Templeton wastes more than $12 million

You want to see millions of dollars wasted—most of them in a desperate attempt to reconcile science and religion? Look no further than this monthly report of grants given by the John Templeton Foundation, or JTF (click on the screenshot):

If you go to the page, you’ll see a list of grants on various topics, the amount the JTF awarded for each one, and, if you click on the grant, a description of what the dosh was given for.

Here are grants in the Human Sciences:

That first one sounds weird, and you don’t get much enlightenment if you look at its topic:

Aim: To produce an empirically-derived taxonomy of religious practices in the context of healthcare, for use by researchers, healthcare professionals, and pastoral workers; for the benefit of the public.

Need: Currently religious health interventions are poorly defined and evaluated, so causality cannot be inferred and such programmes are dismissed by healthcare providers. A particular problem is the overlap of religious and non-religious spiritual practices meaning the effects of a psychological exercise/therapy cannot be differentiated from an act of religious faith or belief in a higher power.

Solution: A standardised classification that defines and isolates potential active ingredients within religious health interventions will create building blocks for replicable interventions that can be robustly evaluated and compared.

For the life of me, I can’t see how nearly a quarter of a million dollar spent this way will provide any benefits.

The fourth project, “The Intellectual Humility of Psychological Scientists Before and after the Credibility Revolution,” attempts to study this:

Intellectual humility – a recognition that one’s beliefs might be wrong – is a core value of science. However, the so-called ‘replicability crisis’ and ensuing credibility revolution in science suggests that scientists have sometimes overestimated the robustness of their results and the rigor of their methods. In this project, we will examine intellectual humility in a field at the eye of the replicability storm: psychology. We will examine three big questions: 1) Do scientists’ self-reports of intellectual humility track peer reports and behavioral indicators (e.g., making calibrated claims, avoiding errors, updating their beliefs when new evidence comes out), 2) Does the intellectual humility of a scientific work predict greater or less impact of that work within and outside of the scientific community? And 3) Have published findings in psychology increased in intellectual humility since before the credibility revolution?

“Humility,” of course, is a watchword for the JTF, because they’re always calling for scientists to be humble, as if that made them equivalent to religionists. But of course most religionists aren’t humble, at least in their reluctance to admit that they might be wrong in their beliefs, or in telling us what kind of evidence would prove them wrong. But what is the “credibility revolution”?  The recent realization that many scientific results weren’t replicable by others, although this was largely in psychology and not the “harder” sciences. It’s hardly a “revolution.”

In biology, Yoav Soen got $600,000 to study epigenetics:

This is a scientific study that might yield interesting results. What I was curious about is why Templeton keeps pumping so much money into epigenetics. I realized, after I read Templeton’s introduction to the grant, that it’s because it undercuts Darwinism and supposedly also the view that “we are more than the sum of our genes”:

Are we more than the sum of our genes? Three intriguing investigations add insight into the ways environment and experience shape genetic expression — sometimes in ways that can be inherited across multiple generations

Well, epigenetic changes are heritable modifications of DNA, so they don’t really undercut the view that we’re somehow “more” than the sum of our genes. Epigenetics is just “the sum of altered genes.” (Of course we are more than “the sum of our genes”: we’re also the sum of our experiences and environments–DUH!).  And Soen contributes to this view by implying that somehow Darwinism becomes a bit shady in light of epigenetics:

Soen believes that these sort of heritable changes existing outside the genome allow for greater individual adaptation to circumstance within the broader framework of genetic inheritance and evolution through natural selection. “No doubt, natural selection is essential and powerful,” he says, “but it cannot account for all that biologists have been seeing in experiments.”

Well, we still have no concrete example of an epigenetically-induced “adaptation” that has been involved in evolution, largely because no epigenetic modifications of DNA have been seen to last more than half a dozen generations. But dream on. . .

Here are some projects on philosophy and theology.

Green’s project is about why different cultures don’t see God (the assumption is that god exists), and the different ways they apparently experience and rationalize God’s invisibility:

This course of study would allow me to explore at depth how divine hiddenness manifests itself within cultures around the globe. The project would allow me to examine the extent to which the experience of divine absence is ubiquitous across cultures, how that experience is processed in different contexts of belief and practice, and the extent to which extra-theological factors like urbanization might impact one’s experience of divine absence. I would anticipate emerging from the project with a publishable monograph.

