Billionaire investor John Templeton, who died Tuesday at age 95, might have had more money than God, but he knew better than to mistake wealth for wisdom.
“We should admit that no human being has ever known one percent of the infinity of God. We are terribly ignorant,” Templeton told me in 2002.
Humility is a wonderful trait in a billionaire, or any person of faith. How do we find more of it? Templeton spent a good deal of his fortune trying to figure that out.
The Wall Street Legend was the first and only billionaire I ever met. I interviewed him in his hometown, Winchester, Tenn., better known as the birthplace of Dinah Shore.
I wanted to ask him for a stock tip. He wanted to talk about science and religion. Just my luck.
“When new discoveries are made about science, do we not merely discover more about God?” he said. “All of nature reveals something of the Creator.”
I’ve always thought so. Like Templeton, I’ve never thought of science and faith as rivals. Science can tell us how, faith can tell us why. Science deals with facts, faith deals with truths.
But I didn’t grow up in the shadow of the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial, which pitted religion against science a mere four counties east of where Templeton was being raised in the Cumberland Presbyterian church.
Templeton said he was fascinated by the trial, but he was equally enthralled by the natural wonders around him. He began to wonder Why couldn’t God create an evolving universe that operated on both physical and spiritual laws.
After he made his fortune, he set out to make a contribution. In 1987, he established the John Templeton Foundation to encourage the use of scientific methods to discover more about the spiritual realm. Foundation grants are being used to study such virtues as forgiveness, gratitude and humility.
What Templeton wanted more than money was meaning. What he wanted more than certainty was wisdom — knowledge tempered by humility.
“I grew up as a Presbyterian,” he told Business Week in 2005. “Presbyterians thought the Methodists were wrong. Catholics thought all Protestants were wrong. The Jews thought the Christians were wrong. So what I am financing is humility. I want people to realize you shouldn’t think you know it all.”
That’s more valuable than any stock tip.