6/25/10

Templeton $$$

The Templeton Foundation is offering $$$ for essays on "big questions."  That's got to be music to a lot of ears, including mine, but Jerry Coyne finds it all nefarious.  Yes, yes, I see they have an agenda. Essentially, they want to preserve a voice for religion in the highest level discussions of science, morality, etc., rather than watch religion get gradually shut out--as has happened in academia and public intellectual life over time.  They ensure that voice and give it more credibility by creating symphonies of opinion that are all-inclusive.  In fact, they seem to go out of their way to include secular heavy-weights (see this forum on the nature of morality).   Even if what they're trying to achieve isn't something I'd personally strive for (preserving a voice for religion), Templeton forums have some very pleasing effects. They amplify secular voices way beyond their normal level.  They bring big philosophical questions into the public eye.  Full disclosure:  I have used one of their "big question" websites as a teaching tool (this one, on purpose), though not without first clarifying to students what I think the organization is up to.  So I'm already a consumer of Templeton goods. Should I also be a producer?  (Hmm.)

12 comments:

amos said...

It seems strange that you ask us about this question of individual conscience. However, I would not participate in anything organized by the Templeton Foundation, more because of their rightwing political agenda, as revealed in The Nation article, than because of their religious agenda. I fear the political right more than I fear religion.

In my experience, little by little, one ends up defending those who are paying one. Nevertheless, the Templeton Foundation is unlikely to invite me to tea, and it is easy to resist temptations that have no interest in tempting one.

Jean Kazez said...

Amos--"individual questions of conscience" are just moral questions, like any others, and certainly discussable.

amos said...

My difficulty with discussing individual questions of conscience is that it is extraordinarily difficult to know all the factors involved, unless one knows the person well, which is very rarely the case online.

Jean Kazez said...

The question is really a general one, not about me in particular. It's whether secular writers ought to contribute to Templeton's projects. Obviously, lots of them think Yes, as you can see from following the links in the post. Lots also think No. There are arguments on both sides. I was just inviting reflection about the issues. If the question seems somehow inappropriate to you, why get involved in this thread?

amos said...

I answered above that I personally would not get involved in Templeton Projects, although I grant that it's easy to say that since they will not invite me. I gave the reason, a political one, why not. As to others, I feel that first of all, I don't have enough information about their lives and their projects to
opine whether they should get involved and second, that it would be moralistic (in the worst sense of the word) for me to condemn (or praise) them about this matter. Not being moralistic is a very important item in my personal ethical code.
One of the things that turns me off in many of the new atheists is their moralism and their self-righteousness, the two generally
going together.

Faust said...

If you write something you believe and they pay you for it, then it's very hard for me to see what the problem could be.

If you are willing to write something you DON'T believe just to make money, that's a problem that has nothing to do with Templeton per se.

The only grey area I can imagine would be where you write an article that you believe, sell it to Templeton, but then think that SOMEHOW they will be able to use this bit of writing to promote something you don't believe in.

If e.g. Coyne wrote something he believes, like "Templeton Sucks and Here is Why." But then they paid him for it and printed it in an anthology as representative as the loyal opposition it's hard to see how this could possibly be bad.

Jean Kazez said...

"If you write something you believe and they pay you for it, then it's very hard for me to see what the problem could be."

I think it's a bit more complicated than that. If you participate in a forum, you give everyone else in the forum more credibility, even if you say exactly what you believe. The Templeton folks know that, and (I suspect) that's one reason why they include so many illustrious secular people in their forums, along with religious voices. The question is whether to let oneself be used this way.

I don't the answer is obviously No, just because one is being used. I'm prepared to let various people use me, if their goals aren't too dreadful. For example, if Apple Computer wants to sponsor me in some way, to make themselves look philosophical and make more money, that's fine. I'd be happy to write some philosophical prose for their website, in return for a free ipad. I get something I want, they get something they want. I don't mind if they get what they want.

But are Templeton's goals much more dreadful, so that I shouldn't do anything to advance them, even if it also advances my own personal goals (disseminating my ideas, making money, etc)?

I think that's the key question. Of course, lots of people do think their goals are that dreadful, so being in their employ would affect your reputation in those people's eyes. Apparently that worry hasn't stopped atheist luminaries like Steven Pinker, Rebecca Goldstein, who have written for them etc.

amos said...

Here's my experience, from observing myself and others. Serious (everybody on this blog is serious) don't sell out, in the sense that someone gives them a suitcase with dollars and they change their opinion. Rather, the Pentagon offers me a nice sum of money, which I need, for writing articles against U.S. military bases in Colombia, just because they want to include all viewpoints, they say. No censorship. I write my first article, fine. They are really nice people: I hadn't imagined that people in the Pentagon are so nice and so openminded, in fact, much more openminded than many people who agree with me, that U.S. military bases in Colombia are an instance of imperialism. I write my second article and this time, they suggest some small changes, in order not to alienate their readers, and they are oh so diplomatic in their suggestions. I like them, and I make the changes as they suggest, and anyway, I need the check, since I had already destined that money for little Sussy's braces, which I need to pay at the end of the month. For the third article, my pals in the Pentagon no longer need to suggest anything, because I anticipate their suggestions, and in any case, they are really nice people. Sussy is so happy with her dad.

Jean Kazez said...

I really don't think Templeton is leaning on anyone, because that would actually be the opposite of their strategy. They want to create forums that include secularists and they want the secularists to sound just like secularists. The benefit, from their perspective, is that religious voices then appear in a forum that seems to be entirely open and liberal, alongside secular voices. I think Templeton contributors who understand their agenda would have no reason to "tone it down."

Jean Kazez said...

...but again, I really don't think the biggest worry is that Templeton contributors adjust what they say/write to the organization, but that mere participation gives more credibility to other contributors.

Matthew Pianalto said...

Hi Jean. So, your hesitance seems mainly driven by a concern about lending credibility to an enterprise in which you yourself find questionable. I think that's a reason to find something else to do, somewhere else to write, despite the temptation to get your ideas out there (even though I imagine you're right that there would be no need to "tone it down"). It is a complex question you raise, but if you think you would be "selling out" in a way that isn't relatively harmless, then you might just say (roughly), "not through me," though someone else with views like yours might decide to contribute. Good luck!

Jean Kazez said...

The plot thickens. The Nation article actually makes Sir John seem rather appealing. It seems as if he really was interested in "the big questions," and not just in promoting certain sorts of answers. His son Jack, on the other hand, seems like a garden-variety right winger.

It WOULD be nice to see something about the status of animals in their "big questions" series...and some great people have contributed to it. This is quite a pantheon--

http://www.templeton.org/signature-programs/big-questions-essay-series