But I have the answer: God is absent because gods don’t exist. The rest is commentary.

Below: $5.3 million dollars for studies of free will!  This will involve a collaboration between philosophers and neuroscientists. To me it’s time to leave the topic to philosophers to argue about what compatibilist definition of free will is the best one congruent with physical determinism, for we already know that we don’t have any kind of free will that violates the laws of physics. (By “determinism”, I also include the fundamental indeterminacy of quantum mechanics, which of course doesn’t give us any kind of “will”.)  We already know that contracausal free will is bogus; the rest is philosophy.

Here are two grants in “public engagement”:

What is the “Everything Happens Project“? It sounds like a funded podcast along the lines of Krista Tippett’s unbearable and lachrymose lucubrations:

The Everything Happens Project with Dr. Kate Bowler is a public life and media initiative. The Project seeks to develop thicker language around suffering and loss and to foster vibrant communities around hope, grit, courage, generosity and resilience in the face of complicated realities. The project will consider the big questions: How do you nurture Christian faith in the midst of uncertainty? Can we engage, inform and enrich the lives of an engaged intellectual audience with conversations inspiring faith, spiritual insight, and virtue formation?

Through her podcast, writing, speaking, and public engagement, Dr. Bowler finds cross-disciplinary conversation partners to join her in thinking about wisdom in difficult seasons, and how we may suffuse our communities and our lives with lasting hope. Dr. Bowler is not merely providing information or an argument through her podcast. She is animating life’s most profound questions for her engaged intellectual audience through narrative and relationship.

Thicker language around suffering and loss? What is that? Has our language been too thin? And, of course, the Big Questions stick their noses in the tent: those are the questions that have no definite answer but ones that Templeton likes. I like to think that Big Questions have Big Answers, but of course when they’re of this ilk they don’t.

As for the “Moral Foundation of Movies (Phase II)”, well, read about that yourself. I can’t go on. Yet several other areas and projects are described on the page above.

Note that just the above grants add up to more than twelve million dollars! Truly, Templeton is well endowed with cash, and verily I say unto you: they dispense it into intellectual black holes. Money goes in, but nothing substantive ever escapes.

h/t; Michael


  1. EdwardM
    Posted July 20, 2019 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    What’s the word… omphaloskepsis? The mind boggles.

  2. Posted July 20, 2019 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on chrismakan.

  3. Posted July 20, 2019 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    This is amazing

  4. Jonathan Dore
    Posted July 20, 2019 at 10:54 am | Permalink

    Actually, the second one looks as if it might be potentially useful. Most surveys of religious belief including poorly phrased/sequenced/designed questions that often, it seems to me, have the effect of over-estimating religious belief, whether intentionally or not (the religion question in the UK Census being one of the most notorious examples). Anything that could help separate markers of genuine belief from those of merely customary social propriety is all to the good I think.

    • Posted July 21, 2019 at 7:19 am | Permalink

      Sadly, I don’t think Templeton’s will make it more accurate.


      • Jonathan Dore
        Posted July 24, 2019 at 5:45 am | Permalink

        I agree that’s unlikely to be their motivation!

  5. Jonathan Gallant
    Posted July 20, 2019 at 10:59 am | Permalink

    Thanks for this posting, it is priceless. Thicker language! Divine hiddenness! Andy Borowitz couldn’t have made up better stuff. On the other hand, it is a little discouraging to see the Weizmann Institute, UBC, and UNC joining such outfits as Azusa Pacific at the trough.

    • Posted July 23, 2019 at 11:52 am | Permalink

      Thanks for pulling that one out – I hadn’t even noticed the affiliation. UBC is one of my alma maters, so …


  6. yazikus
    Posted July 20, 2019 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    Must be nice to have money to toss around like that!

