Sunday, September 11, 2016


Or maybe the Templeton Tango, or the Templeton Run-Around or the Templeton One Step Forward Two Steps Back. Regardless, this is a rather lengthy account of my interactions with the Templeton Foundation's funding bureaucracy. It was neither particularly pleasant nor fruitful, but it was enlightening. At the time of the saga, thought was given to writing an exposé on the experience but my colleagues and I decided to cool off for a while. Occasionally during the past several years, thought was once again given about writing it up, but I never got around to it. Having recently received some encouragement to put 'pen to paper', here it is. Many of you regulars here may want to hang it up now - this will be fairly long, and like many of my posts, interesting to me and uninteresting to most - thus you have been warned!!

Prologue - this all got started with some fairly random personal associations. Me - [not this guy or this guy] biology professor retired from research and teaching [Los Alamos National Lab, MD Anderson, and the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs] to enjoy some time on the Southern California beaches; serendipitously employed for several years by Pepperdine University in Malibu. Joe - neighbor in Colorado Springs [not a friendly place to teach or discuss evolution], good friend and colleague; formerly the Director of the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, an independent publisher of biology textbooks that make evolution the organizing principle [Nothing in biology makes sense except in the light of evolution. Theodosius Dobzhansky]. Francis - friend and colleague of Joe, mainly via their expertise in genetics and education; high-profile physician/scientist; Francis established BioLogos. Darrel - friend of Francis, initially via the books that they wrote; Francis' The Language of God and Darrel's Coming to Peace with Science. Darrel was a biology professor at Point Loma, and soon became deeply involved with BioLogos, serving as President for several years. Pete was brought in to BioLogos as the resident Biblical Scholar, likely because his edgy scholarship fit fairly well with the concept of theistic evolution/evolutionary creationism. Lastly, a quick overview of our perspectives on Christianity: Me - Marginal Mennonite; Joe - Staunch Ex-Catholic; Francis - adult acceptance of the evangelical Christian faith; Darrel - evangelical Christian in the Nazarene tradition; Pete - hard for me to classify - maybe you can figure it out from his website.
Of course each of these folks has their own opinion regarding the JTF, and thus it should be noted that this narrative is solely mine.


After we all figured out how we knew each other, we decided that perhaps there could be a collaborative project concerning evolution and faith, specifically a project to help evangelical students come to grips with the incontrovertible reality of evolution. The John Templeton Foundation had funded the establishment of BioLogos, and the organization was looking for projects and programs for possible additional funding by the JTF. After considerable discussion, the group decided to focus on the fact that that the vast majority of university biology professors were not well prepared for dealing with students and parents who did not accept evolution because of their young-earth creationist beliefs. Thus, the project would basically assemble easily-accessible resources for faculty to use for directing students to various thoughtful perspectives on science and faith. Title - “Integrating Evolution and Faith: Resources for College Biology Professors”.

Granting agencies often request a pre-proposal to determine if a project fits their funding goals. We did that and were invited to submit a full proposal. In addition to the usual narrative of a project [rationale, scope of work, expected results, etc.], the Foundation required a considerable amount of supporting information such as "Cost Effectiveness," "Theory of Change," "Benchmarks of Success," "Audience and Dissemination Strategies," "Enduring Impact," and a potpourri of additional information that is not a part of the typical NIH or NSF type of proposal. Completion of the proposal took a fair amount of time and effort, but the result was what we believed to be a reasonable three-year project with a total budget of a modest $260,303 to support the part-time efforts of me, Joe, and Darrel, with Francis as a consultant. Because the four of us were at different institutions, we concluded that either Pepperdine or Point Loma would be a reasonable host institution for grant submission. Ultimately we chose Pepperdine, primarily because Darrel's book had caused quite a ruckus at Point Loma, and in fact nearly cost him his job.

As one would expect, the Foundation took several months to complete their internal and external reviews. We received the following correspondence.

Thank you for the opportunity to review your proposal Integrating Evolution and Faith: Resources for College Biology Professors. We have completed the expert review phase of our process. In general, reviewers were supportive of the project. However, before we render a decision, we request your responses to several concerns and constructive comments raised by reviewers. These comments are on the pages to follow and also include a selection of the endorsements.

