Over at GetReligion, Mark Stricherz has been perusing the obits for Sir John Templeton, the investment genius and philanthropist whose wallet singlehandedly (who singlewalletedly?) revived the Victorian enterprise of reconciling science and religion. Mark is upset that while a number of them note that Sir John’s grantmaking drew some sharp criticism, not to say secularist contempt, no effort was made to say what exactly was wrong with it. Wrapping up his post, he writes:
Don’t get me wrong. Maybe Templeton’s awards and prizes were hokum, although I doubt it given the roster of its past winners. But these obituaries needed to explain why it was so.
By way of partial explanation, I offer this two-year-old essay on Harvard cardiologist Herbert Benson’s Templeton-funded Study of the Therapeutic Effects of Intercessory Prayer in Cardiac Bypass Surgery. One can think what one wants of the study, which demonstrated that intercessory prayer has a slight negative effect on patient recovery. The essay makes clear that Sir John was, as much as anything else, a determined publicist of his intellectual passion, and not overscrupulous about the accuracy of what was being publicized. It also suggests that journalists are a good deal more susceptible to the kind of pro-religion propaganda that he underwrote than the GetReligion folks are prepared to acknowledge, dedicated as they are to the proposition that the media have a congenital tendency to shortchange religion. Perhaps it’s time to give some attention to the occasions when the media get religion a little too well.