The god mob

Speak the name “Templeton” and the prim, dutiful servants of the foundation will appear. If you look at the recent articles from Coyne, Dawkins, and me, you’ll discover the same comment, shown below, from a representative of the Templeton Foundation. I’ve seen these guys in action before. They are very serious, somber fellows in their nice suits, with the dignitas of boodles of cash behind them, who will calmly state their position with an air of dispassionate certitude.

They remind me of Mafia lawyers.

A.C. Grayling and Daniel Dennett have refused to talk to a serious
journalist (Edwin Cartlidge of Physics World) about a serious subject
(philosophical materialism) because the journalism fellowship under
which he is pursuing this subject is sponsored by the Templeton
Foundation. They will have nothing to do with the Templeton Foundation,
they say, because our aim is somehow to “muddy the waters” about the
relationship between science and religion.

That’s not how we see it at all. First-rate, peer-reviewed science is
essential to our work at the Foundation and to the progressive vision
of the late Sir John Templeton, who was deeply committed to scientific
discovery. Many of our largest grants go to pure scientific research
(like our support for the Foundational Questions Institute in Physics
and Cosmology, the Godel Centenary Research Prize Fellowships, and the
Program for Evolutionary Dynamics at Harvard).

But, yes, we do like to include philosophers and theologians in many of
our projects. Excellent science is crucial to what we do, but it is not
all that we do. We are a “Big Questions” foundation, not a science
foundation, and we believe that the world’s philosophical and religious
traditions have much to contribute to understanding human experience
and our place in the universe. For Grayling and Dennett to compare this
rich, expansive discussion to a dialogue with astrologers is silly.
They know better.

Gary Rosen
Chief External Affairs Officer
John Templeton Foundation

Materialism, philosophical or otherwise, is a serious and useful subject. The bit he left off, though, is that the Templeton Foundation opposes it. For instance, they give a series of prizes, many of which reward people for making the best excuses for inserting superstition into research: the Templeton Prize, for “affirming life’s spiritual dimension”; the Award for Theological Promise, for the best thesis on “God and spirituality”; the Religion Reporter of the Year; the European Religion Writer of the Year; the Religion Story of the Year; the Epiphany Prize, for shows that “increase man’s understanding and love of God”; the Kairos Prize, for movies that “result in a greater increase in either man’s understanding or love of God”; you get the idea. Let’s have no illusions. First and foremost, the Templeton Foundation’s purpose is the promotion of religion…they have simply chosen to pursue that goal by dressing up as philanthropists supporting a certain kind of science. They are what the Discovery Institute wishes they could be, if they were staffed with grown-ups and had $1.5 billion to play with.

They do aim to muddy the waters. They want to blur the boundaries between legitimate science, which questions traditional dogma, and religion, which is traditional dogma, by playing favorites with religion in a game that apes scientific institutions. Yes, they certainly do spend money on real science projects; it’s part of their aim to entangle valid, secular science in the financial webs of a religiously motivated agency. Again, look at the Mafia for a model. Diversify and get your hands in real businesses like trucking or garbage collection or construction, and when someone asks difficult questions, just say “Hey, look — fleet of garbage trucks!” And meanwhile, build up a network of obligations — do a little, perfectly legal favor for some little guy, and when the time comes, you can ask him to return the favor, to your advantage.

Now of course, the Templeton Foundation is doing nothing illegal, and the comparison to a criminal organization does not extend to actual criminality. The only place it holds up is in the way they maintain a pretext of doing one thing, while actually profiting most off another activity altogether. Look at Mr Rosen’s comment. Nowhere does he admit outright that what they fund is the introduction of a religious perspective in science. Instead, we get euphemisms. They are a “Big Questions” foundation, whatever that means. He will not come right out and state plainly that what they think is a “Big Question” is the role of a god in creating and maintaining the universe and humankind.

That’s not a big question. It’s a bad question.

I have never found a discussion with a theologian about their favorite deities to be “rich, expansive” — just saying it is so doesn’t make it so, but is actually the crux of the argument. They are trying to buy their way into the debate, rather than earning it. I don’t think they know Grayling and Dennett very well at all, either, because they do know better, and the comparison with a dialog with astrologers is spot on — they won’t be disavowing it any time soon.

I’ll stand by my Mafia comparison, too. It’s an organization that gets a lot of mileage out of making offers people can’t refuse.