Fighting back against Templeton

June 21, 2009 • 9:36 am

Standing behind much of the accommodationism in America is the John Templeton Foundation. This organization is loaded to the gunwales with cash, thanks to the investing activities of the late John Templeton, and it regularly uses its ample coffers to lure scientists into discussing “the big questions” in support of its aim to unify science and faith. (n.b.: whenever you hear the words “bigger questions” or “deeper questions” in this debate, rest assured that they really mean “unanswerable questions” or even “meaningless questions.” And you can also be sure that the answer to these big, deep questions involves religion.) Templeton likes having big-name scientists and secular academics on its panels and in its published discussions, for their presence lends an air of versimilitude to an otherwise bald and unconvincing enterprise.

Some of us have begun fighting back, refusing to participate in Templeton’s ventures or to lend our name to their discussions. The latest refusal involves science writer Edwin Cartlidge, who emailed several neo-materialist fundamentalist militant atheists, asking their cooperation in a Templeton-funded project. So far Daniel Dennett and Anthony Grayling have responded (all of these emails are reproduced with permission of the writers):

From: Edwin Cartlidge
Sent: Saturday, June 20, 2009 9:55 AM
To: Dennett, Daniel C.
Subject: Questions on materialism

Dear Prof Dennett, I am a science journalist currently taking part in the Templeton Cambridge journalism fellowship programme in science and religion. As part of the programme each fellow takes an indepth look at one particular topic, and mine is “materialism”. In the first place I want to understand simply what is meant by the term (as it seems to have various forms) and then to understand how a materialistic viewpoint can or cannot be reconciled with the world around us (particularly as regards human nature).. For this I will be speaking to a number of different experts, including scientists, philosophers and theologians. Since you have written extensively on the philosophy of mind and related areas I thought that you would be a good person to talk to, and wondered whether you might be free at some point in the next three weeks to speak over the phone. I imagine the conversation would last around 20 to 30 minutes.

If you would like to speak to me I would be grateful if you could tell me when would be a good time for me to call and what number I should use.

best regards,

Edwin Cartlidge.

Dennett’s response:

From: “Dennett, Daniel C.”
To: Edwin Cartlidge
Sent: Saturday, June 20, 2009 11:53:16 PM
Subject: RE: Questions on materialism

Dear Mr Cartlidge,

I have had my say about materialism and the persistent attempt by religious spokespeople to muddy the waters by claiming, without a shred of support, that materialism (in the sense I have defended for my entire career) is any obstacle to meaning, or to an ethical life—see, e.g., BREAKING THE SPELL, pp302-307.

I see no reason to go over that ground again, and I particularly don’t want to convey the impression, by participating in an interview with you, that this is, for me, a live issue. It is not. If you had said that you were studying the views of scientists, philosophers and, say, choreographers on this topic, I would at least be curious about what expertise choreographers could bring to it. If you had said scientists, philosophers, and astrologers, I would not even have replied to your invitation. The only reason I am replying is to let you know that I disapprove of the Templeton Foundation’s attempt to tie theologians to the coat tails of scientists and philosophers who actually do have expertise on this topic.

Many years ago I made the mistake of participating, with some very good scientists, in a conference that pitted us against astrologers and other new age fakes. I learned to my dismay that even though we thoroughly dismantled the opposition, many in the audience ended up, paradoxically, with an increased esteem for astrologers! As one person explained to me “I figured that if you scientists were willing to work this hard to refute it, there must be something to it!” Isn’t it obvious to you that the Templeton Foundation is eager to create the very same response in its readers? Do you really feel comfortable being complicit with that project?

Best wishes,

Daniel Dennett

The response of philosopher Anthony Grayling, who received the same request from Cartlidge:

Dear Mr Cartlidge
Thank you for your message. I hope you will understand that this is by no means
directed at you personally, but I don't engage in Templeton-associated matters.
I cannot agree with the Templeton Foundation's project of trying to make
religion respectable by conflating it with science; this is like mixing
astrology with astronomy or voodoo with medical research, and I disapprove of
Templeton's use of its great wealth to bribe compliance with this project.
Templeton is to all intents and purposes a propaganda organisation for religious
outlooks; it should honestly say so and equally honestly devote its money to
prop up the antique superstitions it favours, and not pretend that questions of
religion are of the same kind and on the same level as those of science - by
which means it persistently seeks to muddy the waters and keep religion credible
in lay eyes. It is for this reason I don't take part in Templeton-associated
matters. My good wishes to you -
Anthony Grayling

Professor A. C. Grayling
School of Philosophy
Birkbeck, University of London

By the way, does anybody find these responses “uncivil”???

