Yet another reason not to take Templeton money

March 7, 2012 • 12:17 pm

It’s because, as Business Week reports, the head of the John Templeton Foundation (JTF), John Templeton, Jr., is a huge backer of Rick Santorum’s campaign.  As you probably know, the JTF is a huge backer of science-and-religion accommodationism.  The magazine reports:

He and Santorum’s third largest donor, John Templeton Jr., who has contributed $265,000 to the Red White and Blue Fund, have a history of supporting Santorum.

History With Donors

In 2006, as Santorum fought for a Senate re-election that he ultimately lost, Friess gave $250,000 and Templeton gave $630,000 to a group that ran television ads highlighting his efforts on welfare-to-work legislation.

Two years earlier, Templeton included Santorum in a half- hour video that he produced for $150,000 and distributed to churches, mostly in swing-state Ohio. It described the Christian faiths of then-President George W. Bush, Santorum and then- Georgia Senator Zell Miller, a Democrat. Templeton didn’t return phone calls requesting comment.

A former surgeon who lives in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, Templeton runs the John Templeton Foundation, a philanthropy that provides grants in the areas of religion, science, economics, and character education. Templeton is the namesake son of a successful mutual fund manager who established the foundation.

Templeton has given at least $1.7 million to candidates and political causes since 2003, largely to the Republican Governors Association and the Republican State Leadership Committee, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

But of course money-hungry scientists will just dismiss this as an irrelevant side effect: a mere peccadillo of the Foundation’s boss that doesn’t have anything to do with their science fiefdom. “Our money,” they will say, “is used just to do science, and there are no strings attached.”

How odious does someone have to be before you won’t take their money?

h/t: Todd


61 thoughts on “Yet another reason not to take Templeton money

    1. I’ve come to accept the fact that you have already posted *exactly* what I was intending to post every friggin’ time I come to the comment section in these here parts. I’ve been quietly accepting it for some years now, just felt the need to share today.

    2. Usually the Onion makes up outrageous statements to parody the target. This time they didn’t have to.

  1. But I thought Templeton were the moderate, non-fundamentalist believers.

    OK, I never actually fell for that.

  2. Unfortunately, the tentacles of the Templeton Foundation extend all the way across the Atlantic. For example, it was the main sponsor of a series of high-profile lectures at the 600-year old University of St Andrews on the theme of science and religion, given, surprise surprise, by Templeton-funded people such as Colin Humphreys (Professor of Materials Science at Cambridge). He delivered a gem of a lecture “Can scientists believe in miracles”. I thought he was going for the Guiness book of records shortest lecture, but, alas, no. As a Templeton-funded guy, he regurgitated the most incredible tripe I ever heard within the confines of a University (you can get a flavour at but I would not recommend it).
    By the way, if anyone has first-hand information about the Templeton Foundation, I would be most interested.

    1. Ophelia Benson at Butterflies and Wheels keeps pretty good track of them, or did a few months ago. You can probably find interesting stuff in the archives or you could email her and ask if she’s been keeping links to everything.

    2. Humphreys in a nutshell: Some “miracles” aren’t miracles but only fortuitous natural events, but scientists can believe in actual miracles because God can perform miracles because He’s God.

      Very convincing…


    1. The curious thing is that the foundation gives money to scientists, ostensibly to demonstrate the compatibility of science/acquisition-of-reliable-knowledge and religion, yet JT backs Santorum, who thinks everyone should eschew institutions of higher learning. “My good ol’ common sense is way better than yer book learnin’.”


      1. I don’t think this is inconsistent at all. The over arching goal is to increase the role of religion in society. The rest is just tactics.

        1. Oh, I certainly understand that this can happen. If there’s one thing the religious mind does well it’s cognitive dissonance.

          But from an agenda-free perspective it makes one wonder “can’t you see you’re working both for and against your objective?”

          1. Well…I think it’s more likely that you’re being charitable in describing their agenda.

            I think there’s one and only one agenda. To impose religious values on a secular society. And not just any religious values — the religious values of the right-wing evangelical Christian movement.

            It’s a multipronged approach — one of which seeks to destroy the credibility of science by placing it on the same footing as witch doctors shaking their bones.

          2. Oh, I don’t know that I’m being charitable. After all, I used “ostensibly” to describe their…ostensible…agenda of science/religion accomodationism.

            Regardless of their mprivation it’s weird to note that on the one hand they seem to say “Yay, science – it can totes fit w religion”, and on the other support a politician who thinks education is “teh Devil!!1!”

            Just sort of a “huh, would you look at that” observation, and not really worthy of such a long subthread, so I’ll shut up now.

