Future of Templeton Philosophy Funding Uncertain (updated with replies from Templeton, Dennett)


The John Templeton Foundation, the largest single funder of philosophical projects in the United States, has eliminated its “Philosophy and Theology” department.

A new funding area, called “Religion, Science, and Society” will “combine work previously supported by three separate departments: Human Sciences; Philosophy and Theology; and Culture and Global Perspectives,” according to an announcement from the foundation.

Templeton-funded projects often have a religious, theological, or “spiritual” component, so this change may be thought to be merely organizational, and not indicative of a shift in funding priorities. (John Templeton himself said that the purpose of the foundation is “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.”)

However, the descriptions of the old and new funding areas are rather different. Here’s how the “Philosophy and Theology” department is described:

The Philosophy and Theology Department supports research and catalyzes conversations that promise to build on wisdom contained within the world’s philosophical and theological traditions, in order to enhance our understanding of the world and how to live well within it

And here’s how the new “Religion, Science, and Society” department is described:

Religion, Science, and Society will support research on culture, religious traditions, and spirituality. This funding area will seek to advance our collective understanding of the ways in which religious and spiritual beliefs and practices affect human flourishing and to apply those insights to society in meaningful and practical ways. We will be especially interested in research that engages substantively and critically with the sciences, including robust interdisciplinary collaborations in which philosophical or theological understanding informs the findings and methods of the sciences. 

Additionally, according to a source who asked not to be named, the director of the Philosophy and Theology department has been let go, as has the department’s administrative staff, leaving no one at the foundation with experience handling philosophy grants [note: the Foundation says this last part is false; see update].

Templeton’s funding of philosophy has not been uncontroversial—see this dispute between Daniel Dennett and Al Mele, for example.

But it has been substantial. Here’s a rough estimate I put together several years ago (for an American Philosophical Association session on “New Funding Organizations and the Direction of Philosophy”) that gives a sense of the significance of Templeton’s funding: in the five year period leading up to 2016, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) provided roughly $7 million to philosophers for philosophy-related projects, while the John Templeton Foundation provided roughly $57 million to philosophers for philosophy-related projects.

Many multi-million dollar Templeton-funded philosophy projects have been announced here on Daily Nous (see here for examples).

I hope to hear more about this change from people at the Templeton Foundation and will update this post as I obtain new information related to it.

UPDATE 1 (7/18/23): Benjamin Carson of the John Templeton Foundation has responded to some questions I sent along.

To what extent does the elimination of the Philosophy & Theology department at Templeton reflect a change in the amount of funding Templeton expects to provide to philosophy projects?

While the Philosophy & Theology Department will no longer be a named department, projects that engage with philosophical questions remain a priority for grantmaking of the John Templeton Foundation and will continue to be funded across our entire portfolio. We are interested in philosophy projects that do interdisciplinary work, such as grants we have given in Life SciencesCharacter Virtue Development, and Mathematical and Physical Sciences

One of our goals is to increase interdisciplinary collaboration, so we have never set allocations for individual disciplines. However, we expect to continue supporting philosophers and theologians through interdisciplinary research projects.

To what extent does the elimination of the Philosophy & Theology department at Templeton reflect a change in the kind of philosophy projects (if any) Templeton expects to support?

The Foundation remains committed to funding research all around the world and to supporting projects that engage with many different philosophical perspectives and faith traditions.  This applies to all of the Foundation’s grant making areas. 

Questions of interest for the new department (Religion, Science, and Society) will include:
What can we learn from the world’s wisdom traditions about living good and purposeful lives? How do we lead lives of meaning and purpose in the context of cultural evolution and technological change? How are religious beliefs and practices changing in the world today? What does it mean to be spiritual, and how does spirituality impact beliefs, values, and customs? Can religion and spirituality help address global challenges?

Are any funding commitments made prior to the announcement in danger of reduction or elimination because of these changes?

No. Existing grantees should continue to work with their assigned Program Officer. Existing grants may be reassigned to the new Religion, Science, and Society funding area, or to another department. Grantees to whom this applies will be notified by September 1, 2023. We will review all funding inquiries submitted to Philosophy & Theology this year and will assign them to a relevant department.

Mr. Carson adds, “it is not accurate that we do not (or will not) have anyone at the Foundation with experience handling philosophy grants. We continue to have staff with that experience.”

