Francisco J. Ayala, an evolutionary geneticist and former AAAS president who long has argued that science and religion can comfortably co-exist, is the recipient of the 2010 Templeton Prize.
The John Templeton Foundation awards the annual prize, now worth $1.53 million, to “a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works.”
Ayala, 76, a naturalized American, moved to New York from Spain in 1961 for graduate study in evolution and genetics. He currently is the Donald Bren Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of California, Irvine. His research on parasitic protozoa has opened new approaches to the understanding and treatment of malaria and other diseases.
Ayala opposes the entanglement of science and religion. He was an expert witness in a 1981 court case that overturned an Arkansas law mandating the teaching of biblical creationism alongside evolution.
“Even as he has warned against religion’s intrusion into science, Ayala, a former Dominican priest, also champions faith as a unique and important window to understanding matters of purpose, value and the meaning of life,” the Templeton Foundation said in a 25 March news release.
In a prepared statement, Ayala said there is no inherent conflict between science and 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.”
Ayala served as president of AAAS in 1995 and chairman of the board in 1996. During his term as president, the AAAS Dialogue on Science, Ethics and Religion was founded.
He also served as a member of President Bill Clinton’s Committee of Advisers on Science and Technology. He won the AAAS’s Scientific Freedom and Responsibility Award in 1987 and its 150th Anniversary Leadership Medal in 1998. He has won numerous other awards and honorary degrees, including the National Medal of Science in 2001. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences.
For more on the award, see the Templeton announcement.