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NAS under fire as Templeton Prize goes to Francisco Ayala

ayala-highres-press.jpgPosted for Janet Fang

Evolutionary geneticist Francisco Ayala has been declared the winner of this year’s Templeton Prize. But the £1,000,000 prize for those making an “exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension” has once again provoked debate, with some researchers condemning the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) for hosting the award announcement.

The prize is awarded by the foundation established by the late John Templeton to investigate “life’s biggest questions”. This has generally focused on the overlap between science and religion, to the chagrin of some atheist scientists.

This year’s winner was ordained as a Dominican priest, and is currently professor of biology and philosophy at the University of California, Irvine.

“Science and religion are two pillars on which American society rests,” says Ayala. “Properly understood, they cannot be in contradiction because they deal with different subjects. They are like two windows through with we look at the world.”

At the prize announcement, past-NAS president Bruce Alberts called Ayala “the leading crusader against damage and confusion caused when religious movements attempt to substitute meanings for scientific understanding”.

He adds, “On the other extreme, some scientists claim that science disproves religion” and Ayala has shown that both need to be respected but in different spheres of thought.

Others are less pleased with the award, and especially with the involvement of the NAS.

“The Templeton Foundation is working in good faith. They’re in favour of science but want to see a reconciliation with religion. That’s not evil and crackpotty, but it’s incorrect. It’s a mistake,” says cosmologist Sean Carroll from the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

“I’m not asking NAS to put out an official statement of atheism. They don’t have to take a stand either way, but the academy is best served by just staying away.”

Others have been even more strident, with Richard Dawkins earlier this week saying the NAS “has brought ignominy on itself” by hosting the award announcement.

Image: Ayala at Templeton news conference / Mark Finkenstaedt


  1. Report this comment

    mohammad afzal said:

    it was a right choice to select fj ayala for the templeton as none deseved it better than him.i am a staunch supporter of ayala of his scientific and religious work.i teach his tex in classroom as he has done an excellant job. as a muslim i feel ayala has shown a beacon light in

  2. Report this comment

    spisskyhrad said:

    Ayala comments about birth canals and certain human design flaws apparently give him the justification God is pretty inept at designing humans.

    It is hard for me to reconcile this criticism with the Leviticus rule to wash your hands written over 3000 years ago. Not adopted by physicians until the 1890’s it is still considered the single greatest advance in the history of medicine.

    I am still not clear why Leviticus also called for no pork. Too bad this award couldn’t have gone to a scientist more interested in evaluating Biblical scientific issues rather than one that has already decided God is a lousy engineer & designer.

  3. Report this comment

    stann said:

    In America, an overwhelming majority do not accept evolution and our children are some of the poorest in math and science. The UK is also embracing psuedoscience with the death of more “liberal” religion to evangelicals and Muslims. Why are we now inviting MORE of a science-mesh?

  4. Report this comment

    Leo said:

    This award has annoyed both the religious fundamentalists and atheist fundamentalists.

    By ‘fundamentalist’ I mean someone who cannot see the value in belief systems other than their own.

  5. Report this comment

    D J Wray said:

    Science doesn’t disprove religion, but for this prize to avoid ridicule from the likes of Richard Dawkins it needs to contain some compelling evidence.

    D J Wray

    Packaged Evolution: The Intelligent Universe

    “According to this model, the 1st universe was created naturally and grows like a living organism. Primitive creatures evolved. God then created the 2nd universe and therefore, intelligent life with language skills and free will.”

  6. Report this comment

    DH Stevans said:

    Neither Sean Carroll (the cosmologist) nor Richard Dawkins are members of NAS, so why is their opinion relevant? Ayala is an NAS member, so why shouldn’t he be included in the site announcing member news?

    In addition, Sean Carroll wrongly implies that Ayala is trying to reconcile science and religion. But Ayala states categorically that science and religion are not reconcilable “because they deal with different subjects”.

    And finally, why should American scientists in the NAS care what Dawkins thinks? Even atheist scientists who call Dawkins “brother” characterize the attitude of his ilk as “irrational exuberance”, and his tactics “militant”. (See Anyone who quotes him is just fanning the flames of hatred.

    Carroll’s and Dawkins’ responses are equally predictable and irrelevant to the NAS and to American scientists.

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    hosed88 said:

    Science, in many ways, has become a religion all its own with its own fundamentalists.

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