Another big Templeton grant for philosophy (religious philosophy, of course), and a note on Templeton’s corruption of the field

A certain philosopher who could be mistaken for Santa Claus called my attention to this article in the Daily Nous, a website devoted to the profession of philosophy—and by “profession” I mean “job”. Below you can read yesterday’s announcement of a big new John Templeton Foundation (JTF) grant by clicking on the screenshot, but I’ve put the entire announcement below (it’s also announced on Leiter Reports):

Luis Oliveira, assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Houston, has received $1.3 million to lead an international project on the epistemology of religion.

The central question of the project is “What arguments are there for believing in God or for following a specific religious tradition?”, according to the University of Houston.

The project aims to “connect Latin American philosophers with colleagues from the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom to stimulate academic interest and research in the epistemology of religion.”

The funding for the project is from the John Templeton Foundation. Funds will support summer seminars in Latin America, research scholarships, academic prizes, and a conference at  the University of Houston. You can learn more about the project here.

There’s a bit more from the University of Houston’s exultant announcement about the Big Questions, and about how Templeton’s dosh will be used.

Summer workshops planned over the next three years in Brazil, Argentina and Chile will connect Latin American philosophers with colleagues from the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom to stimulate academic interest and research in the epistemology of religion. Fellowships will bring Latin American scholars to U.S. universities in order to further strengthen research ties between the two groups.

The project is religiously neutral. This means the work won’t be limited to one religious tradition and will include study of the reasons for atheism and agnosticism, Oliveira said. Scholars of every persuasion will be involved.

He said the timing is right. “In the last 15 years, discussions of religion in the public sphere have become very acrimonious and not very philosophical at all,” he said. “There has been too much one-sided conviction. The atheists think religious people are ignoring the scientific evidence. The religious people think atheists are ignoring obvious aspects of the human experience. Very few acknowledge the force of the points made from the other side.”

While the Daily Nous announcement doesn’t say anything about nonbelief, the UH announcement says the project is “religiously neutral”. And by that they mean “the work won’t be limited to one religious tradition and will include study of the reasons for atheism and agnosticism.”  Well, I’m not heartened by the note that other religious traditions will be involved (that’s only to be expected), and not much heartened by their claim that the work “will include the study of the reasons for atheism and agnosticism.” How about “NO EVIDENCE, PEOPLE!”?  Can I have some dollars now? Can I go to Argentina and talk about atheism?

As for the main question, “What arguments are there for believing in God or a specific religious tradition?”, don’t we know the answer now? There have been almost no new arguments for God’s existence since medieval times, with only gussied-up emendations proffered by the likes of Alvin Plantinga and William Lane Craig.  And as for “what arguments are there for believing in a specific religious tradition?”, the answer is “WHERE YOU WERE BORN AND WHO BRAINWASHED YOU”. Can I have some dollars now and maybe a trip to Chile?

And there’s this:

The atheists think religious people are ignoring the scientific evidence. The religious people think atheists are ignoring obvious aspects of the human experience. Very few acknowledge the force of the points made from the other side.

Well, the empirical (scientific) evidence for God is exactly as copious as the scientific evidence for Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster. That is, no evidence. The “data”, as Vic Stenger used to say, consist of the absence of evidence for God when there should be evidence. 

The other scientific evidence consists of empirical refutation of religious claims, including the claim that prayer works and that there was an Exodus, Adam and Eve, the de novo creation of life, and so on. Liberal religion accepts these refutations while still clinging to claims that are harder to refute (or, as in the case of theologians like David Bentley Hart, lapsing into arcane and flabby theobabble), while conservative faith, like evangelical Christianity and Islam, won’t be swayed by scientific evidence.

And “obvious aspects of the human experience” as evidence for God? How does that work? As far as I can see, this isn’t evidence but revelation and wish-thinking: “I think there is a God because I feel/want to believe that there is one.”  I don’t acknowledge the “force of these points made from the other side” because that force is equivalent to the force of drag applied by a single barnacle affixed to a humpback whale.

In sum, I see absolutely nothing that this expensive study will add to the sum of human knowledge, though it will contribute to the sump of futile human endeavor.