          3. The reason to say science can get along with religion is to assure any doubters among the faithful that their religious beliefs are perfectly reasonable, even in light of scientific findings that might suggest otherwise. Santorum’s message is aimed at a different audience, those who aren’t doubting and who don’t much value higher education.

      2. I’m thinking Templeton the younger is gonna (has already started to?) move the Foundation quite a bit more to the right, possibly putting less emphasis on genuine scientists when it comes to grants. They already have a history of awarding the likes of Mother Teresa & Billy Graham. All they have to do is revert.

  3. JAC,

    Although I agree with most of the points you make on WEIT–I read WEIT every day religiously (pardon the expression)–you haven’t convinced me that it is important for responsible scientists and science advocates to reject all opportunities to receive Templeton money. Although receiving Templeton money may lead some scientists to refrain from criticizing religions, most scientists don”t criticize religions much anyway. I’m concerned that if non-theists and and those who recognize incompatibility of religious with scientific thinking turn down Templeton money, then more Templeton money will wind up going to religion-enthusiasts and accommodationists.

    I don’t think it was problematic that atheist science writer/editor Michael Shermer took Templeton money to assemble into a booklet 13 diverse views on the question “Does science make belief in God obsolete?” The booklet includes very thoughtful essays by Steven Pinker, Robert Sapolsky, Christopher Hitchens, Pervez Amirali Hoodbboy, Victor Stenger, and Shermer himself as well as writings by people who are sympathetic to Templeton’s agenda. The views in the booklet range from “Yes” (Pinker and Stenger) to “Of course not” (Kenneth Miller) and “No, not at all” (Jerome Groopman), but some of the “No” positions are far from endorsements of religion.

    I think the booklet is very useful (even though, unfortunately, only one of the views expressed comes from a woman) because it provides readers with a convenient opportunity to compare arguments worth examining (including arguments I think are worth dismissing). If Shermer hadn’t taken on this project, I suspect that the funds to support it would have gone to support something far less worthwhile.

    1. WML, I think the point is that Templeton money is really a way of purchasing ersatz respectability. Perhaps, on rare occasions, some of the money might be used for a decent purpose. But this benefit comes at a cost. By participating in this kind of exchange, those scientists who take the funds are implicitly endorsing the Templeton project which is a nefarious effort to introduce religion into science by blurring the lines between them.

      1. + 1

        I would actually prefer if all that money went to openly anti-scientific religious nuts like Santorum (I suspect money was never the limiting factor for those people anyway), then at least there would be no blurring of the lines and no erosion of the standards of science from the inside.

      2. Taking money from a funder is not implicit endorsement of the funder’s ideology. Here’s an example:

        I received for my institution three federall grants to do school personnel training on drug abuse prevention. The funding was offered with a clear ideological agenda reflected in language in the RFP in support of drug war propaganda. Since I oppose the “War on Drugs” and propaganda to convince people to support the War, my proposal called for a project design that did not involve development of instructional materials, that would have needed to include certain Department-approved messages.

        As a grant recipient, I was eventually given an opportunity to testify before a House subcommittee that authorized the grants. I did not hesitate to tell the subcommittee that funding for school-based drug abuse prevention programs should not be for the purpose of spreading propaganda to support misguided drug- supply reduction strategies. Yes, my appearance before the subcommittee was controversial.

        In other words, I was director of a funded project who explicitly stated as a matter of public record that part of the agenda of the funding source was misguided. I would not have had the opportunity to do this if my grant proposals had not been selected for funding awards.

        1. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, your funder is using your project in some way as evidence to support their agenda. I have no access to the details. It is possible that neither do you. While you have maintained your personal integrity by stating publicly and clearly your views, you have never-the-less sold a little bit to your benefactor. I think you’re just quibbling over the price. Possibly it was worth paying in your case. When it comes to Templeton, IMO, the price is not worth paying. That is easy for me to say, and I recognize this, because I don’t make my living doing work that needs this particular kind of moral calculus.

          1. What are you insinuating? That the Templeton Foundation isn’t handing out money just to be nice without expecting anything in return? 😛

    2. The problem is that Templeton is merely buying respectability.

      Both the IRA and Hamas did / do some very important, wonderful charity work with orphans. But if your local soup kitchen were approached by either organization to accept a donation, what would your position be?

      There are times when “free” money is the most expensive type of all.



        1. Militant political groups need three of the same things criminal gangs do: money, secrecy, and friendly civilians. After a while they start to use the same tactics as gangs. The longer they operate, the more they look like gangsters and less like revolutionaries. I’m thinking of Northern Ireland, Colombia, and Kosovo, among others.

    3. I think that is an excellent example of the problem with these grants. Shermer is a deist, and he took the opportunity to present minority views like Miller’s like they were represnetative of scientists at large.

