People keep telling me that the John Templeton foundation is reforming: that it’s moving away from the science-and-religion-are-friends stance toward more funding of pure science. I’d like to believe that, for it would be nice to know that that billion-dollar pot of cash would go towards understanding the universe instead of dealing with the unanswerable “big questions” that, of course, are the purview of faith. But all I see is Templeton increasingly disguising their penchant for woo by putting the word “religion” in the sheep’s clothing of “spirituality,” and funding those forms of science that are supposed to bear on questions of meaning, purpose, and morals.
If you have any doubt about this, have a look at this mission statement, “Science and the Big Questions,” which appears on the “What We Fund” part of the Templeton website. The bolding is mine:
Sir John Templeton stipulated that most of the Foundation’s resources would be devoted to research (and disseminating the results of research) about the “basic forces, concepts, and realities” governing the universe and humankind’s place in the universe. What did he mean by “basic forces, concepts, and realities”?
Sir John’s own eclectic list featured a range of fundamental scientific notions, including complexity, emergence, evolution, infinity, and time. In the moral and spiritual sphere, his interests extended to such basic phenomena as altruism, creativity, free will, generosity, gratitude, intellect, love, prayer, and purpose. These diverse, far-reaching topics define the boundaries of the ambitious agenda that we call the Big Questions. Sir John was confident that, over time, the serious investigation of these subjects would lead humankind ever closer to truths that transcend the particulars of nation, ethnicity, creed, and circumstance.
In posing the Big Questions, Sir John stressed the need for humility and openness, and he saw the possibility of important contributions from various modes of inquiry. He especially wished to encourage researchers in the natural and human sciences to bring their rigorous methods to bear on the sorts of subjects that he identified, but he was also enthusiastic about the insights that might come from new approaches in philosophy and theology. Whatever the field, he expected research supported by the Foundation to conform to the highest intellectual standards.
For Sir John, the overarching goal of asking the Big Questions was to discover what he called “new spiritual information.” This term, to his mind, encompassed progress not only in our conception of religious truths but also in our understanding of the deepest realities of human nature and the physical world. As he wrote in the Foundation’s charter, he wanted to encourage every sort of opinion leader—from scientists and journalists to clergy and theologians—to become more open-minded about the possible character of ultimate reality and the divine.
Sir John’s own theological views conformed to no orthodoxy. Though raised a Presbyterian and exposed in his youth to the Unity School of Christianity, he did not fully identify with any established religion and possessed an eager curiosity about all of the world’s faith traditions. In assessing proposals, he asked the Foundation to stand apart from any consideration of dogma or personal religious belief and to seek out grantees who, in their approach to the Big Questions, were “innovative, creative, enthusiastic, and open to competition and new ideas.”
The Foundation has honored Sir John’s vision of the Big Questions by supporting a wide range of research projects, as well as other activities of a more practical or educational purpose, in the following areas:
To see what Templeton’s been funding lately, you can download the pdf of their 2010 Capabilities Report. I was particularly interested in Simon Conway Morris’s “convergence project,” in which he and his colleagues document many instances of evolutonary convergence: that is, cases in which unrelated organisms have evolved similar morphologies or behaviors (the similarities between New World cacti and Old World euphorbs, which I describe in WEIT, is an instance of this.) Conway Morris is a Catholic, and it’s my contention (supported by evidence, see here and here) that, to Conway Morris, the existence of evolutionary convergence says something about the “inevitability” of evolution—that inevitability being, of course, the appearance of humans who are made in God’s image and designed to apprehend and worship Him.
Others have taken issue with my claim about this, but it’s supported by Templeton’s rationale for funding it in their Capabilities Report. They donated nearly a million dollars ($983,253, to be exact) for this project. Here’s a screenshot of the rationale:
The last two sentences are the telling ones: they show that Templeton is funding this because evolutionary convergence supposedly shows the existence of “purpose and meaning” (read “Jesus”) in evolutionary convergence. (Of course there’s also a conventional Darwinian explanation for convergence, one that doesn’t involve God or any evolutionary teleology.)
I consider myself vindicated.