John Templeton Foundation

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John Templeton Foundation
John Templeton Foundation logo.png
Formation1987; 31 years ago (1987)
FounderJohn Templeton
Founded atConshohocken, Pennsylvania, U.S.
FieldsReligious studies
Official language
Heather Templeton Dill
Revenue (2015)
Expenses (2015)$225,900,726[1]

The John Templeton Foundation (Templeton Foundation) is a philanthropic organization that reflects the ideas of its founder, John Templeton, who became wealthy after a career as a contrarian investor and wanted to support progress in religious and spiritual knowledge, especially at the intersection of religion and science. He also wanted to fund research on methods to promote and develop moral character, intelligence, and creativity in people, and to promote free markets.[2] In 2016 Inside Philathropy called it "the oddest — or most interesting — big foundation around."[3]

Templeton founded the organization in 1987 and ran it until his death in 2008. Templeton's son John Templeton, Jr. ran it until his death in 2015, at which point Templeton, Jr.'s daughter, Heather Templeton Dill, became president.

The foundation administers the annual Templeton Prize for achievements in the field of spirituality, including those at the intersection of science and religion. It has an extensive grant-funding program (around $70M per year as of 2011) aimed at supporting notions associated with classical liberalism, like "character development", "freedom and free enterprise", and "exceptional cognitive talent and genius". It funded work in intelligent design in the 1990s but then abandoned that activity after it faced sharp criticism from the mainstream scientific community in the 2000s.[2]

Many scholars have raised concerns about the biased nature of the awards, research projects and publications backed by the foundation.[4][5][6][7][8][9] According to Guillaume Lecointre of the French National Center for Scientific Research, the Templeton Foundation has links with fundamentalist Protestantism, is openly creationist, and funds projects throughout the world whose aim is to unify science and religion, blurring the epistemological lines between the collective and public empirical enquiry and the individual and private metaphysical conviction. According to Lecointre, this type of private funding would be "disastrous for the autonomy of scientific research".[10] The Foundation has also been criticized for supporting Christian-biased research in the field of the scientific study of religions.[11] The Templeton Foundation has had links with the Discovery Institute, an American conservative and creationist think-tank, and other similar organizations.[10]


John Templeton (29 November 1912 – 8 July 2008) was an American-born British investor, banker, fund manager, and philanthropist. In 1954, he entered the mutual fund market and created the Templeton Growth Fund.[12] According to a 2011 profile of the foundation:

"Like many of his generation, Templeton was a great believer in progress, learning, initiative and the power of human imagination — not to mention the free-enterprise system that allowed him, a middle-class boy from Winchester, Tennessee, to earn billions of dollars on Wall Street. ...Unlike most of his peers, however, Templeton thought that the principles of progress should also apply to religion. He described himself as "an enthusiastic Christian" — but was also open to learning from Hinduism, Islam and other religious traditions. Why, he wondered, couldn't religious ideas be open to the type of constructive competition that had produced so many advances in science and the free market?".[2]

These were the values he sought to promote first through the Templeton Prize which he started in 1972 and then through the foundation, which he founded in 1987 and ran until his death in 2008.[2]

John M. Templeton, Jr. worked as a pediatric surgeon; he was chief of pediatric surgery at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia in 1995 when he stopped practicing medicine and joined the foundation. He took over the leadership when his father died. He was an evangelical Christian and supported various American conservative causes.[13][14] He always maintained that he tried to run the foundation according to his father's wishes instead of his own wishes.[15] He died in 2015.[13]

Heather Templeton Dill, the daughter of John Templeton, Jr., became president in 2015.[16]


As of 2011, the foundation had an endowment of around $2.1 billion. Around $500 million of that was a bequest from John Templeton when he died in 2008.[2]


The Templeton Prize was established by John Templeton and he administered the prize until the foundation was established in 1987, which took it over.[2][17]

The early prizes were given solely to people who had made great achievements in the field of religion; Mother Teresa received the inaugural award in 1973.[2] In the 1980's Templeton began considering the intersection of science and religion, and after he appointed to scientists to the judging panel, scientists who worked at the intersection began receiving it; Alister Hardy was the first, in 1987.[2]


Templeton believed in capitalism and in competition in all things. Around 40% of grants are given in fields associated with classical liberalism, like "character development", "freedom and free enterprise", and "exceptional cognitive talent and genius", and also across all religions, since Templeton believed progress in the field of spirituality could come from anywhere.[2]

The field of grants was broadened in the 1980s to include scientific fields like neuroscience, psychology, and cosmology, that could be seen as being at the intersection of science and religion.[2] In the 1990s the foundation funded people and organizations in the field of intelligent design; the foundation was frequently described as a major supporter of intelligent design during the Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District litigation in the mid-2000s.[2] In the late 2000s, in the aftermath of its public shaming and loss of credibility among mainstream scientists, the foundation changed its grant topics to reduce the emphasis on religion and increase the emphasis on science and explicitly discouraged intelligent design proposals on its grant-application website.[2]

