Wall Street Journal Wrong on Templeton Foundation and ID

Yesterday's Wall Street Journal had an article about various college professors around the country teaching about ID in freshmen seminars. In the process, they attributed much of the growth in the ID movement to the Templeton Foundation and did so wrongly. Long quote begins below the fold:

Still, professors with evangelical beliefs, including some eminent scientists, have initiated most of the courses and lectures, often with start-up funding from the John Templeton Foundation. Established by famous stockpicker Sir John Templeton, the foundation promotes exploring the boundary of theology and science. It fostered the movement's growth with grants of $10,000 and up for guest speakers, library materials, research and conferences...

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.

Templeton-funded proponents of intelligent design include Christopher Macosko, a professor of chemical engineering at University of Minnesota. Mr. Macosko, a member of the National Academy of Engineering, became a born-again Christian as an assistant professor after a falling-out with a business partner. For eight years, he's taught a freshman seminar: "Life: By Chance or By Design?" According to Mr. Macosko, "All the students who finish my course say, 'Gee, I didn't realize how shaky evolution is.' "

Another recipient of Templeton funding, Harold Delaney, a professor of psychology at the University of New Mexico, taught an honors seminar in 2003 and 2004 on "Origins: Science, Faith and Philosophy." Co-taught by Michael Kent, a scientist at Sandia National Laboratories, the course included readings on both sides as well as a guest lecture by David Keller, another intelligent-design advocate on the New Mexico faculty.

But this only tells a small part of the story. The Templeton Foundation has indeed provided funding for various projects involving some ID advocates, but those projects were fairly limited and they are hardly a major funder of ID activities. For the major funders, you have to look at Howard Ahmanson's Fieldstead and Company. Ahmanson is on the board of directors of the Discovery Institute (and a Christian reconstructionist). You also have to look at the Scaife Foundation, which funds an extraordinary list of right wing thinktanks, the McLellan Foundation, and Philip Anschutz.

The Templeton Foundation reacted swiftly to the Journal article, issuing a strongly worded statement on its webpage that said:

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.

This is an immediate response statement put together in 60 minutes from the time we became aware of the publication of false and misleading information this morning. We presently are preparing a further appendix to this statement to document a number of major programs of the John Templeton Foundation which are fundamentally critical of the characteristic "ID" position of critique of the basic scientific facts and logics of modern evolutionary biology. For example, for almost a decade the John Templeton Foundation has been the major supporter of a substantial program at the headquarters of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), one of the chief focus activities of which has been informing the public of the weakness of the ID position on modern evolutionary biology. (see: http://www.aaas.org/spp/dser/ ) This program was founded under the advice and guidance of the prominent evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala when he was President of the AAAS, and was also supported by Stephen Jay Gould under his Presidency. The membership of the John Templeton Foundation's Advisory Boards and Board of Trustees read as an international honor roll of the distinguished critics of the ID position.

There is more as well. They go on to point out that the grant that went to Gonzalez at Iowa State was won in an international grant competition on a specific subject whose board of referrees in charge of awarding the grants included anti-ID philosopher Michael Ruse. And they are right that their advisory board includes many prominent critics of ID, including John Haught, who testified against ID at the Dover trial, and Simon Conway Morris. My MCFS colleague Howard Van Till, also an outspoken critic of ID (despite being a devout Christian), just left the Templeton advisory board last year.

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The Templeton Foundation has just made the some rather uncomplimentary remarks about ID:

"The Templeton Foundation, a major supporter of projects seeking to reconcile science and religion, says that after providing a few grants for conferences and courses to debate intelligent design, they asked proponents to submit proposals for actual research.

"They never came in," said Charles L. Harper Jr., senior vice president at the Templeton Foundation, who said 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."

By Tim Makinson (not verified) on 03 Dec 2005 #permalink