Eighteen Templeton Foundation Grants

Tom Flynn


This article summarizes eighteen grants made by the John Templeton Foundation between 2011 and the present, arranged in order of declining grant size. Nine of them were in the funding area of Philosophy and Theology, one of nine funding areas listed. These are highlighted. The other nine were in areas such as Natural Sciences, Human Sciences, and Public Engagement. Quotations appear to come from each grant’s proposal document, helpfully reproduced on the Foundation website. Together, the selected grants illustrate the range of Templeton-funded projects that promote the notion of congruence between science and religion, buttress spiritualistic interpretations of scientific findings, protect traditional religious ideas against being overturned by the findings of science, or seek to reimpose outmoded religious formulations onto the modern academy.

➊ Grant Amount $4,655,995

Funding Area: Philosophy and Theology


“Aspects of Religious Experiences: Investigations from Science, Philosophy, Theology, and Religious Studies”

Project Leader(s): Michael Rea, L. A. Paul

Grantee(s): University of Notre Dame

June 2014–May 2017

This multi-million–dollar project researched transformative experiences, specifically religious conversions, and “what they reveal about connecting to the divine.” “The nature and power of … transformative religious and spiritual experiences (RSEs) is the subject of a multiyear, multidisciplinary effort … to examine whether—and how—RSEs have a transformative impact.” From the secular perspective, this study implicitly co-opts philosophy and undercuts naturalism just by treating “transformative religious and spiritual experiences” and “connecting to the divine” as genuine phenomena and appropriate objects for research.

➋ Grant Amount $2,884,457

Funding Area: Human Sciences


“Spiritual Curiosity and the Experience of God”

Project Leader(s): Tanya Luhrmann

Grantee(s): Stanford University

September 2016–August 2019

Writing as T. M. Luhrmann, project leader Tanya Luhrmann penned pro-spirituality New York Times op-eds during the middle years of this decade. In this project, she proposes to study “how cultural variation in ideas about the mind shapes the way people seek and experience the supernatural.” The proposal treats “the supernatural” inconsistently, sometimes describing it as reality and at others just as something people infer or “deem.”

➌ Grant Amount $2,877,526

Funding Area: Human Sciences


“Understanding Unbelief”

Project Leader(s): Lois Lee, Stephen Bullivant Grantee(s): University of Kent

January 2017–September 2019

This project seeks to construct more scientifically rigorous methods and categories for describing and understanding the fast-growing phenomenon of unbelief from a believing perspective. “We do not currently know how best to characterize the various forms of unbelief as psychological and sociological phenomena, the extent to which other beliefs—about religion, or the existential—underpin these forms, how diverse they are, and how they vary across demographic groups and cultures. Yet understanding the nature and variety of unbelief is necessary if we are, in future, to answer big questions about the causes of ‘unbelief.’” Another view: Nearly three million dollars for sharper tools to help believers explain, clinically, what’s wrong with nonbelievers.

” Grant Amount $2,600,000

Funding Area: Human Sciences


“Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures Phase 3″

Project Leader(s): Alan Cooperman

Grantee(s): Pew Charitable Trusts

January 2014–December 2016

This project offers continuing funding for a long-running joint project between the Templeton Foundation and the Pew Charitable Trusts “to delve deeper into the demographic factors reshaping religion around the world, analyze trends in religious beliefs and practices across new regions, and track the extent to which governments and societies restrict religion.” Of the grants on this list, this one may best represent money well spent.

➎ Grant Amount $2,325,735

Funding Area: Public Engagement


“Engaging Scientists in the Science and Religion Dialogue”

Project Leader(s): Jennifer Wiseman, Se Kim

Grantee(s): American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)

June 2016–June 2019

Templeton teams with the AAAS to teach scientists better ways “to discuss science with a largely religious public. … This project will provide vital engagement tools and professionally facilitated workshops for scientists.” How much of this project, one wonders, will focus on teaching young scientists that science and religion are not in conflict and that scientists should pursue—and communicate about—their work in ways that accommodate rather than challenge religious believers?

” Grant Amount $1,582,636

Funding Area: Philosophy and Theology


“Pursuing the Unity of Knowledge: Integrating Religion, Science, and the Academic Disciplines”

Project Leader(s): Brad Gregory, Donald Stelluto

Grantee(s): Notre Dame Institute for Advanced Study

July 2013–June 2016

This project claims to be “(i)nspired by the universalism of the Catholic intellectual tradition”—that is, the ancient doctrine under which the church claimed authority over all scholarly and scientific disciplines. Behind the elevated rhetoric, this is essentially a frontal attack on naturalism in philosophy and science, an effort to yoke secular inquiry once more under the authority of faith. “We hope the world’s most advanced scholars will rethink basic assumptions underlying their academic disciplines and become catalysts for new thinking and ideas,” the applicants write, “with theology and philosophy serving as integrative discourses (emphasis added).” Yes, really.