The top ten grants as of 2011 were:[2]

  1. Foundational Questions in Evolutionary Biology ($10,500,000)
  2. Foundational Questions in Physics and Cosmology ($8,812,078)
  3. The SEVEN Fund: Enterprise Based Solutions to Poverty ($8,742,911)
  4. Establishing an Institute for Research on Unlimited Love ($8,210,000)
  5. The Purpose Prize for Social Innovators Over the Age of 60 ($8,148,322)
  6. Templeton–Cambridge Journalism Fellowships and Seminars in Science and Religion ($6,187,971)
  7. Accelerating Progress at the Interface of Positive Psychology and Neuroscience ($5,816,793)
  8. AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion ($5,351,707)
  9. Promoting a Culture of Generosity, Part I: Feature Film ($5,000,000)
  10. Promoting a Culture of Generosity, Part II: The Philanthropy Channel ($5,000,000)

American conservatism[edit]

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 said 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".[18] 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 John M. Templeton Jr. funding of the conservative group Freedom's Watch, and referred to the Foundation as a "right wing venture".[19] 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".[20]

Climate change denial[edit]

In 2013 it was highlighted that the Templeton Foundation has been funding the climate change denial movement.[21]

Intelligent design[edit]

In the 1990s organizations funded by the foundation gave grants for writing books to Guillermo Gonzalez and to William Dembski who are proponents of intelligent design and who both joined the Discovery Institute.[2][22] The foundation also gave money directly to the Discovery Institute which in turn passed it through to Baylor University, which used the funds to support Dembski's salary at the short-lived Michael Polanyi Center at Baylor,[23]:306[24] which was a major step forward in the Discovery Institute's wedge strategy, in that it established a beachhead for intelligent design within a major US university.[24] Bruce L. Gordon, another intelligent design proponent, was associate director of the center, and the foundation continued to fund his projects at Baylor after the center was dissolved.[25]

Other grants supported a conference around 2000 that put proponents of intelligent design on an equal footing with scientists.[2]

In 2005 the foundation was frequently described as a major supporter of intelligent design during the widely discussed Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District litigation in the mid-2000s.[2] The foundation, through Charles L. Harper Jr., its senior vice president for research, disputed that characterization, saying that while the foundation had initially been sympathetic to intelligent design, it had since grown disillusioned.[26] He told BusinessWeek that the foundation had become one of the "principal critics" of the intelligent design movement and funded projects that challenged it.[27] and told the New York Times: "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".[26]

A 2007 article in the Los Angeles Times described the foundation as having "drawn criticism for its early support of intelligent design.[28]

In March 2009, the Discovery Institute accused the foundation of blocking its involvement in Biological Evolution: Facts and Theories, a Vatican-backed, Templeton-funded conference in Rome. 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 makes a dialogue difficult, maybe impossible".[29]

Religion and medicine[edit]

Harold Koenig, Dale Mathews, David Larson, Jeffrey Levin, Herbert Benson and Michael McCullogh are scholars to whom Templeton have provided funds to "report the positive relations" between religion and medicine.[30]

Fenggang Yang—Center on Religion and Chinese Society[edit]

The Center on Religion and Chinese Society of the Purdue University in Indiana is funded by the Templeton Foundation.[31] The current director of the center, the Chinese American Christian scholar Fenggang Yang, has been granted more that $9.5 million to support his projects,[32] The center has published research on religion in China, especially based on Yang's own theory of the so-called "religious market". Yang's statistics and projections about Christianity in China have been disputed by authorities in China;[33] Yang himself claimed that his speculations were based on a report of the Pew Research Center,[33] another publication backed by the Templeton Foundation.[34] Many scholars of Chinese religion have criticized Yang's sociological theories about religion in China.[35][36]

Pew Research Center[edit]

The Pew Research Center, an American fact tank or research organization, has been "jointly and generously funded" by The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Templeton Foundation for its studies focusing on demographics of religions in the world, part of the series entitled Pew-Templeton Global Religious Futures.[37][38]

Templeton Press[edit]

The Templeton Foundation also runs its own publisher, Templeton Press,[39] and from 2004–2010, it published the periodical In Character: A Journal of Everyday Virtues.[40] From 2000 to 2003 it published Research news & opportunities in science and theology,[41] in which Bruce L. Gordon published a piece on the state of "design theory" in the aftermath of the Michael Polanyi Center affair.[23]:378[42]


Critiques from the French National Center for Scientific Research[edit]

