The Chronicle of Higher Education has a long story about the Templeton Foundation, entitled The Templeton Effect. Much of it is about various subfields of philosphy where Templeton money has been successful at bringing religion, theological concerns and religious philosophers to greater prominence. One section however describes the Templeton funding promoting a new field of Philosophy of Cosmology. Religion doesn’t explicitly appear here, but the story of how this “Philosophy of Cosmology” got underway gives a good example of how money influences intellectual pursuits:
Barry Loewer, a philosopher at Rutgers University at New Brunswick, isn’t likely to turn up at a Society of Christian Philosophers meeting with Newlands and Miller. “I myself have no interest in philosophy of religion and am not a religious person,” he says. For years, Loewer has been working with a group of philosophers, mathematicians, and physicists in the New York area, meeting and collaborating on papers—nothing very expensive. But about five years ago a colleague at Rutgers, Dean W. Zimmerman, told the group about the Templeton Foundation and suggested that they apply for a grant. Zimmerman, a top Christian philosopher, had already served on Templeton’s advisory board and participated in many foundation-sponsored activities.
The idea at first was to do a project about quantum mechanics and the foundations of physics, which was an interest of Loewer’s group. Templeton had other ideas. The foundation pointed the group in the direction of cosmology, with the prospect of a much bigger grant, and the researchers jumped at the idea. They realized that cosmology encompassed the questions of time and physical laws that had concerned them all along.
“You know that story of Molière’s where someone discovers that he has been speaking prose his whole life?” says Loewer. “It was a little bit like that.”
The nearly $1-million grant his team received from Templeton last year coincided with another, slightly larger one called “Establishing the Philosophy of Cosmology,” which was awarded to scholars at the University of Oxford. Despite the change of plans at Templeton’s behest, Loewer stresses, “They’ve been really helpful, and totally noncoercive in terms of any agenda that they might have. I had my eyes open for it.”
Not that philosophers are especially well practiced in negotiating the terms of million-dollar grants, much less in thinking about how such money might sway them. Neither Loewer nor Mele nor Miller nor Newlands could have anticipated back when they were in graduate school that they’d be administering projects like this; their training was for armchairs, libraries, and conferences. But now that the money is coming into the field, it is being welcomed even by those who lack the foundation’s spiritual proclivities. “Templeton picks some people whose Christian epistemology I might not share,” Brian Leiter says, “but there’s no quarreling that they’re serious philosophers.” Suspicions about some secret religious agenda tend to lessen the more widely the foundation’s substantial sums begin to spread.