UPDATE 2 (7/19/23): Daniel Dennett (Tufts) wrote in with the following remarks:

The John Templeton Foundation has once again responded to criticism of its policies. It listens, and cares. I don’t know how many philosophers know about the bad old days when, for instance, Templeton was a major funder of the Cambridge University celebration of Darwin’s bicentennial in 2009; it required the organizers to schedule several workshops on Darwin and religion, which included—I’m not making this up—a talk by a theologian on “evolutionary Christology,” how God had arranged for evolution to generate a species, Homo sapiens, that was “worthy of accepting the Godhead.” It also funded workshops around the world that were required to include theologians among the participants. I participated in several such workshops and noted the dismay of the embarrassed theological hostages who had to sit there and wait their turn to say something about the topics at issue.

I stopped taking Templeton money at that point but also communicated with the Foundation officers on several occasions, including a tempestuous meeting at the Santa Fe Institute in around 2014, where I specifically asked their representative whether the Foundation could simply split into two foundations: one devoted to hard-to-fund important topics in science, and another devoted to spirituality, religion, and human wellbeing. I had no quarrel with their desire to fund pro-religion research; I was concerned that many scientists were reluctant to have their religion-neutral research give gravitas to the Foundation. I said I would be happy to apply to a Templeton Fund that was explicitly restricted to research on religion and its effects and causes. (This was a topic I myself had devoted some years to when researching for my 2006 book Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon,  and in fact I had applied to them for funding to write that book back in 2004 or 2005, sending them the prospectus I had sent my publisher; it didn’t make it to the “submit full proposal” stage). The answer in Santa Fe was revealing: the Templeton Foundation was already legally split into three separate financial entities, so the renaming of one or more of them to achieve this insulation would be legally trivial, but they didn’t want to do this. They as much as admitted that they wanted to harness the prestige of their pure science support to give prestige to their support of work on spirituality.  That was the inspiration for my 2014 analogy to the heiress who purchases great art to fill a museum so she can surround the works of her boyfriend with purchased masterpieces to enhance his reputation (the line that Prospect Magazine deleted from my published review of Mele without my permission).

I wrote a strongly positive review of Mele’s book. I did not insinuate that he had been pressured or had succumbed to pressure, but just noted that given the history of the Templeton Foundation, it was a tough choice to accept their support, just as it was a tough decision for the Santa Fe Institute to accept their support (which it did). Since that time, the policies at the Templeton Foundation have been adjusted, responding to the criticisms of many of us. Those who accept Templeton support today with a clear conscience—and that includes some of my best friends and colleagues—should perhaps express a little gratitude to those of us who kept the pressure on Templeton to clean up their act.

Daniel Dennett

UPDATE 3 (7/29/2023): “Spoiler alert: this is really bad news for philosophy.” See this lengthy comment, below from someone who has been “engaged with the Templeton world for a long time.”


(Disclosure: Various Templeton-funded projects have advertised on Daily Nous.)

 

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James Cummings
James Cummings
10 months ago

Yeah, good luck getting a psychologist to collaborate with a metaphysician. That psychologist might never get another grant for a scientific or “scientific” project.

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  James Cummings
10 months ago

There are plenty of psychologists that have collaborated with epistemologists or ethicists through Templeton grants, whether or not any metaphysicians were involved.

Neil Levy
Neil Levy
Reply to  Kenny Easwaran
10 months ago

There’s absolutely no career cost to a psychologist for collaborating with a philosopher, metaphysician or not.

L. A. Paul
Reply to  James Cummings
10 months ago

I am a metaphysician and I collaborate with many psychologists.

Paul Wilson
Paul Wilson
10 months ago

While not quite as sceptical as Daniel Dennett, the Templeton Foundation’s shift from extravagantly funded “Philosophy and Theology” apologies to “Religion, Science, and Society” discussions seems timely, reasonable, and — most likely — more engaging.

John Mulholland
John Mulholland
Reply to  Paul Wilson
10 months ago

Share this view !!!

krell_154
Reply to  Paul Wilson
10 months ago

We shall see.

I have a suspicion that the newly named funding program might be much more interdisciplinary than the previous one, that is, it will cover much less philosophy than the previous one did.

Time will tell.

Chris
Chris
Reply to  krell_154
10 months ago

I take it both you and Paul Wilson might be right – the discussions might be both more timely and engaging, but also cover less philosophy.

Worried
10 months ago

This is indeed worrisome, but I think it’s too early to tell what exactly this will mean for philosophy-funding from JTF in the years to come. I’m personally most worried about whether this re-organization might negatively impact JTFs ability to perform viable internal quality control when short-listing grant proposals. If philosophy is getting lumped into “religion, science, and society” then there is a worry that there won’t be a designated philosopher at JTF weighing in on the quality of the proposals. As such, I could imagine a lot more BS getting funding in the future–projects that are intellectually bankrupt but sound impressive to a non-specialist.

