I work on the naturalising of religion: that is, the philosophical implications of religion being an evolved and natural human phenomenon; I’m even writing a book about it. I would love to get a grant to support that work, and indeed as an academic I am required to seek grant money. There’s a natural granting body for this: the Templeton Foundation, which is flush with money even through the GFC. But I can’t apply, because it would be professional suicide this early in my career, or so I’m told. Why?
An excellent and rather complete essay on this has just been posted at The Nation, by Nathan Schneider, in which he notes that if one does accept a Templeton grant, one is immediately declared to be “pro-religion” by the so-called “new atheists” like Richard Dawkins and my good friends PZ Misrule and Larry Moran. This is because the founder of the foundation was a Christian who wanted to promote religion, and his son is even more an evangelical conservative. But, it looks to me, as it does to this writer, that the foundation itself is moving in a more or less independent fashion to the values and ideas of its founders, although how long that would last if too many of the grantees tended to the irreligious I cannot say.
But I have spoken now to several Templeton recipients and none of them have said there was the slightest interference or expectations placed upon them by Templeton, and I have spoken to Templeton folk and they have said the same. So maybe I will apply. Let the new atheists say what they like. I have sufficient confidence in my own independence (I’m an ornery cuss) to know when I am being asked to say things I do not agree with, or find results that aren’t there. So, the only concern the new atheists might have is that I would have been selected for a grant by Templeton: it is enough that you sup with the devil, no matter how long the spoon is.
It’s an experiment I think I will try.
[Hat tip to Laurie Lebo for bringing this to my attention on a mailing list]