Of all the obituaries of John Templeton (sponsor of the eponymous prize and foundation), this one, by Dan Gardner in the Ottawa Citizen, is the best. Some excerpts:
The Templeton Prize is not in any way superior to other awards. It’s not even their equal. It is, after all, an advocacy tool designed to reward and advance a particular worldview. There are plenty like it, but none of these is held in anything like the esteem of the Templeton Prize.
But then, none pays so handsomely as the Templeton Prize. John Templeton may have been a spiritual man, but he advanced his cause with the force that only big money delivers.
And this is the main problem with the prize. It’s set up as a research prize, and yet in practice it’s actually a form of proselytization by subterfuge.
The Templeton Foundation is controversial in scientific circles. And yet, its influence grows. How could it not? Scientists and universities find it hard to say no to free money. “Largely as a result of Templeton grants,” wrote science journalist John Horgan in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “some 90 American medical schools now offer courses on links between health and spirituality.”
The Templeton Foundation sponsors a whole range of outreach efforts like this – including media training for journalists.
The Templeton Foundation is no disinterested benefactor. The Templeton Prize is no Nobel. Treating them as if they were is to accept and honour the crude force of money.
And that is an unfortunate legacy for a man devoted to higher things.
But one that we shouldn’t be too surprised about, of course!