Giullaume Lecointre of the French National Center for Scientific Research (CNRS) has been scathingly critical of the Templeton Foundation, calling its type of private founding "disastrous for the autonomy of scientific research", as the French Center considers it aligned to fundamentalist Protestantism, creationism, and aimed at the dissolution of the epistemological distinction between the collective and public empirical enquiry and the individual and private metaphysical convictions.[10]

... Mais ce choix ne saurait en rien constituer un projet collectif de connaissance objective. Les connaissances empiriques, universellement testables, constituent la partie de nos savoirs qui unissent les hommes, et c'est pour cela qu'elles sont politiquement publiques. Les options métaphysiques restent personnelles et politiquement privées car elles peuvent diviser les hommes et donc devenir dans le champ politique une source d'oppression.
... But this choice [the promotion of individual metaphysical opinions] will not be able at all to constitute a collective project of objective knowledge. Empirical knowledge, universally testable, forms the part of our knowledge which unites humanity, and it is for this reason politically public. Metaphysical opinions remain personal and politically private since they can divide humanity and thus become, within the political field, a source of oppression.

— CNRS[10]

Critiques from individual scholars[edit]

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 a polarising debate within the scientific community.

Chris Mooney[edit]

Science journalist Chris Mooney, an atheist and author of The Republican War on Science, received a 2010 Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellowship, enabling him to join other journalists for a three-week lecture program on science and religion at Cambridge University. In a 2010 article on his Discover magazine blog, Mooney wrote, "I can honestly say that I have found the lectures and presentations that we've heard here to be serious and stimulating. The same goes for the discussions that have followed them".[43] In 2006, Horgan, a 2005 Templeton-Cambridge fellow then working as a freelance science journalist, wrote in The Chronicle of Higher Education that he had enjoyed his fellowship, but felt guilty that by taking money from the Templeton Foundation, he had contributed to the mingling of science with religion.[44] In another 2010 article, Mooney took issue with Horgan's point, calling the idea that the fellowship was a "Trojan horse" for religion "pretty untenable". Templeton critics Richard Dawkins, A. C. Grayling, and Daniel Dennett declined to answer[45] a Templeton-Cambridge fellow's interview requests, saying that they did not want to lend credibility to the science and religion journalism program. Mooney rejected this approach, writing, "You can't both denounce the fellowship for being intellectually tilted and also boycott it, thereby refusing to help lend it more of the balance you claim it needs". Grayling and Dennett answered this criticism as follows:

... I disapprove of the Templeton Foundation's attempt to tie theologians to the coat tails of scientists and philosophers who actually do have expertise on this topic [that materialism is in Dennett's opinion not an obstacle to an ethical life]. Many years ago I made the mistake of participating, with some very good scientists, in a conference that pitted us against astrologers and other new age fakes. I learned to my dismay that even though we thoroughly dismantled the opposition, many in the audience ended up, paradoxically, with an increased esteem for astrologers! As one person explained to me "I figured that if you scientists were willing to work this hard to refute it, there must be something to it!" Isn't it obvious to you that the Templeton Foundation is eager to create the very same response in its readers? Do you really feel comfortable being complicit with that project?

I cannot agree with the Templeton Foundation's project of trying to make religion respectable by conflating it with science; this is like mixing astrology with astronomy or voodoo with medical research, and I disapprove of Templeton's use of its great wealth to bribe compliance with this project. Templeton is to all intents and purposes a propaganda organisation for religious outlooks; it should honestly say so and equally honestly devote its money to prop up the antique superstitions it favours, and not pretend that questions of religion are of the same kind and on the same level as those of science—by which means it persistently seeks to muddy the waters and keep religion credible in lay eyes. It is for this reason I don't take part in Templeton-associated matters.

Donald Wiebe[edit]

Donald Wiebe, scholar of religious studies at the University of Toronto, criticized the Templeton Foundation in a 2009 article entitled Religious Biases in Funding Religious Studies Research?. According to him, the Templeton Foundation supports Christian bias in the field of religious studies, by deliberately imposing constraints to steer the results of the research.[11]

... A cursory review of these projects suggested to me that the religious (perhaps, speaking liberally, Christian) objectives of the Templeton Foundation were sufficiently problematic to warrant critical public scrutiny of their support for Religious Studies research. It seems to me that obtaining a grant from the Foundation involves constraints that impose a religious bias on the research they fund. As I see it, the Foundation seeks, whether directly or indirectly, to transform genuinely scientific research agendas into religious ones ...[11]

Jerry Coyne[edit]

In 2011, the science journal Nature took note of the ongoing controversy among scientists over working with Templeton.[2] Jerry Coyne, University of Chicago evolutionary biologist sees a fundamental impossibility in attempting to reconcile faith with science.