      Any science money on religion should go to study of it. Here statistics on religious views among scientists would have been good use, or a review on why religious claims are empirically problematic. (No Adam & Eve, for example.)

      A religious propaganda pamphlet like Shermer’s only promotes ”religion-enthusiasts and accommodationists”. That is after all why he got the money.

  4. Thomas Jefferson – No citizen “shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever.”
    James Madison – “Religion and government will both exist in greater purity the less they are mixed together.”

  5. lolz. what if scientists simply took templeton money and criticized the foundation’s accomodationist agenda anyway.

    actually that’d be pretty funny and it’d work. take the money apply it to do proper science and criticize the hell out of the foundation anyway. that should teach them a thing or two about trying to buy respectability!

  6. What we really need to do is get a set of not-so-well-known scientists, on our side, to write really fake bullshit for Templeton, get the money, and give it to our causes.

    1. Whenever I hear of, or think of, an idea like this, I remember Kurt Vonnegut’s Mother Night.

      “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”

    2. “What we really need to do is get a set of not-so-well-known scientists, on our side, to write really fake bullshit for Templeton, get the money, and give it to our causes”

      The trouble with this idea is that..

      Most people are unable to recognise “really fake bullshit” even when it hits them full in the face! – Even the most outlandish BS is still likely to be orders of magnitude more rational than what they are happy to believe (particularly if it is in some holy script)..

      So one ends up with them gaining the qudos of having “scientists” engaging with them and conferring scientific “credibility” on them – They are unable to differentiate science and BS, and it does not serve their purpose to do so even if they were able.

      It is all about elavating their irrational unfounded and often provably wrong ideas to a level where the (scientifically) uneducated ignorant masses (ie, the bulk of voters) have an excuse to believe creationist crap.

      Science has a major disadvantage in this ‘war’ – The disadvantage is its integrity.. We will not (and cannot)say “this is the absolute truth” – even for theories (like evolution) which have been found to be faultless.. And if we found a flaw in our theories, we would accept this and discard or modify the theory..

      Creationists have zero integrity.. One cursory read over Genesis shows so many clear flaws that, were this a scientific work, it would have been thrown out in the first few verses on the first page.

      Alas though, we cannot win this war. Taking the money or not taking it, from a practical perspective, probably makes no difference to the outcome – those who can believe the crap and want to believe the crap will believe the crap – does it REALLY matter if we give them an excuse to feel that they are “engaging” with science? Will anyone who actually has integrity and understanding be persuaded to eat the crap, just because some “scientists” engage with those promoting the crap?

      I dont think I could take the money – but – If the money meant I could eradicate maleria or HIV, or produce clean energy for the planet, then I would be tempted.

      1. “Science has a major disadvantage in this ‘war’ – The disadvantage is its integrity.. We will not (and cannot)say “this is the absolute truth” – even for theories (like evolution) which have been found to be faultless..”

        Exactly! It’s a mistake to think you have the upper hand in a debate becuase all the science is on your side. Even if it’s true, the only ones who are likely to notice are people who already know something and respect evidence. The only thing that the uneducated are likely to notice is that the other side appears more assertive and on the offense, whereas the intellectual honesty and lack of assertiveness on the part of the scientists are taken as signs of weakness.

        It always breaks my heart that the very thing that is BEST about science is used against it in this way. When scientist are just being honest about the uncertainty inherent in all research, what people hear is that everything may just as well be wrong, scientist really don’t know anything, and there is no reason to listen to them.

        1. I think it will be many generations (if ever) before the majority of people understand and respect scientific “uncertainty” – Somehow, “certainty” has more “respectability” – this is a matter neuroscience may shed light on..

          I also wonder whether we are ready for a population who accepts the integrity of science.. I fear that religion MAY actually be needed as a (extremely flawed and dangerous)social control mechanism, at our present level of social evolution.

          I fear that, without religion, a huge percentage of the population who have no PERSONAL morality and depend on their religion (and the peer pressure within religious groups) to control their behaviour, would be adrift, and perhaps more dangerous than they are when ‘encapsulated’ within a religion.

          IMO, (apart from the danger to reason and human/scientific advancement) religions which abide by their CORE principles (respect for life, the right of individuals to choose or reject belief, etc) possibly serve, at this time, a needed function.

          Alas, the extremist offshoots of religions do not adhere to their core principles.. Christianity and Islam are examples where their primary ‘holy books’ (New testament and Q’uran) are reasonably benign and do not advocate the murder of unbelievers – but extremists either ignore their primary texts, and/or become devoted to “lesser” texts (like the Hadith) which “allows” them to commit autrocities a in the name of their god.