It appears that philosophers are still divided on the issue of whether it’s okay to take Templeton money. When Googling philosophy and Templeton, I came upon a pair of articles by Dan Dannett and Alfred Mele from 2014. In a generally positive review in Prospect Magazine of Mele’s book Free: Why Science Hasn’t Disproved Free Will, Dennett brings up Templeton at the end (click on the screenshot below):

Dan:

This review could similarly end on the mild, modest verdict that Mele has done his job and done it well. But there is a larger context worth considering. Suppose you were reviewing a scientific report that drew the conclusion that a diet without fat was in fact unhealthy, and that butter and cream and even bacon in moderation were good for you, and suppose further that the science was impeccable, carefully conducted and rigorously argued. Good news! Yes, but the author acknowledges in fine print that the research was financed by a million dollar grant from the Foundation for the Advancement of Bacon. We would be entitled—obliged—to keep that fact in the limelight. The science may be of the highest quality, honestly and sincerely reported, but do remember that the message delivered was the message hoped for by the funder. This is not reporting a finding contrary to the goals of the fact-seekers.

So it is important to note that Mele’s research, as he scrupulously announces, and not in fine print, is supported by the Templeton Foundation. In fact, Mele is the director of a $4.4m project, “Free Will: Empirical and Philosophical Investigations,” funded by the Templeton Foundation, almost certainly the most munificent funding of any philosopher in history. The Templeton Foundation has a stated aim of asking and answering the “Big Questions,” and its programmes include both science and theology. In fact, yoking its support of science with its support of theology (and “individual freedom and free markets”) is the very core of its strategy. The Templeton Foundation supports, with no strings attached, a great deal of excellent science that is otherwise hard to fund. The Foundation supports theological and ideological explorations as well, and it uses the prestige it garners from its even-handed and generous support of non-ideological science to bolster the prestige of its ideological forays. It could easily divide itself into two (or three) foundations, with different names, and fund the same research—I know, because I challenged a Templeton director on this score and was told that they could indeed, but would not, do this.

Alfred Mele is in an unenviable position, and there is really nothing he can do about it. Was his decision to stay strictly neutral on the compatibilism issue a wise philosophical tactic, permitting him to tackle a more modest project, demonstrating the weakness of the scientific argument to date, or was it a case of simply postponing the more difficult issue: if, as science seems to show, our decision-making is not accomplished with the help of any quantum magic, do we still have a variety of free will that can support morality and responsibility? The Templeton Foundation insists that it is not anti-science, and demonstrates this with the bulk of its largesse, but it also has an invested interest in keeping science from subverting some of its ideological aspirations, and it just happens that Mele’s work fits handsomely with that goal. And that, as I persist in telling my friends in science whenever they raise the issue, is why I advise them not to get too close to Templeton.

Mele responded briefly at the Daily Nous, saying that he’s never felt pressure from Templeton and was working on free will long before the JTF gave him money (he admits, though that he got about $9 million from Templeton!)

An excerpt from Mele:

As I’ve said in print, I enjoyed working with JTF on the Big Questions in Free Will (BQFW) project and I never felt pressured to do anything that seemed wrong to me. I have friends there now — good, hard-working people who love philosophy and want to showcase what philosophy can do. But, of course, Dan has a right to express his opinions about JTF.

. . . I don’t take Dan’s remarks personally. I know his views on JTF. We had a friendly discussion of them in London a couple of years ago while I was in the midst of directing the BQFW project. It’s safe to say that we disagree about what JTF is up to. His views about JTF come through clearly in his article, and writing about Free was an occasion for him to express them. Tying those views to me by way of the agnosticism about compatibilism in Free is ineffective, for the reason that I mentioned. If JTF likes neutrality about compatibilism, I’m their guy; I’ve pretty much had that market cornered for almost 20 years.

But the issue is not whether the JTF pressures its awardees to come up with a specific set of findings. The issue is whether the JTF distorts philosophy (and science) by funding projects in areas that are ideologically and philosophically compatible with Templeton’s mission, which is to show that science can help answer the “Big Questions” about God and spirituality. Projects defending free will and attacking its detractors fit nicely into that schema.  As Dan notes, the JTF funds projects that are more purely scientific to help buttress the religion side of its agenda, so the Scientific Horses are put in a stable with the Woo Horses, in hopes that they will breed and produce the kind of wooish hybrids that Templeton loves.