Nick Byrd
10 months ago

Glad to hear that “interdisciplinary collaboration” will still be among Templeton’s funding goals. The projects I find most insightful and useful tend to be those that draw on the history of ideas in fields like philosophy to yield insight with quantitative psychological methods. If I were Templeton, I’d also want to prioritize those cross-disciplinary projects over more siloed philosophy-only projects. Philosophy has a lot to offer other fields (and vice versa).

David Sobel
David Sobel
10 months ago

Dennett’s discussion is very helpful. And I very much applaud him for seeing what is concerning about such cases, which I construe broadly, and doing something to make it better. His analogy with the heiress and the museum nicely captures what is concerning about cases where money can buy prestige for favored options, especially ideological favored options, that they do not earn on their own merits. This would be of special concern where the favored ideology serves the interests of the rich–substituting the marketplace of ideas with the market. But exactly what has now changed at Templeton, in what Dennett wrote, was left underspecified. I would like to hear more about what has changed.

Mohan Matthen
10 months ago

I find it very difficult to understand some of the things that Dan Dennett says/reports:

Templeton was a major funder of the Cambridge University celebration of Darwin’s bicentennial in 2009; it required the organizers to schedule several workshops on Darwin and religion, which included—I’m not making this up—a talk by a theologian on “evolutionary Christology,” how God had arranged for evolution to generate a species, Homo sapiens, that was “worthy of accepting the Godhead.”

Why would Cambridge University have (a) accepted a grant that had these conditions attached, and (b) complied with said conditions? I understand that (a) implies (b) . . . but that is exactly why I don’t understand (a).

In general, I don’t think it’s okay to accept funding from entities that have an epistemic agenda . . . even religious people should not do this. The agenda taint your research because they infect your motivations. And for this reason, while I admire the chutzpah, I fundamentally disagree with Dan here:

I said I would be happy to apply to a Templeton Fund that was explicitly restricted to research on religion and its effects and causes. (This was a topic I myself had devoted some years to when researching for my 2006 book Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, and in fact I had applied to them for funding to write that book back in 2004 or 2005, sending them the prospectus I had sent my publisher; it didn’t make it to the “submit full proposal” stage). 

Why would anybody, much less an atheist, apply to Templeton for research about this? I just can’t fathom it.

cecil burrow
cecil burrow
Reply to  Mohan Matthen
10 months ago

> Why would anybody, much less an atheist, apply to Templeton for research about this?

$$$

Patrick Lin
Reply to  cecil burrow
10 months ago

Yep. Also, see below.

Daniel Dennett
Reply to  Mohan Matthen
10 months ago

Mohan, here are the answers to your questions.

  1. The Cambridge Darwin celebration had been planned by Patrick Bateson, Master of Kings College, and others, with lots of wonderful speakers from abroad, and Cambridge Univ simply didn’t come through with the funding. Pat was desperate to find funding, and Templeton came to the rescue, for a price. Poor Pat was embarrassed, and there was talk of many major speakers walking out instead of participating. It took some major pleading and arm-twisting by him to keep the program intact. I was staying with him in Kings College and experienced his anguish directly, and I also attended one of the sessions curated by Templeton, which was, well, pathetic. I wrote about it at the time.
  2. The Templeton Foundation announced a funding program for four books about religion and its effects, etc., after I had already signed a contract with Viking Penguin for BREAKING THE SPELL (with a healthy advance; i didn’t need the money). Templeton made a big deal about how these books were to be serious books of scholarship, but also readable by non-academic readers (no monographs, in short). They also made a big deal about their neutrality, their open-mindedness, their welcoming of critical views. Just to test that claim I submitted exactly the same proposal to Templeton I had sent to Viking Penguin. I figured that my record for writing books accessible to non-academic readers was pretty strong, so the call for proposals from Templeton was a perfect fit. They would have to take my proposal seriously. They rejected it out of hand. (Has anybody ever checked to see what four books on religion came out of their call for proposals? I’ve never encountered one.) Since they never even showed my proposal to their academic jury, I drew the conclusion that their claim to open-mindedness or neutrality was sham–remember that BREAKING THE SPELL was a book calling for objective, factual scientific study of religion, not any sort of atheist manifesto.

Now can you fathom it, Mohan?

Mohan Matthen
Reply to  Daniel Dennett
10 months ago

Dear Dan,

It’s a disgrace that Cambridge didn’t come through with funding for the Darwin event. (I was a co-organizer of a celebratory event at Toronto, and am very proud to say that the University, Victoria College, the Philosophy Department, and SSHRC all came through with funds–the last with about 50k if I remember correctly.) And I totally get the anguish and humiliation that Pat Bateson must have felt that Darwin’s alma mater fell down so badly. That said, I still wouldn’t have accepted the condition. Horrible consequence, but equally horrible to put your name on a program that has these sessions (some on “evolutionary Christology”!) inserted by an outside source, under your name.