A description of the Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellowships in Science & Religion (one of which Mr. Cartlidge received) is here. Note the description of their purpose:

The John Templeton Foundation inaugurated the fellowship in 2006 to offer a small group of print, broadcast, or online journlists annually the opportunity to examine the dynamic and creative interface of science and religion.

Creative interface only? What about those who want to write about the destructive interface?

Thanks to Richard Dawkins, who secured permission to quote these emails, and who also has a commentary about Templeton on his website. There’s a new post at Pharyngula, too.

57 thoughts on “Fighting back against Templeton

  1. Of course they’re uncivil. There is no truth, only sincerity, and it’s completely uncivil to challenge anyone’s sincerely held belief.

    Oh wait… my tongue was kind of stuck in my cheek there for a moment.

  2. Bravo to Dennett and Grayling for eloquently and civilly declining and bravo to them and Coyne for continuing to expose the Templeton Foundation’s toxic motives.

  3. Dennett’s tone was a little haughty, but that probably stems more from frustration and fatigue than from incivility. Grayling’s reply was very polite and honest. I agree with both of them when it comes to Templeton–they are not a legitimate scientific or philosophical organization. They’re a glorified propaganda outlet.

  4. By the way, does anybody find these responses “uncivil”

    Much to my chagrin, no!

    However, I did find it amusing that they both used “muddy the waters”…perhaps one may falsely construe from this, that uncleanliness is a common state of affairs over at the Dumbledore Foundation?

  5. Dennett’s and Grayling’s were the only appropriate responses to such a petition – kudos to them.

  6. They were not uncivil, although I would hazard a guess that Mr Dennet was having a rough day and I would hate to be a telemarker who calls his house. And I love the “choreographers” bit.

  7. I have learned a lot by reading you and Dr. Myers posts on the Templeton Foundation. I thought that the money the Templeton Foundation gave to science was a good thing, but your posts have helped me to clearly see how the Templeton Foundation really is threatening science with the way it uses its money. Keep up the good writing!

  8. Oh, if only Mr. Cartlidge would submit an essay for publication in a scientific journal – he’d quickly discover what ‘uncivil’ means. I love these two responses though; I certainly can’t imagine being so nice to Mr. Cartlidge while telling him he’s on a fool’s errand.

  9. From any rational point of view, there are entirely civil.

    However, they might be regarded as uncivil for people who think that astrology, voodoo or accommodation is viable. I mean, comparing the deeply felt emotions and practices of sacred astrology that rejects science with the scientific, experimental practices of astronomy must be very offensive to astrologers. Of course, they are not justified in feeling offended, quite the opposite in fact.

  10. The journalism fellowships program on which Edwin Cartlidge is a
    Fellow is funded by the John Templeton Foundation, but its policies
    are set by the directors of the program, Julia Vitullo-Martin, Brian Heap, and Fraser Watts. The program is concerned with science and religion, and seminars address a range of issues relevant to both. Speakers on the Fellowships program have a variety of personal opinions on religion, and we always ensure that the full range of views – from serious belief to atheism – is covered in an open-minded and academically rigorous way. Our objective is to help journalists handle issues on the interface of science and religion in a more knowledgeable and sophisticated way. We do not ask about the
    personal religious ideas of our Fellows and thus have no data on
    that. We are fairly sure, however, from comments and conversations
    over the years that the majority of our Fellows have almost surely not themselves been religious. That in no way conflicts with the
    objectives of the program, and is not something we seek to influence,
    one way or the other.

