Monday, July 28, 2008

The Yes's and No's of John Templeton

John Templeton, financier, and funder--through the John Templeton Foundation-of the research and dialogue in science and religion, died this month at age 95. I've been working on an article for the local paper, Chico Enterprise Record, in that I'm someone engaged in the interaction of science and theology, and because I've benefited in various ways from Templeton's largesse. Here are a few thoughts along the way...

According to the recent obituary in The Economist--who should know these things--Templeton spent his life as an investor “going against the flow.” Or “saying Yes to No,” as I like to phrase it… In September 1939, when investors were gun-shy about equities, Templeton started his career by borrowing $10,000 and staking his future on 100 stocks that were trading for less than a dollar. All but four turned a profit. Much later, he garnered considerable fame around the circles of Princeton Theological Seminary when, as chair of the board, he pulled a large amount of the PTS’s considerable investments out the stock market before the crash in October 1987. The Economist reports that he foresaw our current housing crash as early as 2003.

“Sir John” (who was knighted twenty-one years ago by Queen Elizabeth) seemed always to be prescient about upcoming trends—he also knew when to Say Yes—a quality that naturally made him an exquisite investor, for sure, but also a visionary in philanthropic work. He set up the Templeton Foundation in 1987 to engage, among other topics, the connection between religion and contemporary science. Such work uncovers the treasure trove of scholarly research that connects the two, as well as the places where significant change and reassessment need to occur. He could not have foreseen, though perhaps he intuited, the rise of New Atheism through Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Steven Pinker—those evangelists for atheism that brandish the sword of science to cut religious faith at its roots. That much of their argumentation is more rhetoric than scholarship few would know without the kind of work the Templeton Foundation supported.

I’ve come to realize that it’s the Yes’s and the No’s that define a human life. I don’t need to agree every Yes and No that John Templeton uttered and lived out to be appreciated and instructed by the ones that were right.