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Jerry Coyne and the Good Word on the Templeton Foundation


Recently, we’ve been talking about the Templeton Foundation (, noting that it is spearheading an assault against science teachers who are slow in  paying the Darwin boys their accustomed shakedown.

Here’s Jerry “Why Evolution Is True” Coyne, on how the Templetons efforts to ingratiate themselves with the Darwin boys will never be enough. He introduces Sunny Bains’ 23 page report (.pdf), “Questioning the integrity of the John Templeton Foundation” (Evolutionary Psychology 9:92-115 2011):

Bains is a journalist and scientist at Imperial College London, and her report was supported by Sam Harris’s Project Reason (I’m on the board of advisors). I’ll just give her introductory precis, but if you want to comment on the issues, do read the whole paper. Curiously, it was published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology, which of course causes me some cognitive dissonance!

I take it that Coyne is embarrassed by evolutionary psychology, that idiot child of evolutionary biology?

Ah yes, it is true. Coyne denies that the idiot child is his. We must accept his word as a gentleman on that, and I for one believe him. For one thing, in some fracas,

A couple of evolutionary psychologists went after me in the comments, claiming that I was tarring the field by criticizing some articles that were, after all, in the popular press. What these critics don’t seem to realize is that many evolutionary-psychology papers themselves—papers from the primary scientific literature—are also lame, dubious, or even laughable.

Actually, almost all EP papers can be described that way. But we will press on because just now we really want to hear the dirt on Templeton, and it’s Coyne’s own fault if he got himself into a hoo-haw with the Eepers. (Coyne, you are supposed to be playing this one for laughs, you know … )

Anyway, some useful stuff in Bains:

A prize for progress in religion could be seen as straightforward, but at the beginning of 2004 the name of the prize changed. It was no longer for religion, but for “progress about research or discoveries towards spiritual realities.”Neither God nor religion were mentioned on the main Templeton Prize web page—though they were still part of the goal of the prize, if you read through the purpose statement (you have to get to paragraph two to see the word “religion” and towards the bottom of the page to see any mention of God).

Today, it’s just “The Templeton Prize,” with the “for” clause excised entirely. According to the Foundation, it honors a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works. In practice, since the name change, the prize has been awarded to religious scientists who have either claimed that science is an insufficient explanation for, or who voiced support for religious interpretations of, human experience and how the world works.

Here are the seven most recent winners, with their religious affiliation provided in parentheses:

2004 George F. R. Ellis, cosmologist and philosopher (Quaker)
2005 Charles Townes, Nobel laureate and physicist (United Church of Christ)
2006 John D. Barrow, cosmologist and theoretical physicist (United Reformed Church)
2007 Charles Taylor, philosopher (Roman Catholic)
2008 Prof. Michal Heller, physicist and philosopher (Roman Catholic Priest)
2009 Bernard d’Espagnat, physicist (raised Roman Catholic, now self-described
2010 Francis Ayala, biology professor (former Dominican priest) [who won’t explain just what his religious beliefs are now – d.]

Of these recent Templeton Prize winners, Charles Taylor is perhaps the most controversial, in that, while Salman Rushdie was hiding from the Ayatollah’s death sentence in the late 1980s, Taylor questioned whether freedom of speech should be considered a human right outside of the developed West, especially in countries where religions dominate (Taylor, 1989). Specifically, Taylor argued that blasphemy laws do not inhibit a free society. Charles Colson (winner in 1993) was one of the architects of the plans to spy on the Democratic party that led to the Watergate scandal, and later became a Christian evangelist in prison and founded the Prison Fellowship.

Re specific religious affiliation, interesting, but I’m not sure how relevant it is. Everybody is “from” somewhere, if only on the census form, a fact that the Templetons must know as well as anyone and so, presumably, does Bains.

I’m glad to see Bains bring up the shameful complicity of Canada’s Charles Taylor with suppression of free speech. But in fairness, his whole Ivy League social class is implicated. If you don’t believe me, check out Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), and note their “Youse! Shuddup! of the Month” feature, courtesy the Ivy League. As for Colson, in fairness, he did time and repented. Who can ask more of a fellow than that?


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