Templeton gives a million bucks to show that evolutionary convergence proves God

September 5, 2011 • 5:19 am

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.

21 thoughts on “Templeton gives a million bucks to show that evolutionary convergence proves God

  1. > “purpose and meaning” (read “Jesus”)

    Why should I read “Jesus”?!

    “Sir John … did not fully identify with any established religion and possessed an eager curiosity about all of the world’s faith traditions.”

    Christianity does not have the monopoly on woo and feelings of some higher “purpose” behind the Universe.

    You may be right but I think you are over-interpreting the last two sentences to suit your own agenda, which only discredits and damages your position. Let’s stick to rational criticisms of the evidence as it is presented, or we become as bad as them.

    1. For jebus just insert your invisible sky fairy of choice.

      But I’ll bet he was still thinking of some invisible magic man (with a beard).

      And I’m thinking as soon as your stick a “Sir” in front of the name, unwarranted respect and deference starts to fly in that direction.

      Under the thin veneer of respectability purchased dearly he was just a sociopath that made lots of money.

      It’s a good idea to keep the origins of the Templeton Foundation firmly in mind at all times.

    2. I think that it’s important to remember that Sir John is dead, and regardless of his beliefs and intentions, the JTF is now run by son Jack, a born-again xian and right-wingnut who personally opposes gay marriage, supports the wars, donated to the Swift Boat folks, etc. See http://www.thenation.com/article/god-science-and-philanthropy?page=full for more details. It also appears that the conservative bent of JTF is at least part of the reason BioLogos seems to have taken a right turn.

      1. OK. *That* sounds like a convincing reason.

        They are right about one thing, though. Studying convergence is potentially “fruitful” when investigating the “big questions”. Convergence is just another example of how well “blind” evolution can account for life as we know it, and how little we need any kind of other explanation. Let them hoist themselves on their own petard.

        (I work on molecular convergence. It’s a shame the Foundation is “dirty money” – funding’s tight at the moment!)

  2. Spending money on any database that makes scientific literature available to people without university library access seems laudable. It is highly regrettable that the literature nowadays is behind a pay-wall on internet, rather than in the paper form on publicly accessible shelves.

    The Euro 660.000 (about US $ 1 million) the Dutch evangelical organization ForumC gets, distributed over three years, is more worrisome. ‘With this support from Templeton ForumC hopes to initiate a high-level debate that has large impact in the churches and on society as a whole. ForumC aims to strengthen the science-faith debate. Planned is a yearly national debate’. That in a country where creationism is a fringe phenomenon.

    Is Conway Morris a Catholic, rather than an Anglican?

  3. Any link between convergent evolution and spiritual issues is just more wishful thinking by those who are bothered by the fact that the purely materialistic processes of evolution make a deity unnecessary. One needs a big dollop of self-delusion to conclude that convergent evolution means that humas {or squid, for that matter) were historically invevitable.

  4. Actually, I see what they’re getting at… If evolution would tend to produce similar results in similar environments, it supports the model of ‘God’ which sets up the initial conditions and leaves the universe to run (is that the deism argument?), but still has a final goal in mind.

    Sadly for them, there’s nothing else convergent with humans, at least not in terms of intelligence. I guess God really likes succulent desert plants!

    1. When they say “convergent” what kind of convergence do they mean? The hydrodynamic shapes of penguins, dolphins and fish are convergent – on optimal hydrodynamic shape, because the slow ones got eaten by predators. No God needed there. The convergent wings of bats, birds and insects likewise, for providing lift, again to escape predators, find food and mates, etc. etc.

      What is SCM trying to say more than that?

    2. “there’s nothing else convergent with humans”

      What about kangaroos? Both are large bipeds descended from small, quadrupedal arboreal ancestors, adapted to foraging in open grasslands.

  5. This confuses me… If convergence somehow proves the existence if God, why are we the only species that worships various Gods?

          1. In that case, volcanos must be a symbol of Gods promise never to destroy the Earth with a huge rock again. I’m learning so much today.

  6. Templeton was a great believer in the idea that theology progresses in a sense similar to the progress of science. Indeed, the foundation published a newsletter for a while called Progress In Theology. But even the best work in theology involves zero progress. I liken reading such work to watching a really good trampolinist perform. She begins at rest on the trampoline, then goes through an increasing elaborate and spectacular series of evolutions (pun intended) and, after evoking out admiration, comes to rest exactly where she started.

  7. Similar niches favor similar traits in those who occupy them. Why is this so difficult to understand? This is even testable, for crying out loud.

Leave a Reply