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The IDers Who Went Up a Molehill and Came Down a Mountain

The IDers Who Went Up a Molehill and Came Down a Mountain March 1, 2007

The DI blog is all abuzz over this “report” about media misrepresentation of the relationship between the Templeton Foundation and the ID movement. Written by Joseph Campana (Who? Good question), it’s a Wiki posting that tries valiantly to focus on one minor misstatement in a New York Times article written over a year ago in order to distract attention from the real issue. He begins:

In the past few years, the media has created confusion about the scholarly track record of the intelligent design (ID) research community, as related to funding from the John Templeton Foundation (JTF). The JTF is a philanthropic organization that funds research exploring science, philosophy, spirituality, theology, and their interplay. Charles L. Harper Jr., senior vice president of the JTF, was a central figure in this media drama, as he was falsely reported in the New York Times as claiming that ID scholars failed to respond to requests for grant proposals from the JTF. This false claim has been circulated around the internet, and even cited on Wikipedia,[1] to promote a myth that members of the ID research community do not do research. The facts reveal that the media has badly misreported the alleged unresponsiveness of the ID research community and that ID scholars have indeed received funding from the JTF for scientific research, including research that is explicitly related to intelligent design.


There are several issues here, all jumbled together:

1. Do ID advocates do actual research that might confirm ID?
2. Have they ever applied to the JTF for funding for such research?
3. Has the JTF funded such ID research in the past?

First, let’s look at the substance of the claim of media misrepresentation. The accusation revolves around a single sentence in a NY Times article by Laurie Goodstein from December 2005. Here’s the paragraph that contains the inaccuracy:

The Templeton Foundation, a major supporter of projects seeking to reconcile science and religion, says that after providing a few grants for conferences and courses to debate intelligent design, they asked proponents to submit proposals for actual research. “They never came in,” said Charles L. Harper Jr., senior vice president at the Templeton Foundation, who said that while he was skeptical from the beginning, other foundation officials were initially intrigued and later grew disillusioned. “From the point of view of rigor and intellectual seriousness, the intelligent design people don’t come out very well in our world of scientific review,” he said.

And here is Campana’s response to the offending passage:

Being focused on the research of the ID community, ResearchID.org was naturally curious about insinuations of Harper and the New York Times that the JTF does not fund ID research. Our investigator asked Charles Harper about these claims in the New York Times article, particularly where the article makes ID researchers look unresponsive to JTF requests for research proposals.

In response to an inquiry about whether the JTF put out a call to ID scholars for grant requests, Harper specifically stated that, “No such request [for proposals] was made. There never was a call-for-proposals to the ID community. All I said [to the reporter] is that, like anybody else, ID people could apply and proposals submitted would be reviewed on their merits. No blackballing.”

So this whole stink is over the fairly irrelevant question of whether the JTF formally asked ID advocates to submit proposals, or whether ID advocates had merely failed to submit proposals for such research for the JTF to fund. Okay, so let’s rewrite that first sentence in Goodstein’s article so instead of this:

“The Templeton Foundation, a major supporter of projects seeking to reconcile science and religion, says that after providing a few grants for conferences and courses to debate intelligent design, they asked proponents to submit proposals for actual research. “They never came in,” said Charles L. Harper Jr….

It says this:

The Templeton Foundation, a major supporter of projects seeking to reconcile science and religion, says that after providing a few grants for conferences and courses to debate intelligent design, they waited for ID proponents to apply for grants to do actual research that might confirm their ideas. “They never came in,” said Charles L. Harper Jr….

Does this minor point make any real difference to the point being made? I don’t think so. Whether there was a formal call for grant applications or not, Harper’s point remains the same. As the article quotes:

“From the point of view of rigor and intellectual seriousness, the intelligent design people don’t come out very well in our world of scientific review,” he said.