With regard to your application to Templeton, do I understand you to be saying that you put it in purely to test them, and that since you had already had a publishing contract and “healthy advance” in hand, you would not have accepted an award even if it had been offered? If so, yes I can fathom your intentions, and thank you for clarifying. You are one of my heroes, and I am very relieved not to have even a speck of dust on the shining image I have of you. (I really mean this . . . I am not being ironic.)

And by the way, “cecil burrow,” that’s kind of rude.

sincerely

Mohan

Daniel Dennett
Reply to  Mohan Matthen
10 months ago

Yes, I was sure that Templeton would turn me down, and just wanted to prove it. I’d had several ‘discussions’ with them already, including a meeting with old man Templeton, who attended one of my talks. Thanks for the vote of confidence!

JDRox
JDRox
10 months ago

Perhaps I’m missing something, but I don’t understand what was so bad about the bad old days. Templeton has always (afaik) been interested in the relationship between religion and science. And they’ve always (again afaik) been very keen about interdisciplinary work (largely about religion). Given that, why wouldn’t they “require” sessions on Darwin and religion? That’s what they’re interested in! And why wouldn’t they “require” theologians to be present at various workshops they organize? Their goal is to promote interdisciplinary work with theologians! Of course, theologians say stupid things from time to time. But then again, so do philosophers and scientists. I get that it is annoying for there to be shitty theology talks on otherwise good programs. But that’s the fault of the organizers for not getting better theology speakers. And if there just weren’t any good theology speakers, then raising the bar in theology through interdisciplinary work becomes all the more important! But again, maybe I’m missing something, I apologize for my obtuseness if so.

Prof L
Prof L
Reply to  JDRox
10 months ago

On Dennett’s analogy, religion is the talentless boyfriend and science comprises the great artists… so the problem with being interested in the relation between science and religion or theology is that it takes religion or theology seriously, when it’s clear (to Dennett) that religion is not serious. I’m sure that’s a view shared by much of the idiosyncratic population of human beings who read this blog, but that doesn’t make it true.

If the criticisms of Templeton amount to the throwback naturalist’s knee-jerk “duh, religion is stupid” then it’s really shameful that they are responsive to them.

Mohan Matthen
Reply to  Prof L
10 months ago

Religion has nothing to contribute to the study of evolution, and this is true even if the religion in question is of the highest quality. Templeton have the right to attach whatever conditions they like to their funding. The question is whether it’s honest to accept these conditions if you think–on knee-jerk grounds or not–that there is no value in a religious viewpoint on this subject matter

Billy
Billy
Reply to  Mohan Matthen
10 months ago

I don’t think you can know ahead of time that religion has nothing to contribute to the study of evolution. Lots of people throughout the world believe that God exists and created the physical world with evolution in some form as part of the plan. Also, to be clear, no one would start out of nowhere with the thought, “Let’s see if religion and evolution can be coherently combined or joined together.” People get led to this thought through a series of steps. But once they’ve undertaken a series of steps, which include the (at least tentative) acceptance of theism and the (at least tentative) acceptance of evolution in some form, the task of exploring whether theism and evolution in some form can be coherently combined or joined together might seem like a worthwhile task to pursue.

In a similar way, no one would start out with the task of trying to show that eliminativism about qualia is true. It’s too peculiar a view on its face for someone to start out with the thought that it might be true. That said, the research project of trying to show that it is true can be a reasonable one to pursue for people who have been led to entertain this view by their undertaking a series of steps, ones that include their accepting a certain form of metaphysical naturalism.

I’m not picking on Dan’s eliminativism about qualia. I think eliminativism about qualia is a good topic to research, and if I were a metaphysical naturalist of the kind Dan is, I think I might even accept this view. In general, as a discipline, we should be open to views that are very odd on their face, but that people can be led to through a series of steps. We should not scoff at these views. Among these views I would include not only the joining together of theism and evolution and eliminativism about qualia, but also Berkeley’s idealism, unrestricted composition, panpsychism, and the “no self” view that certain forms of Buddhism entail. I’m sure others on this blog could add more views to this list.

Ian Douglas Rushlau
Ian Douglas Rushlau
Reply to  Billy
10 months ago

‘I don’t think you can know ahead of time that religion has nothing to contribute to the study of evolution.’

Ahead of time?