The $1.3 million grant above is in one of the religion stalls of the Templeton stable, which makes it pretty much a waste of money. Yes, philosophers like Mele may indeed take JTF money without feeling pressure, but they don’t realize (or want to ignore) how the JTF slants the philosophical playing field by funding ideologically agreeable projects. This is unlike the National Institutes of Health or the National Science Foundation, which have no ideological slant and fund science projects based on the assessment of whether they’re going to find out anything interesting and important.

66 Comments

  1. GBJames
    Posted February 19, 2019 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    $9 million for philosophizing?

    The going rate for philosophical thoughts seems to have gone through the roof!

    • alexander
      Posted February 19, 2019 at 9:51 am | Permalink

      And how much “free will” is left after receiving $9 million?

    • mark
      Posted February 19, 2019 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      Do they actually believe that stuff or are they just Grifing ? #askingforafriend

    • mark
      Posted February 19, 2019 at 11:27 am | Permalink

      Do they actually believe that stuff or are they just Grifing ? #askingforafriend

    • Posted February 19, 2019 at 12:03 pm | Permalink

      That’s one of the worst aspects of this – philosophy is generally underfunded, so graduate students (for example) might flock to this project just because it is where all the money is. 9 million will pay a *lot* of salary, RA ships, graduate fellowships, etc.

      • alexander
        Posted February 19, 2019 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

        I enjoyed Catholic high-school in Belgium (ha ha), but the mean reason was an atheistic French literature teacher (he lasted one year) who used to repeat to us: “In principio erat fric,” (fric = money in french argot).

  2. Achrachno
    Posted February 19, 2019 at 9:48 am | Permalink

    “the empirical (scientific) evidence for God is exactly as copious as the scientific evidence for Bigfoot or the Loch Ness monster. That is, no evidence.”

    We have widely disseminated photos of Bigfoot & Nessie, dubious photos but photos still. I’d say the evidence for God is weaker than that.

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted February 19, 2019 at 10:37 am | Permalink

      There is even a stronger argument, there maybe some critter, say a plesiosaur, discovered in loch Ness, or some bigfooted primate in the US forests, extremely unlikely, but if it would be discovered, it would not necessitate us to completely overhaul our world view.
      Physics, chemistry, astronomy and biology would have to be completely reviewed and changed if there were a God in the traditional sense. Some old plesio in Loch Ness wouldn’t necessitate that (after all we did discover the coelacant and the megamouth not too long ago).

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted February 19, 2019 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

        That’s my view, too. Nessie could lumber ashore tomorrow in front of a thousand TV cameras and nobody would have to rewrite one scientific principle (though ecologists might have to make some adjustments).

        Also, I’d love for there to be a Nessie, just for the scientific interest (I realise that has no bearing on the probability of Nessie actually existing).

        cr

    • Posted February 19, 2019 at 11:03 am | Permalink

      There is the Shroud of Turin and various claims of miracles, plus claims of seeing the virgin Mary and so on.

      • rom
        Posted February 19, 2019 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

        The Shroud of Turin is truly difficult to explain, Jesus was wrapped in a cloth in a cloth 1200 years from the future.

        This is the stuff of miracles.

        • Michael Fisher
          Posted February 19, 2019 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

          +1

          • JezGrove
            Posted February 19, 2019 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

            Oh ye of little faith! Of course an omnipotent, omniscient being could arrange for his non-existent son to be wrapped up in cloth from many centuries later (itself transported to the future to be primed with unspecified photographic chemicals, and then transferred back again). No proof required, just righteous belief. What are you quibbling about?

    • Posted February 19, 2019 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

      LOL, but what about the Shroud of Turin?

  3. Randall Schenck
    Posted February 19, 2019 at 10:04 am | Permalink

    I am waiting for Templeton to fund some serious studies on how the religious groups manage to subordinate their beliefs and morals to back and promote Trumpism. Maybe the philosophers can assist with this issue and come up with something inspiring. This is a big question.

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted February 19, 2019 at 10:40 am | Permalink

      And maybe the philosopher that could be mistaken for Santa is eminently placed there. 😁

      • Posted February 19, 2019 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

        I’m probably missing something obvious, but who’s the philosopher that could be mistaken for Santa?

        -Ryan

        • Robin
          Posted February 20, 2019 at 6:16 am | Permalink

          Presumably Daniel Dennett

        • GBJames
          Posted February 20, 2019 at 7:18 am | Permalink

          Here ya go…

        • Posted February 20, 2019 at 7:19 am | Permalink

          One of the two philosophers mentioned at the end.

