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John Templeton Foundation

Facing the pressure

Issue: "2011 Books of the Year," July 2, 2011

The billion-dollar Templeton Foundation (see "Honoring his father," Dec. 4) is a positive force in many of its core areas, including Freedom and Free Enterprise-but its grants in religion reflect the theology of its founder, John Templeton, who tried to meld aspects of Christianity with Eastern religions.

When Templeton offers dollars, grant-seekers jump. According to an Investigative Fund report on "God, Science and Philanthropy" published last year, the Templeton Foundation's early-1990s financing of research on the effects of religious faith on health led to a jump in the number of medical schools with courses on religion: a handful pre-Templeton, and now three-fourths of all medical schools.

Author Nathan Schneider also learned that when Templeton later in the 1990s started funding research on the power of forgiveness, the number of psychology journal articles on the subject soared from fewer than 50 per year to nearly 250 in 2008. Many academics are trend-followers: As Christian Smith wrote in The Secular Revolution (2004), "Intellectuals are not any more 'above' the pursuit of status, power, and wealth than others."

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A crucial Templeton turn came after 1996 when ardent evolutionist Charles Harper became executive director of the foundation. In 2007 Templeton's vice president for communications, Pamela Thompson, crowed to the Los Angeles Times, "The foundation has provided tens of millions of dollars in support of research academics who are critical of the anti-evolution intelligent design position."

Templeton has tried to make friends and influence journalists by bringing them to theistic evolution seminars. New Scientist, the world's most linked-to science publication, headlined one article last year, "Templeton prize is bad news for religion, not science." Seminar attendee Michael Brooks wrote, "I learned from Templeton-endorsed scientists and theologians that the way to establish a peaceful coexistence of science and religion was to make no religious claims at all. They say that creationism is out, as is intelligent design. . . . There was no physical resurrection of Jesus. None of the miracles actually happened. . . . This is the Templeton version of religion. A stripped-down, vague and woolly notion that there is something 'other' out there."

It's odd, given all this, that the Templeton influence may soon be coming to a church near you. According to the Foundation, its "Science for Ministry Initiative invites organizations to develop programs that will help ministers and the congregations they serve to move away from simplistic 'solutions' to the tensions between science and faith. . . . These simplistic solutions and polarizing stereotypes fail to appreciate the interest and potential among people of faith for the cultivation of a more nuanced and integrated understanding of science and religious convictions."

The Foundation does not state exactly what the simplistic and polarizing views are-reading chapter 2 of Genesis as if it is real history? seeing man as fallen and in need of redemption?-but it does note that "at the heart of the Science for Ministry program is the conviction that pastors, in the course of their preaching, teaching, writing, and care, are key catalysts in developing a more fruitful integration of science and faith among their parishioners." Templeton aims to bolster the "motivation, imagination, and capacity" of pastors who want to influence their congregations to accept evolution.

Harper left his post last year, but with Templeton, still faithful to its founder, pushing academics, journalists, and pastors to move away from biblical Christianity, it takes courage for authors to say, "Here I stand."

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Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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