    1. In response to Mr. Watts, I urge you to take a gander at the articles produced by the journalism fellows, a sample of which is at

      Do note the direct attacks on atheism by Andrew Brown and Madeleine Bunting, as well as the approving profile of Terry Eagleton’s attack on atheism? Where are the direct attacks on faith? Is it just coincidence that the fellows always produce articles that are either laudatory about religion or at least very least very respectful of it — results that directly meet Templeton’s aims? I think not. People like Bunting and Brown are not only well known accommodationists (whose prospectuses for fellowship are surely screened), but hardly the serious journalists whose careers are supposed to be supported by Templeton.

      Templeton and Cambridge should be ashamed of themselves — bribing journalists with lucrative stipends to produce “faith-and-science-are-loving-PARTNERS” articles.

  11. Although the Templeton Foundation has a clear bias against naturalistic explanations, it has funded research by naturalists as well as non-naturalists. One example is Duke philosopher Owen Flanagan, who was the John Templeton Foundation Fellow at the University of Southern California. He delivered 6 lectures which were published in book form as “The Really Hard Problem: Finding Meaning in a Material World” by MIT Press. In the lecture “Spirituality Naturalized?,” Flanagan says

    What sort of theism can co-exist with the scientific image? What I mean by theism is a set of propositions about the existence and nature of God or gods. I state my view of the situation up front in this way: Aspirations to locate our selves in the true, good and beautiful are noble and worthy. Given our platonic orientation this aspiration is also natural (note: not all our natural tendencies are noble and worthy). Naturalism, as I conceive it, is plenty broad enough to make room for robust conceptions of the sacred, the spiritual, the sublime, and of moral excellence. But theism of the sort that takes certain texts as authoritative, that asserts that certain facts that cannot possibly be known by humans to be true are uncontrovertibly true, is a problem. Assertive theism, but not what I will call expressive theism, is epistemically irresponsible and dangerous to boot. (pp. 189-90)

    It’s unlikely that Flanagan’s view will ever prevail at Templeton, but at least they gave him free rein to reach conclusions at odds with their bias. I imagine there are others funded by Templeton who have likewise reached what the directors likely feel is the wrong answer to the Big Questions, e.g., Does evolution explain human nature?

    So even if the worst suspicions about Templeton are true, that they are as Grayling says “a propaganda organization for religious
    outlooks,” it could be that their attempts to conflate science and religion will inadvertently help to naturalize religion. Not exactly what theologians committed to “assertive theism” have in mind.

  12. “I learned to my dismay that even though we thoroughly dismantled the opposition, many in the audience ended up, paradoxically, with an increased esteem for astrologers!”

    I think that says a lot about these types of people. Their logical faculties are abviously not up to par with the scientific community. I’m not sure what can be done to remedy this; their education was apparently lacking.

  13. A.C. Grayling and Daniel Dennett have refused to talk to a serious journalist (Edwin Cartlidge of Physics World) about a serious subject (philosophical materialism) because the journalism fellowship under which he is pursuing this subject is sponsored by the Templeton Foundation. They will have nothing to do with the Templeton Foundation, they say, because our aim is somehow to “muddy the waters” about the relationship between science and religion.

    That’s not how we see it at all. First-rate, peer-reviewed science is essential to our work at the Foundation and to the progressive vision of the late Sir John Templeton, who was deeply committed to scientific discovery. Many of our largest grants go to pure scientific research (like our support for the Foundational Questions Institute in Physics and Cosmology, the Godel Centenary Research Prize Fellowships, and the Program for Evolutionary Dynamics at Harvard).

    But, yes, we do like to include philosophers and theologians in many of our projects. Excellent science is crucial to what we do, but it is not all that we do. We are a “Big Questions” foundation, not a science foundation, and we believe that the world’s philosophical and religious traditions have much to contribute to understanding human experience and our place in the universe. For Grayling and Dennett to compare this rich, expansive discussion to a dialogue with astrologers is silly. They know better.

    Gary Rosen
    Chief External Affairs Officer
    John Templeton Foundation

    1. The people at Templeton just don’t get it. It doesn’t matter how much money they pour into “peer-reviewed” science. As long as their organization also pours lots of other money into silly promotions of religion (i.e., underwriting the careers of Madeline Bunting and Andrew Brown), giving prizes to religious travesties like the movie Passion of the Christ, and so on, it will never be acceptable to atheistic scientists. The organization fails to realize that Templeton has tainted its “good science” endeavors with a bunch of worthless “let’s-cozy-up-to-the-faithful” endeavors. One hand dirties the other.

