Tuesday, November 15, 2005

The Templeton Foundation Responds to WSJ

In yesterday's post I quoted an article from the Wall Street Journal that asserted that the Tepleton Foundation, once a major supporter of ID, is now losing interest. The Foundation has now issued this statement objecting to the idea that they have ever been a supporter of ID:

Today the WSJ ran a front page story mentioning the John Templeton Foundation in a way suggesting that the Foundation has been a concerted patron and sponsor of the so-called Intelligent Design (“ID”) position (such as is associated with the Seattle-based Discovery Institute and the writers Philip Johnson, William Dembski, Michael Behe and others). This is false information. In fact, quite the opposite is true. The John Templeton Foundation has provided tens of millions of dollars in support to research academics who are critical of the anti-evolution ID position. Any careful and factual analysis of actual events will find that the John Templeton Foundation has been in fact the chief sponsor of university courses, lectures and academic research which variously have argued against the anti-evolution “ID” position. It is scandalous for a distinguished paper to misinform the public in this way.

The statement goes on to argue that on those occasions where grants have been given to ID supporters, it was not for the purpose of supporting ID research.

In light of this, I apologize for asserting that Templeton has been a principle backer of ID research. I still regard it as significant, however, that a foundation devoted to bridging the gap between science and religion would wish to distance itself, with considerable passion, from ID.


At 1:19 PM, Anonymous Dick Lessard said...

You might want to go slow on the apologies. In Forrest and Gross's Creationism's Trojan Horse - The Wedge of Intelligent Design, page 153, it says "Dembski received a $100,000 grant from the John Templeton Foundation to write Being as Communion: The Metaphysics of Information. It's unclear how much this book has to do with ID (I'm not sure it's been published yet). But note that the award came after Dembski's publication of The Design Inference, so his strong association with ID was well known at the time. Gross and Forrest also indicate (p. 306) that a $75,000 Templeton Foundation grant paid Dembski's salary at the ill-fated Polanyi center.

At 3:44 PM, Anonymous Charles Harper said...

FYI, this grant was awarded by an independent panel of judges in a competition organized by a different institution we contracted with (the Metanexus Institute), well known for critical views on ID. All of the judges were distinguished scholars and very likely all were critical of the ID position. (NB: Michael Ruse won a grant in the same competition.) My understanding is that the grants competition was run in a humanities style mode with blinded applicant identities. There were over 400 applicants and seven awards. One can only state the straight truth that William Dembski's proposal won in a fair large-scale competition. It clearly must have been well-argued and persuasive to the judges. We at the John Templeton Foundation were concerned when we were informed of the situation. But we certainly do not reverse the decision of judges to award grants on ideological grounds. This is a matter of straightforward principle. (see details in my statement on the templeton website.) Dembski won and that was that. Would readers of this note suggest that ideological "policing" would have been a more appropriate way to treat this specific situation? In quality philanthropy, principled process matters.

(A separate matter is that it is now 5 years from the award and where is the book?)

A final note I would add is that discussion involving these sorts of controversial issues almost always incorrectly attributes "agency." It is presumed in this case (as per Dick Lessard's comment) that one can back-infer from a grant a position in favor of the specifics of its having been awarded by the source of the money (in this case the agenda of the John Templeton Foundation: aha!--thus "unmasked"). But this is not so. Having here provided some context, I hope it will be clear how the "agency imputation fallacy" works. Such an analysis of course is a psychology classic in the theism-vs-atheism debates, but it applies to more mundane matters as well such as this discussion....

Charles Harper
Senior VP
John Templeton Foundation

At 8:49 PM, Anonymous Charles Harper said...

Just to add an additional note for clarification. The $100K and $75K amounts mentioned by Dick Lessard were one in the same grant (for book writing support) resulting from the judged competition I described. The difference is the amount reserved to be paid out only upon publication (or perhaps editorial acceptance for publication).

FYI, to add another case, the Templeton Foundation also reviewed and funded a grant to the Discovery Institute (or, I think something like $65K) to support a conference for them to interact in a serious way scientifically with their critics. This proposal peer reviewed quite well with ID critics. Why? Featured participants: Stephen Weinberg, Christian de Duve, Michael Shermer, Simon Conway Morris. The JTF felt support for this form of straight-deal peer-reviewer-commended high-level academic interaction potentially was merited in the situation such as it was perhaps six (?) years ago in less politicized times. (We always have believed in the value of supporting real scholarship and dialog on controversial matters.) The ideal here was to get the different sides to actually focus on some real research issues of dispute; maybe thereby make some real progress in doing so. No basic regrets here. Some projects work, some don't. OK,--but to the key point: is this evidence for the JTF being long-time backers of the ID movement? Evidence of a "hidden conspiracy?" Your call on that one. I'll just provide the key facts.

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