John Templeton Foundation awards $2.8 million to examine origins of biological complexity

The mechanisms driving the process of evolution have always been subject to rigorous scientific debate. Growing in intensity and scope, this debate currently spans a broad range of disciplines including archaeology, biochemistry, computer modeling, genetics & development and philosophy.

A recent $2.8 million grant from the John Templeton Foundation to the Cambridge Templeton Consortium is providing the resources for further investigation into this complex and fascinating area. The funds will support 18 new grant awards to scientists, social scientists and philosophers examining how complexity has emerged in biological systems.

Attracting 150 applications, the grant process has generated much interest from a wide range of disciplines. Unique in the interdisciplinary nature of their applicants, the Cambridge Consortium grants will encourage and enable high quality research that approaches the issue from many angles, and will also sponsor collaborative work by people from different academic specialties. All of the work will study how biological systems (molecular, cellular, social etc) become more complex as they evolve.

"This is clearly an emerging area of science, and we are pleased that these grants are specifically aimed at encouraging work that would not easily fall under the parameters of any other grant-awarding body," says Consortium Chairman, Professor Derek Burke.

Questions to be addressed by the projects include:

  • Why are biologists so afraid of asking 'why' questions, when physicists do it all the time?
  • Can experiments using a digital evolutionary model answer why intelligence evolved, but artificial intelligence has been so hard to build?
  • What lessons can rock art and material remains teach us about the development of human self-awareness?
  • Can the geometric ordering of specific sheets of cells throw light on the questions currently being raised about design in nature?
  • What principles allow individuals to develop social and colonial organizations?

Among the institutions receiving grants from the Cambridge Templeton Consortium are Duke University, Harvard University Medical School, University of California, San Francisco, University of Cambridge, UK, and Australian National University.

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Formed by the John Templeton Foundation, The Cambridge Templeton Consortium was assembled for the purpose of selecting and evaluating proposals submitted under the "Emergence of Biological Complexity Initiative." Chairing the Consortium is Professor Derek Burke, Former Vice Chancellor of the University of East Anglia. Additional members include Dr. Jonathan Doye and Dr. Ard Louis, Department of Chemistry, University of Cambridge, Professor Simon Conway Morris, FRS, Department of Earth Sciences, University of Cambridge, Professor Graeme Barker, FBA and Dr. Chris Scarre, McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge.

The mission of the John Templeton Foundation is to pursue new insights at the boundary between theology and science through a rigorous, open-minded and empirically focused methodology, drawing together talented representatives from a wide spectrum of fields of expertise. Founded in 1987, the Foundation annually provides more than $60 million in funding on behalf of work in human sciences and character development, science and theology research, as well as free enterprise programs and awards worldwide. For more information about the Templeton Foundation, go to www.templeton.org.

Notes to Editors
To arrange interviews with any of the Directors of the Cambridge Templeton Consortium, or to obtain a full list of grants and names of recipients, please contact:
Jacquie Storey
Cambridge Publications
e-mail: helpdesk@cambridge-templeton-consortium.org
Phone/fax: 44-122-333-3438

A full list of grants and names of recipients is also available on the website www.cambridge-templeton-consortium.org


Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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