  7. Sastra
    Posted July 20, 2019 at 11:06 am | Permalink

    I think I might see the value in the first study, on health. Religion often mixes spiritual nonsense into reasonable advice, so that it can be hard to pry them apart. Health is no different. For a hypothetical example, “praying to God” might include relaxation and deep breathing. People report improved sleep after prayer. But relaxation and deep breathing alone might have the same benefits: let’s find out. That sort of thing.

    It looks to me like this study, which is probably couched in religious- friendly language, might just be a skeptical sorting of the good wheat from the pointless chaff.

    • Mark R.
      Posted July 20, 2019 at 1:10 pm | Permalink

      But didn’t Templeton already do a similar study in the 2006 “STEP project”? They found that intercessory prayer didn’t work.

  8. Posted July 20, 2019 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    Don’t we all know that they are crazy? Once consumed by the thrill of being a child of God the deluded are impervious to the possibility of their delusion, and will pay any price (maybe) to perpetuate their malady. They believe they are special because they have a place to go after here. Nonbelievers understand that we are special because we are here. GROG

  9. Ken Kukec
    Posted July 20, 2019 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

    “… to rigourise the design and implication and interventions.”

    “rigourise” — C’mon, is that even a word? Well, it shouldn’t be.

    The PoMo crowd couldn’t’ve said it any better — or worse, as the case may be actually is.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted July 20, 2019 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      I always think twice before using any word that ends in “ize” (or “ise,” for the spelling-impaired Brits. 🙂 ) I mean, some of ’em are perfectly serviceable, but it’s often the cry of a noun that’s been forced into involuntary verbitude, and usually jargon.

      Reminds me of a line in The Elements of Style, in response to some pedant’s advice to “personalize” one’s writing. “I would as lief simonize my grandmother as ‘personalize’ my writing,” said Mr. White.

      (“Simonize” being a synonym for “wax,” one not heard much anymore. Gotta hand it to ol’ EB, though, he sure could simonize eloquent sometimes.) 🙂

      • JezGrove
        Posted July 20, 2019 at 5:06 pm | Permalink

        The spelling impaired Brits? The “-ize” ending has been in use in British English since the 16th century and has traditionally been the spelling used by the Oxford University Press “on both phonetic and etymological grounds” according to New Hart’s Rules.

      • Michael Waterhouse
        Posted July 20, 2019 at 8:45 pm | Permalink

        “involuntary verbitude”.


      • Posted July 20, 2019 at 10:49 pm | Permalink

        I hate the modern word ‘monetize’.

      • Posted July 21, 2019 at 5:54 am | Permalink

        I retrained myself to use “ize” instead of the “ise” I grew up with, after realising that most of what I write is read by USians.

        Anyway, after you guys put Trump in the White House I reverted. Get rid of that fool and you can have your ize back.

        • Ken Kukec
          Posted July 21, 2019 at 8:12 am | Permalink

          So if put to a vote, the “-ise” have it? 🙂

    • rickflick
      Posted July 20, 2019 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

      I looked it up and it was there:
      extremely thorough, exhaustive, or accurate.

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted July 21, 2019 at 9:05 am | Permalink

        I assumed it meant “to make more rigorous” (or “rigourous,” as our British cousins would have it 🙂 ).

  10. Posted July 20, 2019 at 12:06 pm | Permalink

    The first one’s easy: they don’t work.

    May I have my twelve million dollars now, please?

    • Sastra
      Posted July 20, 2019 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

      Maybe— depends what they mean. A science-based medicine group once analyzed a group of so-called alternative treatments and admitted that one of them seemed to work: the Neti Pot. It really does clear the nostrils pretty good.

      But the spiritual aspect was crap, of course.

      • Posted July 21, 2019 at 7:23 am | Permalink

        I find eating sushi clears my nostrils very well by diverting chi through my chakras.

        Or it’s the wasabi. Who knows?


        • Lorna Salzman
          Posted July 21, 2019 at 10:08 am | Permalink

          Yes, it is Wassabism, not to be confused orthographically with Wahhabism but in all other contexts identical in its stubborn adherence to fanatic ideologies intent on prevailing globoally over science, reason and logic. Adherents of each ideology differ in characterizing the motivation and object of their blind faith but support the suppression of independent thought and dissent, sometimes to violent extremes. For the secular believers, at worst they lose their “mindfulness” and their fortunes. For the rest, they lose their lives.

