Monday, November 14, 2005

The Templeton Foundation and ID

Actually, the Wall Street Journal article from the previous post contains a nugget deserving its own post:


In a 1999 fund-raising proposal, the Discovery Institute -- an intelligent design think tank in Seattle -- outlined what it called a “wedge strategy” to replace the “stifling dominance of the materialist worldview” with “a science consonant with Christian and theistic conviction.” Its five-year objectives included making intelligent design “an accepted alternative in the sciences” and the “dominant perspective” at two universities which weren't identified.

While these goals weren't met, some intelligent-design advocates associated with the Discovery Institute, found a receptive ear at the Pennsylvania-based Templeton Foundation. Between 1994 and 2002, the foundation funded nearly 800 courses, including several on intelligent design. It has also supported research by William Dembski, who headed an intelligent-design center at Baylor University, and Guillermo Gonzalez, co-author of a 2004 book, “The Privileged Planet.” The book claimed to discern a designer from the earth's position in the cosmos. Mr. Gonzalez, an assistant professor of astronomy at Iowa State, received $58,000 from the foundation over three years.

Foundation staff members now say that intelligent design hasn't yielded as much research as they'd hoped. Mr. Templeton, who chairs the foundation and will turn 93 later this month, believes “the creation-evolution argument is a waste of time,” says Paul Wason, the foundation's director of science and religion programs. Mr. Wason adds that Mr. Templeton is more interested in applying the scientific method to exploring spiritual questions such as the nature of forgiveness. Nevertheless, staff members remain reluctant to dismiss intelligent design entirely, in part because the doctrine's popularity could help achieve the foundation's goal of persuading evangelical Christians to pursue scientific careers. The foundation also complains that academia is too quick to censor the doctrine. (Emphasis Added)


Of course, I love the blunt statement that the Discovery Institute's scientific ambitions have not come to fruition. But it's that bold face line that really caught my eye. The Templeton Foundation generally supports any quasi-scientific endeavor that can be spun as supportive of spirituality, however you define that term. It is not surprising that they would be supportive of ID.

But it's definitely a welcome development that one of the chief financial supporters of ID is waking up to its total lack of scientific content. Better late than never.

Of course, the reason ID has not produced as much research as they hoped is that ID has never been about scientific research. That's been obvious from the start.

3 Comments:

At 1:39 PM, Anonymous Matt Daws said...

Foundation staff members now say that intelligent design hasn't yielded as much research as they'd hoped.

An interesting question is, surely, what "research" would they hope to have gotten from ID? Endless papers showing that various biological systems were "irreducibly complex"? I can't think of much else. Perhaps one could look at some virus, say "it must have been designed, so if I was the designer, how would I make it work?" Of course, this is (i) pretty arrogant (I'm as clever as God, etc.) and (ii) seemingly little different from saying "the virus evolved, so how would I expect it to work".

No, I am actually stuck for an answer. What sort of research would ID produce? Isn't ID's sole aim to *close down* research?

 
At 10:06 PM, Anonymous Charles Harper said...

Dear Jason,

Would you be willing to provide some evidence for your assertion: "The Templeton Foundation generally supports any quasi-scientific endeavor that can be spun as supportive of spirituality, however you define that term." I probably could provide you with some evidence, but it would have to be balanced against most of what we do. I am the main quality control guy in the Foundation. I work like the devil to develop serious scientific work with top-level rigor. I come from a field that is quite serious in its rigor. I am used to extreme care in methodology, measurements, program design, etc., almost to fanatical degree. Of course I cannot "control" absolutely everything that the JTF funds. That would not really be feasible. But I have done rather a lot. I think you may be quite surprised were to check the actual factual details rather than access the zeitgeist. Have you seen the kinds of research we support involving absolutely top research people? Check some of it out by going to the part of our web page where we are documenting our activity in response to the politicized misinformation in the WSJ. See:
http://www.templeton.org/topics_in_the_news/index.asp

 
At 12:49 PM, Anonymous Charles Harper said...

Dear Jason,

Another note from Charles Harper, Senior VP of the John Templeton Foundation. Here I would like to respond to your remark:

"But it's definitely a welcome development that one of the chief financial supporters of ID is waking up to its total lack of scientific content. Better late than never."

The story line of philanthropy changes mind is stirring stuff. But it We have never been ID advocates. Never. The actual facts will show that we have been the main sponsors of the critics of the ID movement. Ask someone like Eugenie Scott what the Templetoin Foundation means to her. Or ask the Director of the AAAS DOSER program, Connie Bertka. Or ask Michael Ruse. It is always surprising to me how those who support science can be so loose on checking the facts. Also, note that meyhods matter. We often give grants vis independent judged competitions. If ID supporters have gotten a few grants, so be it. In the history of ID support from philanthropy, these are small scraps. The real supporting groups are totally distinct from us. Check the details. You will find what I am saying is quite accurate.

I was at Harvard (Planetary Sciences and HC Observatory) before I came to the JTF in 1996. My only interaction with ID then was that I offered publicly to debate Philip Johnson. Since coming to the JTF I have consistently directed our resources in the direction on serious respect for and philanthropic engagement with modern biology. Ask Martin Nowak of Harvard who sits on our Board, --one of the world's most distinguished mathematical biologists working on evolution. (We have a $2M grant supporting his work.) We at Templeton are focused on the challenge of sponsoring rgorous and serious scientific research that impinges upon the "really great questions." Thus, for example, check out our $5.5 M research grants program directed by Simon Conway Morris in Cambridge. The culture wars dialectic blinds the involved pugilists to the simple facts of the matter. Do check them out. (see our website.)

Dialectical conspiricy theory pandering is a bad habit of high ambition journalists who would do better simply to do their boring-but-necessary fact gathering homework. Smart people should avoid the tendency to "see" reality as shaped via the filters of these trivializing "black hats vs white hats" dialectics.

 

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