We would appreciate your response to these comments and look forward to hearing further from you regarding this interesting project. You are welcome to respond with a point-by-point response to each critical or constructive comment (or clusters of comments). Naturally, due to the nature of our review process, we cannot guarantee any particular outcome at this time. But we can say that we remain very interested in this project.

The "Selected Reviewer Comments" were quite detailed. This comment was fairly representative of the positive reviews, some of which explicitly recommended funding:

“My enthusiasm for this idea, which is so clearly explained and thoughtfully conceived, comes from the following aspects of the proposal. First, the authors have identified a genuine need; they have defined it precisely and given the right reasons for its significance. Their analysis of the actual classroom situation, relative to evangelical students, is highly accurate, and they understand one of the important things that needs to be done to help those students be more receptive to evolution. Second, I cannot conceive of people more qualified to carry out this particular plan."

This particular comment was fairly representative of the 'concerns':

"This project is built on a speculation—namely that biology profs are willing to put in efforts to learn how to overcome objections that their students have to learning evolution. Supposedly, if materials are readily available, these profs will learn how to use them and incorporate them into their teaching. I think this speculation is reasonable, but I wish the proposal had something resembling an incentive for these busy profs to take advantage of the new materials."

The group decided that as suggested, we would prepare a point-by-point response to the criticisms and concerns. However, at this juncture, there was a departure from the standard granting process that Joe and I were familiar with, e.g. submit a grant, receive reviews, address concerns, get secondary reviews, receive a funding priority score and wait to see if the score qualifies for funding. Because Francis/Biologos had an established relationship with the JTF, Francis had a chat with Foundation representatives about the proposal and was told that there was great interest in funding the project and that perhaps some of the concerns could be addressed by including some teacher training/incentives. Thus, in addition to preparing a nine-point, four-page response, we included the suggested component, and revised the budget upward to $499,166 for the three year period. This prompted the following response from the JTF:

"We have a few questions about the new elements you added to the project. We are still generally supportive, but have some questions about some of the project changes that you have added in response to the expert reviewer comments."

So - we now had to prepare a Response II to address the added proposal activities and the associated budget increases. We submitted that, and then received this:

Yesterday, the John Templeton Foundation announced some important news about a year-long initiative to restructure our grant-making system, with key changes in our deadlines and calendar. The overarching objective of this initiative is to align our grant-making system more fully with the Foundation’s long-range strategies.

I am writing today to assure you that our restructuring initiative will have no effect on the review of your funding requestor [sic] on our ultimate decision whether to fund this project. The Foundation is still committed to a careful, thorough review of your proposal, including, in most cases, asking experts in the fields related to your request to review the merits of your proposal.

As the time dragged out, Joe wrote:

In the old days, before one received grant scores and decisions via, NSF and NIH sent out rejection letters before grant letters, so no news was good news, at least in the short run. I'm not sure how it works with Templeton. In my experience it's unlikely that any granting agency would put an applicant through two rounds of questions -- program and budget -- and then deny funding.

Joe is seldom wrong. But there was yet another round coming. We had phone conversations with Templeton folks to discuss the project, particularly the budget. We were told that the JTF reorganization and significant fiscal restraints had put our project in the purgatory known as approved but not yet funded, but would be evaluated by a parallel Templeton foundation. Then after more waiting for a response, we received yet another letter requesting that we address five more issues.

The Grants and Programs Committee of the Templeton World Charity Foundation has now discussed your proposal Integrating Evolution and Faith: Resources for College Biology Professors. They have highlighted some addition information that will be very important as they work toward a final decision on the proposal at their next meeting, scheduled for early June.

Joe quipped that this process was certainly a roller coaster experience, but he remained optimistic as did Darrel. I was growing tired of responding, but respond we did, and the nature of the requests meant that the response required a fair amount of work. The JTF letter suggested that we add new components, which affected the budget; three year total was now $699,543. We sent in all of the material and again waited and waited. Then, we got this:

On behalf of the John Templeton Foundation and the Templeton World Charities Foundation, thank you for the opportunity to review your request for support of the project entitled, Integrating Evolution and Faith: Resources for College Biology Professors.

After careful consideration and analysis led by our Executive Staff, and ultimately by the Trustees of the Templeton World Charities Foundation, I regret to inform you that we will not be able to fund your proposed project.

