Rod Dreher and the Templeton “bribe”

[ Mon. Aug. 2. 2010 ]

When I claimed that the John Templeton Foundation was engaged in bribing journalists, I didn’t mean that they directly paid off those journalists for writing articles that blurred the lines between science and faith.  It’s nothing so crass as that. What I meant was that Templeton creates a climate in which journalists who take a certain line in their writings can expect sizable monetary and career rewards:

As I said, The Templeton Foundation is smart—or rather wily.  They realize that few people, especially underpaid journalists and overworked academics, are immune to the temptation of dosh, and once those people get hooked on the promise of money and prestige, they forever have a stall in the Templeton stable. And, in the hopes of future Templeton funding,  perhaps they’ll continue to write pieces congenial to the Foundation’s mission.

It’s a subtle way of using writers to promulgate your own views, though of course none of those writers would ever admit that they had been bought off.

Rod Dreher is an example of how the Templeton system works.  Dreher was a columnist at the Dallas Morning News, and author of Crunchy Cons (2006), a book about those conservatives who think as righties and live as lefties.  Last year, Dreher won a Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellowship, one of Templeton’s most important vehicles for conflating science and faith. Since he got his fellowship, Dreher has written not only for the Dallas paper, but also on beliefnet, a religion/sprirituality website. His columns have pretty much been aligned with the Templeton Foundation’s own views.

Last August, for example, either at or near the end of his Fellowship, Dreher wrote a piece for the Dallas Morning News describing his wonderful experience at Cambridge, decrying “atheist fundamentalism,” and asserting that the horrors of Nazi Germany were part of “atheism’s savage legacy.”  He then touted a NOMA-like solution:

We ought to reject the shibboleth, advocated by both religious and secular fundamentalists, that religion and science are doomed to be antagonists. They are both legitimate ways of knowing within their limited spheres and should both complement and temper each other. The trouble comes when one tries to assert universal hegemony over the other. . .

Contrary to the biases of our time, the importance of science does not exceed that of art and religion. As the poet Wendell Berry writes, the sacredness of life “cannot be proved. It can only be told or shown.” Fortunate are those whose minds are free enough to recognize it.

This kind of stuff is like cream to the cats at Templeton.  How they must have licked their whiskers when they read it!

In a beliefnet column posted last week, Dreher decried the coming “Age of Wonder” touted by physicist Freeman Dyson,” in which science may play an increasingly important role in our life:

This, in the end, is why science and religion have to engage each other seriously. Without each other, both live in darkness, and the destruction each is capable of is terrifying to contemplate — although I daresay you will not find a monk or a rabbi prescribing altering the genetic code of living organisms for the sake of mankind’s artistic amusement. What troubles me, and troubles me greatly, about the techno-utopians who hail a New Age of Wonder is their optimism uncut by any sense of reality, which is to say, of human history. In the end, what you think of the idea of a New Age of Wonder depends on what you think of human nature. I give better than even odds that this era of biology and computers identified by [Freeman] Dyson and celebrated by the Edge folks will in the end turn out to have been at least as much a Dark Age as an era of Enlightenment. I hope I’m wrong. I don’t think I will be wrong.

Over at Pharyngula, P. Z. Myers took apart Dreher’s arguments against biotechnology, giving a dozen examples of Dreher’s ignorance and misstatement.  And although Dreher wrote

The truth of the matter is that I turned up in Cambridge knowing a lot about religion, but not much about science. What I saw and heard during those two-week seminars, and what I learned from my Templeton-subsidized research that summer (I designed my own reading program, which compared Taoist and Eastern Christian views of the body and healing) opened my mind to science. It turned out that I didn’t know what I didn’t know until I went on the fellowship.

it appears that he still doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.

On Sept. 26 of last year, five days before Templeton started accepting applications for their journalism fellowships, Dreher promoted the Templeton Journalism Fellowships on belief.net, encouraging people to apply.

On November 30 of last year, Dreher announced that he was leaving the Dallas Morning News to become director of publications at the John Templeton Foundation. That’s where he is now. He’s still publishing on beliefnet, though, where, a week ago, he wrote a heated column attacking my contention that Templeton bribes journalists.  It’s the usual stuff—outraged assertions that journalists could be bought, attacks on “atheist fundamentalists,” and what Dreher calls a “brave, contrarian position” that we should all be “nice” to each other.   You can read it for yourself, and I urge you to do so.

The curious thing, though, is that while decrying the idea that Templeton “buys off” journalists, Dreher is himself a beneficiary of Templeton’s practice of rewarding those who, after entering the system, perform well.  Dreher was a journalism fellow just last year. Other journalism fellows have been promoted to the advisory committee for the fellowships.  And several members of the Templeton Foundation’s Board of Advisors have, after their service, gone on to win the million-pound Templeton Prize itself.  The lesson, which seems transparently obvious, is that if you clamber aboard the Templeton gravy train and keep repeating that science and faith are complementary “ways of knowing,” good things will happen to you.

Oh, one last point.  The Templeton website says this about Dreher’s credentials:

A seven-time Pulitzer Prize nominee, Rod has spent most of the past two decades as an opinion journalist, having worked as a film and television critic and news columnist at the New York Post and other newspapers. He has appeared on National Public Radio, ABC News, Fox News Channel, CNN, and MSNBC.

That seemed odd to me.  Seven-time Pulitzer nominee?  That’s big stuff!  But a bit of sleuthing showed that it’s not what it seems.  Nearly any journalist can be a Pulitzer “nominee” for journalism.  All somebody has to do is fill out a form, submit a few of the “nominee’s” articles, and write a $50 check to Columbia University/Pulitzer Prizes. As the Pulitzer website says:

By February 1, the Administrator’s office in the Columbia School of Journalism has received more than 1,300 journalism entries. Those entries may be submitted by any individual based on material coming from a text-based United States newspaper or news site that publishes at least weekly during the calendar year and that adheres to the highest journalistic principles.

Editors do this all the time for their writers, but you don’t have to be an editor to nominate someone: anybody can do it.

And the thing is, the Pulitzer organization does not recognize the category of “nominee” for those who get nominated this way—it recognizes the category of “nominated finalist,” those three individuals whose submissions make the cut and get considered for the Pulitzer Prize itself. The Pulitzer organization, in fact, discourages the use of the term “nominee,” presumably because any newspaper or news site journalist who has a friend with fifty bucks can be a nominee.  From their website:

22. What does it mean to be a Pulitzer Prize Winner or a Pulitzer Prize Nominated Finalist?

  • A Pulitzer Prize Winner may be an individual, a group of individuals, or a newspaper’s staff.
  • Nominated Finalists are selected by the Nominating Juries for each category as finalists in the competition. The Pulitzer Prize Board generally selects the Pulitzer Prize Winners from the three nominated finalists in each category. The names of nominated finalists have been announced only since 1980. Work that has been submitted for Prize consideration but not chosen as either a nominated finalist or a winner is termed an entry or submission. No information on entrants is provided.

Pulitzer also says this:

The three finalists in each category are the only entries in the competition that are recognized by the Pulitzer office as nominees.

I checked the Pulitzer list of nominated finalists, and I didn’t find Dreher’s name on it.  I guess Templeton is calling Dreher a “nominee” against the recommendations of the Pulitzer organization.  If I’m right here, Dreher and Templeton may want to correct his credentials.

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