So you think you knew Templeton? A new report.

March 3, 2011 • 8:58 am

I realize that there’s a disparity of opinion among my readers about the John Templeton Foundation.  Some, like me, feel that its mission is to blur the boundaries between science and religion, debasing the former and buying off the many scientists whom it supports with its deep pockets.  Others, recognizing that Templeton does support woo, nevertheless see no problem with scientists taking Templeton money for real science—or even accepting the Templeton Prize for Scientists Who Say Nice Things About Religion.

Regardless of your take, you should by all means read a new 23-page report on the Templeton Foundation by Sunny Bains (link goes right to the pdf download). Bains is a journalist and scientist at Imperial College London, and her report was supported by Sam Harris’s Project Reason (I’m on the board of advisors).   I’ll just give her introductory precis, but if you want to comment on the issues, do read the whole paper.  Curiously, it was published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology, which of course causes me some cognitive dissonance!

From the first two pages of her report:

For many who do not have a problem with the science/religion agenda of the Foundation, the issue is then one of integrity. Is the Foundation what it says it is? Are its stated goals and its actual goals the same (as judged by who and what it funds)? Does it operate in a transparent and non-corrupt way?

In this commentary, I consider five issues that suggest that the John Templeton Foundation is not what it represents itself to be:

1. The Foundation began as an overtly pro-religious organization. It has since changed its stated aims and goals, and their presentation, in a way that seems calculated to make them appear more “open-minded.” Nevertheless, the Foundation’s agenda—based on its actual activities—
seems to have remained the same.
2. The Foundation’s organizational structure and the awarding of its prizes appears to be rife with cronyism.
3. Respondents to the Foundation’s “Big Questions” (at least those questions with clear links to science) are disproportionately Foundation advisors and grantees, and yet it is implied that they represent a balance in responses.
4. The Foundation finances prestigious external organizations to run its activities, often without making the participants and/or audience aware of who provided the funding.
5. The Foundation and its current chairman, John (Jack) Marks Templeton, Jr., have a history of funding what could be seen as anti-science activities and groups (particularly concerning climate-change and stem-cell research).


Bains, S.  2011.  Commentary: Questioning the integrity of the John Templeton Foundation. Evolutionary Psychology 9:92-115.

68 thoughts on “So you think you knew Templeton? A new report.

  1. Has someone made a backup of all the sources, just in case they conveniently disappear or are changed?

    1. I notice from the report they have already tried to erase one inconvenient piece of evidence (John Horgan’s involvement), so I wouldn’t put it past them to do the same for others.

    2. He says in the first footnote “If any of the web pages attached to the links provided are missing or have been changed so that they no longer include the information described here, please go to
      and check to see whether a new source has been supplied. If not, please either leave a comment there or e-mail the author, who will then put the relevant source online.”

      1. He says …


        Many of the links in the article are to, so those should stay the same. I’m not sure why she didn’t do it for all of them.

        1. Actually, for more recent versions of the website the webarchive doesn’t exist. I think it’s to do with the way site is built… I would have done them all that way otherwise.

          1. My only quibble is that “non-corrupt” would have been more gracefully written as “honest”. And clearly it isn’t.

  2. One knew, I think, that there was something amiss with Templeton, but the depth of its perfidy is much greater than expected — in particular, its cronyism. This is a gang of people devoted to giving themselves prizes for — what? What are they giving themselves prizes for? For being religious? For supporting the aims of the organisation. It must surely be one of the most incestuous “research” organisations around. Just totting up the numbers of advisory board members, or board members who have received funding or prizes is really outrageous. Short odds lottery is right.

    Also troubling is its bias towards right-wing agenda/business items such as its stand on global warming/anti-environmental groups, pro-smoking misinformation, pro-sanctity of life.

    One thing that I did not know before is Charles Taylor’s stand re Salman Rushdie and the idea that blasphemy laws do not limit freedom. Roman Catholic all the way! Disgusting.

    1. It’s all a PR con, designed to make themselves seem much larger and more influential than they are.

      Without Templeton’s deep deep pockets, it would just be the same 10 religious nuts that everyone avoids at parties.

      With Templeton cash, they grant themselves undeserved respect (well, to themselves in any event) and attention in the public arena.

      It’s all a ploy to make religion seem more prominent in scientific circles than it actually is.

    1. Bleh. “Atheism takes faith” again. With an endorsement from a right wing talk radio host to boot.

    2. Right back at you Moshe. Because belief in angels & spirits & gods is so non-illusory.
      Huh. Right.

  3. I’m shocked. SHOCKED!

    …wait…actually, no I’m not.

