Lest you think that the Templeton foundations have changed their mission, have a gander.
As you may recall, when Sir John died in 2008, he left much of his fortune—acquired by creating investment funds and moving to the Bahamas to avoid taxes—to his own foundations, with the aim of showing that science and religion are not only compatible, but that the methods of science can help uncover spiritual realities. (In other words, the fusion would help answer “The Big Questions”, which are not scientific but religious and spiritual.) As Templeton said in 2005:
We are tying to persuade people that no human has yet grasped 1% of what can be known about spiritual realities. So we are encouraging people to start using the same methods of science that have been so productive in other areas, in order to discover spiritual realities.
(Let’s leave aside the question of “what is a spiritual reality?” and move on. )
The John Templeton Foundation (JTF) website adds more:
Although Sir John was a Presbyterian elder and active in his denomination (also serving on the board of the American Bible Society), he espoused what he called a “humble approach” to theology. Declaring that relatively little is known about the divine through scripture and present-day theology, he predicted that “scientific revelations may be a gold mine for revitalizing religion in the 21st century.” To his mind, “All of nature reveals something of the creator. And god is revealing himself more and more to human inquiry, not always through prophetic visions or scriptures but through the astonishingly productive research of modern scientists.”
We take our inspiration from the intellectual legacy of Sir John Templeton. Our vision is one of infinite scientific and spiritual progress, in which all people aspire to and attain a deeper understanding of the universe and their place in it. We look forward to a world where people are curious about the wonders of the universe, motivated to pursue lives of meaning and purpose, and overwhelmed by great and selfless love.
From the outset, Templeton has funneled millions of dollars into accommodationist enterprises, aiming to effect a fusion between science, religion and spirituality. Yes, his legacy funds real science projects, but you should always remember that the aim of the JTF and its affiliate enterprises is to use that money to answer the Big Questions about spirituality, God, and religion.
According to the John Templeton Foundation link (click on screenshot below) and a new CESAR project website (Conjunctive Explanations in Science and Religion), the JTF recently coughed up nearly half a million dollars to fund a project about how science and religion can help each other to find truth about the cosmos.
From the CESAR website:
The CESAR project is a collaboration between Ulster University, the University of Utah, and Queen’s University Belfast and is funded by the John Templeton Foundation. It builds on an earlier project on ‘Explaining and Explaining Away’ at Ulster University, which was also funded by the John Templeton Foundation.
Okay, so two Irish universities and one in America are swilling at the trough. What is the aim? It’s to show that not only can science inform religion (which of course it does, entirely by showing that the claims of religion are wrong), but that religion can inform science. Here’s the project statement on the JTF page (my emphases):
While there is general agreement that science and religion need not be in conflict, this project investigates the much more positive thesis that scientific and religious explanations can work together in mutually enriching ways. The unique contribution lies in how the project draws upon the history of science and religion and philosophy of science to explore an important but understudied aspect of scientific reasoning: how two (or more) hypotheses can work together as a ‘conjunctive explanation’ rather than as distinct, competing explanations. The relevance to science and religion will be explored along two dimensions. First, the project seeks to demonstrate that theological and philosophical perspectives can inform scientific practice rather than merely accommodating the findings of science. Second, it explores how the concept of conjunctive explanation can apply not only within science, but also to cases where scientific and religious explanations work together. Research will address the following questions: a) Historically, how have theological assumptions influenced thinking about how explanations can work together rather than compete, especially in the context of evolutionary biology? b) Philosophically, how can it be determined whether two explanations work together, rather than compete, to account for the evidence? c) How can the answers to these questions provide new insights in science and religion?
It’s clear from this description that the project aims to create “joint” scientific and religious explanations that together can be more productive than scientific explanations alone. I’m not sure how this would work, unless they’re thinking of something like intelligent design (which the JTF no longer funds), i.e., something like Behe’s thesis that “evolution and God’s mutation-making can together explain life on Earth better than just evolution alone.” Now JTF, as I said, doesn’t fund ID any more, though they once did, but the statement above is the closest I can come to a “conjunctive explanation.”
Note, too, that aim “a)” is to confect these “conjunctive explanations” for evolutionary biology in particular. (They’ve dropped “philosophy” here and just deal with “theological assumptions”.) By infusing theology back into evolution, they are doing something akin to Intelligent Design work. And I can’t imagine how adding theology to evolution can better “account for the evidence”. Pray tell us, JTF! (Perhaps “pray” was not the best word here. . .)
Note as well that this project is not trying to find out whether “conjunctive explanations” are productive. Rather, they seek to demonstrate that adding theology and philosophy can inform scientific practice. In other words, they’ve assumed what they’re trying to show.
I’m prepared to believe that philosophy can help scientists do their job, as philosophy is a discipline that can help us think logically and rationally. But I’m not prepared to accept that theology can add one iota of useful information or practice to science. Yes, religionists say that in the past some scientific advances have been motivated by religious impulses, often citing Newton or Lemaitre, but those days are long gone and, in fact, most practicing scientists today are atheists. If there’s been a scientific advance that came from religion in the last few decades, I’d like to know about it. And of course all kinds of nonreligious impulses can inspire scientific hypotheses, including a dream that a snake formed a ring by biting its own tail.
What will come of this project? As always, the Templeton money gets wasted by funding scholarly conferences that have no impact and academic papers that nobody reads. The project description continues with a description of the “deliverables” (oy!):
Deliverables consist of at least nine articles in academic journals and six conference papers, while two academic workshops will result in two edited volumes. The project activities and findings are expected to stimulate new directions in science and religion and also in the history and philosophy of science since they address an important topic relevant to scientific practice. The project is also expected to promote understanding of science and religion at a popular level and this will be facilitated by a public engagement workshop and two magazine articles.
In science, most people don’t start a project with a firm idea of how many papers and articles and workshops will result, for you don’t know what, if anything, you’re going to find. I seriously doubt whether this $500K grant will have any tangible effect on the progress or direction of science: the size of any effect would be about the size of a barnacle’s effect on the swimming direction of its humpback whale host.