OMG: Templeton infests my university!

March 30, 2012 • 4:50 am

According to Arete (a research development program of the University of Chicago), the U of C has received a huge grant from the John Templeton Foundation for the “spiritual renewal” of physicians at our hospital:

A $2.6-million, three-year grant from the John Templeton Foundation will allow Farr Curlin, MD, and Daniel Sulmasy, MD, co-directors of the Program on Medicine and Religion at the University of Chicago, to create a Clinical Scholars Program designed to provide the essential infrastructure for the spiritual renewal of the medical profession.

The Program will begin by recruiting eight University of Chicago faculty to help take the spiritual “pulse” of medicine by researching the relationship between professional satisfaction and the spiritual lives of physicians.

“Medicine is a sacred practice,” says Curlin, associate professor of medicine and associate director of the MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics. “We’ll probe how physicians relate their work to the religious traditions they hold and how they could see their work as having moral and spiritual meaning.”

It’s worse than dire, for it’s meant not to use faith or spirituality to help patients heal, but to help the doctors heal patients.

Over the years, there has been much scholarship on the impact of religion on patients and health care outcomes but virtually none on the spirituality of the practice of medicine, i.e., the religious characteristics of physicians and how physicians’ religious commitments shape the clinical encounter. This has been seen as a threat to medicine’s scientific principles “because it introduces personal and private elements,” Curlin says.

Nevertheless, religion and spirituality are “inescapably” linked to how a physician practices, Curlin says. “In fact, spiritual beliefs and traditions are among the best resources that physicians can and should draw upon.” . .

I don’t think so.  The best resources physicians should draw upon are their training, their tools, and their array of medicines, as well as their fellow specialists.  Spiritual beliefs and training rank down around number 143.

Most physicians endorse the importance of addressing spiritual concerns of patients, particularly in the context of life, death and serious illness, says Sulmasy, professor of medicine and ethics and associate director of the MacLean Center. “Physicians and ministers face some of the same questions, but we think medicine can be vigorously scientific as well as deeply spiritual.”

And this is the worst part:

In addition to exploring such issues, the grant will help develop a new field, the spirituality of medicine. “We’ll create and support a community of scholars with training in religion and medical science who could become leaders in this new interdisciplinary field,” Sulmasy says. “And there’s no better place to do this than the University of Chicago with top medical and divinity schools.”

Notice how “spirituality” has morphed into “religion” here. They’re going to involve the Divinity School!

We already know that spiritual healing and intercessory prayer don’t work, so all that’s left is to let patients have access to ministers, rabbis, and the like when they’re in the hospital.  Wait. . . they already do that!

All this program will amount to is a bunch of money poorly spent on trying to infuse religion into medicine—and this at a scientific institution.  Why not investigate goat sacrifice and other burnt offerings?

During treatment, doctors need to deep-six their faith, if they have any, and concentrate on science. Sure they should regard their patients as suffering and fearful human beings, and treat them accordingly, but that’s empathy, not religion or even spirituality. And by all means let physicians be trained in how to be kind and empathic toward their patients. But for crying out loud, leave the nonexistent sky fairies to the experts: the pastors and rabbis who infest hospitals, offering false hope to the ill. And keep the Divinity School out of it. What do those people know about healing?

This kind of project reminds me of the NIH’s Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, which has been pretty much an abject failure. (As the old joke goes, “What do you call alternative medicine that works? Answer: Medicine.”)

The last thing my university needs is a bunch of Templeton flaks pocketing even more money in the service of an ill-conceived project.  Just think how many lives three million dollars could cure had it been invested in, say, cardiac bypass machines or simply additional care for the poor of the South Side.  This grant will not, I think, save a single life. It will merely enrich already-affluent physicians, or promote the careers of misguided academics.  Imagine giving money to medical care itself rather than to improving the spiritual lot and pastoral practice of doctors!

More Templeton money down the drain.

h/t: Sigmund

92 thoughts on “OMG: Templeton infests my university!

  1. Yuck! I felt similarly icky when I found out that my girlfriend’s grad adviser was funded by Templeton.

  2. “In fact, spiritual beliefs and traditions are among the best resources that physicians can and should draw upon.”