” Grant Amount $1,338,553

Funding Area: Philosophy and Theology


“The Openness of the Universe for Free Will and Special Divine Action”

Project Leader(s): Daniel von Wachter, Alexander Batthyany

Grantee(s): International Academy of Philosophy (IAP)

January 2017–September 2019

Laypersons embrace many beliefs—conspicuously, about God and free will—that philosophers generally do not. This project aims “to foster and inspire the debate about the possibility and nature of free will and of various kinds of divine action in philosophy and theology in the German-speaking world” for both scholarly and lay audiences. “The aim of the project is to change minds by drawing attention to and challenging uncritical or uninformed presuppositions and by making aware of the whole range of possible human and divine actions in order to encourage and enable people to investigate the evidence about which kinds of human and divine actions exist.” From the clear assumption that divine actions can exist, it seems clear where this is heading.

➑ Grant Amount $1,045,663

Funding Area: Public Engagement


“BioLogos Public Engagement: Inviting the Church and the World to See the Harmony between Science and Biblical Faith”

Project Leader(s): Deborah Haarsma

Grantee(s): The BioLogos Foundation, Inc.

June 2016–May 2019

This project offers continuing support for the BioLogos Foundation, an evangelical enterprise that seeks to persuade general audiences not only that science and religion are in harmony but that religious beliefs can shape scientific discovery. “The prevailing story in our culture is that science and religion cannot be reconciled,” declares BioLogos Program Director Kathryn Applegate. “From the beginning, BioLogos has been a place to push back against that narrative.” A typical effort seeks to rebuff such “misleading narratives” as that of Charles Darwin losing his faith as he developed his theory of evolution. One bright spot: BioLogos spends much of its time (and the Foundation’s money) preaching to the choir rather than reaching out to the general public. Applegate actually enthuses about centering her outreach work “at churches, Christian colleges, and conferences.”

➒ Grant Amount $848,253

Funding Area: Philosophy and Theology


“Knowledge beyond Natural Science”

Project Leader(s): Crispin Wright, Peter Sullivan

Grantee(s): University of Stirling

March 2017–November 2019

“‘How is it possible to know of my own psychological states for the most part effortlessly and authoritatively?’ ‘How is it possible to know substantive facts of logic and mathematics, applicable to the natural world, just by thinking?’” The applicants propose “a sustained, coordinated collaboration on these two great and intransigent philosophical problems” that just happen to be the principal objections nonnaturalists raise to the idea of human cognition as a wholly natural, physical process.

➓ Grant Amount $300,907

Funding Area: Human Sciences


“‘Everything Happens for a Reason’: Seeing God’s Handiwork Behind Life Events”

Project Leader(s): Paul Bloom

Grantee(s): Yale University

August 2014–January 2017

Given that “many people believe that life events happen for a reason,” which naturalists might study as a common error, applicant Paul Bloom—yes, the prominent psychologist and author of books including Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion—seeks to explore “the cognitive and cultural underpinnings of people’s belief in life’s purpose and explores the relationship between this belief and belief in God.”

⓫ Grant Amount $295,880

Funding Area: Human Sciences


“Motivated Cognitions of God: A Theoretical and Empirical Framework and Computational Model”

Project Leader(s): Jennifer Talevich, Stephen Read

Grantee(s): University of Southern California

September 2014–February 2017

“There is as yet no comprehensive theory for understanding people’s relationships with God,” the applicants write. This project seeks to fill that alleged gap, initially by constructing “three neural network models of how humans and gods are represented in terms of each of two behavioral systems (attachment and power).” Does that sound scientific? Unfortunately, the applicants then plan experiments in the course of which “we will generate a Taxonomy of Prayers and two implicit measures including an implicit measure of Attachment to God, an implicit measure of the Power of God, a Power of God Scale and Presence of God Measure.”

⓬ Grant Amount $292,917

Funding Area: Natural Sciences


“Humility versus Hostility in Public Discourse: Bridging the Divide between Science and Religion”

Project Leader(s): Albert Gunther

Grantee(s): University of Wisconsin-Madison

September 2011–July 2014

This proposal dismisses the idea that science and religion may be in conflict as “polarized, partisan and intolerant of other viewpoints.” It seeks to increase civility in the science-religion debate—“Can resistance to free and open dialogue between science and religion be reduced?”—yet the emphasis seems to be on seeking ways to make scientific critics of religion more accommodating toward faith: “The ultimate vision is to cultivate humility and openness to competing ideas.” One gathers that most of this humility is to be cultivated by partisans of science.

