Foundation, John Templeton
The John Templeton Foundation is a philanthropic organization that funds inter-disciplinary research about human purpose and ultimate reality. It is usually referred to simply as the Templeton Foundation. It was established in 1987 by the late investor and philanthropist Sir John Templeton; the current president is his son John Templeton, Jr.
The mission of the Foundation is:
[to serve] as a philanthropic catalyst for discoveries relating to the Big Questions of human purpose and ultimate reality. We support research on subjects ranging from complexity, evolution, and infinity to creativity, forgiveness, love, and free will. We encourage civil, informed dialogue among scientists, philosophers, and theologians and between such experts and the public at large, for the purposes of definitional clarity and new insights. Our vision is derived from the late Sir John Templeton's optimism about the possibility of acquiring "new spiritual information" and from his commitment to rigorous scientific research and related scholarship. The Foundation's motto, "How little we know, how eager to learn," exemplifies our support for open-minded inquiry and our hope for advancing human progress through breakthrough discoveries.
According to the Foundation, it gives away about $70 million per year in research grants and programs.
The Foundation restructured its grant making process in January 2010. It is divided into five core funding areas which include:
- Science and the big questions
- Character development
- Freedom and free enterprise
- Exceptional cognitive talent and genius
The Foundation accepts online funding inquiries twice a year. If the initial inquiry is successful, applicants are invited to make a full proposal. Typically, grants are approved in a process that incorporates scientific peer review. The Foundation funds many high-level scientific research projects, usually by means of international competitions to which research teams from large universities apply.
In 2008, the Foundation received the National Humanities Medal from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
 Core funding areas
The Foundation divides its primary activities into the following areas:
 Science and the big questions
The largest of the Foundation’s funding areas, science and the big questions, covers the following:
- mathematical and physical sciences
- life sciences
- human sciences
- philosophy and theology
- science in dialogue.
 Mathematical and physical sciences
The Foundation focuses its funding in this area on foundational questions in mathematics or projects that seek a deeper understanding of the nature of reality within the realm of physics, cosmology, astronomy, chemistry or other physical sources.
Examples of projects that have received funding include the Foundational Questions Institute established by physicists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and University of California, Santa Cruz. FQXi supports research on questions at the foundations of physics and cosmology, particularly “new frontiers and innovative ideas integral to a deep understanding of reality but unlikely to be supported by conventional funding sources”.
 Life sciences
Life Sciences covers projects examining the evolution and fundamental nature of life, human life, and mind, especially as they relate to issues of meaning and purpose. Projects that have received funding from the Foundation cover a variety of fields including the biological sciences, neuroscience, archaeology, and palaeontology.
Professor Simon Conway-Morris from the University of Cambridge was awarded a grant in this area for his "Map of Life" project, which seeks to document examples of evolutionary convergence.
 Human sciences
The Foundation provides funding to projects that look to apply disciplines such as anthropology, sociology, political science, and psychology to various moral and spiritual concepts, such as altruism, creativity, free will, generosity, gratitude, intellect, love, prayer, and purpose.
Purdue University in Indiana, USA received money from the Foundation to establish its Center on Religion and Chinese Society, which studies the impact and role of religion in Chinese societies and among the Chinese diaspora.
 Philosophy and theology
The focus of this area is to support projects that attempt to develop new philosophical and theological insights, especially (but not only) in relation to advances in scientific understanding.
Anton Zeilinger, Professor of Physics at the University of Vienna, received a grant from Templeton to run a fellowship for young scholars interested in the nature of quantum reality and its philosophical implications.
 Science in dialogue
The Foundation also funds projects that bring one or more scientific disciplines into a mutually enriching discussion with theology and/or philosophy for an academic audience or the public.
The World Science Festival received a grant from the foundation for its Big Ideas Series. It used this to host public discussions of subjects like "Nothing: The Subtle Science of Emptiness," "What It Means to Be Human," and "Parallel Universes".
 Character development
The Foundation supports a broad range of programs, publications, and studies focused on the universal truths of character development, from childhood through young adulthood and beyond. The qualities of character emphasized in the Foundation’s charter include awe, creativity, curiosity, diligence, entrepreneurialism, forgiveness, generosity, gratitude, honesty, humility, joy, love, purpose, reliability, and thrift.
Stanford University is among the recipients of a grant for Wiliam Damon’s research on types of commitments young people hold and how those commitments develop, which was the first phase of the Youth Purpose Project.