We’ve had a century and a half to assess what religious adherents can offer the study of evolution- ceaseless efforts to undermine the science, because the science directly contradicts several aspects of religious dogma.

We’ve witnessed countless examples of bad faith ‘educational’ programs, generating reams of pseudo-scholarship, serving as a front to insinuate theocratic doctrines in public education (typically in the form of ‘teach the debate’, simply because religious adherents insist that there is a debate to be had).

Conferring the gravitas of academic merit to the bad faith posturing of religious adherents lends a veneer of ‘open inquiry’, and ready cover for placating the individuals and groups most interested in eroding scientific study.

We have ample evidence- the religious adherents are playing a long game (millennia long, truth be told), and that long game is political. This is about theocratic power, not academic freedom.

Billy
Billy
Reply to  Ian Douglas Rushlau
10 months ago

I am fine with keeping any and all appeals to religion out of the American public school educational system. I agree with you that we ought to teach evolution in K – 12 and to do so in a way that does not bring in religious content. But I don’t see why, if an adult wants to see if evolution and theism can be coherently combined, and if an organization wants to fund this, then scorn is appropriate. This scorn seems to me to suggest that the person is being closed off in a way that, well, I find unseemly. If anything, if you really think a view is preposterous, then wouldn’t you want someone to explore it in detail, since that way it would likely be exposed for being the unconvincing view it is?

Prof L
Prof L
Reply to  Ian Douglas Rushlau
10 months ago

It’s bizarre that this needs to be said, but —- the “religious adherents” are not a monolith, nor is there some organized “long game” academic plot in which the Templeton funding agenda is operative. The (few) people working at the intersection of evolution and theology/religion take evolution seriously. Those wishing to undermine evolution or those who see evolution as a threat to religion are an entirely different, non-overlapping set of people.

Mohan Matthen
Reply to  Billy
10 months ago

Darwinian evolution might be compatible with theism. You could paste a recent version of Darwinism to the bare statement: “That’s what God intended.” But theism doesn’t illuminate anything in Darwinism and doesn’t open up any new research programs. Not sure what to say about the qualia eliminationism parallel, except that I don’t see how it makes the scientific fertility of religion more plausible. As Ian Rushlau says, we’ve seen a few attempts at theologizing evolutionary theory, and we can be confident that this is a horse that’s not going to run.

JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  Mohan Matthen
10 months ago

Religion has nothing to contribute to the study of evolution, and this is true even if the religion in question is of the highest quality.” But might evolution have something to contribute to the study of religion? If so, that by itself seems to warrant sessions of evolution and theology. In any case, I think I agree with your second point (if I’m interpreting it correctly): there’s nothing wrong with Templeton putting conditions on their funding, the problem is people accepting those conditions just to get the money, even when they see no value in them. Even there I’m not sure there’s necessarily much of a problem: most of us accept conditions on our employment that we don’t see any value in and I don’t think that means we lack all integrity, although of course there is a line somewhere.

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  JDRox
10 months ago

But might evolution have something to contribute to the study of religion? If so, that by itself seems to warrant sessions of evolution and theology.

Agreed. We shouldn’t discourage the opportunity to support a work like, e.g., Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s The Phenomenon of Man.

Mohan Matthen
Reply to  Preston Stovall
10 months ago

Preston, are you saying that Teilhard is of historical interest in a discussion of Darwin? Teilhard was an important paleontologist, but his religious ontology wrong-headedly negates Darwin’s ideas. (He’s an example of somebody who takes evolution rather than natural selection to be the important Darwinian contribution.) He was actually a good example of how theology can muddy the waters: his directed, goal-driven, evolution together with Lamarckianism to correct “errors,” his use of a pseudo-scientific process of “encephalization” to serve directed evolution, his “omega point” posit, and so on. He has been quietly and tactfully been sidelined in the history of evolution. Templeton shouldn’t intervene by reviving him.

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Mohan Matthen
10 months ago

No Mohan, it’s not the relevance of religious views to Darwinian or evolutionary scholarship I’m endorsing, but rather the inverse relationship: that evolutionary theory may offer insight for theological conceptions of humanity. And that’s something Teilhard’s work amply illustrates.
As to the reception of Teilhard’s views in scientific circles, opinions vary. Consider, e.g., David Sloan Wilson’s 2021 essay “Reintroducing Pierre Teilhard de Chardin to Modern Evolutionary Science”. Personally, I’m of the mind that we ought to permit as many research programs as there are thoughtful and diligent scholars, receptive to constructive criticism, willing to pursue them. If institutions like Cambridge University fail to fund that research in situations where they otherwise should, then it seems to me the opprobrium should be directed more at Cambridge.

