DECEASED: Billionaire philanthropist Sir John Templeton died yesterday in the Bahamas at age 95. He was a controversial figure among many scientists for his funding of studies that sought to find common ground in science and religion. Image: Templeton Foundation
Sir John M. Templeton, a billionaire investor and philanthropist who poured hundreds of millions of dollars into efforts to reconcile science and religion, died of pneumonia yesterday in the Bahamas. He was 95.
Born in Tennessee, Templeton was a Rhodes scholar who worked his way through Yale University during the Great Depression. He made his first big investment in 1939, buying low-priced stock in 104 companies—34 of them in bankruptcy. He reaped large profits when he sold the stock a few years later, according to The New York Times.
He went on to become a pioneer in global investing and eventually founded the Templeton family of mutual funds, which he sold in 1992 for $440 million. Templeton gave up his American citizenship in the 1960s, became a British subject and moved to the Bahamas, a well-known tax haven.
Raised a Presbyterian but professing an open mind on religion, he founded the Templeton Prize in 1972 as a kind of Nobel award for "progress in religion." The first recipient was Mother Teresa, who in 1973 received $85,000 in prize money for her charity work with patients suffering from leprosy in India.
The most recent prize of $1.6 million was awarded in March to Michael (Michal) Heller, a Polish cosmologist and Catholic priest, for "strikingly original concepts on the origin and cause of the universe."
In 1987 Templeton established a foundation in his name to administer the prize and to support research on religious themes such as free will, spirituality and "ultimate reality."
The Templeton Foundation, endowed at $1.5 billion, was the primary sponsor of a three-year, $2.4-million study to assess the effects of prayer on healing in 1,800 patients undergoing heart bypass surgery. Researchers found that patients had a slight disadvantage if they knew they were in others' prayers.
The Foundation recently circulated a pamphlet entitled, Does science make belief in God obsolete? in which prominent scientists and others responded to the question, part of the Foundation's "Big Questions" series.
Critics charged that by attempting to reconcile what the late evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould referred to as the "nonoverlapping magisteria" of science and religion, Templeton was twisting scientific concepts in religion's name.
"This is a sad event, since from all I've heard from those who met him, he was a very nice fellow," biologist P. Z. Myers, a fierce opponent of creationism, wrote on his blog, Pharyngula. "It's just too bad that he threw so much money away into a fruitless and pointless endeavor that does nothing but prop up belief in unreality."
Others supported Templeton's work. He was knighted in 1987 by Queen Elizabeth II for his philanthropy.