    Yea, better have some priests around to exorcise demons, because if demons don’t cause diseases, what does?

    Also, pray and sacrifice to your god. And if you’ve done all these things, and your patient isn’t dead yet, you can still treat him with stuff that actually works. If you can reconcile that with your spiritual belief, of course.

    As you pointed out, it’s sad to think about how the money could be used in a productive way to help people.

    1. Good point — the physicians involved should watch videos like this to see how they feel about exorcism. Then I wish the physicians good luck rationalizing and compartmentalizing what they just saw.

  3. So how will this grant affect care at The University of Chicago Medicine? Will patients now have the option of either science-based treatment or the laying on of hands by their “renewed” doctors? Will nurses pray over patients who can’t afford medicines? And if I can prove that someone got better after I did some faith healing on them, can I get a residency there?

    1. “…by their ‘renewed’ doctors…”

      Medicine is in desperate need of “renewal”. You simply can’t look at the ever increasing life expectancy and the ever improving therapies and conclude otherwise. Medicine is in a stagnant rut, and only religious BS can help.


  4. And of course those of us who would opt to refrain from the “spiritual” aspect of care offered will probably be seen as beligerent and won’t have adequate access to the care that actually is helpful. “Buy into the program or take a hike.”

    1. Yes, this is the downside that they either don’t think about, don’t care about — or even, possibly, desire. Atheists will be marginalized and considered less caring, less deserving, less likely to heal or be healed.

  5. In fact, spiritual beliefs and traditions are among the best resources that physicians can and should draw upon.

    Before they start researching anything, let them first come up with evidence for this hypothesis.

    To me it sounds more like a call to revert medical practice to shamanism … “spiritual beliefs and traditions” are among the best resources? PUH-lease…

    1. “In fact, spiritual beliefs and traditions are among the best resources that physicians can and should draw upon.”

      Excellent point Jacob. The quote would imply that a deeply religious physician with nineteenth century medical knowledge would be preferable to an atheist doctor with twenty first century knowledge. I don’t think so and neither do the Templeton folks, if they were honest.

    1. Sadly, they have what practically amounts to an unlimited supply.

      Absent a complete and total collapse of all economic endeavors everywhere around the world, the endowment will be funding nonsense projects in perpetuity.

    2. Is it really going down the drain?

      Templeton’s objective isn’t improved medical care. It’s to shore up religious BS with legitimacy stolen from fields like medicine, physics, etc.

      In the eyes of many, this has unfortunately worked.

      1. Oh, I see the point you and Jerry are making: The money won’t produce anything worthwhile in practical terms, that is, here in the real world.

        But from T’s perspective, they’re getting what they’re paying for.

  6. “Just think how many lives three million dollars could cure had it been invested in, say, cardiac bypass machines or simply additional care for the poor of the South Side.”

    Jesus loves the poor and wants them in Heaven just as soon as we can send them and without all that superfluous medical care.

    We truly live in the age of miracles. Dick Cheney finally gets a heart and the South Side gets smoke and rattles.

    1. And there are plenty of things that would not actually save any lives but would be far more worthwhile than this.

  7. “Doctor, before you attempt to staunch the flow of this life-threatening loss of blood, I’d like to know if you are a Christian. Or a Muslim? A Bahá’í?

    What about that nurse? Or that porter who wheeled me in? Or the ambulance driver and the paramedic? The cleaners? And the managers? The designers and builders of the medical equipment? The hospital architect? The hospital governors?”

    Etc. ad infinitum…or maybe not, depending on how many of the religiose it takes to save a patient. Difficult experiment to devise! Helluva a lot of variables.

  8. Last year, I underwent a routine endoscopy. The gastroenterologist came into the prep room after I had been gowned, IV line set, and all the rest.

    He then proceeded to ask if it were OK if he prayed. Stunned, I could only nod my head.

    He then proceeded to pray OUT LOUD for god and Jimmy to help him not poke a gaping hole in my stomach.

    Thankfully, his skill was adequate to the task. But if I had not already had an IV line in place, I would have gotten up from the gurney and walked out the door.

    The world does NOT need more nutjobs like this.


    1. But just think of the outcome had he not prayed. No doubt he would have killed you on the spot without God’s divine mercy (and years of medical training).