The letter went on and on about "why" but I really didn't care what they had to say. I responded with a one word email: Astonishing. Darrel pretty much felt the same. But Joe expressed what I was thinking:

This is among the worst processes I have experienced in more than 30 years of seeking funding from a wide variety of public and private agencies. It reminds me of the old joke about the game-show host who says to the contestant, "For $1M: I'm thinking of a color. What is it?" The contestant responds, "White." The host says, "Actually, I was thinking of an off-white." It seems to me that they don't know what they're doing so far as a coherent review process is concerned. I would be very cautious in applying to the TF again. This was really a pathetic process -- and more than a little offensive. Have a beer for me....

While Joe and I were discussing our interest or lack thereof in assisting Francis, Darrel and Karl with other BioLogos projects, I received this email from the JTF:

Dear Doug,

I would venture to guess that your experience with the Foundation has left a sour taste in your month. This is probably too little, too late, but I do want you to know that as we dive into our restructuring this summer – re-evaluating every aspect about how we receive proposals, review them and communicate decisions – your experience will be one of several case studies guiding our thinking about things we need to improve. As a result, we are committed to making sure that if you choose to pursue grant support from the Foundation in the future, it will be a better experience for you.


Well, ya. Case Study?  More like autopsy.  Feeling obliged to respond, I simply said

I sincerely believe that a unique opportunity was missed, and that the confluence of experience, interest, and expertise presented in the proposal will not pass this way again.

Buscaremos la luz. Buscaremos la paz. Danos nuevos ojos par ver el mundo.


Joe and I were quite certain that we did not want to deal with the JTF, but we did feel that we were still willing to assist BioLogos with projects that supported the teaching of accepted science, particularly evolution, in the context of evangelical Christianity. We knew that would be a tough task, but we might develop some generalized guidance that could help others if we could find ways to convince evangelicals to re-examine their theological positions in the face of scientific facts. We had had a good experience working with Darrel, and felt that we wanted to help him if we could. Francis and Darrel once again had conversations with the presumed Templeton poobahs, and were convinced that the Foundation was very interested in biology education in private Christian high schools and Christian home school settings. Darrel had secured some funding from another foundation, and thus,
with non-Templeton money, BioLogos was able to organize several focus group meetings with Christian school teachers and administrators and with home school-parents. Joe and I agreed to assist.

At the time of these discussions and activities, three significant things were going on. First, it was becoming clear that President Obama was going to nominate Francis to head the NIH. That appointment would necessarily remove the most prominent person at BioLogos [an aside - the JTF apparently has a proclivity for funding high-profile persons/institutions. One well-known person in the science/religion arena told me regarding our initial experience "If you all were from Harvard, or Yale, or Oxford and not Pepperdine, you would likely have been funded."] Second, the leadership of BioLogos was being transferred from Francis to Darrel and Karl. And third, Pete was becoming an integral part of the BioLogos team.

Again, considerable time and effort went in to collecting and organizing the responses of the focus groups, determining the problems that the biology teachers face, and formulating strategies to overcome the barriers to teaching good biology to fundamentalists.

Now - I am going to skip over many of the details of preparing a pre-proposal, a full proposal, reviews and responses, and so on. Just re-read FIRST STEP - FOOL ME ONCE, SHAME ON YOU and you will understand what went on. Although the total three-year budget for "Curriculum Resources for Biology Education at Christian Schools"was $1,133,100, the JTF's underlying concerns were not about the dollars.  A confounding issue was that non-JTF funding was also being pursued which added another explanatory section to the JTF application.  Darrel and I actually made a trip to the Foundation headquarters to make sure that this proposal was not going to go down the same path as the first one.

As Joe and I worked and re-worked the proposal with Darrel and Pete, it became ever more clear to Joe and me that the barriers that teachers encounter in the Christian-education setting are not related to biology, but rather are dominated by theology. Indeed, we found that many teachers were using standard textbooks such as Biology by Miller and Levine. Very few teachers were using the noxious curricula published by Bob Jones University Press or A Beka Books although a fair number of home-schoolers used the young-earth creationist A Beka Book biology text. And virtually all of the teachers were anxious to have resources that addressed the interface of evolutionary science and Christian faith.