Mohan Matthen
Reply to  Preston Stovall
10 months ago

Thanks for the David Sloan Wilson reference. I was not aware of it. (You reference it as 2021, but when I looked it up, it is actually 2023.) This article is, at first sight, a good example of what I am talking about–some not unreasonable, though highly abstract, conceptions of the evolution concept married to wildly speculative visions of future omega-points. He concludes:

I predict that once academic evolutionary scientists join forces with evolutionary spiritual thinkers, there will be an explosive increase in the acceptance of evolution and its use to consciously evolve a world that works for all. Teilhard will be acknowledged as one of the giants upon whose shoulders we are standing.

I suspect that this is exactly the kind of thinking the Templeton Foundation was hoping for in the Darwin commemoration, but also exactly the kind of nowhere-going nonsense I feared one could expect.

gordon
Reply to  Mohan Matthen
10 months ago

You can’t predict whether a road goes nowhere without actually traveling along it.

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Mohan Matthen
10 months ago

Thanks for the correction on the publication date. You’re of course entitled to your views on nonsense. What even this short thread illustrates is that the significance of views like Tielhard’s remains up for discussion. And insofar as Templeton encourages discussion of this sort, good on them, it seems to me. At any rate, I’ll again recommend that opprobrium seems better directed at Cambridge for failing to cover the costs, rather than Templeton for stepping in.

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Preston Stovall
10 months ago

*Teilhard’s

gordon
Reply to  Mohan Matthen
10 months ago

But isn’t there a strain in contemporary evolutionary thinking that goes beyond natural selection construed as a random process? Even a kind of proto-Lemarkianism? I’m no expert, but there is within evolutionary circles some discontent regarding the grand synthesis view of mid twentieth century?

Mohan Matthen
Reply to  gordon
10 months ago

There is, indeed, a strain that wants more than natural selection. But as far as I understand what is going on–correct me if you know otherwise–there is no directed evolution in the works, nor any broad brush Lamarkianism (i.e., no across-the-board heritability of acquired characteristics).

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Mohan Matthen
10 months ago

I’m not sure what you mean by “across-the-board heritability of acquired characteristics”, and of course Lamarkianism isn’t in favor, but the last two decades have witnessed a growing recognition of the impact of transgenerational epigenetic inheritance on traits like disease susceptibility.

gordon
10 months ago

I don’t understand all this discontent re: Templeton. So, they have an axe to grind–they fund research projects that fit in with their general philosophical outlook. What is wrong with that? The only problem I can see is if this is the only sort of research funded, if all philosophical research had to be such that it fit Templeton criteria of what is interesting. But as this is obviously false, and s it is also equally obvious that there are all kinds of biases influencing research, what we should aim for is lots of different axes to grind… not picking on one you don’t like to extirpate it.

Mohan Matthen
Reply to  gordon
10 months ago

The complaint isn’t against Templeton, but against accepting their funds if you are an atheist.

Patrick Lin
Reply to  Mohan Matthen
10 months ago

Why would an atheist want Templeton money when they’re ideologically opposed?

Because the same reason why a pacifist would want defense/military money. They both might believe it’s better to spend that money on them than on theists or war-hawks who have an agenda the atheist/pacifist is committed against.

This goes double if the applicant thinks that they can arrive at a null-finding, i.e., use the funder’s own money against them. So, worse than being unproductive with the funds, they can be counter-productive as an act of resistance.

If you need money to fund your philosophical research, it’s often a case of “beggars can’t be choosers”…

(I’m not recommending this strategy but only reporting how I’ve heard some people defend this practice.)

Myron
Myron
Reply to  Mohan Matthen
10 months ago

I think it’s difficult to accurately lump all of the different Templeton priorities (natural and social sciences), initiatives, and pathways of implementation over the past decades into a single ideological category such that an atheist should refrain from accepting any Templeton funds. I’m thinking specifically of scientific approaches to studying religion through methods developed by cognitive and evolutionary psychology, anthropology, and sociology. Most of the work in these fields is done by atheists, a LOT of it is funded by various Templeton charities, and a fair bit of it has a reductionist agenda in order to help explain both (a) why religion persists, and (b) how to achieve the prosocial benefits religion often provides without, you know, the actual religion part.

So, it seems like atheists who study religion and have the sort of research aims mentioned above can in good conscience accept Templeton $$, as many clearly do. I think it’s also worth noting that while the Templeton funders will have a strong hand in determining which applications best fit their funding priorities (as all funders do), in my experience they are strictly hands off once a grant has been awarded. I have never heard of any type of funder-interference by the Templeton organizations where they have suppressed research dissemination because they may not like the conclusions.

