An evolutionary geneticist and molecular biologist who has vigorously opposed the entanglement of science and religion while also calling for mutual respect between the two has won this year's $1.53 million Templeton Prize.
Dr. Francisco J. Ayala, a professor of Biological Sciences at the University of California, Irvine, was proclaimed the winner of the 2010 prize Thursday and reiterated in a prepared statement what he's said for over three decades - that science does not contradict faith.
"If they are properly understood, they cannot be in contradiction because science and religion concern different matters, and each is essential to human understanding," stated the 76-year-old expert in molecular evolution and genetics.
Faith, according to Ayala, is a unique and important window to understanding matters of purpose, values and the meaning of life.
For more than 30 years, however, Ayala has also asserted that both science and faith are damaged when either invades the proper domain of the other.
In 1981, Ayala served as an expert witness in a federal court trial that led to the overturning of an Arkansas law mandating the teaching of creationism alongside evolution.
He has also equated efforts to block religious intrusions into science with "the survival of rationality in this country."
According to the John Templeton Foundation, which has awarded the Templeton Prize every year since 1973, Ayala's "respect for the rightful, if separate, roles of science and faith has allowed [him] to consider questions … that draw upon each discipline and may bring new insights that advance human endeavor."
Dr. John M. Templeton, Jr., president and chairman of the foundation, praised Ayala's research, scholarship, development of new schools of thought, and innovative assessments of some of the most fundamental questions of life.
"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," he said.
Templeton also recognized how Ayala's breadth and depth of analysis, focusing on genuine discovery, exemplify the design and purpose of the prize program founded by his late father, Sir John Templeton.
A pioneer in genetic research in the second half of the 20th century, Ayala made many discoveries including 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. This discovery led to similar ones about the parasites that cause malaria and other tropical diseases, opening up new approaches to potential vaccines.
In 1994, President Bill Clinton appointed Ayala to the U.S. President's Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology. And in 2001, George W. Bush awarded him the National Medal of Science.
With Thursday's announcement, Ayala will have another award to add to his list – a very large one at that.
The Templeton Prize, valued at one million pounds sterling (about $1.53 million), is the world's largest annual award given to an individual and honors a living person who has made exceptional contributions to affirming life's spiritual dimension.
Though announced Thursday, the actual prize will be awarded to Ayala at a private ceremony at Buckingham Palace on May 5. Presenting the award will be the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip.