Over at The Chronicle of Higher Education, contributing editor Nathan Schneider writes about the Templeton effect, and the focus for study on what the John Templeton Foundation calls “Big Questions.” These “Big Questions” include basic but potentially unanswerable philosophical topics such as free will, consciousness, evil, and the afterlife. Several six or seven-figure grants have been awarded for research on these questions, amounts almost unheard of in academic philosophy. Schneider writes:
It’s rare that philosophers require any equipment for their research besides a library card and an armchair. The grants they receive are often meant just to buy them time—a semester away from teaching to write a book or a paper, for instance—or to foster discussion through conferences. The National Endowment for the Humanities typically gives individual philosophers grants of $25,000 to $50,000, along with a few larger awards for collaborative projects like a journal on Kierke-gaard or a new edition of Husserl.
Controversy, though, always follows money, especially when it’s Templeton money. Partisans of Richard Dawkins and his fellow New Atheists have long despised the foundation, interpreting its interest in dialogue between science and religion as an attempt to buy undeserved credibility for the latter at the cost of the former. Adds Brian Leiter, “It’s clearly more of a windfall for philosophers who have some sort of vague religious angle to what they’re doing.” Yet he also points out that Mele is an exception. His foregoing work on free will expressed scant interest in the religious implications—which makes it all the more noticeable that his Templeton project has a component devoted to theology.