    Lying for Jeebus, a Christian tradition for more than 2,000 years.

  4. Can’t read the report without thinking of Michael Shermer and his association with Templeton. Makes me feel very sad for him, that he does not think of himself as a sell-out to his own brand (skepticism), but can still take their money. But I want to be careful here, else I turn up as an item on Stangroom’s incivility blog (for whom the words, “fuck off” and “Stangroom” will be forever linked. Yeah, thanks, PZ.)

    1. I’m reading the appendix now, p. 114 (PDF page 23) where it discusses the essays edited by Shermer on the question, “Does science make belief in God obsolete?”

      Participants included Cardinal Schoenborn, who notoriously wrote a pro-ID op/ed piece, and Mary Midgley, whose grasp of modern science might generously be termed “tenuous.” (See for example her comments on Richard Dawkins’ book The Selfish Gene) If these writers, selected by Shermer, demonstrably have a poor grasp of science, why should I care what they think about the implications of science?

      1. Not sure how serious you’re being but that explains a lot, especially since “contrarian” is used most heavily in finance where Shermer is most dogmatic. Don’t get me wrong, some Libertarians like Radley Balko have well-considered views (especially on civil liberties) and their views should have a much wider audience, but Shermer’s arguments have rarely impressed me.

        1. I am “dead serious”.
          Shermer has plainly not read his own book: “Why People Believe Weird Things”.

  5. I was deeply disappointed today to learn that Chris Mooney has taken Templeton funds in the journalistic category. Isn’t he supposed to be a skeptic?

    1. I was deeply disappointed today to learn that Chris Mooney has taken Templeton funds in the journalistic category.

      Hello. Welcome to February 2010.

      Isn’t he supposed to be a skeptic?


      Oh. You’re not kidding?

    2. James

      Over the last several years many people have asked Mr Mooney that exact same question.

      He’s developed a habit for bold assertion, followed by declining to answer any criticism of his claims (though he does have a wonderful talent for promoting his books, whilst blatantly ignoring quite valid questions about them).

    3. Are you trying to be ironic?

      Because if you’re not, and thought he was an honest player, I guess this is your sad awakening to the fact Mooney has demonstrated, for years-and-years now, it’s all about Mooney and his incessant self-promotion.

      So, much like Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, most of Fox News, Paris Hilton, Thomas Friedman, these other Templeton-funded losers or a host of other inept personalities whose fame is based on fame rather then being, well, correct based on the merits of insight, fact and logic.

      1. Huh. Hella-screwed up my editing…

        So, anyway, Mooney’s ‘defection’ comes as no surprise to me. There are always people who latch onto causes or issues to make their living. All while demonstrating feet of clay and the ability to blow with the wind.

        One of the most classic examples is David Horowitz, the wing-nut. At one time he was a big-time player on the “New Left” and was a socialist and worked for the Bertram Russell Peace Foundation at one point. When the political winds changed and the new left subsided in importance due to the winding-down of Vietnam, he moved to the right to keep on his ‘activism’ gravy train. Now he’s a Muslim-bashing, pro-war zealot who makes his money from wing-nut think tanks.

  6. From page three of the report

    ‘According to the Foundation, “Feeling that the Nobel Prizes overlooked one of humanity’s most important disciplines—spirituality—Templeton established a foundation that funds the prize in perpetuity at a level guaranteed to exceed the Nobel Prizes…”‘

    When did spirituality become a “discipline”?

    1. They used Shermer’s position in skeptics society to get some glare of openness and objectivity for their organization.
      Shermer probably used them just like a easy cash machine…

    2. Shermer keeps disappointing. I often wonder if it’s because he has the least scientific training of any prominent sceptic, at the very least he doesn’t appreciate his own blind spots.

      1. Wow. Almost makes want to reconsider my subscription to Skeptic. But, the consciousness raising it performs is well worth the price of admission.

  7. There is an elephant in the room, and it goes by the name: corruption. I did a little research myself on Templeton months ago, and completely agree with this report. I think a boycott by all scientists and sceptics is essential. Anyone who decides to grab such money must have their integrity questioned.

    1. There was some discussion about how they hide their involvement so that Dennet was twice tricked into working with them. Once he gave the honorarium to the Brights (his atheistic group), and the second time he refused any money and demanded they remove his name from publications. I figure anyone who would go to those lengths would have passed at the outset had he been aware – I wonder who else has been tricked?

  8. Every time I see a selective list of Templeton Prize winners, I check to see if they mention Chuck Colson.

    “Charles Colson (winner in 1993) was one of the architects of the plans to spy on the Democratic party that led to the Watergate scandal, and later became a Christian evangelist in prison and founded the Prison Fellowship.”