Because Joe and I were firm in our position that the emphasis of the project should be on theology, clearly not our specialty, we suggested that the time commitments and thus the budget reflect the primary activities of the project personnel. Joe and I wrote a very extensive memo to BioLogos outlining issues that we felt had to be addressed, stating that we understood that BioLogos was "in a state of flux, practically and philosophically." We detailed the reasons for the proposed emphasis on theology. Pete added thoughtful commentary to our memo, especially regarding how to engage evangelicals in rethinking their theology in light of conflicting science. Joe and I recommended that we scale back our involvement and that Pete become the Project Leader. Pete found this acceptable. This approach became a basic component of our revised proposal [surprise - another revision]. Our first indication that this was going to be problematic was embedded in this request from the JTF:

Information Requested: In our December correspondence, requesting the revised proposal which we are currently reviewing, we asked you to consider the "theological credibility" of the program. The revised proposal offers some hints as to where that credibilty [sic] will come into play, specifically the advisory boards, but it does not name any individuals or institutions who might offer that additional credibility. Therefore, we would ask for greater detail as to who you would like to make up the various advisory boards for the project (or any other specific partnerships or plans you have to establish greater 'theological credibility'). Please note that we do not expect that you will have secured committments [sic] for this role, but if you have, please indicate as much. For any whom you have not secured, or not even asked, please simply provide the names of the top candidate or two you would ask to fill those roles if your grant application is successful. Please keep in mind that we are referring to scholars with credibility in the community you are seeking to reach, a group of people often too ready to dismiss good work as too “liberal” or whatever. Our concern is not about the intellectual quality of the project in itself, but about the likelihood it will be used extensively by your target audience.

In retrospect, this should have been translated as "Pete needs both guidance and a leash." Pete would likely admit that he is not the most diplomatic person, and often uses challenging and controversial ideas to generate meaningful discussions about important topics. The titles of his books indicate his positions: The Bible Tells Me So - Why Defending Scripture Has Made Us Unable To Read It; The Evolution Of Adam - What The Bible Does And Doesn't Say About Human Origins; The Sin Of Certainty - Why God Desires Our Trust More Than Our "Correct" Beliefs. I think that it would be safe to say that these are not the types of things that many fundamentalist Christians want to hear, and certainly would not be inclined to accept; hence the Foundation's fixation on 'theological credibility.'

Also, in retrospect, it seems quite clear that JTF personnel had privately conveyed concern to BioLogos about how the details of Theist Evolution /Evolutionary Creation were going to be presented in a pastoral manner to the targeted evangelical community. Note my emphasis on 'pastoral'. The target community needed more pastoring than biblical scholarship, especially if that scholarship accepts the scientific evidence for human origins, not a literal interpretation of the Genesis account of the creation of Adam and Eve. To accommodate this perceived need, the JTF proposed that we add personnel to the proposal to address the pastoral component, and that Pete's time and effort be cut back. Understandably, Pete was not pleased. The implicit message was that targeted evangelicals would likely not be particularly receptive to Pete's Old Testament scholarship regarding creation and Adam and Eve. As one Templeton official said: "They need an Adam and Eve."

This is when Joe and I said "Nope". We agreed that this is not how projects should be developed, reviewed, funded and managed. We had established a good working relationship with Pete and respected his theological positions in relationship to what we biologists accept as established science. We were not interested in being funded by an organization that appeared to be involved with micromanagement, control, and influence.  It seemed clear to Joe and me that the JTF had a  literalist/creationist bias regarding the project and its expected outcomes, e.g., many evangelicals need a real Adam and an Eve; thus promote any data and any experts that support such a notion.  Not possible from my and Joe's perspective. 

End of story regarding Joe and me. Darrel and Francis expressed their disappointment re our decision. As far as I know, the proposal was withdrawn, and BioLogos pursued other projects funded by the JTF. And as many know, when Pete's contract with BioLogos was up for renewal, it was not renewed.

Well, end of story is not quite accurate for me because there was one last bit of irony:

Dear Dr. Swartzendruber

As part of the John Templeton Foundation’s proposal review process, we typically solicit outside expert opinions to help us evaluate funding requests.

You have been identified as someone who could provide valuable feedback on a proposal we have received from xx entitled, "Science, faith and professional development in new teachers". We would greatly appreciate your input regarding this work.

