If you think evolution is unrelated to church work, some very rich people disagree. They’re spending millions to make the church an evolution-friendly place.
Nearly every hour of every day, headlines flash across major TV news channels telling the story of passionate men and women driven to change the world. From Sara Greenberg-Hassan, a mother in Minnesota raising funds to buy lunches for low-income kids, to thousands marching against abortion in Washington, DC, our culture wants to be heard. When it comes to the creation-evolution debate, in contrast, many of the organizations most dedicated to undermining the Bible’s teachings in the church aren’t picketing on national TV or launching social media fundraisers for little kids. Instead, they prefer to work quietly behind the scenes.
The John Templeton Foundation is one such organization. Its tendrils are everywhere, seeking to influence the church both directly and indirectly to embrace a view contrary to God’s Word. With a bank account of more than three billion dollars, this nonprofit organization is known for its philanthropic efforts to bring scientists and religious leaders together. Less well known is how it has been lavishing millions of dollars—through both secular and religious fronts—to advance belief in and teaching of evolution in the church.
The organization officially claims to bring people together as “a philanthropic catalyst for discoveries relating to the big questions of human purpose and ultimate reality.” But look closely at its mission statement. The organization supports “research on subjects ranging from complexity, evolution, and infinity, to creativity, forgiveness, love, and free will. We encourage civil, informed dialogue among scientists, philosophers, and theologians and between such subjects and the public at large, for the purposes of definitional clarity and new insights.”
On the surface, it sounds innocent. John Templeton, founder and billionaire who made his money selling globally diversified mutual funds to investors, established the foundation in 1987, supposedly to promote scientific research about basic human problems. Although not a well-known philanthropist at the time, he passionately believed science could resolve religious conflict. Notice, however, what he meant by “science”—evolution.
Although he was a Presbyterian elder and active in his denomination, Templeton said he had a “humble approach” to theology. He declared little is known about the divine through holy books and present-day theology because it has failed to engage the real world of science, where all the answers lie. He predicted that “scientific revelations may be a gold mine for revitalizing religion in the 21st century.”
In his view, science, not religion, is where we can truly understand God and answer the challenges of the human condition. He called it science, anyway. But the science he promoted is evolution—a religious viewpoint about the origin of life that is built on unprovable assumptions, not observation. And it is contrary to the revealed history in the Bible, given to us by the God who was there and who passed down an eyewitness account of what happened.
Templeton came across as humble in regard to religion, which is disarming. In one interview, he said, “I grew up as a Presbyterian. Presbyterians thought the Methodists were wrong. Catholics thought all Protestants were wrong. The Jews thought the Christians were wrong. So, what I’m financing is humility. I want people to realize that you shouldn’t think you know it all.”
But think about the implications. He is calling on people to question the final authority and trustworthiness of the Word given to us by the Creator of the universe. That is not humility.
So far, the foundation has given away tens of millions of dollars in research grants and programs to bring together Christians and secular thinkers working for a variety of academic and scientific organizations. These grants are in addition to the annual $1.7 million Templeton Prize, given to honor a person who “has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension.”
After Templeton’s death in 2008, the foundation clarified its grant-making process to support five core areas. These include innocuous-sounding goals like promoting character development, freedom and free enterprise, exceptional cognitive talent and genius, and genetics. But the largest funding area is still science and “big questions.”
Through their life sciences donations, in particular, the foundation supports the spread of theistic evolution (the belief that the Bible is compatible with evolution from the big bang to humans). Nearly $5 million was granted to fund 11 projects between 2014 and 2016 at the Institute of Human Origins, a completely secular organization that studies and promotes human evolution and what it means to be human.
In addition to financing the research of evolutionary thinkers and organizations, the Templeton Foundation also spends loads of money to promote these ideas through Christian organizations. One organization primarily was kick-started with funds directly from Templeton. Grant money—$9.8 million and counting—flows into its coffers. Its name is BioLogos.
Since its founding in 2007, BioLogos has quickly grown to become the most influential Christian think tank that advocates evolution as God’s method for producing all the life on earth. The primary goal of its members is to convince fellow evangelical Christians to embrace evolution and an old earth. Throughout their mission statement they affirm “the belief that the Bible is the inspired and authoritative Word of God,” and yet at the same time, they make it clear that they believe evolution can and should be harmonized with the Bible.
That’s what makes them so dangerous. And that explains why the Templeton Foundation is so eager to support them. They say they have the same fundamental beliefs as other evangelicals, but in practice they encourage believers to reinterpret clearly revealed Scripture to line up with flawed human understanding about the origin of the universe and life on earth. This approach, taken to its logical conclusion, reinforces John Templeton’s original motto that science trumps revelation.
The man who founded BioLogos is the eminent Dr. Francis Collins, former director of the Human Genome Project, which completed sequencing the human genome in 2003. His book, The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief (2006), shared his own transition from atheism to a Christian belief, arguing that evolution is not in conflict with biblical faith but enhances faith. He presents an active, “caring” God who created the life-forms we see today through evolutionary processes (including millions of years of death, suffering, and disease).