      1. I was sorely tempted to not pay the bill — and explain it by saying that since god had directed the doctor’s hand, then god should be the one sending me the bill.

        I came this close.

        1. People often don’t know much about their doctors. How rational they are, for instance. I believe there are now web sites where you can rate doctors. Your experience should go there. I have found that — if you have no other information –looking for a secular Jew has worked for me.

    2. My condolences. Having someone praying not to mess up – in front of me – would have freaked me out completely.

    3. good grief! I’ve had residents at Loyola (a religious hospital) who have been less obtuse.

      Didn’t the doc realize this would make you nervous?

    4. The arrogance of these people! I hope when he’s in the operating table, his doctor prays out loud to Allah first.

    5. I wouldn’t be surprised if the gastroenterologist thought there was no coercion involved because he ASKED. Yeah, right. Under the circumstances, few if any patients would have the guts to say ‘no.’ The doctor needs it. If he had asked if it was okay to smoke a cigarette or sing a couple bars of “America the Beautiful,” the patient will agree. No way do you want to put someone off or make them nervous before they go into your body.

      And what, pray tell, was the point of praying in front of you? There was ample time before. But no. He waited till he had an audience — a visible audience.

      Passive aggressive proselytizing. He wants a story he can tell about how he was there to offer God to someone who really needed Him at that moment. And he did it in a way that made it totally up to the sinner/unenlightened.

  9. This grant […] will merely enrich already-affluent physicians

    This will be the best outcome we can hope for: that all this activity will amount to nothing, save for some extra money for people who don’t need it or deserve it. The alternative, i.e. effectively promoting pseudoscience, is much worse.

  10. We already know how “physicians’ religious commitments shape the clinical encounter.” Just ask the folks over at Compassion & Choices. Will your advance directive be honored? Or, how about a script for a morning-after pill. UofC is my academic home too, and I’m sad to see it sullied.

  11. woo-doctor : “Nurse! This patient needs 10 cc’s of miracleaximib stat!”

    woo-nurse : **squisshhh**

    non-stampcollector : “AAAA! (thunk)”

    woo-doctor : “Now I need it!”

  12. “to help take the spiritual “pulse” of medicine”

    Yup. Templeton has their thumb on the spiritual pulse of modern medicine.

  13. Perhaps they should use the money to find excuses for why god doesn’t heal amputees.

    As an aside, we recently scored a small victory at our hospital by kicking out unsolicited pastors, rabbis, etc. who would simply wander into the wards, outside of visiting hours, to pray around the beds of patients who were too ill to say no.


    1. That is exactly what happened when my father was on his deathbed in the hospital. After I was promised by several people that these ass hats wouldn’t come in unless requested, one decided he didn’t need permission to invade our privacy. I promptly kicked his ass out and is still pisses me off to think about it.

  14. God all-mighty what are their intentions! Perhaps they are recruiting physicians for the right-to-life mobs. At the very least they will be able to come up with fresh photos of aborted fetuses.

  15. What irritates me is the deliberate elision between spirituality and religion, as if the former is only possible with the latter. If we can cut this supposed equivalency then at least such activities would need to be more honest about what they’re doing. Much harder to say ‘religious tools are very important for doctors’.

    1. Of couse I meant resources not tools as in

      “In fact, spiritual beliefs and traditions are among the best resources that physicians can and should draw upon.”

  16. What’s the U of C overhead rate? Presumably at least some of the grant will be skimmed off by admin to pay for janitors, & other useful people. It won’t all be wasted, I’ll bet.

  17. I really hope the coffee and donuts part of their budget is very generous.

    Because the rest of it looks like a total waste of money.

  18. As a physician, I am deeply embarrassed by this. Is it my imagination or is there a higher than expected prevalence of woo belief, evolution “skepticism”, etc among doctors?

      1. Thanks for the link. Very interesting. I guess I feel *a little* better. Btw, can you guess my medical specialty? My username is a hint. Another hint: it’s the only specialty that has the word “atheist” hidden within its name.

