Does scientific knowledge contradict religious belief? Francisco J. Ayala, Templeton Prize 2010
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- Francisco J. Ayala awarded for public role in defending science practice and religious faith –
WASHINGTON, D.C., MARCH 25 – Francisco J. Ayala, an evolutionary geneticist and molecular biologist who has vigorously defended scientific theory from the influence of religious belief while also calling for mutual respect between the two, has won the world’s largest annual award, the £1million Templeton Prize.
Ayala, 76, a naturalised American and Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of California, Irvine, is an international authority on molecular evolution and genetics. Alongside his scientific work, he has devoted more than 30 years to explaining the difference between science and faith and asserting how both are undermined when mistakenly confused.
The Templeton Prize honours a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension and is in its 38th year. The announcement was made at the US National Academy of Sciences in Washington DC.
In a pre-prepared statement, Ayala forcefully denied that science contradicts religion. “If they are properly understood,” he said, “they cannot be in contradiction because science and religion concern different matters, and each are essential to human understanding.” Referring to Picasso’s Guernica, he noted that while science can assess the painting’s massive dimensions and pigments, only a spiritual view imparts a full appreciation of the horror depicted. Together, he explained, these two separate analyses reveal the totality of the masterpiece.
John M. Templeton, Jr., M.D., president and chairman of the John Templeton Foundation, praised Ayala’s research, scholarship, development of new schools of thought, and innovative assessments of some of the most fundamental questions of life. He recognised that his remarkable breadth and depth of analysis, focusing on genuine discovery, exemplified the design and purpose of the Prize programme founded by his late father, Sir John Templeton. Dr. Templeton said: “Ayala’s clear voice in matters of science and faith echoes the Foundation’s belief that evolution of the mind and truly open-minded inquiry can lead to real spiritual progress in the world.”
In nominating Ayala for the Prize, Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences, recounted the broad influence of Ayala’s scientific teaching and writings, including more than 1,000 papers and 35 books, adding, “A pervasive message of several of these publications is that science is a way of knowing, but it is not the only way. The significance and purpose of the world and human life, as well as matters concerning moral or religious values, transcend science.”
Ayala, whose groundbreaking research into single-celled disease-causing organisms may lead to cures for malaria and other serious illnesses, has equated efforts to block religious intrusions into science with “the survival of rationality.” A scientific advisor to Bill Clinton in the 1990s, Ayala served as an expert witness in a pivotal U.S. federal court challenge in 1981 that led to the overturning of an Arkansas law mandating the teaching of creationism alongside evolution. In 2001, George W. Bush awarded him the National Medal of Science.
Even as he has warned against religion’s intrusion into science, Ayala, a former Dominican priest, has also championed faith as a unique and important window to understanding matters of purpose, values and the meaning of life.
This respect for the rightful, if separate, roles of science and faith has allowed Ayala, a former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), to consider questions such as “Does scientific knowledge contradict religious belief?” and “Is morality derived from biological evolution?” that draw upon each discipline and may bring new insights that advance human endeavour.
Three years after the Arkansas court challenge, Ayala was asked by the National Academy of Sciences to serve as principal author of Science, Evolution, and Creationism, a categorical and definitive refutation of creationism and so-called intelligent design. Follow-up editions were published in 1999 and 2008.
In 1994, President Bill Clinton appointed Ayala to the U.S. President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology. While president of the AAAS from 1993 to 1996, he developed its “Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion.” He is a member of the US National Academy of Sciences and a foreign member of the scientific academies of, among others, Spain, Russia, Italy, Mexico and Serbia.
The Templeton Prize each year honours a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works. It will be officially awarded to Ayala by HRH Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, at a private ceremony at Buckingham Palace on Wednesday 5th May.
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Background on the laureate:
1. Born in Madrid in 1934, shortly before the Spanish Civil War started, Ayala grew up within the restrictions of the Franco era. Though his family was largely involved with business and finance, Ayala showed an early interest in science that was cultivated by the priests who taught him
2. In 1960 he, too, became a priest, but soon decided to leave the priesthood – and the intellectual repression of Franco’s Spain – to attend Columbia University in New York in 1961
3. At Columbia, he studied under Theodosius Dobzhansky, considered among the 20th century’s most distinguished geneticists and evolutionary biologists, who saw Ayala as a student with potential to lead the field’s next generation.
4. Under Dobzhansky’s tutelage, he received his Ph.D. from Columbia in 1964 with a thesis that established that rates of evolution depend on the genetic variation of a species.
5. It was the first of many discoveries that placed Ayala among the pioneers of genetic research in the second half of the 20th century, including his proof that the parasites responsible for Chagas, an often fatal disease afflicting millions of people living in the tropics, reproduced not sexually but by cloning.
6. This led to similar discoveries about the parasites that cause malaria and other tropical diseases, opening up new approaches to potential vaccines.
7. Ayala also developed highly-accurate ways to read genetic clocks to determine the timing of precise steps in the evolution of a species over millions or even billions of years.
8. Recently, he and colleagues determined that malaria was likely first transmitted from chimpanzees to humans a mere five or six thousand years ago, possibly through a single mosquito.
9. In January 2010 he co-authored a paper establishing that gorillas and chimps may now serve as reservoirs for the parasites that cause human malaria, so that even if a vaccine is developed, humans will always be vulnerable to re-infection.
10. Ayala holds professorships in biology, philosophy, logic, and philosophy of biology (a field he helped establish), at the University of California, Irvine. In addition, he is also University Professor, the highest rank within the California university system and the only person with that title at Irvine.
11. Ayala has two children, Francisco José and Carlos Alberto, from his first marriage. He married his second wife, Dr. Hana Lostakova, an ecologist, in 1985.
12. After moving to California in the 1970s, Ayala purchased a weekend property with a vineyard. Following several expansions, he now supplies major wineries with grapes from more than 2,400 acres of fields in San Joaquin and Sacramento counties.
Background on the Prize
2. The Templeton Prize is a cornerstone of the John Templeton Foundation’s international efforts to serve as a philanthropic catalyst for discovery in areas engaging life’s biggest questions, ranging from explorations into the laws of nature and the universe to questions on the nature of love, gratitude, forgiveness, and creativity
3. The Templeton Prize aims to identify “entrepreneurs of the spirit”, outstanding individuals who have devoted their talents to expanding notions or understanding about ultimate purpose and reality