In bed with Templeton

By Daniel Holz | December 2, 2008 10:58 pm

The movie “Milk” opened last weekend. It tells the story of Harvey Milk, one of the first openly gay politicians in the United States. Although I have not seen the movie, without a doubt the story of Harvey Milk is a tragedy of epic proportions. He fought prejudice, and overcame tremendous odds to get elected. Ten months later he was gunned down, along with the Mayor of San Francisco, by a former colleague. The murderer was Dan White, an ex-policeman who admitted to shooting both men in cold blood, and was subsequently given a light sentence in the infamous twinkie defense. White served five years, and within a couple of years of being released from prison committed suicide. As if all this were insufficiently “Hollywood”, the events are strangely intertwined with the mass suicide at Jonestown (the second largest loss of civilian American lives, after 9/11).

We are tempted to think of all of this as ancient history, and irrelevant to our more enlightened times. But here we are 30 years later, and in the very state where Milk lived and died a (slight) majority of voters have gone out of their way to inscribe into the state constitution a measure explicitly depriving gays of civil rights. This is known as Proposition 8, and Sean has a nice post on why it’s an appropriate issue for a science blog.

As it happens, one of the largest individual donations to support Proposition 8 came from John Templeton. Of course, Cosmic Variance readers are familiar with the Templeton Foundation, as my esteemed co-blogger Sean has tangled with them previously. Templeton, when he’s not spending his money taking away the rights of his fellow citizens, has a predilection for spending money on scientists.fluttua bed (lago design) Historically I’ve been uncomfortable with the Templeton Foundation because of their attempts to conflate religion and science. However, their Foundational Questions Institute appears to be a genuine effort to generate cutting edge science. Although I’m sure there is much I would disagree with in a conversation with Templeton, his support of basic science is to be applauded. Arguably the United States has been immeasurably strengthened by both the separation of church and state and the separation of church and science (the latter is not to be taken for granted; think of Galileo, or Bush’s incursions into stem cell lines and global warming). That even Templeton recognizes that science works best when it is unfettered, as much as possible, by external preconceptions is an encouraging sign. We can only hope that he spends more money on science, and less on politics. We thus wish Sean the best of luck in winning the $10,000 jackpot, a prize he will no doubt share with his co-bloggers.

MORE ABOUT: Religion, templeton
  • Sinyet

    Isn’t Templeton dead?

  • Sean

    John Templeton Sr., who passed away in July of this year, was the founder of the Templeton Foundation. Leadership of which has now passed on to his son John Templeton Jr., who is much more fundamentalist where religion is concerned and right-wing as far as politics is concerned. It will be interesting to see how the activities of the Foundation will evolve under his reign.

    In the meantime, I think that FQXi has established an admirably non-religious mode of operation, and I’m happy to take their money. And if I ever win the Templeton Prize, I’ll be sure to throw a party and invite my co-bloggers.

  • Eric

    Arguably the United States has been immeasurably strengthened by both the separation of church and state and the separation of church and science (the latter is not to be taken for granted; think of Galileo, or Bush’s incursions into stem cell lines and global warming)

    Seems to me the fact that Bush is playing the role of church in that parenthetical says something about the wisdom of taking the former for granted as well.

    On an unrelated note, did the comment preview button get lost in the move to discover, or am I just blind?

  • Risa

    Sinyet — Sir John Templeton died in July. The Prop 8 contribution for 1.1 million was from his son John Templeton Jr., who is the current president of the Templeton foundation.

  • Jake

    Just to let you know that Dan White was not a cop but an ex-Fireman. Just thought you’d like to know.

  • Lawrence Crowell

    It has always amused me that religious people seem so tied up in knots over sex. Even Templeton, or his foundation, which makes some attempt at intellectual contributions, got swept up in this puerile silliness.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • James Nightshade

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Democracy simply doesn’t work.

  • Lawrence Crowell

    Of course democracy doesn’t work. That is why we have to keep working at it.