          In some ways, I would like to see a strengthening of the more ‘benign’ versions of the major religions – The “Q’uran only” Islamists and Christian denomonations which abstain from secular involvement, and Jewish ‘denominations’ which adhere only to the Torah and reject the Talmud and Zionism.. If these ‘benign’ versions had the monopoly, and if those in these groups spoke out against the extremists, then they could, I think, serve a useful role “keeping order” until the bulk of humanity grows up and learns how to cultivate personal morality, and does not need a god, carrot or stick.

          I hope I do not come over as advocating religion – Its just that I see no hope of us getting the masses educated and ready to abandon religion in time… I fear that the next 30 years will determine whether humanity is going to survive, and it will take all humanitys cooperation for us to have any chance of survival..

          Anything which can be done to facilitate this cooperation, IMO, MUST be done.. Really, no matter how unpalatable, we need to find a way to instigate a “truce” – or 100 years from now it really wont matter – there will be no humans to remember what science or religion were!

  7. If I were rich, a Templeton,
    And sought to stitch a simpleton,
    I’d privatise the public forum,
    And seek a quorum for Santorum.
    Of holy things I’d have him speak,
    Eponymouse, Old Rick would squeak,
    “My friends, it’s Washington or bust,
    To hell with Coyne, In God We Trust.”

      1. I’m not sure what you mean, Chris, unless it’s a reference to PZ Myers?
        By the way; ‘seek’ should be ‘buy’.

          1. Oh, I see; thanks for the link, Diane. I had no previous knowledge of cuttlefish and his/her poems.

          2. I first encountered him on Pharyngula, which I used to read regularly. He had an amazing knack for chiming in with a germane, often funny and/or thought provoking poem on an amazing number of PZ’s posts. And always in perfect meter, like yours. That’s so important; to me, at least. I hate to read a line and then have to go back and reread it to figure out what syllables to stress to get it to scan.

      1. This would need something much more subtle. I doubt they ever have all their cash in one vehicle.

  8. Meh.

    I think you’re spot on about the Templeton Foundation and their aims. At the same time I think it’s easy for you to criticise people for taking Templeton’s money when you are a full professor at UoC with easier than most access to research funds. You earned this position, of course; still, you must know there are more worthwhile projects than there is funding around.

    How about examining, grant by grant, whether Templeton-funded research is corrupted? When it isn’t, great, less money for crazies; when it is, highlight the concrete examples as you have been doing.

    1. vHF, you’re absolutely dead wrong here. Being at the U of C doesn’t give me any easier access to research money than anyone else. My work was fully supported by NIH funds, for which I had to apply in a competitive evaluation, just like every other scientist. And funding rates aren’t very high. So it’s not “easier” for me to criticize Templeton.

      Moreover, I was once personally visited by Barnaby Marsh, a Templeton bigwig, who urged me to apply for Templeton funds. The implication was that if I had a good project, they’d fund it. I didn’t, of course; I won’t take money from them.

      I find your accusation not only untrue, but offensive. You have no idea what you’re talking about.

      1. No no no, I’m sorry, it came out all wrong. I did not mean to say you get preferential treatment in grant applications. These are awarded on merit of course, I am well (not to say painfully) aware of that.

        I’ll explain what I did mean with an example. Suppose I have a good project in mind, and so do you. You, being at UoC faculty, can attract a top-notch student to do it, and the student will often be funded by the University. I, being a lowly postdoc, have to get a grant. Again, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, you were a postdoc once too, and anyway it’s a much better idea that you should supervise a student than I. Still, it makes it that much more easier for you to reject Templeton money.

        I hope it’s clearer now, and I apologise for the offense. I do not agree with you and yours often, but I’m not here to throw insults around.

        1. And now I seem to have suggested the UoC student funding is not awarded on merit. Absolutely didn’t mean to either. Sorry again, not my finest day, this.

  9. How odious does someone have to be before you won’t take their money?

    Depends on how big your mortgage payment is, I imagine… I confess I’d probably take Templeton money, if I were in the appropriate field and it was offered and I felt like I was not being explicitly pressured to distort my results. I sure wouldn’t feel good about it, though, and this revelation might almost be enough to tip the scales. Almost.

  10. Can the money that people donate to the Templeton Foundation help Templeton’s son to fund Rick Santorum, or is he just donating from a personal fortune which is independent of the foundation? If it’s the latter, I don’t really see what the big deal is. If some descendant of Alfred Nobel was both critically involved in managing the Nobel Foundation and also used his own money to fund unpleasant political causes, I don’t think that would create any moral complications for scientists who wanted to accept Nobel Prize money. But maybe my assumption that the two pools of money are independent is incorrect?

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