Last year, Sir John Marks Templeton, the legendary 92-year-old global investor, made one big decision. He gave away $550 million, becoming the third-largest financial donor of 2004 after Microsoft's Bill Gates and investor Warren Buffet's wife, Susan.

A naturalized British citizen (and knight by grant of Elizabeth II), Templeton gave the money to his foundation, unique in its sustained focus on science and religion. These new funds propelled the John Templeton Foundation into the top 100 American foundations, with assets approaching $1 billion.

Over the decades, Templeton witnessed other foundations stray from their original charter or exercise poor stewardship. He wanted to avoid their mistakes. So first, he put into place stringent controls over budgets and grants to ensure that long after he's gone his foundation stays true to his vision for promoting spirituality, values, and a closer relationship between science and religion. Second, he put his 65-year-old surgeon son, John "Jack" Templeton, at the helm of the foundation, based in Pennsylvania.

The foundation's signature grant is the annual Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities (until 2001 known as the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion). This blockbuster gift of $1.5 million typically goes to a religious leader, scholar, or scientist. Mother Teresa, Billy Graham, and Chuck Colson were recipients, as was scientist-theologian John Polkinghorne in 2002.

The foundation also gives grants and awards of up to $40 million per year for conferences and science-religion research. Scholars, journalists, and major universities have received Templeton funds. In a typical year, it awards more than 100 grants. A longtime Presbyterian, ...

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