Campana contacted Harper to get his disavowal of the minor claim that a formal request was sent to ID advocates; did he ever bother to ask him whether he would also disavow that direct quote? It appears not. And in fact, Pete Irons today contacted Pamela Thompson, Vice President for Communications at the Templeton Foundation, and she confirmed that the last line, the important line, does in fact reflect both Harper’s and the JTF’s position:

It is important to note, Charles Harper and I are one hundred percent in agreement on the issue of ID. The John Templeton Foundation does NOT support the ID movement.

In Laurie Goodstein’s article she says “they (JTF) asked proponents to submit proposals for actual research.” This is not true, JTF has NEVER done this, and Charles Harper said – JTF has not received proposals from ID proponents for serious scientific research. And I quote from the NYT article “From the point of view of rigor and intellectual seriousness, the intelligent design people don’t come out very well in our (JTF) world of scientific review.”

So she confirmed that while the first statement about a formal call for applications was false, the real point of the article, that ID advocates don’t do very well in terms of actual research and scientific review, remains true and valid. Thompson also posted a reply to Campana’s post on the JTF website today. It says:

In response to errors and misrepresentations stated in the February 28, 2007 ResearchID.com blog post:

1. The John Templeton Foundation has never made a call-for-proposals to the ID Community.
2. The Henry Schaefer grant was from the Origins of Biological Complexity program. Schaefer is a world’s leading chemist, and his research has nothing whatsoever to do with ID.
3. Bill Dembski�s grant was not for the book ‘No Free Lunch.’ Dembski was given funds to write another book on Orthodox Theology, which was not on ID, however he has never written the book.

From our FAQ…

Does the Foundation support I.D.?

No. We do not support the political movement known as “Intelligent Design.” This is for three reasons 1) we do not believe the science underpinning the “Intelligent Design” movement is sound, 2) we do not support research or programs that deny large areas of well-documented scientific knowledge, and 3) the Foundation is a non-political entity and does not engage in, or support, political movements.

It is important to note that in the past we have given grants to scientists who have gone on to identify themselves as members of the Intelligent Design community. We understand that this could be misconstrued by some to suggest that we implicitly support the Intelligent Design movement, but, as outlined above, this was not our intention at the time nor is it today.

Campana distorts what Goodstein’s article said about the JTF’s position on ID. He writes:

The New York Times article also describes the JTF as being formerly pro-ID but becoming disillusioned with ID. But Harper responded to the article’s claim saying, “This is completely false. It is a creation of media narrative manufacture.

But that’s not what Goodstein’s article said. It said, “…while he (Harper) was skeptical from the beginning, other foundation officials were initially intrigued and later grew disillusioned.” Being “intrigued” is not the same thing as being “pro-ID”. I know many people, including at least one outspoken critic of ID, who was initially intrigued by the ID movement and had high hopes that it would provide evidence of divine activity. Alas, after years of watching the ID movement engage in dishonest public relations campaigns rather than do any actual research, they gave up on it. I suspect that is exactly what happened with many people at the JTF.

I have been told directly by a member of the advisory board of the Templeton Foundation that there were some with high hopes for ID among the leadership there in the early days, but over the last few years, as it has become clear that there just isn’t any real research to be done that might confirm or disconfirm the idea, they’ve distanced themselves from ID. Campana is correct when he points out that JTF did provide funding for several conferences and book projects dealing with ID, but not for any actual research on ID.

Indeed, on the question of research that might confirm ID, the entire record of the ID movement is absolutely abysmal. The few bits of research that ID advocates claim as support, like Axe (2000 and 2004) and Behe and Snoke (2004) not only don’t support ID, they actually support evolution (as I’ve explained before). They keep telling us that there’s research being done under double secret probation at a hidden location (I think it’s being done in Dr. Evil’s volcano lair), the fact that they’ve had to so blatantly distort research in the past to pretend it supports them suggests that this claim should be taken with a beaker full of salt. The IDers claim that the research is on the way, at this point, ranks up there with Wimpy’s promise to pay us Tuesday for a hamburger today.

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