Concerned Citizen
Concerned Citizen
10 months ago

It is unfortunate that this discussion has become a long riff on Dan’s comments about his experience with Templeton. Those experiences are really an aberration and do not represent the typical experience with Templeton. Nor does it accurately reflect their stance or work. I will say something brief about Dan’s comments and then move on to the original question concerning what we should make of the recent re-organization. Spoiler alert: this is really bad news for philosophy and for every other field in academia except “positive psychology” “spirituality and health” and maybe some niche areas in biology and physics (though the number of grants in those areas in the last two years has seemingly plummeted).

I have been engaged with the Templeton world for a long time and have been a recipient of funding from more than one of the Templeton foundations (there are three, as Dan notes) and have attended a number of their events including their “Board of Advisors” meetings—lavish events held in various places around the world until 2015 when they sunset that boondoggle. 

For those who want the short version of the implications of the recent shake-up, it is this. For various reasons the current president, Heather Dill, granddaughter of the founder who took the helm in 2015 having no experience in academia, philanthropy, or indeed any full time job ever, has decided to contract the research they support almost exclusively to positive psychology, “religion and health” and some work in physics and biology (at least within their “science and the big questions” area which has funded most of the research supported by Templeton including all philosophy grants). Note that the number of physics and biology grants has been decreasing and the biology work seems mostly to focus on “purpose in biology” (is that intelligent design?). The foundation has now lost or let go almost all of the seasoned academics who helped bring it to prominence in the 20-teens. And in response to JTF’s communication person’s response to this post–he is clearly mistaken that JTF still has staff who can evaluate philosophy funding requests. I dare him to identify who on staff he thinks is qualified. Lacking anyone with those qualifications, they are just going to turn down philosophy requests since no one on staff can tell the good from the bad.

With respect to Dan’s comments, no one need express any “gratitude to those of us who kept up pressure on Templeton” for the direction they took from during period from 2010-2020. Dennett and his colleagues had nothing to do with that. The positive direction of Templeton funding was due entirely to the extremely talented, well trained program staff that was hired during this period, and to the leadership of Kimon Sargent and Michael Murray. It was these two, Murray from 2011 with Sargent joining Murray as co-lead some time later, who led the development of this team and the Templeton funding strategy until both left (fled?) to head other foundations. No one inside of Templeton gave one bit of attention to the complaining of Dennett or the other naturalist critics as their strategy developed over that period.

The current messy situation at Templeton is a long term consequence of trouble that started when the former president, John Templeton, Jr. died. During the last couple of years of his life he suffered a precipitous cognitive decline due to what turned out to be a fatal case of brain cancer. By all reports during that period he was unable to run the day to day operations of the foundation and became deeply paranoid that his leadership was being undermined by Murray and others. He passed away in 2014 and had tapped his daughter to be his replacement, a selection honored by the Board at the time. 

But Dill came to the job with no background in academia, philanthropy or really anything else, never having held a full time job previously. JTF struggled to promote her qualifications by noting “accomplishments”, as one can see in the “bio” below that is often used when she speaks:

Dill has spoken at various venues on living in a pluralistic world, on the research-supported benefits of a life of purpose, as well as the importance of intellectual humility. In 2020, she received the Citizen Diplomat of the Year Award, from Citizen Diplomacy International Philadelphia, jointly with Jennifer Templeton Simpson, and she was selected by Main Line Today magazine for its 2019 Women on the Move issue. In 2022, she was named #6 on the Pennsylvania Nonprofit Power 100 from City & State Pennsylvania. She was featured on the cover of the donor-focused philanthropic magazine Lifestyles in a major profile for its spring 2023 issue.

As time went by, according to reports by current and former employees, Dill wanted to have a larger public profile and began pouring resources into their communications unit. In addition, Dill’s lack of understanding or facility with most of what Templeton funded, led her to push the grant making more in the direction of “easy to understand” areas like character development or connections between religion and health or “meaning and purpose.” For a glimpse of how Dill struggles when put in position of having to explain the foundation’s work see her wrestle with the questions in this interview (especially around the 20+ minute mark).
 
Presumably this shift to lower octane academic work explains the departure first of Murray and subsequently Sargent. And the replacements that were hired for Murray and Sargent were clearly a major step down. Murray’s replacement was a Dean from a small Christian college in Michigan. His background is in physics but his academic research profile indicates that he was more administrator than practicing scientist.  Sargent’s replacement (now fired) was a fellow from Babson College with the title “Disruptor in Residence.” WTF. At that point, the die was largely cast in terms of future direction. And the latest staff slashing exercise was the final step in the purge of senior intellectual leadership. 
 