"Religion is based on dogma and belief, whereas science is based on doubt and questioning," says Coyne, echoing an argument made by many others. "In religion, faith is a virtue. In science, faith is a vice". The purpose of the Templeton Foundation is to break down that wall, he says—to reconcile the irreconcilable and give religion scholarly legitimacy...[49]

A fierce Templeton critic, Coyne told Nature writer Mitchell Waldrop that the Foundation's purpose is to eliminate the wall between religion and science, and to use science's prestige to validate religion. Other scientists, including Foundation grantees like University of Chicago psychologist John Cacioppo and Anthony Aguirre, a University of California—Santa Cruz astrophysicist, told Nature that they have never felt pressured by Templeton to spin their research toward religion-friendly conclusions.[2]

John Horgan[edit]

John Horgan, a science journalist and the author of several books, in 2006 wrote an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education (reprinted in Edge) of his "misgivings about the foundation's agenda of reconciling religion and science". He said that a conference he attended favored scientists who "offered a perspective clearly skewed in favor of religion and Christianity", and says that:

One Templeton official made what I felt were inappropriate remarks about the foundation's expectations of us fellows. She 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.[50]

John Horgan fears recipients of large grants from the Templeton Foundation sometimes write what the Foundation wants rather than what they believe.

Several areligious scientists told me privately that they did not want to challenge the beliefs of religious speakers for fear of offending them and the Templeton hosts.[50]

Nathan Schneider[edit]

In 2010, journalist Nathan Schneider published a lengthy investigative article about the Templeton Foundation, entitled God, Science and Philanthropy, in The Nation. In the article, he aired familiar complaints about the Foundation, but observed that many of its critics and grantees alike failed to appreciate "the breadth of the foundation's activities, much less the quixotic vision of its founder, John Templeton". Schneider observed: "At worst, Templeton could be called heterodox and naïve; at best, his was a mind more open than most, reflective of the most inventive and combinatorial strains of American religious thought, eager to radically reinterpret ancient wisdom and bring it up to speed with some version from the present."[51]

Though the foundation, in Schneider's view, "has associated itself with political and religious forces that cause it to be perceived as threatening the integrity of science and protecting the religious status quo," these alliances meant the foundation "is also better positioned than most to foster a conservatism—and a culture generally—that holds the old habits of religions and business responsible to good evidence, while helping scientists better speak to people's deepest concerns".[51]

Paul Davies[edit]

Professor Paul Davies, 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.[52]

Peter Woit[edit]

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.[53]

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.[54]

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".[54]

On 16 March 2012, in an article entitled Templeton Millions, Woit expressed a more scathing critique of the Templeton Foundation:

... I think what is going on here is very dangerous. The Templeton Foundation's agenda is not the advancement of science, it is the advancement of a particular religious point of view about what science is and how it should be done. They are very cleverly putting large sums of money into backing theology and pseudo-scientific research at the most prestigious academic institutions in the world. One reason that these places are happily taking the money is because public funding is drying up. The organization is extremely wealthy, and now led by Templeton's son, who when he isn't spending his father's money on this is spending it on promoting Rick Santorum’s political career or other far-right causes.[55]

Woit wrote that the Templeton Foundation that year funded a project led by the astronomer Donald York of the University of Chicago because he is an evangelical Christian, quoting a statement of the Foundation itself.[55]

PZ Myers[edit]

On 7 May 2009, PZ Myers, biologist at the University of Minnesota Morris, wrote:

They have an agenda, and it is one of the most corrupting and untrustworthy causes of all, religion. They already know the answer, and they only want to pay for results that can be interpreted to bolster their unsupportable claims. Even if they are not asking that anyone fake evidence, we know that any line of inquiry that leads away from their desired answer will be abandoned, even if it is leading to the right answer. They are antithetical to good science. ... And, boy are they loaded, with a massive endowment and the willingness to throw large sums of money around. Scarily huge sums — the kind of money that will tempt even the most principled scientist to compromise a little bit.[56]

Richard Dawkins[edit]

In his 2006 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".[57]

In 2016, Templeton funded a study specifically targeting Richard Dawkins, authored by a team led by the Templeton-funded sociologist Elaine Howard Ecklund, of the Rice University. Out of a total number of interviewed scientists, the authors selected those who didn't like Dawkins, and compiled an entire publication based on their opinion. In the article Dawkins is variously called "Mr. Anti-God Europe", "extremely arrogant" and "overly aggressive".[58]

Sean M. Carroll[edit]

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".[59]

Sunny Bains[edit]

Sunny Bains of University College London Faculty of Engineering Science[60] claims that there is:

... evidence of cronyism (especially in the awarding in those million-dollar-plus Templeton prizes), a misleading attempt to move away from using religious language (without changing the religious agenda), the funding of right-wing anti-science groups, and more.[61]

Bains feels the Templeton Foundation "blur the line between science and religion". Bains' claims have been disputed by Josh Rosenau of the National Center for Science Education.[62]


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