      And no, there isn’t a lot of substantive difference between religion and astrology, save that many more people adhere to the former mythology.

      1. Many more adhere to the former DUE to foundations like Templeton. (Oh, and the promises of salvation and threats of hell go a long way towards making the “faith in faith” meme for virulent too.)

        I don’t think any respectable scientist should want to be a part of the denigration of science and the elevation of magical thinking in it’s place. At least not a scientist who values the truth.

    2. how is religion different from astrology and the other types of magical thinking that the Templeton Foundation find silly? Why would you consult “theologians” over, say, Scientologists to answer big questions?

      Your bias for one “brand” of magical thinking is showing…

    3. For Grayling and Dennett to compare this rich, expansive discussion to a dialogue with astrologers is silly.

      How or why is this silly, precisely?

      1. It’s silly because astrology cannot be supported by scientific evidence and religion….

        oh wait–

    4. Your organization supports the notion that when science can’t answer “big questions”, religion can. Do you have any evidence for this assumption? (I thought not.)

      “Science can’t explain it, therefore my woo is true.” This fallacious argument is used by many people to convince themselves that their irrational notions are “rational”. Is it any wonder that honest scientists want no part of this ignorance-promoting meme?

    5. Mr. Rosen,

      Your response is silly. The charge was that the Templeton Foundation muddies the water. Your response is that you support peer-reviewed science. But there’s nothing incompatible with doing both, and that’s obvious, because that’s what the Templeton Foundation does. Until you respond to the specific charge that you illicitly include god-botherers in discussions and projects where there is no rational basis for their inclusion, because their brand of superstition is inimical to rational inquiry, you cannot dismiss Grayling and Dennett.

    6. For Grayling and Dennett to compare this rich, expansive discussion to a dialogue with astrologers is silly.

      A few centuries ago, astrologers had a rich, expansive dialogue going, too. Turns out they were wrong. The richness and expansiveness of their speculations can’t change that.

    7. Mr. Rosen,

      By condescendingly attacking Grayling’s and Dennett’s comparisons as being “silly” – without even attempting to rebut – and then saying that “they know better” as if they are children and you have a right to correct them, simply makes you look like a douchebag.

  14. Not only were they being completely civil, but they passed up a good opportunity to remind the science writer that journalists have as great of responsibility to skepticism and objectivity as a scientist–maybe even more so. I think Mr. Cartlidge needs to take a moment to consider the repercussions and consequences of this fellowship program.

  15. Gary Rosen

    “We are a “Big Questions” foundation, not a science foundation, and we believe that the world’s philosophical and religious traditions have much to contribute to understanding human experience and our place in the universe.”

    What exactly do you ‘believe’ that the world’s religious traditions have to contribute to understanding human experience and our place in the universe? Can you specify one theory or explanation or bit of evidence that a religion has contributed to understanding human experience and our place in the universe?

  16. Possibly a strategic mistake?
    I’m not sure.
    Perhaps, maybe, would it be better if you DID take the Templeton’s invites up, made sure you turned up well-prepared and in numbers, and publicly trashed the whole nonsense.
    Starting with the statement, suitably prettied up:
    “We’re scientists, our work, and the whole of modern civilisiation for that matter, rests on the understanding that events have physical causes, and that real things are detectable, even if not presently understandable.
    You are making the extraordinary claim that something called “god” may exist.
    Please produce some evidence for this, that will stand up in any scientific or legal court, or please go away and shut up?”

  17. Science is simply incapable of answering questions about the purpose or meaning or flavor of life (chocolate or vanilla, gelato or sorbetto) or identifying the key of life (despite Beethoven, probably not E-flat) or nearly any such question. It’s actually a feature.

    1. The answers are:


      Mozart: Eine kleine Nachtmusik and Adagio in G minor by Albinoni, arranged by Giazotto

  18. Oh look, no answer to my question, what a surprise.

    Really – it was a serious question. I would like to know. Rosen said ‘we [meaning Templeton] believe that the world’s philosophical and religious traditions have much to contribute to understanding human experience and our place in the universe.’ I would like to know what the world’s religious traditions have to contribute to understanding human experience and our place in the universe.