    All accurate, but they fail to mention that Colson’s evangelical Christianity is of the YEC variety. Sort of takes the shine off the later change in direction to science/religion compatibilism.

  9. “The evolution of Templeton”. That would be an interesting study.
    Subtitle: How Best to Cover Your Tracks While Corrupting Science.

  10. Some things which disheartened and surprised me:

    * Billy Graham won a Templeton prize

    * V S Ramachandran is on the board of Advisors

    * Shermer thinks (or convinced himself that) the job of a sceptic is to present a diversity of views, not to represent the actual proportions of those views (publish the controversy!)

  11. If you asked 100 scientists if they’d rather receive a Nobel Prize or a Templeton Foundation Prize, 95 of them would say “What’s a Templeton Foundation Prize?”

    And how petty is it that their prize is deliberately more money than the Nobel? It’s like begging “Please pay attention to us!”

  12. The most discouraging finding in this report is that the Templeton Foundation has a staggering amount of money. They quite simply have the money to buy the integrity of enough scientists to tip the scales–scientists who will argue, as Shermer does, that they haven’t been bought.

  13. Ironic that Jerry is quoting an article published in Evolutionary Psychology. No doubt the brain/mind is a set of evolved adaptations just as is the body. Keep reading the journal, Jerry. Great cure for cognitive dissonance.

    1. If you had a point, you failed to make it. It could be an affirmation. It could (probably?) be a troll insult.

      1. It’s the latter. From my reading apparently Michael is a bigger fan of evolutionary psychology than Jerry is.

        Michael is using the fact that Jerry cited an article that has nothing to do with evolutionary psychology but happened to be published in an evolutionary psychology journal to criticize Jerry’s opinion on the state of research in evolutionary psychology.

  14. The Nobel prize means something. The Templeton prize… it’s all about the moolah. The ol’ chasharoonie. The green stuff.

  15. “The Foundation’s organizational structure and the awarding of its prizes appears to be rife with cronyism.”

    Oh, just like the Ford Foundation? I think that point could have been left out; it doesn’t seem relevant at all.

    I don’t understand the relevance of the global warming denialism (are they claiming that the world cannot be destroyed because the bible says so). I guess I’ll just have to read the report and see.

    Templeton is like many religious agenda groups – for example, “Pro Life”. They happily lie for Jesus while trying to push their own perverse view of the world onto people.

    As for some people saying “It’s OK to take their money”, I’ve found that in some parts of the world the majority of people have no concept of moral principles. And yet, as the ethicist may ask, would those same people be happy taking money from blood diamonds to fund their research? Unfortunately, some people would be quite happy with that situation, though I suspect most people would simply say “but this isn’t blood money, that’s not a fair question.”

    1. I’m not really up on the standards for foundations of this kind, but my understanding is that the Templeton organisation does possess some type of tax exempt status.

      The fact that it then disburses these large sums of money to its own members does seem questionable.

    2. Oh, just like the Ford Foundation? I think that point could have been left out; it doesn’t seem relevant at all.

      Once you consider how they present themselves and are using the awards, it’s very relevant. It’s like putting the prisoners in charge of the parole board…

  16. I don’t know, this whole article rubs me the wrong way. The bit about Charles Taylor was superficial and pretty much wrong(I am a graduate school in philosophy and have read Taylor’s work). Point (1) seems like a stretch, and approaches a conspiracy theory.

    In addition, most readers of this article, judging by the responses, are quick to cast off as biased or false research done by any scientist who is merely associated with the templeton foundation. Research should be judged on evidence, not association with a company! The article almost invites this. Again, it should be noted that research is only as good as it’s evidence, not necessarily where it gets its funding from. Too many commentors are losing respect for many intelligent people because of their association with this organization
    .Charles Taylor, Ramachandran, Shermer; all are respectable researchers and thinkers.

    Even if the templeton foundation is biased, most foundations are: including project reason. It’s stated goals are as follows: Project Reason is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit foundation devoted to spreading scientific knowledge and secular values in society. The foundation draws on the talents of prominent and creative thinkers in a wide range of disciplines to encourage critical thinking and erode the influence of dogmatism, superstition, and bigotry in our world.

    1. Nice idea, but the problem is, Templton’s shady method of doing business means that anything associated with them is automatically going to be held with suspicion. They’ve shown numerous times that scientific integrity and honesty are really not what they’re after, so at this point trusting them is like Charlie Brown thinking that maybe this time Lucy won’t yank the football away.

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