Interestingly, her position is term-limited and she will rotate out after ten years. Who will replace her, and what direction will Templeton take subsequently? No one seems to have a solid guess. It is not unlikely that she will pass the baton to her husband, Jeff Dill, a Yale trained sociologist who was hired into a non-tenure track position at (ahem) the “Templeton Honors College” at Eastern University.

Alternatively, they have one serious scholar on the JTF Board who could take the help: Greg Jones, President of Belmont University. Another possibility is Board member Philip Clayton. Clayton is a professor at Claremont School of Theology and is one of the “science and religion” specialists who was a “Templeton kingpin” during the Charles Harper era. He is, surprisingly, a Marxist (at a foundation that is committed by the donor to support Classical Liberal ideals?). But his scholarly record is not particularly strong and the likelihood that he would restore serious academic funding as a priority seems low.
 
So there you have it. A story of rise and decline, and a future that does not seem especially bright.
 
If Dan wants to apply pressure on someone, perhaps he can encourage the current Board of Templeton not to pick another family member off the rack and with no relevant experience to lead the organization, and instead to find a serious scholar devoted to the ideals set forth by John Templeton who will promote high quality research and public outreach. Perhaps he might want to apply.

SOS
SOS
Reply to  Concerned Citizen
10 months ago

Clayton’s scholarship not particularly strong? Senior Fullbright scholar. Eight books, including OUP publications and Yale UP. He is quite well respected in the areas in which he has published, and would, in my opinion, be a superb person to lead the institution.

Less concerned
Less concerned
Reply to  Concerned Citizen
10 months ago

I agree that Clayton would be a weak choice. But it’s worth pointing out that Sarah Lane Ritchie is still there at Templeton. She has a philosophy background, a Ph.D from Edinburgh in Science and Religion, and was until recently employed at Edinburgh as an assistant professor. She has been there for a few years and certainly knows how to manage philosophy grants well.

HUH?
HUH?
Reply to  Less concerned
10 months ago

Clayton is a “weak” choice but Ritchie is a benefit? Not only has Clayton published extensively, but he’s convened international interdisciplinary projects and collaborated & cowritten with internationally prominent scientists. Moreover it’s not at all clear what background in “philosophy” Ritchie has. She went from an MDiv in theology to graduate studies in “science and religion” – working Mark Harris, doctorally trained in physics and ordained in Church of England. There doesn’t appear to be any rigorous philosophical training and none of this is remotely comparable to the philosophical background brought by three former philosophers who’ve bolted or been fired from Templeton: Michael Murray, John Churchill, and more recently Alex Arnold.

Clayton is demonstrably alert to philosophical issues, but however one assesses folks currently in the JTF orbit, there’s little question that the existing staff leadership has been utterly disembowelled of philosophical and broader academic sophistication. And whatever the motives of current Admin might be (this issue too opens up the ad hominem problem)… it is the case that given the footprint of JTF-funded work across the disciplines, which has been increasingly valued and non-polarizing – the abandonment of substance is especially regrettable.

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Concerned Citizen
10 months ago

Note that the number of physics and biology grants has been decreasing and the biology work seems mostly to focus on “purpose in biology” (is that intelligent design?). 

I can’t speak to the administrative issues of JTF, but the Foundation is currently funding scientifically respectable, formally precise, and philosophically illuminating work on notions of purpose in the study of biological systems. From what I’ve seen, nothing merits the comparison to ID. I invite you to look over the clusters/projects listed at the top of this page:

https://www.biologicalpurpose.org/

Disclosure: I’ll be presenting an essay, “The Teleological Modal Profile and Subjunctive Background of Organic Generation and Growth” at a conference in Reading in September, under David Oderberg’s project “Mistakes in Living Systems: A New Conceptual Framework” and James DiFrisco’s “(Re)Conceptualizing Function and Goal-Directedness”.

Michael Murray
Michael Murray
Reply to  Preston Stovall
10 months ago

I have a number of thoughts on the thread here but will confine myself to Stovall’s post which is correct. To even hint that the current “purpose in biology” funding stream has anything to do with intelligent design is willfully ignorant (though I agree with much else in the post that gestured in this direction). JTF clearly, consistently, and vigorously pushed back on intelligent design from before I arrived in 2009 to after I left in 2019. The current initiative was developed while I was still SVP at JTF and its focus is on whether or not teleological notions are fruitful in hypothesis generation and/or in theoretical explanation, perhaps even in ways that are non-reductive. It has nothing to do with looking for evidence of divine tinkering with biological phenomena.