        • rickflick
          Posted February 20, 2019 at 8:37 pm | Permalink

          I always thing…Charles Darwin.

  4. W.T. Effingham
    Posted February 19, 2019 at 10:13 am | Permalink

    Only.In.The.Americas.Oops! I mean only in certain off-shore financial institutions near the Americas.🙏

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted February 19, 2019 at 11:25 am | Permalink

      Sir John M. Templeton was born a U.S. citizen, but renounced it in 1964 as a tax dodge & became a naturalised U.K. citizen [coincidentally the U.K. had magnanimously accepted huge philanthropic donations to this & that] before settling in the independent Commonwealth realm of the Bahamas.

      I expect his wealth is managed in Nassau, but the figures don’t add up. His foundation had a $1.5 billion endowment at the start [out of $13 billion he earned from selling his businesses] & it grants a tiny fraction of that annually thus even with expenses that fund must be much larger today. I doubt he doled out say $10 billion to friends & relatives because not his style to give anything away. I do wonder what the $10 billion is up to today & what is it doing.

  5. Matt Foley
    Posted February 19, 2019 at 10:17 am | Permalink

    They paid $1.3 million to ask someone to find out the arguments for belief in god?

    This must be a joke. Please tell me this is a joke.

    • Nicolaas Stempels
      Posted February 19, 2019 at 10:41 am | Permalink

      Of course it is a joke, and reality at the same time.

  6. Jenny Haniver
    Posted February 19, 2019 at 10:20 am | Permalink

    I am horrified.

  7. Posted February 19, 2019 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    The central question of the project is “What arguments are there for believing in God or for following a specific religious tradition?” I would like to see a restatement of this central question!
    “What arguments are there for believing in resurrection or for following any specific religious tradition?” Answer: None! GROG

  8. johzek
    Posted February 19, 2019 at 10:49 am | Permalink

    One “obvious aspect of the human experience” that will probably not be acknowledged by the religious side is our ability to imagine. This ability is vital to the scientific enterprise and to human progress in general but when given free reign untethered to reality is most often unproductive if not outright destructive.

  9. CAS
    Posted February 19, 2019 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    Not filling in properly, so here it is again.
    Stupid! 1.3 million to endlessly study useless subjective “evidence”. I’ll bet they come to some conclusions pleasing to big T! Have to keep the cash flowing.

  10. Anonymous
    Posted February 19, 2019 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    “And as for ‘what arguments are there for believing in a specific religious tradition?’, the answer is ‘WHERE YOU WERE BORN AND WHO BRAINWASHED YOU’.”

    I agree.

    The Templeton Foundation seems to be brainwashed themselves.

    “As Dan notes, the JTF funds projects that are more purely scientific to help buttress the religion side of its agenda, so the Scientific Horses are put in a stable with the Woo Horses, in hopes that they will breed and produce the kind of wooish hybrids that Templeton loves.”

    I think “corruption” is a good word. They aren’t credible.

    • Posted February 19, 2019 at 11:07 am | Permalink

      Starting this week I will no longer be accepting posts from those who don’t fill in a name and email address, and therefore post as “anonymous”. Unless there’s some problem that keeps you from filling in name and email address, please use a name and an email. Thanks.

      • Liz
        Posted February 19, 2019 at 11:22 am | Permalink

        Sorry about that.

      • rom
        Posted February 19, 2019 at 11:47 am | Permalink

        note this site still has problems and the email and name don’t always take.

        • JezGrove
          Posted February 19, 2019 at 5:35 pm | Permalink

          True, but the ‘Name’ and ‘Email’ fields seem to refill if you click on them. Slightly inconvenient, I admit, but it only takes a few seconds.

          • rom
            Posted February 19, 2019 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

            not for me …

  11. Posted February 19, 2019 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    “Very few acknowledge the force of the points made from the other side.”
    Of course we acknowledge the force of their points. Its just that their points are made up.

  12. rickflick
    Posted February 19, 2019 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    Dan Dennett has called for the study of religion, but I don’t think Templeton’s approach fills the bill. An objective study of religion would be an effort to discover the sources and causes of religion, not to find ways to justify it.

