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John Templeton Foundation

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John Templeton Foundation logo
Preach to the choir
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Crux of the matter
Speak of the devil
An act of faith
Richard, if you ever fall on hard times...
Daniel Dennett[1]

The John Templeton Foundation is a fundraising organisation that secures money to advance "progress in spiritual discoveries".[2] Founded by businessman John TempletonWikipedia (1912–2008), it was subsequently headed by his son, Jack TempletonWikipedia (1940–2015), who quit his medical practice in 1995 in order to work full-time for the organisation.

The Foundation acts a source of funding for numerous scientific studies to address what it calls the "Big Questions", such as genetics, "cognitive creativity" (whatever that is), and personal development.Wikipedia It is best known for the "Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities".[3]

In practice, it appears to aim to corrupt the public discourse concerning science in the interests of religion by swaying academics by offering much more money than they'd get any other way. Anything or anyone funded by Templeton should be viewed in this light. Of late, the Foundation has expanded beyond religion to funding climate change denial.[4][5]

It has also donated to a variety of right-wing causes in the UK, including the Legatum Institute ($1.5m), Adam Smith Institute ($1.4m), and Institute of Economic Affairs ($497,000).[6]

The Templeton Prize[edit]

The Templeton Prize includes a monetary award of £1,100,000 sterling. It is given to a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works. The prize has been given annually since 1973, when it misguidedly honored Mother Teresa for charity work, despite her actual work being to cause misery and suffering to poor and sick people in Calcutta while flying to Switzerland for her own medical care.

Since then, the prize has been awarded to a variety of scientists and theologians selected as nominees for their "substantial record[s] of achievement that highlights or exemplifies one of the various ways in which human beings express their yearning for spiritual progress… affirming life's spiritual dimension". Although they claim to award it to anyone of any faith, any "creed" and "men and women alike" the majority of Templeton laureates are old, male, white and Christian. The 1992 laureate was Kyung-Chik Han, whose only qualification for the prize was spreading Christianity throughout South Korea. Since the late 1990s, there is a slight trend toward giving the prize to anyone who is a tenured professor but also goes to church occasionally; it helps if you also write flowery popular-science bestsellers about seeing God in starlight. Martin Rees appears to be the only person with no religious faith to have won it (in 2011), probably as a rebuff to more militant atheists like Richard Dawkins. Arthur Peacocke, who did some work on DNA in the 1970s, seems to have received the 2001 prize just for being ordained as a minister.

In its own words:

How might humankind's spiritual information and advancement increase by more than a hundredfold? This is the challenge presented by the Templeton Prize. Just as knowledge in science, medicine, cosmology and other disciplines has grown exponentially during the past century, the Templeton Prize honors and encourages the many entrepreneurs trying various ways for discoveries and breakthroughs to expand human perceptions of divinity and to help in the acceleration of divine creativity.

Their various methods, particularly through scientific research, serve to supplement the wonderful ancient scriptures and traditions of all the world's religions. Many honors and titles and prizes have been given for many centuries and will be given in the future for good works, reconciliation, saintliness or for relief of poverty and sickness. But these very worthy endeavors are not the purpose of the Templeton Prize.

Instead, this award is intended to encourage the concept that resources and manpower are needed to accelerate progress in spiritual discoveries, which can help humans to learn more than a hundredfold more about divinity. We hope that by learning about the lives of the awardees, millions of people will be uplifted and inspired toward research and more discoveries about aspects of divinity. The Prize is intended to help people see the infinity of the Universal Spirit still creating the galaxies and all living things and the variety of ways in which the Creator is revealing himself to different people. We hope all religions may become more dynamic and inspirational.

Laureates include:

Year Awardee Notes
1973 Mother Teresa extremely dubious humanitarian, who later won a Nobel Peace Prize and Catholic sainthood
1974 "Frère" Roger Schütz Swiss Christian monk, ecumenicist, founder of Taizé Community. Stabbed to death in 2005
1975 Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan formerly President of India (a largely ceremonial position), promoted peace with Pakistan
1976 Leo Joseph Suenens Roman Catholic who brought in charismatic/Pentecostal elements
1977 Chiara Lubich Italian Catholic writer and founder of Focolare Movement, an ecumenical but largely Roman Catholic lay group
1978 Thomas F. Torrance Scottish minister, theologian, and translator of Karl Barth
1979 Nikkyō Niwano Japanese Buddhist, a peace activist and promoter of inter-faith niceness; co-founder of Buddhist group Risshō Kōsei Kai
1980 Ralph Wendell Burhoe American academic and failed weatherman active in the whole science-religion business
1981 Cicely Saunders English founder of hospiceWikipedia movement
1982 Billy Graham notorious American preacher
1983 Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn Soviet Russian dissident, famous for saying "Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened."[7]
1984 Michael Bourdeaux founded the Keston Institute,Wikipedia which studied religion in communist countries
1985 Sir Alister Hardy marine biologist who sailed on expeditions to Antarctica in the 1920s; in retirement founded the Religious Experience Research Centre which collects accounts of religious experiences, and is now based at University of Wales Trinity Saint David in Lampeter, Wales[8]
1986 James I. McCord of Princeton Theological Seminary, and subject of the world's shortest Wikipedia page[9]
1987 Stanley Jaki Benedictine priest and astrophysicist, noted for work on philosophy of science (aren't they all)
1988 Inamullah Khan they gave it to a Muslim! Albeit one who promotes ecumenical understanding; he was also an activist for Kashmir
1989 George MacLeod founder of Iona community in Scotland, a nice place on an island for religious people to think about stuff
1990 Baba Amte cared for those with leprosy
1991 Immanuel JakobovitsWikipedia former head of British Orthodox Ashkenazi Jews; proposed that if homosexuality was proven to have a genetic cause, then genetic engineering should be used to eliminate gays
1992 Kyung-Chik Han Korean Christian who founded some churches
1993 Charles Colson criminal associate of Richard Nixon, one of the Watergate Seven and instigator of the Hard Hat Riot in 1970; proposed firebombing the Brookings Institution. After going to jail for his role in the Watergate scandal, he discovered Christianity and devoted himself to proselytizing to prisoners
1994 Michael NovakWikipedia American diplomat and writer. Flitted between the right wing of the Democratic Party (where he was involved with red-scare organisations like the Coalition for a Democratic Majority) and endorsing Republicans while claiming to be a lifelong Democrat
1995 Paul Davies British physicist, did work on quantum field theory and cosmology, proposed a one-way mission to Mars, and wrote many pop science books. Not opposed to God
1996 Bill Bright founder of Campus Crusade for Christ (now Cru)
1997 Pandurang Shastri Athavale Swadhyay Movement
1998 Sigmund SternbergWikipedia Scrap metal dealer and philanthropist, founded the Three Faith Forum to promote ecumenical understanding
1999 Ian Barbour academic who wrote on relationship between science and religion, which is meat and drink to the Templeton dudes
2000 Freeman Dyson legendary physicist who sadly became a global warming denialist
2001 Arthur Peacocke biologist, self-described panentheist, proposer of theistic evolution
2002 John Polkinghorne physicist and Anglican priest. Bingo!
2003 Holmes Rolston III philosopher noted for work on environmental ethics; also an expert on mosses
2004 George F. R. Ellis cosmologist, Quaker, opposed apartheid
2005 Charles Hard Townes physicist known for work on masers and for religiosity
2006 John D. Barrow respected cosmologist, physicist, mathematician, and author of pop science books; co-wrote The Anthropic Cosmological Principle with Frank Tipler
2007 Charles Taylor Quebecker philosopher, writing on political philosophy, intellectual history, and how French and English-speaking Canadian communities can coexist without killing each other
2008 Michał Heller Polish philosopher and physicist
2009 Bernard d'Espagnat French academic who studied philosophical aspects of quantum theory
2010 Francisco J. Ayala evolutionary biologist and briefly a priest
2011 Martin ReesWikipedia British cosmologist. Unusually for winners, he is an atheist although one who's nice to Christians and not in the snarky Richard Dawkins mold
2012 Tenzin Gyatso Buddhist leader; 14th Dalai Lama
2013 Desmond Tutu South African Anglican archbishop and human rights activist
2014 Tomáš Halík Czech priest and theologian
2015 Jean VanierWikipedia French activist for people with disabilities, founder of L'Arche. In 2020, a year after his death, it was revealed that he had sexually abused six (non-disabled) women and used his theological skills to come up with "highly unusual spiritual or mystical explanations used to justify these behaviours"[10]
2016 Jonathan Sacks British Orthodox Jewish leader and occasional speechwriter for Mike Pence[11]
2017 Alvin Plantinga philosopher known for arguing that God exists, attempting to solve problem of free will, etc.
2018 Abdullah II of Jordan one of the less objectionable Middle Eastern leaders; he has improved human rights, but journalists and protestors are still detained, the death penalty remains, unmarried women are separated from their children, and non-Jordanians are discriminated against[12]
2019 Marcelo Gleiser Brazilian-born physicist who got the prize for pop science books with twee titles like The Dancing Universe: From Creation Myths to the Big Bang
2020 Francis CollinsWikipedia American geneticist, former head of the Human Genome Project; author of The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief
2021 Jane GoodallWikipedia Primatologist, anthropologist, conservationist, and activist; seen as the world's foremost expert on chimpanzees
2022 Frank WilczekWikipedia Theoretical physicist and author; awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 2004

Money talks[edit]

There are concerns that the Templeton Foundation is attempting to subvert scientific process by giving large sums of money with ideological strings attached.