More recently the Foundation awarded a grant to the University of Chicago for its research on an interdisciplinary study of virtue.
In relation to Character Development, the Foundation also supports the Purpose Prize, an initiative of Civic Ventures. The Purpose Prize seeks to inspire men and women with a vision of how to live with purpose in retirement.
 Freedom and free enterprise
Sir John Templeton, a follower of classical liberalism from Adam Smith to Milton Friedman, believed that individual freedom was the indispensable foundation of economic, social, and spiritual progress, and that without economic freedom, individual freedom was fragile and vulnerable. To this end, the Foundation supports a range of programs which promote freedom and free enterprise.
In 2007 a grant was awarded to Robert Townsend, from the University of Chicago for “The Enterprise Initiative” a research collaboration with MIT's Poverty Action Lab, Yale's Economic Growth Center, and the University of Chicago's Computation Institute. This initiative seeks to elucidate enterprise-based solutions to poverty by studying the specific factors that lead to success at the individual level.
 Exceptional cognitive talent and genius
The Foundation supports young people who demonstrate exceptional talent in mathematics and science. In the U.S., they have supported accelerated learning for students capable of working well beyond their grade level, and a number of important national studies of the issue. Internationally, they have sponsored academic training and competitions for students who show extraordinary potential but whose talents might not otherwise be developed, especially because of their economic circumstances or insufficient educational support.
One example of its work is the grant given to an academic from Princeton University for the study: “Budapest: The Golden Years Early 20th Century Mathematics Education in Budapest and Lessons for Today”.
The Foundation’s engagement with this funding area is still in its early stages. The Foundation is particularly interested in major advances in genetics might serve to empower individuals, leading to spiritually beneficial social and cultural changes. Previous genetics projects receiving grants from the Foundation include how research on Genetics and the Origin of Organismal Complexity by Günter P. Wagner and Alison Richard from Yale University. The Foundation has established "Can Genetically Modified Crops Help to Feed the World?" as 2010 Funding Priority.
 The big questions
The Foundation runs what it calls Big Questions conversations, a campaign conceived in collaboration with the designer Milton Glaser. A panel of high-profile scholars and public figures are invited to address a question and write a detailed essay in response. To date, the Foundation has posed the following questions:
- Does the Universe have a purpose?
- Will money solve Africa’s development problems?
- Does science make belief in God obsolete?
- Does the free market corrode moral character?
- Does evolution explain human nature?
- Does moral action depend on reasoning?
Contributors have included Bernard-Henri Lévy, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Christopher Hitchens, Jerome Groopman, Robert Reich, He Qinglian, Stephen Pinker, Francis Collins, Simon Conway Morris, Michael Gazzaniga, Rebecca Goldstein, and Jonah Lehrer.
 Prizes and awards
The Foundation is involved both in the awarding of prizes for specific achievements in different categories, and the funding of research in science and theology.
 The Templeton Prize
In addition to its central activity funding scientific studies, the Foundation awards the annual $1.5 million Templeton Prize to a ‘living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life's spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works’.
The Templeton Prize was first awarded in 1973. The monetary amount is adjusted to always be slightly higher than the Nobel Prize. In 2010 the prize was $1.5 million.
Since its inception, recipients of the prize have included Mother Teresa, Taizé Prior Roger Schutz, Evangelist Billy Graham, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Baba Amte.
The 2010 Templeton Prize winner was Francisco J. Ayala, an evolutionary geneticist and molecular biologist who has opposed the teaching of creationism in the public schools.
In 2009, the French physicist and science philosopher Bernard d'Espargnat won the prize.
In 2008, Polish cosmologist and catholic priest Michał Heller was awarded the Templeton Prize. Heller received the prize in recognition of scholarship and research that has, according to the Foundation, pushed at the metaphysical boundaries of science.
In 2007 the Templeton Prize was awarded to Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor. Taylor is known for his belief that Western secular society does not satisfy the natural human desire for meaning. Commenting on the Templeton Prize award to Taylor, the United Kingdom’s Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks said, “If there is such a thing as a saint in a secular age, he deserves that title”.
Other recent prize winners include:
Charles H. Townes, Professor in the Graduate School at the University of California, Berkeley, who shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1964 for his investigations into the properties of microwaves and his co-invention of the laser, and theoretical cosmologist
George F.R. Ellis of the University of Cape Town, who advocates “balancing the rationality of evidence-based science with the causal effect of forces beyond the explanation of hard science, including issues such as aesthetics, ethics, metaphysics, and meaning".