  19. “The last thing my university needs is a bunch of Templeton flaks pocketing even more money in the service of an ill-conceived project.”
    Sounds like U of C is prostituting its reputation, selling its name, earned respect and status to Templeton. Templeton will wear it like a crown, as though it earned the crowning achievements of respected reputation by having such an intimate relationship with U of C… as though prostitution is ever truly intimate.

    1. Just for fun, though, I’m trying to imagine what they would do if they somehow discovered that the more religious a physician is, then the less likely they are to say they love helping others.

      Wow. People who consider themselves deeply “spiritual” are going to wax eloquent and gas on and on about how intimately their spirituality is connected to doing good works. No shit. Stop the presses. Film at 11. What a shock this will be.

  20. Someone needs to submit a well written op-ed to the Chicago Tribune on this, followed up by lots of letters of protest and all copied to the hospital administration, board and other powers that be.

    If I still lived in the Chicago area, I’d be putting my letter together today.

  21. I too felt the absolute despair that everyone posting felt. The most succinct post: “Nnnnnooooooooooooooo!” voiced my personal Californian reaction.

    What to do?? Get on with writing your book, boy-o!!

    My book (title withheld here) will carry the name of the author as “Auric Arithmetic”. Despite my seemingly unique name, there are fourteen other “Scott”s on Facebook with the same exact surname. I prefer that they will not suffer unexpected consequences because of my e-book.

    The word “Arithmetic” originates in Greek, meaning “of numbers”. And it is indeed our innate inability to comprehend very large numbers that enables humankind’s tenacious embrace of simplistic thinking, religious thinking. After all, it was our ability to synthesize simple conclusions out of billions of inputs per second, and unconsciously cast aside the plus-99% of the unnecessary inputs, that make humans a successful hominid. Religion follows that pattern of success: grasp the simple distillation.

  22. As an alumnus, the U of C hospital and med school always seemed tacked on and out of place. Not really of the University, like the B-School. Now, a department on the theory of medicine, that would seem normal.

    Not sure putting the Med School under the Div School works, though.

  23. Templeton $$$ -> DL => OM

    Templeton $$$ -> UofC => OMG!

    On the whole, I’d rather stick with the DL. (Which may well be read as Damage Limitation…)

  24. In the hopes of avoiding woo-stuff from paramedics/nurses/doctors while incapacitated, I put ‘atheist’ on my medical alert engraving.

    Haven’t been incapacitated since I got it, though, so no data yet.

  25. Just to rub in how insane this is I made a couple of amendments.

    “Law is a sacred practice”. “We’ll probe how lawyers relate their work to the religious traditions which they hold and how they could see their work as having moral and spiritual meaning”.

  26. Dust off and nuke it from orbit, it’s the only way to be sure….

    Sorry, Jerry, you might want to evacuate. 😉

  27. I would hope religion _never_ gets into medicine; it’s a dead end. Love the article, that hits all the high points but especially “will it help”?

    Show me the evidence!

  28. I think there are three main goals for this attempt to instigate “the spiritual renewal of the medical profession.”

    1.) It’s a wedge for the introduction of more alternative medicine.

    2.) It’s to promote the idea that caring, compassion, and concern are the domains of spirituality, and that “spirituality” is belief in a Higher Power.

    3.) It’s to encourage people to become more religious and strengthen the faith of those who already are religious by making it seem that there are practical benefits to being religious.

  29. spiritual beliefs and traditions are among the best resources that physicians can and should draw upon

    Sure, when you’re playing a healer in World of Warcraft.

  30. spiritual beliefs and traditions are among the best resources that physicians can and should draw upon

    Templeton must be confusing the real world with World of Warcraft.

  31. lolz. Well doctors of medicine essentially are a trade skill. It’s a profession pretty much like mechanics, plumbers, etc. In the essence of it, no critical thinking really is required. And the very nature of the work in dealing directly with the sick, I suppose they become more susceptible to woo and “spiritual” kinds of things in order to be able to relate with their patients looking for comfort. Even if a doctor does not succumb to this “spiritual” side of the profession, they probably will go along with it since again it’s part of the deal that they somehow bring comfort to their patients.

    1. My mechanic is religious. He told me that my transmission didn’t have a prayer in hell of making it to Ft. Lauderdale this spring break.

      Should I ask Jesus for hep with the bill?