    It’s interesting to note how carefully phrased that is. Understanding human experience can mean almost anything, and the world’s religious traditions are not the same thing as a particular religion and its particular truth claims. It’s a cautious anodyne bit of PR fluff – which is a strong hint that it doesn’t actually mean anything at all.

    Jesus and Mo gives a prod to Templeton today –

  19. Accepting money from the Templeton Foundation must be a lot like peeing in your pants. A warm and comfy feeling at first. But after a while it really starts to stink.

  20. Since Jerry Coyne writes (at least on occasion) for the New Republic, I’d like to direct him to something in the New Republic this week. Jonathan Chait thinks that Obama skillfully isolates his opponents by, paradoxically, reaching out to them. Here’s a link to the quote:

    What I’d like to suggest is that the atheist scientist, in his outrage at religion and refusal to engage with it directly, might well be walking into what I would term “The Obama Trap.” In other words, by fighting Templeton the atheist scientist is getting “Obama’d” by Templeton, making the atheist scientist appear unreasonable and closed off to dialogue. I mean, think about the letter that the person sent Dennett and Grayling. It was as if it was written by Barack Obama. And the responses sounded like hard-nosed GOPers.

    Just something to think about.


    1. …and here is santi, once again, with his nastiness and outrageous baloney. Santi has no grasp on reality, as shown by his previous posts. He makes up terms and randomly attributes actions to people that is never even close to correct.

  21. As a militant Atheist, I, of course, DO NOT think science and religion are compatible, I also do not think anyone should ever take the position “I know with absolute certainty that I am right and you are wrong. Therefore there is no need for me to debate with you and I will not legitimate your position by debating with you.”
    One of the troubles with this position is that anyone can take it. An astrologer or creationist or theist can say “I am right and you are wrong so there is no need for me to debate you. Debating you will only legitimate you.” In a debate via letters to a newspaper, I several times had Christians tell me that the BIBLE and Christianity needed no defense.
    Another trouble with this position is that the only way you can know that you are in fact right is to evaluate the arguments for an against your position. And as John Stuart Mill pointed out in ON LIBERTY, the way to come nearest to being sure that you are evaluating the strongest arguments for the other side is to hear it defended by a sincere adherent of that other side.
    The members of the audience who became more convinced of astrology because “scientists were taking so much trouble to refute it” were committing a falacy. Other than the two reasons cited above, there are many reasons why you might “take so much trouble to refute it” other than “it” being true. One reason is being concerned of the demage done if many people believe in astrology or religion.
    As a Gay activist, I wrote a response to a pamphlet, “Are Gay rights right?” put out by the Berean League, a homophobic Christian organization. The Berean League argued that the response of Gays proved they must be right.
    Instead of incurring the danger of people deciding they are no better than those Christians who said the BIBLE and Christianity need no defense, they should have pointed out the logical error committed by those members of the audience who concluded astrology must be true because they were “taking so much trouble to refute it” and continued to engage in vigorous debate with both astrology and the Templeton Foundation.
    Robert Halfhill

  22. I think Dennett’s haughtiness is justified in that he is aware of the ad hominem attacks religion makes on materialism. He’s been there and he’s dealt with the annoyingly obtuse “questions”.

    As for the compatibility of science and religion, I agree with Dennett. I think we should explain religion scientifically. Objections to such explanations become objections to the methodological principles.

    I have the same opinion of the idea of ‘consciousness’. Explain scientifically why people believe in the free or unconditioned self, and objections become objections to the methodological principles (neurobiology, psychology, empiricism).

    At that point, if it ever exists, the debate is better defined and more constructive. Instead of debating “qualia” and “premonitions”, perhaps the debate would be about how best to study the mind, information, society.

  23. In my web site in the article “Response to ‘The angry Evolucionist'” (Richard Dawkins) I explain my new Theory of Evolution in which you do not need to be a Believer to believe it and you can believe it if you are a Believer. Close to the end i make a set of questions, try to answer them with and without my theory. This theory would be ideal for the states of the USA in which they have problems to decide what to teach in their schools.
    Please Read the article of Richard Dawkins and my response to him in 3 parts (I could not put it all in only one article).

    Only the truth shall make us free. Felix Rocha Martinez,

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