 Other prizes
In addition to the Templeton Prize, the Templeton Foundation also provides grants for several independently administered awards. These include:
The $100,000 Epiphany Prizes for ‘inspiring movies and TV’. Winners of the movie prize include: Amazing Grace, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, The Passion of the Christ, Amistad and the Preacher's Wife.
The Purpose Prize, sponsored by Civic Ventures with grants from The Atlantic Philanthropies and the John Templeton Foundation. This initiative annually provides five awards of $100,000 and 10 awards of $10,000 to people over 60 who are taking on 'society’s biggest challenges'. Winners have been recognized for a diverse range of activities, including creating a mentor network for refugees to reducing rates of young offender recidivism.
 Other recipients of funding
Individuals associated with Templeton-funded initiatives or who have received support from the Templeton Foundation include Paul Davies, Max Tegmark, John D. Barrow, James Otteson, Stephen G. Post, Martin Seligman, Harold Koenig, Laurence Iannaccone, Nicholas Colangello, and Alexander Astin. Organizations that are associated or which have received grants include Civic Ventures, Junior Achievement, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Rotary International, Developmental Studies Center and many major research universities, including Yale University, Harvard University, MIT, the California Institute of Technology, Oxford University, Princeton University, and Cambridge University, among others.
MediaTransparency lists grant-receiving institutions for 1998 to 2004; the top five are:
- Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences ($23 million)
- National Institute for Healthcare Research ($8 million)
- Philadelphia Center for Religion & Science ($4 million)
- Metanexus Institute on Religion and Science ($4 million)
- Science and Spirit Resources, Inc. ($4 million).
The Foundation also has media presence. It runs its own publisher, Templeton Foundation Press and publishes the periodical “In Character: A Journal of Everyday Virtues”. It is published three times a year; each issue has a theme such as “thrift” or “purpose” and, in Spring 2007, “honesty”.
The current President of the Templeton Foundation is John M. Templeton, Jr., the son of Sir John Templeton. Templeton, Jr. is an evangelical Christian and is an independently wealthy person who is active in philanthropy outside of the mandate of the Templeton Foundation itself. This includes support for various groups that raise funds for conservative causes.
Templeton Jr has always maintained that his own personal religious beliefs do not affect his ability to administer the Foundation in accordance with the wishes of his father. The Templeton Foundation has also gone to great lengths to stress that it is non-political with no bias towards any one faith.
Broadly, controversial aspects of the Templeton Foundation fall into two categories. Firstly, the Foundation is seen by some as having a conservative bias and secondly, it also receives criticism from some members in the scientific community who are concerned with its linking of scientific and religious questions.
 Accusations of conservative orientation
Like all 501(c)(3) organizations, the Templeton Foundation is prohibited from engaging directly in political activity. However, a number of journalists have highlighted connections with conservative causes. A 1997 article in Slate Magazine claimed that the Templeton Foundation had given a significant amount of financial support to groups, causes and individuals considered conservative, including gifts to Gertrude Himmelfarb, Milton Friedman, Walter E. Williams, Julian Lincoln Simon and Mary Lefkowitz, and referred to John Templeton, Jr., as a "conservative sugar daddy". The Foundation also has a history of supporting the Cato Institute, a libertarian think-tank, as well as projects at major research centers and universities that explore themes related to free market economics, such as Hernando de Soto's Instituto Libertad Y Democracia and the X Prize Foundation.
In a 2007 article in The Nation, Barbara Ehrenreich drew attention to the Foundation's president Dr. John M. Templeton Jr. funding of the conservative group Freedom's Watch, and referred to the Foundation as a "right wing venture". Pamela Thompson of the Templeton Foundation, responding to Ehrenreich's allegations, asserted that "the Foundation is, and always has been, run in accordance with the wishes of Sir John Templeton Sr, who laid very strict criteria for its mission and approach", that it is "a non-political entity with no religious bias" and it "is totally independent of any other organisation and therefore neither endorses, nor contributes to political candidates, campaigns, or movements of any kind".
 Intelligent design
There have been questions over whether the foundation supports Intelligent Design because its grants can cover projects of a scientific and religious nature. The foundation has always strenuously denied supporting the movement.
