The Templeton Foundation

In The Nation, there’s a lengthy profile of the Templeton Foundation, its founder, financier John Templeton, and son Jack who is now running it. After making his billions, John Templeton established a foundation to explore the relationships of religion and science. Back in the 90s, when the Foundation was actively recruiting grant proposals from theologians and scholars of religion, its mantra was something like: “There have been so many advances in science and technology, why has there been no progress in spirituality?”

I attended at least one of their information sessions at a national conference. It seemed to me that the organizers (marketers?) lacked any theological sophistication or understanding of the academic study of religion. On the other hand, I suspected that many of the religion scholars in attendance were looking for any way to get grant funding.

I do find some of the Foundation’s efforts worthwhile. To ask the big questions and to put money behind that is a noble thing. Nathan Schneider writes:

Templeton money supports other causes, like promoting virtue, encouraging gifted youth and fostering free enterprise, but its core concerns are more cosmic: “Does the universe have a purpose?” “Does science make belief in God obsolete?” “Does evolution explain human nature?” As the advance of knowledge becomes ever more specialized and remote, these questions seem as refreshing as they are intractable; the foundation wants them to be our culture’s uniting, overriding focus.

Of course, anything this big (they funded a $9.8 million dollar grant to Duke University’s Center for Spirituality, Theology, and Health) is bound to come under criticism. And of course, the usual suspects rose up in unrighteous indignation:

The zoologist and author Richard Dawkins quipped in his 2006 book The God Delusion that the Templeton Prize goes “usually to a scientist who is prepared to say something nice about religion.”

And:

Now Dawkins and Kroto, with eight other advisory board members of Project Reason, founded by New Atheist author Sam Harris in 2007 to promote secularism, are at work on another offensive. Project Reason hired British science journalist Sunny Bains to investigate Templeton and build a case against it. Her unpublished findings include evidence of pervasive cronyism: more than half of the past dozen Templeton Prize winners were connected to the foundation before their win, and board members do well obtaining grant money and speaking gigs. Bains also argues that the true atheistic tendencies of leading scientists were misrepresented in the foundation’s Big Questions advertisements. Templeton’s mission, Bains concludes, is to promote religion, and its overtures to science are an insidious trick with the purpose of sneaking in God.

Schneider tries to uncover evidence of the Templeton Foundation’s nefarious involvement with a vast right-wing conspiracy and does provide¬† number of clues, but at the same time, it’s clear that the Foundation doesn’t silence research that downplays the importance of the spiritual (as in the findings concerning the value of intercessory prayer).

The relationship between Science and Religion was hardly at the center of my intellectual interests although I am fascinated by the relationship between the brain and religious experience.

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