        • Posted July 23, 2019 at 11:53 am | Permalink

          Or rather horseradish, in most cases. (I understand that most “wasabi” outside Japan is actually European horseradish, dyed green.)

          • Posted July 23, 2019 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

            Even in Japan, I think. Wasabi loses its… potency? very quickly.


  11. Steve Gerrard
    Posted July 20, 2019 at 12:24 pm | Permalink

    “This course of study would allow me to explore at depth how divine hiddenness manifests itself within cultures around the globe.”

    Adam Greene knows how to play this game. In another era with a different benefactor, he could have written:

    “This course of study would allow me to explore at depth how sartorial hiddenness manifests itself within royalty around the globe.”

  12. Steve Pollard
    Posted July 20, 2019 at 12:55 pm | Permalink

    Some readers may be familiar with the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Thought for the Day’, which provides a three-minute slot, six days a week, for religious speakers to give a ‘faith-based insight’ into an item of current news, a brief which is widely abused by the speakers, and which offers no opportunity for any rebuttal. Some of us have been taking the p*ss out of it for years.

    Today’s offering was by someone called Hannah Malcolm, described as Coordinator of the ‘God and the Big Bang Project’. Here it is: https://gatbb.co.uk/

    It is a blatant attempt to corrupt science teaching in British schools by inserting Christianity into classes, on the spurious grounds that religion can answer the big questions of ‘life, the universe and everything’ that science cannot. Needless to say, it is supported by Templeton.

    I hope and trust that most science teachers in the UK will have nothing to do with this pernicious organisation. Meanwhile, chaps, keep your eyes open, and call it out if it ever comes near a school in your town.

    And the BBC should be ashamed of themselves for giving this woman three minutes of free airtime to peddle her lies and distortions.

    • JezGrove
      Posted July 20, 2019 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

      Campaigners have been arguing for the inclusion of humanist contributors on BBC Radio Four’s Thought for the Day slot for years, but fruitlessly so far. But hopefully it’s only a matter of time…

  13. GBJames
    Posted July 20, 2019 at 12:57 pm | Permalink

    Fertile ground for grifters1

  14. rickflick
    Posted July 20, 2019 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    It might be interesting to see the applications Templeton rejected. Maybe “not enough God” would disqualify.

  15. Posted July 20, 2019 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    “The recent realization that many scientific results weren’t replicable by others, although this was largely in psychology and not the ‘harder’ sciences.”

    The recent post here about the study on trigger warnings is a case in point. No way was that study replicable. Even if this problem exists mostly in the area of psychology, I should think it would still be considered a “crisis.” The credibility of whole scientific enterprise hinges on replicability.

    • Posted July 20, 2019 at 2:22 pm | Permalink

      As I said in my post, there have been a number of studies of the efficacy of trigger warnings using different methods. None of them have shown that trigger warnings reduce anxiety. So the general conclusion is replicable, even if some of the specific conclusions aren’t.

      You are not justified in saying “no way is that study replicable” because you have no basis for saying that. The only way to find out is to replicate it exactly.

      • Posted July 20, 2019 at 3:08 pm | Permalink

        “The only way to find out is to replicate it exactly.”

        But that’s my point—you can’t replicate it exactly because we’re not dealing with robots or computers or even cells. We’re dealing with human beings self-reporting their subjective feelings. You can ask the same questions, but unless you’re asking the questions to the same people in the same emotional state of mind they were in during the original study, you haven’t replicated the study. If one claimed to “replicate” a study in physics with that degree of variables, one would be laughed off the planet. Or does “replicate” simply mean something in psychology other than it does in physics?

        • Posted July 20, 2019 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

          Look, if you do enough tests of a hypothesis, using a variety of designs, and fail to get anything beyond the null hypothesis, or a result in the wrong direction, then there’s no reason to think the alternative hypothesis is right. No experiment in biology ever replicates another exactly, yet we can arrive at something resembling the truth.

          This is the end of this discussion; you’ve clearly missed the point.