The book’s success motivated Collins to start a website, where he asked philosophers and scientists to provide readers with answers to questions of science and faith. One financial supporter and content contributor to the original website was, not surprisingly, the Templeton Foundation.
Since evolution over millions of years contradicts the Genesis account of history, BioLogos has to reinterpret the Bible. Their mission statement says they “affirm evolutionary creation, recognizing God as the creator of life over billions of years.” That kind of thinking caught the eye of Templeton and its financial machine.
The only way to reach BioLogos’ conclusion is to reject the Bible’s supreme authority—giving priority to the claims of man’s word about the past instead of God’s Word. Their website makes no apologies for their view: “Many independent measurements have established that the earth and the universe are billions of years old.”
BioLogos, which survives in part on money from Templeton, spreads its bounty into the church. In 2009, 2010, and 2012, for instance, they organized—and Templeton funded, to the tune of half a million dollars—a Theology of Celebration conference in New York City, where 60 Christian thought leaders came by special invitation. The aim of this all-expenses-paid trip was supposedly to explore the possibilities for the origin of life, but in fact it excluded biblical creation from the list of alternatives.
Another initiative is the “Evolution and Christian Faith” campaign. As part of this effort, BioLogos has donated more than $3.6 million in grants to churches, parachurch groups, and academics. This money promotes evolution through the publication of hundreds of books, videos, and other teaching materials worldwide.
Templeton’s vision and endless stash of cash has spread to even the most unlikely of places. It includes prominent seminaries such as Wake Forest University School of Divinity, Columbia Theological Seminary, and Regent University School of Divinity (founded by evangelical Pat Robertson). Why would the Templeton Foundation target seminaries, and why would these religious teaching centers accept financial grants from an organization like this?
The outreach to seminaries began with a five-million-dollar donation to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), a secular science organization, to establish a program called Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion (DoSER). Begun in 1995, its aim is to foster communication between scientific and religious communities to create unity instead of dissension.
A major portion of more recent funding went to the “Science for Seminaries” program, from 2014 to 2016, which encouraged seminaries to promote the understanding of “science” among future religious leaders. But if you think this means studying the periodic table or photosynthesis, you are mistaken. The topic that matters most to the Templeton Foundation can be summarized in one word: evolution.
The Templeton influence extends to more than just liberal seminaries. One of the leading evangelical seminaries, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in the Chicago area, received a $3.4 million grant from the foundation in 2015. The grant, the largest in Trinity’s 118-year history, supports the school’s new “Evangelical Theology and the Doctrine of Creation Project.”
This multiyear study project will examine and develop the Christian doctrine of origins within evangelical theology. The initiative claims to pursue “Reading Genesis in an Age of Science, Affirming the Doctrine of Creation in an Age of Science, and Reclaiming Theological Anthropology in an Age of Science.” I submit that Trinity uses the word creation but really means “evolution over hundreds of millions of years.”
This project teaches scientists and theologians how to combine creation and evolution (so-called “science”) and then push these ideas on students (and the congregations they soon lead) through lectures, conferences, resources, websites, and sponsoring of research scholarships.
There seems no end to the creative ways the Templeton Foundation has found to spend its money to slip evolution into the church, some direct and others not so direct. Over $1 million was awarded to the Smithsonian’s Human Origins Program and the American Library Association, and even this was intended to penetrate the church.
They created a traveling exhibit on human evolution based on the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins at the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC. It didn’t just go to the big cities but also to small and mid-sized towns in America, and religious leaders from the community were invited to talks held at the same libraries where the exhibit was set up. The tour ended this spring.
The hope of the exhibit’s curator, Rick Potts, was to “spark a respectful and positive conversation across the country about what it means to be human and inspire people to contemplate their place in the natural world.” In other words, we need to contemplate that we are evolved from ape-like creatures!
We must all be on the lookout in our churches, denominations, educational materials, and even public libraries for both subtle and blatant efforts to advance causes contrary to the Bible.
Christians would be foolish to believe that no dark forces are working behind the scenes to undermine the gospel. God’s Word warns us to “walk circumspectly” (Ephesians 5:15). We must all be on the lookout, in our churches, denominations, educational materials, and even our public libraries, for both subtle and blatant efforts to advance causes contrary to the Bible.
John Templeton was a wealthy man driven by his passion to promote what he considered science but which was in fact evolution. He yearned to help mankind, but in reality, his initiatives drive people away from the one thing they need most—the message of the gospel of Jesus revealed in God’s Word and founded upon its true history.
The Bible’s history explains mankind’s real dilemma—rebellion against God. And it provides our only solution, the sacrifice of our Creator Jesus Christ, who became man, lived a sinless life, died in the place of sinners on the Cross, and rose again to provide eternal life to all who trust and receive Him as Savior.
We don’t learn these life-saving truths from science, since science is limited to describing the physical world. We know them because God recorded them for us in His Word, and we can trust what He says.
Those who have found this solution to the human condition, available only in Jesus Christ, should be challenged by Templeton’s example. He gave three billion dollars to promote a cause he believes in. Are we willing to dedicate ourselves even more passionately to the correct message?