Francisco Ayala, UC Irvine professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and a CCST senior fellow, has won the 2010 Templeton Prize, which is awarded to a living person who has made an “exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension.”
“Professor Ayala has earned a very distinctive honor that recognizes the broader significance of science,” said CCST Council Chair Charles Kennel. “We are tremendously pleased for him.”
The Templeton Prize was announced on March 25 at a news conference at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., by the John Templeton Foundation, which has awarded it since 1973. Valued at one million pounds sterling (about $1.53 million), the Prize honors a living person who has made exceptional contributions to affirming life’s spiritual dimension. HRH Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, will award the Prize at a private ceremony at Buckingham Palace on May 5.
Ayala, one of the nation’s leading biologists and one of the original CCST senior fellows, is the Donald Bren professor of biological sciences, professor of philosophy and director of the Bren Fellows Program at the University of California, Irvine. He has pioneered the use of molecular biology methods in the investigation of evolutionary processes; his research has led to a new understanding of the origin of species, the pervasiveness of genetic diversity, and rates of evolution, among other concepts.
He has also devoted more than 30 years to speaking about issues concerning science and society, ethics and religion, asserting that both science and faith are damaged when either invades the proper domain of the other. A former Dominican priest, Ayala has equated efforts to block religious intrusions into science with “the survival of rationality in this country.” To that end, in 1981 he served as an expert witness in a pivotal U.S. federal court challenge that led to the overturning of an Arkansas law that mandated the teaching of creationism alongside evolution.
However, Ayala has 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 is essential to human understanding.”
Besides holding professorships in biology, philosophy, logic, and philosophy of biology (a field he helped establish), Ayala is also University Professor, the highest rank within the California university system and the only person with that title at UCI.
CCST Council member Susan Bryant, UCI’s vice chancellor of research, stated that Ayala, with his passion for science, his deeply religious roots, and his profound understanding of evolution, has filled an important niche at the intersection of science, philosophy and religion. “The Templeton Prize is a great honor and a very fitting recognition of Professor Ayala’s multidimensional contributions to science and society,” said Bryant.