In order for the Foundation to meet its promise to applicants of a timely decision of all Full Proposals, we need your completed review submitted back to us by xx. As compensation for your work, we will pay you an honorarium of $300.00 for your timely completion of an electronic review in accordance with the instructions and terms provided by the Foundation.


The Evolution of BioLogos - it is interesting to postulate what BioLogos might look like today if Francis had remained as President, Karl and Darrel as Vice-Presidents and Pete as Biblical Scholar.  I believe that it would be quite a bit different, particularly considering that Calvinists  and Calvin College folks now have considerable influence including holding the Presidency Among the myriad Protestant theologies, I find Calvinism particularly noisome.  But that's the subject of another post....

The Evolution of The John Templeton Foundation - I am no expert here, but I do believe that there was a significant shift in vision when Sir John died and his physician-son Jack became President.  As noted in this blurb, Sir John was nearly new-age in his views of religions, cultures and philosophies. He died in 2008, and Jack took over.  Necessarily the Foundation's bio of Jack is complementary, but others noted his right-wing, Republican brand of evangelical Christianity.   I happened to see Jack in action once in Heidelberg, and I think that it is safe to say that Jack's perspective influenced the Templeton staff who were responsible for vetting proposals before he had a look.  Jack died in 2015, and the current President is Jack's daughter Heather Templeton Dill, whose primary qualification seems to be that she is the daughter of Jack and grand-daughter of Sir John.  It would appear to be business as usual at the JTF, at least for the time being.

People - me; I remain mostly retired, teaching a course now and then, writing here about things that interest me and a few other folks, and keeping track of retired CU faculty; catch up with Joe here; Darrel is also mostly retired, but remains a Senior Advisor for Dialogue at BioLogos; Pete is a faculty member at Eastern University, Karl is affiliated with Stonehill College, and Francis is still the Director of the NIH - we will see what President Trump has to say about that!

Addendum - Over at WEIT, Jerry Coyne has written about this post.


Have No Friends said...

If I were your editor, I would have left out the part about you being a Marginal Mennonite, and the statement that evolution is an “incontrovertible reality.” Claiming to be a marginal Mennonite leaves you pretty much out in left field doctrine-wise, and not much removed from the non-Christians, agnostics, and atheists who attack Bible-believing Christians for their belief in evolution. Just as those Christians dismiss Stephen Hawking and Richard Dawkins as irrelevant, they would not be much inclined to view a marginal Mennonite as one of their own who is making a sincere Christian appeal for a belief in evolution. If it were a Franklin Graham, they would sit up and pay attention and take him seriously, but anyone they perceive as being from Fringeville they would ignore.

The statement that evolution is an “incontrovertible reality” is too powerful and dogmatic, thus off-putting. Evolution is not an “incontrovertible reality.” No evolutionist knows how life originated and how we got from molten rock to DNA, let alone what happened after that to get to some kind of organized cell. The co-discoverer of the DNA structure, James Watson, once remarked that life couldn’t have originated on earth and opined that it came from outer space. What kind of evolution are we talking about anyway? Macro or micro? Changes within a species? Or one species changing into another? A scientific case could probably be made for microevolution, but not macroevolution. Much better to use phrases such as “studies show,” “scientists say,” “research indicates,” etc., etc. Discovering an old fossilized jawbone and surmising a “missing link” simply is not incontrovertible evidence. Anyway, you get the point

Bizzy Brain said...

I’ve always been curious about the evolutionary timetable and probability theory. Before belief in origins solidified around the Big Bang theory in the mid-60’s, it was almost plausible to believe that the myriad varieties of life could almost have happened by trial and error. Everyone has heard the theory that an infinite number of monkeys typing away on an infinite number of typewriters would one day come up with the works of Shakespeare. Likewise, if the universe had been around for a trillion years or so, maybe some trial and error evolution would have resulted in the lifeforms we see around us today. However, Big Bang gives us a 13 to 14 billion year-old universe and a 4.5 billion year-old earth. Subtracting some billions for the earth to cool and change chemically to the point it could sustain life doesn’t really give enough time for trial and error to have worked its magic. Big Bang also threw a clunker into the trillion years for things to happen argument via the theory of entropy. The universe is winding down and a trillion year-old universe would most likely be nothing more than empty space and cold rock.

Bizzy Brain said...