  13. Roger
    Posted February 19, 2019 at 11:27 am | Permalink

    Why does “reasons for atheism and agnosticism” sound suspiciously like “reasons for the dog ate their homework” or “reasons for the plague”.

    • Posted February 19, 2019 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

      To me, it sounds like when on this site we discuss the “reasons why most people believe in God or gods”.

      • Roger
        Posted February 19, 2019 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

        Right! Reasons for the plague. Ha ha I kid.

  14. rom
    Posted February 19, 2019 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    To be fair Mele was a compatibilist before he took the money and remains so after.

    In a book I read of his recently Free Will and Luck he takes apart many of compatibilist versions of free will, but his own version remained intact.

    Go figure.

  15. rom
    Posted February 19, 2019 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

    I found this line curious:

    I never felt pressured to do anything that seemed wrong to me.

    Mele carefully did not deny being pressured?

    Also if every truly sceptic organization or individual applied and took the foundation money, that would leave less room for accommodationists to participate. Just thinking.

    • Posted February 19, 2019 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

      Interesting idea, but I wouldn’t sacrifice my immortal soul just to try and drain that fountain of evil, the Templeton money!

      • GBJames
        Posted February 19, 2019 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

        I’d swap my non-existent immortal soul for the Templeton money in a heartbeat.

        • alexander
          Posted February 19, 2019 at 1:21 pm | Permalink

          Yes, perhaps the Astronomer Royal was right to grab the Templeton money, so it wouldn’t bw used to brainwash thousands of six-year olds.

        • Posted February 19, 2019 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

          Words, words, words: you say so, but you are reading and commenting here, instead of sweating over a grant application for Templeton.

          • GBJames
            Posted February 19, 2019 at 2:30 pm | Permalink

            You think they’ll send me the money if I offer my nonexistent soul?

            • Posted February 21, 2019 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

              If you offer it properly (by a nicely written grant), I think there is a good chance.

    • infiniteimprobabilit
      Posted February 19, 2019 at 3:42 pm | Permalink

      ” I never felt pressured to do anything that seemed wrong to me.

      Mele carefully did not deny being pressured?”

      I think maybe you’re being too suspicious there. Reading too much into Mele’s words.

      If there was something he wanted to do, why would anyone have needed to pressure him?

      I think there is a stronger case for asserting that Templeton funds people who are going in the ‘right’ direction (from Templeton’s POV) so they don’t need to pressure such people.

      cr

      • Posted February 19, 2019 at 9:53 pm | Permalink

        Heh. I should’ve scrolled down before commenting. Great minds think alike.

        -Ryan

        • infiniteimprobabilit
          Posted February 20, 2019 at 3:16 am | Permalink

          Happens to me all the time. 🙂

          cr

    • Posted February 19, 2019 at 9:51 pm | Permalink

      I don’t think it’s especially suspicious.

      But the reason that he doesn’t feel pressured is because he agreed with them already.

      -Ryan

  16. grasshopper
    Posted February 19, 2019 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    Big Answers require Big Questions – just an observation from the shallow end of the deepity pool.

    • A C Harper
      Posted February 19, 2019 at 2:02 pm | Permalink

      Big Answers require Big Questions – unless of course naturalism is all there is and there is no free will, no absolute morality, and nothing beyond individual meaningfulness.

      All we are left with is mundane explanations and an unfulfilled desire for more emotionally satisfying questions and answers.

  17. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted February 19, 2019 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

    It seems to me much of what little remains of philosophy is willing to put a prize on itself?

    Luckily science is priceless.

    The atheists think religious people are ignoring the scientific evidence. The religious people think atheists are ignoring obvious aspects of the human experience.

    I would put it this way:

    Non-religious consider all the sides of the coin, but rightly notes that the objective [numeric!] side is the more valuable.

    It *used* to be that theologians wanted to see their magic in everything too. But those days went when science forced theology into the market of useless mind games. Such as this “but you do it too” strawman.

  18. Posted February 19, 2019 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

    When stuck with two distinct species of horse, a woo and sci, the best you could hope for is a sterile hybrid.
    Still… the barn door is open, the horses have bolted, yet JTF is still throwing hey into the stalls with the hope they will come back in an orderly fashion. Not only that but with viable fecund offspring.

  19. Posted February 19, 2019 at 2:26 pm | Permalink

    “How about ‘NO EVIDENCE, PEOPLE!’?” 