    2. In some ways, the practice of medicine is indeed like a trade skill. Some specialties more so than others. However, far from not being required, critical thinking is an
      Important part of medicine. Out of curiosity, where did you get the impression that no critical thinking is used in medicine? You’re just plain wrong here.

      1. I think you may have missed my point or that I did not make it clearly. Doctors of medicine who have to deal with patients may be more susceptible to woo or “spiritual” kinds of thinking simply because there is a “comfort” part of their work. So let’s say a doctor who does not believe in the efficacy of prayer at all may start to say prayers for patients at those patients’ request simply because it brings them comfort and hope.

        In that case, does this mean that the doctor is “soft” or “accommodating” of religion with the medicine he/she practices which is based on science? What if this hypothetical doctor does this over and over again over the course of decades in his profession. He/She then starts to mix prayers and wishful kinds of thinking in the hopes that the patients get better and so someone comes along with some study or program like this and that doctor probably will be more receptive in support of this program simply because he/she does not see harm in it.

        1. I re-read my initial post and yes I did say that “no critical thinking really is required” which is a mistake as you have pointed out.

  32. The greatest irony is that (without wishing to be at all negative about the great medical successes of the U.S.) this is coming from a country which gives the impression to outsiders that medicine there is an almost entirely commercial affair, with very little association at all to public benefit. But religion is as well, so maybe it is not so ironic.

    1. Many people here in the US have the same impression. It’s probably true to a greater extent than I would care to admit.

    1. Is this Farr Curlin a Hippocratic oaf? (Sorry about the quasi-ad hominem, but I couldn’t resist the play on words).

  33. Unfortunately PZ isn’t the only one with witch doctors down the hall. This sort of bullshit needs to be expunged from medical schools.

  34. A link to Dan Dennett’s brilliant and inspiring letter of thanks to the hospital staff who saved his life back in 2006; well worth a read.


  35. “During treatment, doctors need to…concentrate on science.”

    That should go without saying. I would, however, be apprehensive of a doctor who thought along the following lines, attributed to Professor of Genetics Steve Jones of University College London:

    “I recently had a hernia operation. Was that because men descend from fish, with their testes near the heart, so that human sperm have to follow a tortuous tube up into the body and back again, with a risk of failure at the plumbing’s weak point?…. I’d choose a surgeon who goes for [that] theory every time.”

    I would choose a surgeon who is practised in performing hernia operations on human patients, whose only historical certainty is that I am the offspring of other human beings with whom I share a common anatomy, and who leaves his fish fantasies – if any – behind, with his childhood Aquaman comics.

    1. But Jones is half right, that IS why the vasa deferentia loop over the bladder. Like the better-known recurrent laryngyal nerve, its topology prevented it from evolving in a rational way. I can’t see how that is to blame for the hernia, though. The point is better made by the path of the urethra through the prostate, causing benign prostatic hypertrophy to result in obstruction – a bane of older men.

  36. How can anyone even do research on anything ‘spiritual’? I can’t ever get anyone to even give me a coherent definition.

  37. I feel a similar dismay over The Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values at MIT.


    The Dalai Lama Center for Ethics and Transformative Values at MIT is dedicated to inquiry, to dialogue, and to the creation of programs that affect the ethical and humane dimensions of life. This nonpartisan center is a collaborative think tank focused on the development of interdisciplinary research and programs in various fields of knowledge from science and technology, to education and international relations.

    The Center is founded to honor the vision of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama and his call for a holistic education that includes the development of human and global ethics. It will emphasize responsibility as well as examine meaningfulness and moral purpose between individuals, organizations, and societies.

    I wonder, who initiated it, who put up the money, and why? Their FAQ page says, “The Center is funded through generous gifts from private individuals as well as grants from charitable organizations,” but they never say who initiated it, and why.

    It seems to me the center implicitly validates religious authority in morality and ethics, but as Hitchens said, he was never shown the supposed moral advantage that religious authorities claim over the rest of us. At least I feel better to read “The Dalai Lama Center will not receive MIT funding but will depend upon the support of individuals who recognize its potential to contribute to the development of an ethical perspective in tomorrow’s leaders.” So I can still donate to MIT “unrestricted” without supporting this.

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