William Grassie of the Metanexus Institute has issued a press release on the nature of the relationship between Metanexus, the Templeton Foundation, and the Intelligent Design Movement (and Bill Dembski in particular). Some choice excerpts:
In 1998 and 1999, under the auspices of the Philadelphia Center for Religion and Science (PCRS), now known as the Metanexus Institute, I managed a grant program for the John Templeton Foundation. The project was advertised under the title “Research, Writing, and Publications Exploring the Constructive Interaction of Science and Religion” and offered seven $100,000 grants. The project was designed and implemented at the request of Sir John Templeton and designated three-topical areas for funding: Evidence of Purpose, Human Creativity and Understanding, and Concepts of God. There were some 400 letters-of-intent received in January 1999, from which twenty-eight were invited to submit full proposals in May 1999.
Seven grants were awarded in September 1999, including one to William Dembski for his proposed book Being as Communion. Dembski has an impressive curriculum vitae, including a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Chicago, a Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and a Masters of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary. His dense book The Design Inference (Dembski, 1998) launched a highly technical debate among academics about information theory, complexity, and evolution. At the request of Dembski, the grant was received on his behalf by the Discovery Institute4, rather than Baylor University, where he had been hired to serve as the director of the newly created Michael Polyani Institute in October 1999.
The judges involved in selecting the seven grantees were John Polkinghorne, Cambridge University; Philip Hefner, Zygon Journal; and Lawrence Sullivan, then director of Harvard University Center on World Religions. The Templeton Foundation played no role in the judging and selection process. Dembski’s book proposal set out to develop a scientific and theological reflection on the elusive nature of information:
“Being as Communion weds specified complexity to Shannon’s theory of information. An immediate consequence of this marriage is a conservation law for complex specified information. According to this law, undirected natural causes can transmit but cannot originate complex specified information. This law suggests that a fundamental teleology underlies the natural world. It follows that complex specified information, though instantiated in the natural world, is not reducible to the natural world. This is precisely the opening one needs for a relational ontology of communion: To be is to be in communion, and to be in communion is to exchange information. Being as Communion argues that this view makes not only good scientific sense, but also good metaphysical and theological sense.”
The judges were skeptical about whether a law for complex specified information could be formalized and also shared concerns about the emerging Intelligent Design movement, but were intrigued by the metaphysical and theological treatment proposed by Dembski. Relational ontologies are not altogether new in metaphysics, see for instance A.N. Whitehead, but an information centric approach seemed new and promising.
In 2002, Dembski published No Free Lunch and requested a second installation payment on the Book Grant from the Templeton Foundation (Dembski, 2002). In correspondence with him, he was told by me that this book did not fulfill his obligation to publish a work on metaphysics and theology as detailed in his book proposal entitled Being as Communion. That book has still not been produced.
So, yes, a grant was given by to Dembski, but not for anything he has yet written. The press release goes on:
This book grant was launched at an early stage in both the evolution of the John Templeton Foundation and also the evolution of the Intelligent Design Movement. There were certainly sympathies towards aspects of the ID arguments and interest in pushing the technical and theological sides of their inquiry, but as the ID Theory became a political movement, the John Templeton Foundation began to slowly--perhaps too slowly--to disassociate itself from the Discovery Institute, William Dembski, and other protagonists in the debate.
As Ed Brayton notes, "That's the most honest statement I've seen yet on the subject. Yes, they had high hopes for ID at the start, but over time it became obvious to them that ID is a PR campaign, not a serious scientific project. And they are right to disassociate from it." And why did they do so? Grassie continues:
[W]e at Metanexus grew tired of the increasingly politicized debates about Intelligent Design Theory. Proponents were clearly engaged in a political campaign to change public education. While the erudite advocates were proposing what might be called “Intelligently Designed Evolution,” the core of the movement were mostly Young Earth Creationists. The genealogy of the movement was clearly motivated not by a technical scientific debate, but by a longstanding religious and ideological concern to overthrow evolution. The logic of the ID movement is essentially that evolution = Darwinism = materialism = atheism = immorality = nihilism. This is not a necessary correlation.
And in his conclusion Grassie notes:
One can legitimately debate the meaning of evolution and how it occurs. These are engaging and difficult issues in science, philosophy, and the theology of nature.16 On the other hand, it is pretty stupid to choose as one’s allies those who deny the overwhelming accumulation of evidence in favor of a long Earth history and the transmutation of species.