriter.wordpress.com/2015/04/26/dear-templeton-foundation-about-your-mission/

    https//dykewriter.wordpress.com/2015/02/13/dear-templeton-foundation-re-merging-religion-and-science/

    http://dykewriter.wordpress.com/2015/05/17/can-i-haz-the-million-dollars-now-please/

  21. windy
    Posted July 30, 2015 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

    “But theologians? Those who study nonexistent beings? They have no place in any endeavor that aims to tell us about reality.”

    Could they be trained to sort benthic samples? We could tell them it’s an exercise of penance.

  22. JonLynnHarvey
    Posted July 30, 2015 at 11:54 pm | Permalink

    If they are talking to theologians, will this include followers of Thomas Paine (who regarded “Age of Reason” as a work of theology), Vedanta philsophers, Sikhs??

    I know what “spiritual inspiration” is, but I don’t quite know what “spiritual information” is.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted July 31, 2015 at 1:05 am | Permalink

      I think ‘spiritual information’ can be summed up by a big zero. The empty set.

      cr

      • rickflick
        Posted July 31, 2015 at 5:43 am | Permalink

        I thought they were talking about “The Watchtower”. It answer’s big questions like – “After Jesus’ Resurrection, Was His Body Flesh or Spirit?”

  23. Mike
    Posted July 31, 2015 at 7:16 am | Permalink

    I don’t see any purpose debating with believers in Imaginary Friends to attempt to find a non-existence common ground, how can there be? We follow where the Evidence takes us , they attempt to find “evidence” that reinforces their belief in WOO. !

  24. Saul Sorrell-Till
    Posted July 31, 2015 at 7:49 am | Permalink

    I don’t even see why theologians should be considered authorities on the “history of thought about god”. I think Jerry’s being polite here. If I were interested in such a subject I’d go to a historian of religion, or some more specific branch of the subject. They’re less likely to be biased and more likely to be led by evidence rather than personal emotions.

    It’s a sign of religion’s deep-rooted influence and status that a position as utterly worthless as ‘theologian’ could be embedded worldwide in the structure of higher education. Step back for a second and consider what they’re actually doing, how much intellectual effort and talent is being wasted, how many other subjects are being sidelined because of the existence of theology departments, and it just seems a bit pathetic.

  25. Posted July 31, 2015 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    Greene has got to have a hefty chunk of $$ in the bank, so unless he’s recently acquired an expensive coke habit I don’t see him selling his soul to Templeton.
    It could be he’s making an extra effort to be ‘open-minded’ – to see what the smarter theologians have to say, with the understanding that a lot more people will be learning some science now.

    I can see all this effort to reconcile science and religion having a positive effect. When thoughtful religion-friendly people start to notice that after years of sincere effort the reconcile the 2 nothing worthwhile has come of it they might start to question the usefulness of religion

  26. Posted July 31, 2015 at 11:54 am | Permalink

    Templeton also deliberately endowed prizes larger than the Nobel, if I remember right.

    Prizes for work on infinity, eh? Can our friends who work on large cardinal axioms in set theory apply? 🙂

    • Saul Sorrell-Till
      Posted August 1, 2015 at 6:56 am | Permalink

      Probably. Anything that makes the public go ‘ooh that sounds serious and difficult – maybe I should start taking religion more seriously’ is prime Templeton focus. The more difficult and intellectually unapproachable the better.

  27. Gimmepaws
    Posted July 31, 2015 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    Yes, because we all know that science only deals with the small questions.

    Thank goodness that religion is around to help us cope with those “big questions”…

  28. Jeffrey Shallit
    Posted July 31, 2015 at 6:38 pm | Permalink

    “Philosophers I have no problem with, for they can provide valuable input to some scientific research programs.”

    Really? Has that ever happened in the history of the world?

    • peepuk
      Posted August 1, 2015 at 4:17 am | Permalink

      I believe Einstein did say something like that. It can give you new ideas.

      • Jeffrey Shallit
        Posted August 1, 2015 at 10:15 am | Permalink

        Let’s have a specific example, not some vague allusion to Einstein.

  29. Posted August 9, 2015 at 7:22 am | Permalink

    From outside the US I would sometimes get information about that wildly interesting place from Slate (and you could read Doonesbury there}. Recently they had a headline about Miracles v Rationality, and I read the first, nonsensical paragraph. It turns out that it’s “sponsored content” by the Templeton Foundation. I’m puzzled: do any other “scientific” organizations need to pay for advertising in this way?

  30. Posted August 9, 2015 at 7:23 am | Permalink

    From outside the US I would sometimes get information about that wildly interesting place from Slate (and you could read Doonesbury there}. Recently they had a headline about Miracles v Rationality, and I read the first, nonsensical paragraph. It turns out that it’s “sponsored content” by the Templeton Foundation. I’m puzzled: do any other “scientific” organizations need to pay for advertising in this way?


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