Give and Take

Some very good philosophers accept money from the Templeton Foundation, which makes me pay attention to arguments why this is a bad thing to do.  One type of argument puzzles me ... a lot.  The argument for not taking their money is that the Templeton Foundation, or at least the family, supports nefarious causes like Rick Santorum's presidential campaign.  Here's how Jerry Coyne suspects Templeton Takers will defend themselves--
But of course money-hungry scientists will just dismiss this as an irrelevant side effect: a mere peccadillo of the Foundation’s boss that doesn’t have anything to do with their science fiefdom. “Our money,” they will say, “is used just to do science, and there are no strings attached.”
But no, the best response is much better than that.   If I gave money to the Templeton Foundation, I'd be supporting Rick Santorum.  But  taking from the Foundation has the opposite effect--it surely means they have less to give to Rick Santorum and other bad causes. If you take from people who are prone to support bad causes, you actually take away from bad causes.  This obvious point seems to be ignored whenever the topic of Templeton funding comes up.

Think about it. Suppose the Templeton Foundation is inclined to spend millions of dollars torturing kittens, and suddenly they decide they'll fund torturing kittens OR the study of free will, depending on who applies for grants.  The kitten matter is not a good reason to avoid their money--it's just the opposite.  If I get a free will grant from Templeton, it's double good--I both get to do some free will research and get to save some kittens.  What a deal!

Now, you might say if I put a Templeton credit in the footnotes of my free will papers, I will thus confer credibility on the torturing of kittens, for anyone who knows what Templeton is up to.  People all over the place will think the practice is not so bad after all, since it's supported by a foundation that also funds top of the line free will research. Or .... will they?  I don't know that these associations are such a strong factor in influencing how people think, and besides, however harmful the associations are, it seems even worse to let the kitty torturers have all of the foundation's vast funds.  If you think about this in consequentialist terms, it could even come out that philosophers have an obligation to take Templeton money!


Jeremy Stangroom said...

I've taken Templeton money - and would do again (hint, hint!). FWIW, I was entirely at liberty to make an argument that ran contrary to any standard religious position (i.e., that justifications of punishment don't work).

Also, how upset people get about Templeton does seem rather dependent on who exactly it is taking money. For example, there have been very few complaints about Meera Nanda's Templeton Fellowship.

But I'm not sure your argument quite works. You can't assume that it's a torturing kittens OR free will. I wouldn't be entirely surprised if they ring fence their "bad" causes money - precisely so they don't run into the problem you're flagging up.

However, I do think it's entirely plausible to suppose that any extra "credibility" they gain by involving atheistic thinkers and scientists is counteracted by the fact that they're providing a mechanism for these thinkers and scientists to get their message out.

Jean Kazez said...

I'm actually tempted to apply for some Templeton money, and find the reasoning in this post gets me over a lot of my hesitation. I can't believe they have separate funds -- the SSS fund (smart secular stuff) and the GOD fund. Even if they did, they'd rethink things if nobody applied for any SSS money. Surely when less money goes for SSS, more goes for GOD.

I agree with your last paragraph about the credibility issue.

Was that a project on character that you got Templeton funding for? I very faintly remember something of that sort.

Jeremy Stangroom said...

I wrote this piece for one of their journals (as you say, ostensibly it had something to do with character, but I think that was interpreted very broadly, as it turned out).


They paid very well, plus no editorial interference, etc (though I think the editor himself might have come under some pressure later on in the game).

Also, I think there are good reasons for taking Templeton money that have to do with pushing back against attempts to enforce a kind of moral conformity on this issue (especially given that the moral calculus is way more complicated than is often supposed).

Wayne said...

Yeah, I'm not sure this argument works.

Lets say I'm Joe Schmo, and I don't know much about the Templeton foundation. But I do know a lot about Jean Kazez. I read her blog!

Then I see an article that says it was published with a generous grant from the Templeton foundation. I like Jean! I want to support the foundations that support her. So I donate money to the Templeton foundation, thinking it'll help people like Jean. But then they go and torture kittens. White fluffy ones, with blue eyes.


Jean Kazez said...

Ouch ...

But wait, I thought the TF was just a family foundation, a big pile of money set up by John Templeton, not a fund people contribute to. If you're right that people contribute, that does change everything!

Michael Fisher said...

I notice that a lot of people have taken the Templeton shilling. It's so easy to just pop along to a Templeton funded conference for a week, go first class all the way AND end up with a few thousand quid in the bank at the end of it. They also pay rather well for writing wishy-washy nonsense essays.

Where's the harm in taking this money? Does it REALLY have to be explained to you Jean why this is immoral? It doesn't matter in the real world if publicly unknown & publicly unimportant philosophers bend to greed, but it does matter that the likes of Martin Rees & Paul Davies have given the foundation an undeserved [& possibly dangerous] legitimacy.

Jean Kazez said...

Er ... you didn't say anything about my argument. Taking Templeton money to do good stuff diverts money away from bad stuff. This cannot be discounted as an important part of the equation.

greg byshenk said...

I tend to agree about this particular argument. Jerry Coyne (and others) have also argued against Templeton funding because Templeton uses its secular/scientific stable to legitimize its other activities. But this is a different argument.

There is perhaps a slightly different way in which the Santorum contributions might be considered relevant. That is, those contributions can be seen as further evidence that Templeton is fundamentally anti-science and secularism, and thus, not an organization with which one would wish to be associated.