    L. C.

  • Nathan Schneider

    As a writer on science and religion who has benefited from the Foundation in the past, I find this pretty frustrating. The Foundation has been doing a better job in recent years of appearing to know the answer already to the questions it funds research into. Now, as the father’s legacy turns into the son’s, this news makes me concerned about where things might go in the future.

    The man is entitled to his opinion, of course. But assigning oneself to be demigod-arbiter of discussions on science and religion means assuming a trust that, to me, this bigotry betrays.

  • Gary Rosen

    Just to clarify an issue raised in the post and the comments: The contributions of Dr. John M. Templeton, Jr. and his wife in support of Proposition 8 were personal and strictly private. They have nothing to do with the John Templeton Foundation, which does not support or endorse political causes or candidates. Dr. Templeton is a very conscientious steward of his father’s legacy and is careful to separate his own political activities from the work of the Foundation.

    Gary Rosen
    Chief External Affairs Officer
    John Templeton Foundation

  • Pingback: In bed with Templeton | The Row Boat by Nathan Schneider()

  • daniel

    Eric, yes, we have lost the comment preview button. It should be returning soon. And yes, separation of church and state is most certainly not a given.

    Jake, Dan White was a cop as well as a fireman. From the Wikipedia article on Milk, this particularly caught my eye: “After White turned himself in and confessed, he sat in his cell while his former colleagues on the police force told Harvey Milk jokes; police openly wore “Free Dan White” T-shirts in the days after the murder.”

    Gary, Thank you for the clarification. What you say is evident in the Templeton Foundation’s generous support of FQXi. We all hope it remains this way.

  • Blake Stacey

    I can appreciate that the checks for hate were made out of a personal account and not drawn from Foundation funds. . . but damn. If I did have an opportunity to get money from the Templeton Foundation, I’d turn it down, because I would not want any scientific work of mine to aid, even indirectly, in augmenting the good reputation of a person who is so enthusiastic about setting back the cause of civil rights.

    (I don’t work on subjects which would make this a real possibility, so this is just a statement of my idiosyncratic principles. As a Calvin and Hobbes strip of sainted memory once said, “I don’t need to compromise my principles, because they don’t have the slightest bearing on what happens to me anyway.”)

    I will feel far more comfortable when the FQXi has those other, additional sources of funding which they’ve said they were seeking.

  • Norman Gray

    According to the wikipedia article on the Twinkie defence, the ‘diminished
    capacity’ defence was abolished in California in 1982 by, yes, Proposition 8.


  • Elliot Tarabour


    Could you win a Templeton prize for a rigorous scientific “disproof” of the existence of God?

    If so….get to work….


  • 12Quarts

    Elliot, Sean still needs someone to provide an adequate definition of the monotheistic deity before he can work on a “rigorous scientific ‘disproof’ of the existence of God”. Even then, shape-shifting has long been a resource of first resort for theology (especially in America).

  • Lawrence Crowell

    God is a sort of cosmological Maxwell demon. Szilard demonstrated that the Maxwell demon which violated the 2nd law of thermodynamics could be removed by information theory. Quantum gravity and cosmology might in the future demonstrate with quantum information that there is no need for an extraphysical agent in the universe or to kick start the universe. We have a ways to go I think.

    This of course is not a proof for God’s nonexistence. Such strikes me as impossible. However, it would demonstrate the ineffectiveness of the God conjecture in understanding the universe.

    Lawrence B. Crowell

  • Elliot

    Oh c’mon. Let’s get creative. Think outside the multiverse….


  • Reginald Selkirk

    This is an example of why inheritance tax is a good idea.

  • Gordon McCabe

    I’ve already proven the non-existence of God right here:

  • Pingback: Twinkies Bankrupt! Pscyh! - Not Any More. It’s a Make-Your-Own-Joke-a-Pallooza | Baby Boomer Going Like Sixty()


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