Will Templeton Money Crown Philosophy Queen Again?

Along with this most illustrative of illustrations, The Chronicle of Higher Education‘s Chronicle Review this week includes a feature story of mine, “The Templeton Effect.” It’s something of a sequel to an article I did a couple of years ago in The Nation about the John Templeton Foundation—a sizable and eccentric funder whose interests include shaping the academic discourse about religion and science.

This latest piece picks up a thread that was in the back of my head while working on the earlier one, but for which at the time there wasn’t quite enough evidence: that Templeton is strategically pouring unprecedented sums of money into analytic philosophy. And while much of the money goes to non-religious scholars, there actually appears to be a distinctly apologetic aim:

Templeton’s recent projects—even those led by people outside the Christian-philosophy fold—seem to follow a certain apologetic logic. Free will, for instance, is a critical feature of Plantinga’s celebrated defense against the problem of evil; although Al Mele does not partake in religious speculation himself, he is a respected opponent of the brazen neuroscientists, like Michael S. Gazzaniga, who announce free will’s nonexistence. Cosmology, too, is considered one of the most promising avenues lately in arguments for God’s existence, particularly thanks to evidence that basic features of the universe may be “fine-tuned” to provide for the possibility of life. Barry Loewer isn’t particularly interested in arguing for a divine fine-tuner, but his efforts might indirectly lend aid to someone who is. The recent $5-million grant to study immortality went to a philosopher who doesn’t believe in the afterlife, but the very fact that so much money is going to study it might give more credence to those who do.

Academic philosophy represents a distinctly Templetonian opportunity. Grants of a few million dollars are a drop in the bucket for the sciences, awash as they are with tax dollars and corporate contracts; but in philosophy, where such sums are unheard of, they have the potential to transform the whole field. The only question is whether philosophy is a worthwhile prize anymore—whether the discipline can still change how we think about science, what we think it means, and how we do it. The foundation is putting its money on yes.

Read the rest at The Chronicle.