The Templeton Foundation’s Quest For The Science Of Religion

Nathan Schneider has an investigative piece in The Nation on the Templeton Foundation, which, with its $1 billion in assets, is one of the richest philanthropic organizations in the country and the leading funder of research into science and religion. Schneider takes a close analytical look at this powerhouse, which seeks to “encourage all people to think that progress in spiritual information is possible, desirable, can be done and will be done.”

While Templeton money supports other causes, Schneider writes, “like promoting virtue, encouraging gifted youth and fostering free enterprise, its core concerns are more cosmic: ‘Does the universe have a purpose?’ ‘Does science make belief in God obsolete?’ ‘Does evolution explain human nature?'”

Schneider, who is also a regular contributor to Religion Dispatches, also explores the controversial nature of the organization:

The zoologist and author Richard Dawkins quipped in his 2006 book The God Delusion that the Templeton Prize goes “usually to a scientist who is prepared to say something nice about religion.” He and others among the so-called New Atheists have been the foundation’s most strident critics lately; they believe Templeton is corrupting science by trying to inject it with religious dogma and, in turn, misrepresent science to the public. The advance of science steamrolls over religion, they say, and Templeton is deluding people into thinking otherwise.

These are no minor charges. Recent years have witnessed political and religious campaigns to both undermine and co-opt scientific authority on matters ranging from climate change to sex education to evolution. Organizations like Answers in Genesis, which advocates for young-earth creationism, and the Discovery Institute, which orchestrates the intelligent-design movement, have been trying to squeeze creationism into public school science classes. Within this environment, Templeton has struggled to maintain a delicate balance between alarmed scientists on one side and its mission to bring religion into conversation with science on the other.

The piece is sure to spark debate between those who believe both science and religion play a role in our greater understanding of the universe and those who say religion hinders progress.

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