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Templeton’s Darwin Conference in Rome

“Do you know who funded it?” asked the email from the AP reporter. She and a number of other people read my post from three days ago about the Darwin conference being held in Rome.

I took a deep breath and replied to the AP email, “Yes, I know who funded it.” It was the Templeton Foundation.
I took a deep breath because Templeton is a powerful and well-connected. You don’t want to cross Charles Harper of Templeton if you can help it. But in public and private Harper has attacked intelligent design and Discovery Institute. He is not just interested in discussion, but in molding the discussion in certain ways. To that end, Templeton funds go to many groups and individual writers who, perhaps coincidentally, could have an interest in how the Darwin versus design issue is discussed.

Here is today’s AP story. Among other things, in my email last night to Nicole Winfield of the AP, I pointed out the following:

  • The Pontifical Council on Culture has little money of its own for science programs. The staff explained this to me and so, too, did others in the Vatican. How much money Templeton is providing has not yet been reported anywhere.
  • What you have in Rome right now is largely a Templeton-directed conference. There are many fine speakers. But not only were funds put up by the Templeton Foundation, but leading organizers and speakers and their organizations separately are recipients of Templeton grants. There’s nothing wrong with that, but perhaps it does help explain the animus toward Darwin critics and ID supporters.

In any case:

  • At a June, 2007 meeting in the science office of the Council on Culture, Fr. Tomasz Tramfe acknowledged to me that there was a problem with inviting scientists who openly doubt Darwin and support intelligent design. When I asked further, he somewhat reluctantly advised me that the prohibition on scientists who support intelligent design came from the foundation that provided the funds, and he then acknowledged that that was the Templeton Foundation.
  • As one official elsewhere quipped to me at the time, when it comes to conferences like these in Rome, “He who pays the piper calls the tune.” Holding such a conference at the Vatican, however, doesn’t commit the pope or the Church to the organizers’ views.
  • Templeton has done this sort of thing before, so I wasn’t completely shocked. Still I was disappointed. The late Sir John Templeton accomplished much good and his foundation has been a positive force on other subjects, such as economics. My Discovery Institute colleague, George Gilder, was a speaker at a dinner honoring Sir John a few years ago. A couple of Discovery scientists once did get grants from Templeton Foundation.
  • Therefore, I thought maybe we could talk to them about this conference. Last year I called another Templeton official I know slightly, who checked and told me that it was not the foundation’s decision to exclude scientists who support intelligent design. But when I again talked (by phone) with Fr. Tramfe, he confirmed that, indeed, it was Templeton.
  • I had even provided Fr. Tramfe with a list of scientists — many of them who happen to be orthodox Catholics — who would have been appropriate to invite. I understand that some of those scientists, such as Michael Behe, author of Darwin’s Black Box, are being criticized at this conference, and, of course, they are unable to defend themselves.
  • It is Templeton and its “advisors” (such as Francisco Ayala) who have the position that ID is not science and not theology.
  • Ironically, Templeton itself is steeped in its own religious views and perspectives. I don’t think the Catholic Church would embrace some of those views.
  • It is surely another irony this week that some of those present who hold official advisory posts with Templeton and seem to be trying to pressure the Catholic Church — such as Dr. Ayala — are elsewhere prominently at odds with Catholic positions on social issues.
  • This week’s conference in Rome apparently is doing a good job of explaining how the Templeton Foundation, its grantees and chosen allies regard science. Some of the speeches undoubtedly are sturdy and sound. However, as I have been assured elsewhere, this conference should not be confused with the position of the Pope or of the Church as a whole, where evolution and design remain in serious and fruitful dialogue.

Postscripts to the above post:

1. Reporters often point out that the pope and Church accept “evolution,” as if that somehow repudiates criticism of Darwinian theory. But I don’t know anyone at Discovery Institute who doubts that some form of evolution has taken place. The questions are whether Darwinian theory or any process of evolution that is inherently unguided, can adequately explain the origin of the universe or the development of life on Earth, let alone man’s place in the world. That is a different set of issues, isn’t it?

2. The AP story reports that Cardinal Schoenborn supports intelligent design. I don’t know of any occasion when the cardinal has said that. He has questioned the way Darwinists exaggerate claims for their theory.

Bruce Chapman

Cofounder and Chairman of the Board of Discovery Institute
Bruce Chapman has had a long career in American politics and public policy at the city, state, national, and international levels. Elected to the Seattle City Council and as Washington State's Secretary of State, he also served in several leadership posts in the Reagan administration, including ambassador. In 1991, he founded the public policy think tank Discovery Institute, where he currently serves as Chairman of the Board and director of the Chapman Center on Citizen Leadership.