Wayne said...

Gah, you're right... They are an endowment, and not an organization that you can contribute to directly.

Alright... Take away their money, and do good with it. You'll save kittens. :)

Unfortunately, their original endowment is something like 2 billion dollars... So its unlikely they'll ever run out of money, unless they start awarding the principle endowment, which they probably can't do.

Barry said...

Would it make a difference if it wasn't Templeton but an avowedly racist or misogynist foundation? So, as long as you are taking their money for causes that you think are good it is morally acceptable? Regardless of the "freedoms" described to write what you want or research things that interest you, do you not see a problem with granting legitimacy to Templeton's wider agenda, which in economic and social policy is definitely not about extending democracy and equality. Is taking their money really doing no harm when they can turn around and say..." look at all these people who are happy to work for us and accept our sponsorship?"

Even considering this should cause you embarrassment.

Jean Kazez said...

Barry, You're being illogical, and that should cause you embarrassment. When you take money from bad guys, you do two things: (1) You take money away from their bad activities. (2) You give credibility to their bad activities. It's just downright illogical to think that effect (2) always trumps effect (1). It makes no sense whatever. Which effect trumps the other depends on a huge number of factors which vary from case to case. I think in the Templeton case, it's possible to argue that effect (1) outweighs effect (2), but we can't even have the debate if effect (1) is ignored ... and it is, in most discussions about Templeton funding.

Barry said...

My last reply has been held in moderation for 3 days. I didn't think it was problematic, other than in pointing out why I think you are wrong.

Jean Kazez said...

Sorry, I don't know what happened. I didn't exclude your comment. It's not in the spam filter or awaiting moderation, so I have no idea what happened. It's a pain, but if you'd like to reconstruct what you said, feel free.

Barry said...

OK. Try again.

If you think taking money from Templeton reduces the amount that might be distributed to less worthy causes...even morally repugnant causes - then you are accepting that that is the primary purpose of the fund. You are taking money that you know comes from a source whose beliefs, aims and ideology you reject. All you are doing in arguing why you would accept this is a rationalization of that decision. Given that Templeton does publish its grant awards and recipients, if not always their findings, then you are entering into a contract that will have your name posted by Templeton for reasons that it will decide are good for its standing. You cannot escape this. Stangroom is the poster child for this rationalization in his post above as his greed for funding impedes his ability to even consider the consequence of his name being used by Templeton to legitimize their wider mission. Stangroom supports Templeton's aims, just as you would if you accepted their funding. If you are comfortable with that then go ahead and apply for funds, but don't engage in morally duplicitous behavior by taking their funds whilst holding that you are opposed to what Templeton is trying to achieve...or that you are serving some ulterior "good" by taking money that Templeton would otherwise spend on really bad stuff.

I hear the Klan gives out occasional financial incentives. Why not get in line? They have far less money than Templeton and the effect of taking their money will much more severely limit their ability to pursue their agenda. If it's the principle you are arguing then this should be OK. Right?

Barry said...

I guess you've moved on from this issue...hope it was personal embarrassment that caused this...but just wanted you to know that when you do accept your Templeton money, as Stangroom has and will continue to do so, you will be supporting this kind of nonsense.


Of course, you can claim to disagree with this kind of thing, but this is where the duplicity sits if you take their money.

Jean Kazez said...

No embarrassment. I think you're just not seeing the whole picture, and I have no idea why not. If I'm contemplating taking some Templeton money, then it strikes me as just obvious that all these issues are relevant--

(1) What's the value of the work I'd do with the money?

(2) If I didn't have Templeton money, could I still do the work?

(3) If I don't take Templeton money, what will be done with it? Will it fund something bad that it's important to defund?

(4) If I do take the money, will that increase the credibility of Templeton?

(5) Will the increase in Templeton's credibility increase the funding for bad stuff that ought to be defunded? Will it advance that bad stuff in some other way?

(6) How do all these factors balance with each other? If I do advance the bad projects funded by Templeton by increasing their credibility, are these projects going to be advanced even more by money Templeton gives them, as a result of my declining their money?

Basically, it looks to me like you are unwilling to think about this whole spectrum of questions. That makes no sense at all to me.

Now, about that nutty thing that was funded at Chicago--I don't think that's grist for your mill at all. It could very well be that these poor Templeton souls have nothing left to fund, because too many smart people are avoiding their money. If Jerry Coyne had asked for some, there would have been less for the nutty doctor-spirituality project. And note, that would not have been out of the question. Believe it or not, some of the most uncompromising atheists do use Templeton funds (an example I just discovered is the philosopher Alex Rosenberg, who could not be a more uncompromising atheist).

Barry said...

Now I understand. I just wasn't looking at the "whole picture". My tiny little mind was narrowly causing you problems by just focusing on whether accepting Templeton funds was tacitly supporting their aims whereas all along I should have been worried what Templeton would do with the money if you didn't take it.

Well, Jean, you have studiously avoided the charge of duplicitous intent so let me ask you a simple question. Do you support the aims of the Templeton Foundation? Because if you do, we don't have an argument.

And did you really use the argument that 'other atheists have accepted their money so therefore...'? Pointing out the fallacy would be gratuitous.

Jean Kazez said...

You ignored 95% of the reasoning in my last comment, so it would be irrational for me to spend more time trying to convince you.