Gordon in the News: last updated 10/24/2008

How Science Met Religion: Gordon College Remembers John Templeton As "Enthusiast for Progress"

By: Jo Kadlecek
Assistant Professor of Communication Arts
Gordon College

When Sir John Templeton, the visionary philanthropist who spent the past several decades devoted to the "big questions" of science, religion, and human purpose, died in early July, scholars from Gordon College in Wenham, MA, paused to remember him. It was through his Foundation, in part, that many were pursuing those same questions on the New England campus.

"Sir John effectively built science and religion into an academic field," said Dr. Karl Giberson, director of the Forum on Faith & Science at Gordon College and author of the new book, Saving Darwin: How to Be a Christian and Believe in Evolution. "The fact that I've been able to dialogue with some of the finest minds in the world, who care about both science and religion, is a direct result of his vision."

A pioneer in global investments, Templeton founded the Templeton Mutual Funds and in 1972, created the world's largest annual award given to an individual, the $1,000,000 Templeton Prize, which is announced in New York and presented in London. The Prize has recognized "exemplary achievement in work related to life's spiritual dimension," according to its website. Today, its monetary value exceeds that of the Nobel Prizes, which was Templeton's way "of underscoring his belief that advances in the spiritual domain are no less important than those in other areas of human endeavor."

Mother Teresa of Calcutta was the first recipient in 1973, followed later that decade by the evangelist Billy Graham and the writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. In recent years, the Prize has been awarded primarily to physicists, cosmologists, and philosophers, including scientists such as Freeman Dyson, John Polkinghorne and Charles Taylor. The motto that Templeton created for his Foundation, "How little we know, how eager to learn," reflected both his philosophy in the financial markets and his methods of philanthropy.

"He was able to allow scholars from major institutions to explore areas others wouldn't," Giberson said.  "But he also made it possible for people like myself in smaller settings to pursue our interests. Because of various grants from the Templeton Foundation, I've been able to write, study at Oxford and even run a conference in Venice. And I'm not unique; many others from Christian colleges have benefited in countless ways."

Other scholars at Gordon, such as physics professor Dale Pleticha and Bert Hodges, professor of psychology, have also benefited from Templeton's vision. Former Gordon chemistry professor, Bob Herrmann, spent considerable time with Sir John at his home, exchanging ideas about religion and science. In fact, Hermann and Templeton wrote and edited several books together and Hermann wrote his biography, "Sir John Templeton: Supporting Scientific Research for Spiritual Discoveries."

"For years, Bob administered several Templeton grant programs at Gordon College, including projects supporting professional research, national student writing contests, and scholarly colloquia," said Provost Mark Sargent. "What always impressed me was that the Templeton Foundation was willing to take risks and invest in researchers who were exploring the boundaries between empiricism and theory.  In that respect, Sir John anticipated some of the interdisciplinary and ethical dimensions of current scientific discourse and study."

The Foundation also included Gordon College in an exclusive list of 100 colleges nationwide that are known for their "strong commitment to character-building programs," and in 1999, recognized Gordon President R. Judson Carlberg as one of 50 college presidents for exemplary leadership abilities.

"There's no question Sir John's vision has helped foster the discussion between science and religion we at Gordon are always striving for," President Carlberg said.  "I am sure his presence will be felt in September, when we dedicate our new Science Center at Gordon.  So many of the scientists who will be here--including the keynote speaker Francis Collins from the National Institute of Health -have been direct beneficiaries of his life and work." 

Giberson said that current proposals to the Foundation from other campus scholars could total $1.5 million for Gordon programs, including funding to help a new forum in science journalism. "So much wouldn't have happened without his generosity," Giberson said.

Those who knew him labeled the philanthropist "radical." Templeton's response: "I wouldn't call it radical; I would call it enthusiasm for progress."

Sir John Marks Templeton died on July 8, 2008, at Doctors Hospital in Nassau, Bahamas, of pneumonia. He was 95 years old. For information on Gordon College, or to speak with Dr. Karl Giberson, director of the Forum on Faith & Science at Gordon College, contact Cyndi McMahon at 978.867.4236 or via email cyndi.mcmahon@gordon.edu.

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Gordon College is a Christian college of the liberal arts and sciences on Boston's North Shore. The college offers majors in 37 fields and has graduate programs in education and music education. Leading the way in Christian college merit, Gordon is nationally ranked for its excellence in academics and its role in character building. These achievements recognize Gordon as one of the nation's top Christian colleges.



John Templeton