In 2006, Dr. John M. Templeton, Jr., known as Jack, will become the new Chairman of the Board of the John Templeton Foundation. An internationally respected physician with a specialty in pediatric surgery, Dr. Templeton has been an active member of the planning committee and has served on the Foundation’s board of directors since its inception in 1987. Dr. Templeton and his father share a close relationship, often speaking by phone and communicating by fax. (It is not uncommon for four or five faxes to pass daily between Nassau and the Foundation’s headquarters in West Conshohocken, PA.) There is no doubt Sir John will be actively engaged in the mission of the foundation that bears his name. “He’ll continue to serve as one of 12 trustees. It’s not like he’s leaving to go sit on the beach,” said Dr. Templeton. The transition from father to son comes at an auspicious time for the Templeton Foundation. In recent years, it has invested over $250 million dollars in research and ideas connected to its unique mission. In late 2005, a gift by Sir John brought the Templeton Foundation endowment to $1 billion and with it exciting opportunities for expansion. In our interview, the soft-spoken Dr. Templeton explained the continuity of mission, his feelings about “donor intent” and how he got his father to start wearing a seat belt at the age of 80.

Your father is known to use the expression “new spiritual information” as a way to describe the purpose of his philanthropic work. What does that expression mean?

JACK TEMPLETON: The first emphasis should be on the word “new” which is to ask if there is a new understanding we can locate in the spiritual domain that we don’t yet appreciate. We don’t want to assume that everything we know from the past is the be-all, end-all, but rather that through scientific research we can come up with new insights into love, forgiveness, generosity, and so on. More than anything else, I see the Foundation’s work as about discovery.

Q: What’s a good example?

JACK TEMPLETON: Ten years ago we decided that the theme of forgiveness would be a good pilot project for the Foundation. And indeed it has had an overwhelming, transformative impact in establishing the field of forgiveness, both in research and in application as a mainstream endeavor. Today, there are people who devote their academic lives, or their clinical lives, to the field of forgiveness. In this instance we’ve been a philanthropic catalyst, which is exactly what we want to be.

Q: Is the goal of the Templeton Foundation to reconcile the worlds of science and religion?

JACK TEMPLETON: I don’t think so. Most scientists believe they are understanding the truth of the universe when they’re looking in their telescope, or the truth of cellular life when they’re looking in their microscope. I think most people on the theological side feel they’re reaching for a truer understanding of divinity, of meaning and purpose. This does not mean the truth the theologian acquires is going to be acknowledged by the scientist, but they shouldn’t be thought of as enemies of one another. Instead, they should be thought of as complementary.

Q: Almost intertwining?

JACK TEMPLETON: In science the well-established concept of the big bang has extraordinary theological implications. That’s an example of the truth of one intertwining with the other, but it isn’t melding—it’s important to preserve the full integrity of each.

Q: The Dalai Lama wrote an essay in the Wall Street Journal stating that when science shows a theological precept of Buddhism to be wrong, factually wrong, then Buddhism must change its beliefs. Do you feel a similar stance must be taken when it comes to Christianity?

JACK TEMPLETON: Or with any faith. Yes, I agree.

Q: The Templeton Foundation is dedicated to influencing the world of ideas. Do you think that’s an unusually tough assignment for a foundation in the 21st century?

JACK TEMPLETON: I think ideas are ultimately the most transforming force in the world. For the Foundation to be of sufficient benefit that we can affect people’s
assessment of their values, and how they look at things, is personally very motivating for me.

Q: Firmly in the realm of ideas . . .

Yes. I’ll give you an example. We know all sorts of scientific things about how to keep people healthy, around wellness, but there is very little understanding of how people’s world-views are affected by what they believe. There are tremendous gaps in connecting the content of one’s thought to their behavior. Right now, many people would say, well, isn’t all religion just having the same effect? I don’t think we’ve analyzed that. We don’t know what the impacts are of different concepts of God. What difference does it make in a person’s life, and therefore the choices they make, if their God is a stern, rule maker, as opposed to a God that is the source of love and emanates love? Does your perception of God change how you treat other people? Does that change your sense of purpose?

Q: You are what you believe . . .

Correct. If you believe God loved you enough to give you life, and that you have a purpose,  then even if you may not know that purpose right now, you are motivated to find  that purpose to your life. If you feel that you may have an important purpose, then you’ll probably do practical things like buckling up when you get in a car.  

Q: Do you buckle up?

JACK TEMPLETON: Yes, but it took me until Dad was 80 years old to get him to buckle up. As a traumatologist, I found that if you’re ejected from a car, you have eight times greater chance of being killed, so if you buckled up, then you’re going to be protected. I told this to Dad and he said, “But I am 80 years old.
I’ll never be in a crash.”

Q: You couldn’t talk him into it?

No, not then but one day, out of despair, I talked to Dad about one of the things that can happen to people who are in a car crash.  If they’re not buckled up they hurtle forward and their head hits the dashboard and windshield. Thanks to modern medicine we can save a few lives only for them to be left as a brain cripple. They can’t work, they can’t think, and yet they go on for decades and he said, “You mean I may be a brain cripple? Well then I’ll buckle up!”

Q: You finally got his attention.

Yes, because the thing he most reveres is the brain. So without intending to, I touched his button of relevance. And that’s what we’re trying to do at the Foundation. By working in the world of ideas we’re touching the buttons of relevance.

Q: The Foundation gives away about $60 million a year.

JACK TEMPLETON: That’s right.

Q: Do you see that number changing under your leadership?

JACK TEMPLETON: It’s not up to me, its driven by the Foundation’s charter. As such that number will soon increase. Over time my father and I both see the asset base as building so the Foundation can do more and more in the years to come. Our mission is about discovery and transformation. That’s a never-ending mission!