          • Posted July 21, 2019 at 10:46 am | Permalink

            “You’ve clearly missed the point.”

            I stand corrected.

  16. norm walsh
    Posted July 20, 2019 at 4:07 pm | Permalink

    Where did Templeton get all their cash from?
    High mer’s on their mutual funds? – Or am I way off base here?

    • Posted July 20, 2019 at 8:59 pm | Permalink

      It was the fortune John Templeton made from his family of mutual funds (he became a tax exile in the Bahamas). Most of that fortune went to his foundation, which he specified was to engage in how to show the presence of divinity through science.

      • rickflick
        Posted July 20, 2019 at 10:21 pm | Permalink

        It is interesting to think about how the world of finance works. Here is a guy who knows how to manage money well enough to amass a vast fortune, who does not know much of anything about the big questions he so vehemently extols. Has he never taken a science course? Why is his philosophy so astringent? What has he read and who did he talk to? And, why does he think, in his obvious ignorance, he should spend his fortune influencing the world with provincial nonsense? Just asking.

  17. Torbjörn Larsson
    Posted July 20, 2019 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    Unfortunately for Templeton, intellectual black holes are the white areas on maps of critical thinking.

    I know Templeton must produce countless papers in their attempt to reconcile superstition with science, but yesterday I saw a new example:

    “Science, God, and the cosmos: Science both erodes (via logic) and promotes (via awe) belief in God

    Science and analytical thinking have been linked with atheism. We propose dual pathways whereby scientific engagement may have paradoxical effects on belief in God. Logical aspects of science, associated with analytical thinking, are associated with unbelief. However, people can also be awed by scientific information, and awe is associated with feelings of self-transcendence and belief in a mystical God. … These findings suggest that scientific engagement does not always erode belief in God. Instead, science-inspired awe can increase representations of God as a mystical cosmic force or as being beyond imagination.”

    [ https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022103118307698?via%3Dihub ]

    The authors acknowledge John Templeton Foundation for the grant that paid for the study. As per usual, they don’t try to explain why scientific successful Scandinavia do not associate “awe … with feelings of self-transcendence and belief” – that had failed their thesis, so why risk the experiment.

    • Torbjörn Larsson
      Posted July 20, 2019 at 4:55 pm | Permalink

      And by “countless” I mean more than I have fingers … not uncountable many.

  18. DrBrydon
    Posted July 20, 2019 at 4:52 pm | Permalink

    Is this any different than going to a psychic? It’s just paying (a lot!) to have someone tell you everything is OK. What a racket.

  19. Pelmon
    Posted July 20, 2019 at 9:47 pm | Permalink

    Templeton wastes $12mm = Templeton spends 12mm

  20. BJ
    Posted July 20, 2019 at 10:31 pm | Permalink

    First of all, this was hilarious.

    Second, you ask after the first grant, “For the life of me, I can’t see how nearly a quarter of a million dollar spent this way will provide any benefits.”

    Hey, they can maybe get someone to write a paper saying that they’ve managed to differentiate between the placebo effect of things like “prayer” on terminally ill patients or cancer patients or whatever, so now they can prove that prayer actually helps cure cancer! WOWEE! That’s what they’re trying to buy in that example, I think.

  21. RPGNo1
    Posted July 21, 2019 at 5:31 am | Permalink

    I have a science degree. But when I read these project titles … Many of them are gibberish!

    Invent a meaningless project, give it a pompous project name, link it with promises to reconcile religion and science, and the Templeton Foundation will enthusiastically throw a lot of money into your throat.

    Have I forgotten something?

    • Pelmon
      Posted July 21, 2019 at 8:47 am | Permalink

      I want funding for my study to prove prayer works. I attend NBA games, courtside, and ask players if they pray for victory. I anticipate that nearly 100% of winning teams will have been prayed for.

  22. Posted July 21, 2019 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

    “Thicker language”. Is that more viscous, or perhaps more opaque than normal language?

    • Posted July 23, 2019 at 11:55 am | Permalink

      It seems to mean (when used in philosophy in slightly clearer contexts) to mean more specific or characterized.

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