One Templeton official made what I felt were inappropriate remarks about the foundation's expectations of us fellows. She told us that the meeting cost more than $1-million, and in return the foundation wanted us to publish articles touching on science and religion. But when I told her one evening at dinner that — given all the problems caused by religion throughout human history — I didn't want science and religion to be reconciled, and that I hoped humanity would eventually outgrow religion, she replied that she didn't think someone with those opinions should have accepted a fellowship. So much for an open exchange of views.[13]

Another critic, P Z Myers fears the Templeton Foundation blurs the edges between science and superstition.

They have an agenda, and it is one of the most corrupting and untrustworthy causes of all, religion. They already know the answer, and they only want to pay for results that can be interpreted to bolster their unsupportable claims. Even if they are not asking that anyone fake evidence, we know that any line of inquiry that leads away from their desired answer will be abandoned, even if it is leading to the right answer. They are antithetical to good science. Such an organization exists: the Templeton Foundation. And, boy are they loaded, with a massive endowment and the willingness to throw large sums of money around. Scarily huge sums — the kind of money that will tempt even the most principled scientist to compromise a little bit.[14]

To some extent the Foundation spreads its largess to people and groups with good scientific credentials, is connected with well-respected scientific conferences, and advertises in scientific magazines. This tends toward giving spurious scientific respectability to its pseudoscientific agenda of fostering "spiritual discoveries."

Jerry Coyne, also a prominent New Atheist, criticized the Templeton Foundation's attempt to reconcile science and religion as harming science itself:

Templeton's mission is a serious corruption of science. Like a homeopathic remedy, it dilutes the core of the scientific enterprise, which has achieved its successes by holding doubt as a virtue and faith as a vice. The situation in religion is precisely the opposite, which is why theology remains mired in the Middle Ages. Trying to find accord between science and faith is like trying to harmonise astrology and astronomy, or medicine and homeopathy. It's a mug's game, one kept going largely by Templeton's constant infusions of cash.[15]

It has also funded climate change denialism, donating money to British right-wing lobbyist/thinktank the Institute of Economic Affairs, despite the IEA's long history of attacks on climate change science and environmentalism.[16][17]

The Great Prayer Experiment[edit]

One of the Foundation's most famous investigations was into the "Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer". It found no beneficial correlation between prayer and health. Unfortunately for the Foundation, it had already been publicised widely enough that they couldn't just leave it in the file drawer.


  1. quoted in The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins (p. 153)
  2. Templeton HomepagePhilanthropic Vision
  4. Templeton funds climate-change denialist groups, 26 December 2013 - "[...] a new paper in the journal Climate Change [...] shows that Templeton gives substantial sums of money to climate-change denialist organizations. And by 'substantial', I mean more than 20 milliion [sic] dollars over the eight years from 2003-2010."
  5. Brulle, Robert (21 December 2013). "Institutionalizing delay: foundation funding and the creation of U.S. climate change counter-movement organizations". Climatic Change (Springer Science+Business Media) (122): 681-694. doiWikipedia:10.1007/s10584-013-1018-7. ISSN 1573-1480. Retrieved 24 May 2022. 
  6. The US donors who gave generously to rightwing UK groups, The Guardian, 29 Nov 2019
  7. ‘Men Have Forgotten God’: Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s 1983 Templeton Address, National Review, Dec 2012
  8. Alister Hardy Religious Experience Research Centre, University of Wales Trinity Saint David, accessed Sept 17, 2020
  9. James I. McCord, Wikipedia, revision 974786998, 25 August 2020
  10. L’Arche International inquiry into historic sexual abuse by Jean Vanier, L'Arche, 2020
  11. You were never my Chief Rabbi, bruv, David Rosenberg, Morning Star Online
  12. Jordan, Amnesty International, accessed Sep 16, 2020
  13. The Templeton Foundation: A Skeptic's Take by John Horgan
  14. The Templeton conundrum
  15. Martin Rees and the Templeton travesty
  16. Top Supporters of Institute of Economic Affairs, Conservative Transparency, accessed 29 Aug 2022; backup
  17. Revealed: top UK thinktank spent decades undermining climate science, The Guardian, 10 Oct 2019