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Templeton Foundation

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Daniel Dennett[1]

The Templeton Foundation is a fundraising organisation that secures money to advance "progress in spiritual discoveries."[2] It was founded by businessman Sir John Templeton (1912-2008) and is currently headed by his son, Dr. Jack Templeton, 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. It is best known for the Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities.

Its aim in practice appears to be to corrupt the public discourse concerning science in the interests of religion, by swaying academics with much more money than they'd get any other way. Anything or anyone funded by Templeton should be viewed in this light. Of late, they have expanded beyond religion to funding climate change denial.[3]

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 1983, 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 90s, there is a slight trend toward giving the prize to anyone who is a tenured professor but also goes to church occasionally. Arthur Peacock, 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.

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.

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.

Indeed, 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.

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.