BTW, Have No Friends, you also need an editor. You talked about Bible-believing Christians being attacked for their belief in "evolution" when you clearly meant "creation." "Let he among you who writes perfectly cast the first aspersions."

Bizzy Brain said...

Another BTW for you Have. From the tenor of your criticism, I understand why you have no friends.

Steve Heller said...

In 2015, the Templeton Foundation did fund this three year project to the tune of $1,779,999: “Human Distinctiveness: A Program to Engage Theologians with the Dynamism of Anthropological and Evolutionary Approaches to the Human.”

That jumped out at me based on the words “theologian” and “evolution” that appeared in your post as well as in the title of the funded study. You can read about it here and compare and contrast to the objective of your study to gain an understanding of “what sells.”

DES said...

First to No Friends: The Marginal Mennonite thing is basically the creation of one person, Charlie Kraybill in NYC. While there is lots of sarcasm there, there are also many truths that many who grew up in the Mennonite church can embrace. I am one of those, but like many others, do not necessarily subscribe to all of the points in Charlie's Manifesto. Besides, anyone who sits up and listens to Franklin Graham is beyond hope!!!

Second, evolution is indeed an incontrovertible fact. The difference between micro evolution and macro evolution is the time scale. One can actually watch micro evolution occurring in a matter of days [the recent publication of the rapid development of resistance to drugs], and macro evolution is abundantly displayed in all of the relevant sciences. There is certainly more to learn regarding details. Also do not confuse evolution with the origin of life - evolution says nothing about that.

DES said...

Bizzy - we will have to talk about this around the campfire some time :-)

DES said...

Cousin Steve - thanks for the link. Templeton also just awarded a big grant to study why people are atheists. I would have taken that - seems like an easy question!!! :-)

DES said...

I know that Templeton keeps track of most things that are written about them. Jerry Coyne is one of their critics and apparently hears from them when when he writes another negative piece [see his latest post about the grant that I mentioned to Steve]. Since I am small potatoes compared to Coyne, I am doubtful that I will hear anything directly - however, if I do hear, you will also hear, and I would anticipate that it would basically be a 'sour grapes' accusation.

DES said...

Well, well. Professor Ceiling Cat did indeed hear from Templeton, and my prescience was confirmed - blown off as sour grapes. I will have more to say about this soon, but "The mountains are calling, and I must go."

Six Sigma said...

DES, by mountains do you mean "twin peaks?" Heh-heh.

Steve Heller said...

Let's see, my opinion is that Templeton appears to fund a lot of esoteric, irrelevant fluff. So, maybe a compliment that your group did not receive funding.

Douglas E said...

Steve - I loved this comment over at WEIT - very much fits with your opinion:

....There’s also this to consider: Grant-making institutions like Templeton don’t really do or produce much; they exist to find entities to give money to. So vetting grant applications – however absurd – is, for these bureaucrats, production. It matters little of what quality or substance the final work turns out to be. If you put the patients on a terminal ward, some will turn out to be the healthiest and to have the longest life expectancy.

Templeton staff spend their days vetting applications, creating new grant opportunities, arranging meetings and conferences, and managing Templeton Money.

So meetings are production.

And high-level meetings with high-value targets are bonus-worthy....

hoosierdaddy said...

Six - I think you meant "Sick" you dirty old man!!! Of course I too am a member of SODOM - the Society of Dirty Old Men.

Bea Ess said...

The pus-sacs and elevator farts are about to face each other. Though I hold both teams in low regard, would like to see the elevator farts (Broncos) win.

hoosierdaddy said...

BS - don't hold back - tell us what you really think!! Although I am a Hoosier, been a Ponies fan since the 60's, so gotta go with them.

Bea Ess said...

Elevator fart came to mind when thinking about the players who don't stand for the national anthem. Yeah, they have their 1st Amendment rights and all, and the team and owners and NFL think it's all fine and dandy, but it is also legal to fart on an elevator, thus, exercising the right to not stand for the national anthem is equivalent to exercising one's right to fart on an elevator. You can go ahead and do it, but it is tasteless, sophomoric, and boorish.

Douglas E said...

BS - only tangential, but I've wondered why the National Anthem is played at sporting events. You perhaps remember that Goshen College got a lot of grief for not playing the Anthem; tried is for a bit and reverted to not playing. Just put National Anthem in the search box of this blog and you will find several posts.