⓭ Grant Amount $217,400

Funding Area: Natural Sciences


“The Meaning of Life Project”

Project Leader(s): Stewart Goetz, Tim Mawson

Grantee(s): Ursinus College

December 2016–November 2018

During 2017, this Oxford project will “research historical Christian thought about life’s meaning and what, if any, bearing the thought of contemporary naturalistic evolutionary biology has on it.” In summer 2018, it will hold a conference “consisting of daily meetings for Christian seminary professors, clergy, para-church workers, and leaders of high-school church groups about the meaning of life, based in part on what we learned from our work” during 2017. The larger objective is, apparently, to arm Christian apologists with new arguments against evolutionary thought.

⓮ Grant Amount $217,399

Funding Area: Philosophy and Theology


“Putting the Buddhism/Science Dialogue on a New Footing”

Project Leader(s): William Waldron, Clifford Saron

Grantee(s): Mangalam Research Center for Buddhist Languages

March 2017–February 2018

This “transdisciplinary” project asks: “1) Can the encounter of scientists with Buddhist contemplative traditions—which emphasize close observation of first-person experience—expand the scope, design, and explanatory power of scientific investigation, which typically focuses on third-person measures? 2) Can foundational Buddhist ideas such as dependent arising, emptiness, and the constructed self enrich emerging theoretical and methodological approaches in the mind sciences that seek to move beyond subject-object dualism?” What makes me think the answer will never be no?

⓯ Grant Amount $217,332

Funding Area: Philosophy and Theology


“Science-Engaged Theological Ethics and Moral Psychology”

Project Leader(s): Neil Arner

Grantees: University of Notre Dame

June 2017–May 2020

This project seeks to “implement a jointly scientific, philosophical, and theological critique” of “recent biological accounts of morality … that purport to refute or render irrelevant theological accounts of ethics.” It hopes to “illustrate how theological ethics can positively appropriate the valid facets of these empirical studies of morality” and thereby “model a form of science-engaged theology that is appreciative without being uncritical.” Lawyers have a phrase—Res ipsa loquitur—that means “The thing speaks for itself.”

⓰ Grant Amount $198,536

Funding Area: Philosophy and Theology


“How Can We Discover the Properties of God?”

Project Leader(s): Jeff Speaks

Grantee(s): University of Notre Dame

December 2014–August 2017

The applicant seeks funding for an extended sabbatical to research the most important “question in the philosophy of religion … the question of what God is like—of what the properties of God are.” Conventional characterizations of God describing the deity as the most perfect being “need to be re-thought from the beginning,” and so he must “explore alternative methodologies for philosophical theology.” The applicant expects to complete this task by completing “two semesters of leave from teaching, two summers of funding for research,” attending three conferences, and running a small workshop. One wonders that no one else ever thought of that.

⓱ Grant Amount $192,282

Funding Area: Philosophy and Theology


“The Mind-Body Problem and Conservation Laws: From A Priori to A Posteriori”

Project Leader(s): James Pitts

Grantee(s): University of Cambridge

December 2016–September 2018

Physical conservation laws appear to be violated by mind-body dualism; from this, some naturalists conclude that mind is monistic and physical, inseparable from brain function. Since this position contradicts traditional religious beliefs, the applicant proposes to examine related issues more deeply in light of recent physics, hoping to “help various audiences to see the value of seeking the new spiritual information available empirically from places such as neuroscience.” Once again: Res ipsa loquitur.

⓲ Grant Amount $33,051

Funding Area: Philosophy and Theology


“Naturalism and Its Discontents”

Project Leader(s): Kelly James Clark

Grantee(s): Kaufman Interfaith Institute

January 2013–December 2014

In this proposal, Kelly James Clark seeks support for an effort already underway to edit a book critical of naturalism in the guise of a presumably objective reference work (see Tom Flynn, “The Corruption of Philosophy?” in this issue). “I propose a book,” Clark wrote, “attractively written and published in an important series, on naturalism and its shortcomings … with theists/non-naturalists getting the last word in every section. … This will instantly become the standard reference work on naturalism.” It is worthwhile to visit the website (above) and read this revealing passage in its entirety, or just examine the screen grab on p. 36.

Tom Flynn

Tom Flynn is editor of Free Inquiry, executive director of the Council for Secular Humanism, director of the Robert Green Ingersoll Birthplace Museum, and editor of The New Encyclopedia of Unbelief (2007).