Posted 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