In 2005, the foundation disputed suggestions that it promotes intelligent design saying that, while it had supported unrelated projects by individuals who identify with intelligent design, it was one of the ‘principal critics’ of the intelligent design movement and funded projects that challenged it.
The same year the New York Times reported that the foundation asked intelligent design proponents to submit proposals for actual research and quoted Charles L. Harper Jr., senior vice president at the Templeton Foundation, as saying "They never came in" and that while he was skeptical from the beginning, other foundation officials were initially intrigued and later grew disillusioned. "From the point of view of rigor and intellectual seriousness, the intelligent design people don't come out very well in our world of scientific review", he said.
In 2007 in the LA Times, the Templeton Foundation, wrote "we do not believe that the science underpinning the intelligent-design movement is sound, we do not support research or programs that deny large areas of well-documented scientific knowledge, and the foundation is a nonpolitical entity and does not engage in or support political movements".
In March 2009, the Discovery Institute, a supporter of Intelligent Design, accused the Templeton Foundation of blocking its involvement in a Vatican-backed, Templeton-funded conference in Rome on evolution. On the lack of involvement of any speakers supporting Intelligent Design, the conference director Rev. Marc Leclerc said, “We think that it’s not a scientific perspective, nor a theological or philosophical one…This make a dialogue difficult, maybe impossible.” At the conference, Francisco Ayala, an evolutionary biologist, former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and long time advisor to the foundation, said ID and Creationism were "blasphemous" to both Christians and scientists.
The Foundation's views on the connections between religious and scientific inquiry and their ability to provide significant grants for scientific research has led to quite polarising debate within the scientific community.
Sean M. Carroll, a cosmologist at the California Institute of Technology, wrote, in describing his self-recusal from a conference he discovered was funded by the Foundation, that "the entire purpose of the Templeton Foundation is to blur the line between straightforward science and explicitly religious activity, making it seem like the two enterprises are part of one big undertaking. It's all about appearances." But he also said, "I appreciate that the Templeton Foundation is actually, in its own way, quite pro-science, and is not nearly as objectionable as the anti-scientific crackpots at the Discovery Institute."
In 2006, John Horgan, a science journalist and the author of several books, wrote in an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education (reprinted in Edge) of his "misgivings about the foundation's agenda of reconciling religion and science". He claims that a conference he attended favored scientists who "offered a perspective clearly skewed in favor of religion and Christianity", and says that a Templeton official "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".
In his book The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins (an evolutionary biologist) repeatedly criticizes the Templeton Foundation, referring to the Templeton Prize as "a very large sum of money given...usually to a scientist who is prepared to say something nice about religion." Concerning the conference that he and John Horgan attended, and to John Horgan's resulting article, Dawkins comments, "If I understand Horgan's point, it is that Templeton's money corrupts science."
Peter Woit, a mathematical physicist at Columbia University occasionally writes about his misgivings with the foundation on his blog (which is hosted by Columbia University). Woit feels it is unfortunate that Templeton's money is used to influence scientific research towards a convergence between science and religion.
In June 2005, Woit wrote:
Look not at what the Templeton people say (which is relatively innocuous), but at what they do. They explicitly refuse to support serious science, and instead fund an incredible array of attempts to inject religion into scientific practice. ... Instead they are heavily funding the one part of the field that most people consider dangerous pseudo-science and a serious threat to the whole concept of what it means to do science.
In October 2007, he gave this more qualified, but still largely critical, assessment of the Foundation following attendance at a Templeton sponsored seminar:
The symposium I attended had not a trace of involvement of religion in it, and it seems that Templeton is careful to keep this out of some of the things that it funds as pure science…They appear to have a serious commitment to the idea of funding things in physics that can be considered “foundational”. People working in some such areas often are considered out of the physics mainstream and so find it hard to get their research funded. For them, Templeton is in many ways a uniquely promising funding source”.
"However, they unambiguously are devoted to trying to bring science and religion together, and that’s my main problem with them. ... I remain concerned though about the significance for physics of this large new source of funding, out of scale with other such private sources, and with an agenda that seems to me to have a dangerous component to it."
Nonetheless, Woit's impression is that the Foundation is careful to keep conservative politics out of its activities and he does state that “their encouragement of religion seems to be of a very ecumenical nature".