    I agree that there’s no scientific evidence for God, though, unlike you, I consider that this says more about the limitations of scientific evidence than about the existence of a spiritual reality. What I don’t understand is why, while proclaiming there is no evidence, you simultaneously complain about the JTF looking for such evidence. Seems to me they’re only helping your case, because they’re bound to fail, and surely it’s better to claim a lack of evidence after looking for it extensively than by simply assuming that it doesn’t exist. Let them search away, I say; it can only confirm that, no matter how much money one throws at the question, science has nothing of value to say about the numinous.

    • Posted February 19, 2019 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

      I’m complaining because they’re wasting perfectly good money on dumb theology. I don’t need them to buttress my case that there’s no evidence for God, and at any rate that’s not really what they’re doing here.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted February 19, 2019 at 4:01 pm | Permalink

        The purpose of philosophy is to provide employment for yer actual working philosophers. As explained by Lunkwill and Fook in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.
        (Sadly, I can’t find the relevant passage quoted online).

        I’m sure Templeton’s support is much appreciated.

        cr

        • JezGrove
          Posted February 19, 2019 at 4:35 pm | Permalink

          It’s “Loonqwall” and “Phouchg” according to my edition. Will try and find the quote ASAP.

          • JezGrove
            Posted February 19, 2019 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

            I beg your pardon Infinitimprobabilit – Fook and Lunkwill were indeed the philosophers many generations earlier who posed the original question of Life, the Universe, and Everything. Deep Thought then told them: “Everyone’s going to have their own theories about what answer I’m eventually going to come up with, and who better to capitalize on that media market th a you yourselves? So long as you can keep disagreeing with each other violently enough and slagging each other off in the popular press, and so long as you have clever enough agents, you can keep yourselves on the gravy train for life.”

            • JezGrove
              Posted February 19, 2019 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

              Doh! That should be “than you yourselves…”.

            • infiniteimprobabilit
              Posted February 20, 2019 at 3:12 am | Permalink

              Yes, Loonqawl and Phouchg (?) were the remote descendants of the originals.

              But thanks and congratulations! on finding the quote from Deep Thought, which is exactly the passage I was thinking of (but couldn’t find on the ‘net – I’m away from my books).

              cr

  20. Simon Hayward
    Posted February 19, 2019 at 2:28 pm | Permalink

    The summer workshops are to be held(per the UH website) in July – in various countries in the southern hemisphere. Can philosophers redefine seasons or are they simply ignoring scientific opinion?

  21. Roo
    Posted February 19, 2019 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

    I’m repeating myself, but I’m not sure what to make of the JTF. For one thing, since Templeton himself is deceased, it’s hard to know if the people in charge now have deep ideological feelings one way or the other or if they’re more of the “Whatevs, it’s our job to hand out this money, somebody take it” persuasion. I feel that actually makes a significant difference.

    Also, much of the work they’re doing now doesn’t sound so different than work that is often praised (at least based on my anecdotal observations,) in sciencey liberal circles. (I should preface this by saying I’m not going to spend a bunch of time researching every project they’re funding, so that may be wrong.) except the correct word to use in those circles is ‘states of consciousness’, not ‘religion’ or even, unless you want to be considered controversial, ‘spirituality’. But ‘states of consciousness’ is ok, then you can study the potential benefits of mind altering drugs or ancient eastern practices and so on and keep your scientific liberal chops in the public eye. A quick glance at their website shows me phrases like “divine reality” (which could be many things – it could be a ‘state of consciousness’, I assume), ‘sanctifying suffering’ (you might have found ‘how struggles help us grow’ in Reader’s Digest 20 years ago, same difference I guess,) and ‘the problem of evil’, which concludes that maybe this isn’t a philosophical problem because… people in other countries don’t think it’s a problem? Huh? Along with generally agreed upon positive psychology, like the benefits of gratitude and curiosity. Whether this is cover for a deeper agenda or they’re much watered-down at this point I have no way of knowing.

    I actually I do think there are many beneficial things embedded within religion, such as prayer, meditation, chanting, long philosophical traditions, and so on, and I have no problem with people studying them and their effects (or, in the case of philosophy, just studying them as philosophies). That said, I do think it’s unethical to provide money for research with the expectation or pressure that it produce a certain result, and if the JTF is doing that, then that is unfair.


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