Professor Paul Davies, British-born physicist and member of the Foundation's Board of Trustees, gave a defense of the Foundation's role in the scientific community in the Times Higher Education Supplement in March 2005. Responding to concerns about the funding of such research by religious organisations that might have a hidden agenda and in particular the Templeton Foundation, Davies said:
If the foundation were indeed a religious organisation with its own specific doctrine, [the] objections would have substance. In fact, it is nothing of the sort. The benefactor, Sir John Templeton, bemoans the way that religious leaders often claim to have all the answers. Imagine, he says, consulting a doctor about an ailment, only to find him reaching for a volume of Hippocrates. Yet priests rely on ancient scriptures to deliver spiritual guidance. Sir John wants to address the big questions of existence with humility and open-mindedness, adopting the model of scientific research in place of religious dogma. "How little we know!" is his favourite aphorism. It is a radical message, as far from religious fundamentalism as it is possible to get.
...recurring research themes supported by the foundation are the search for extra-solar planets, the properties of liquid water, the evolution of primate behaviour, emergent properties of complex systems, the foundations of quantum mechanics and the biological and social bases for forgiveness in areas of human conflict. In none of these projects is anything like a preferred religious position encouraged or an obligation imposed to support any religious group.
Britain is a post-religious society. Yet ordinary men and women still yearn for some sort of deeper meaning to their lives. Can science point the way? Science has traditionally been regarded as dehumanising and alienating, trivialising the significance of humans and celebrating the pointlessness of existence. But many scientists, atheists included, see it differently. They experience what Einstein called "a cosmic religious feeling" when reflecting on the majesty of the cosmos and the extraordinary elegance and ingenuity of its mathematical laws.
Science cannot and should not be a substitute for religion. But I see nothing sinister or unprofessional about scientists working with open-minded theologians to explore how science might be a source of inspiration rather than demoralisation.
The John Templeton Foundation spends a major part of its resources in the support of research and teaching in the field of science and religion. Science and religion is a new academic discipline still in the process of defining itself. Its practitioners may be theologians, philosophers, psychologists, medical doctors, biologists, or physicists. They engage in a great variety of studies with diverse methods and purposes. His purpose is to rejuvenate the ancient discipline of theology by bringing into it people and ideas from the new disciplines of science. His dream is to see experts in science and religion making new discoveries in religion, as revolutionary as the discoveries that have been made during the last century in science.
– famed-physicist Freeman Dyson, A Many-Colored Glass:Reflections on the place of Life in the Universe (University of Virginia Press, 2007), page 133, Chapter 7 "The Varieties of Human Experience"
- Templeton website.
- Templeton Report, January 2009
- Templeton Foundation – Grantmaking process
- 2008 National Humanities Medalists, National Endowment for the Humanities, 2008, Accessed February 4, 2009.
- Templeton Foundation - What we fund
- Templeton Foundation – Science and the Big Questions
- Templeton Foundation – Mathematical & Physical Sciences
- Templeton Foundation – Life Sciences
- Map of Life
- Templeton Foundation – Human Sciences
- Center on Religion and Chinese Society
- Templeton Foundation – Philosophy & Theology
- University of Vienna
- Templeton Foundation – Science in Dialogue
- World Science Festival
- Templeton Foundation – Character Development
- Stanford – Youth Purpose Project
- University of Chicago
- Purpose Prize
- Templeton Foundation – Freedom & Free Enterprise
- The Enterprise Initiative
- Templeton Foundation – Exceptional Cognitive Talent and Genius
- Princeton – Von Neumann event
- Templeton Foundation - Genetics
- Templeton Foundation – 2010 Funding Priorities
- Big Questions
- Does the Universe have a purpose?
- Will money solve Africa’s development problems
- Does science make belief in God obsolete?
- Does the free market corrode moral character?
- Does evolution explain human nature?
- Does moral action depend on reasoning?
- Without a free market we are simply fascists, The Sunday Times
- Templeton Prize
- "Cosmologist wins worlds largest monetary award", The Independent, March 12, 2008.
- Joanna Sugden, "Terrorism can be Overcome with spirituality, says Templeton Prize Winner", The Times, May 2, 2007.
- Townes Bio, Nobel Prize Foundation.
- ^ a b "Recent Biographies", Templeton Prize
- University of Cape Town
- Epiphany Prizes
- Purpose Prize
- Media Transparency
- In Character
- The Edge
- Templeton Foundation Capabilities Report 2006
- The Slate
- Books By This Author