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This year’s $1.5 million Templeton Prize has gone to Francisco Ayala, an ordained Catholic priest and professor of evolutionary biology.
Ayala, 76, is widely known for defending the compatibility of Christianity and evolution. Originally ordained as a Catholic priest, Ayala left his native Spain in the early 1960s to study biology at New York’s Columbia University. He currently serves, among other roles, as professor of biological sciences, ecology, and evolutionary biology at the University of California–Irvine.
The Templeton Prize, founded by the late Sir John Templeton and currently valued at £1,000,000 (approximately $1.5 million), is awarded annually to “a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works.” Among the previous winners of the prize are Mother Teresa (1973), Billy Graham (1982), Chuck Colson (1993), and the late evangelist Bill Bright (1996). We have profiled several honorees, including Bernard d’Espagnat (2009) and Michael Heller (2008).
As primary author of the National Academy of Science’s anti-creation manifesto Science, Evolution, and Creationism, Ayala has been at the forefront of the creation–evolution controversy and the battle over public school science education. The Los Angeles Times reported that upon accepting the award, Ayala said he had been recognized for “making people accept science, and making people accept evolution in particular.” Consider these further representations of Ayala’s views from various interviews:
Evolution “is consistent with a religious belief in God, whereas creationism and intelligent design are not.” This, he said, is because intelligent design suggests that the deformities of the world are God's design, whereas science shows them to be “a consequence of the clumsy ways of the evolutionary process.” –Los Angeles Times
When one thinks about the implications of intelligent design, they are very anti-religious, at least for people who believe in an omnipotent and benevolent God. Our jaw is not big enough for our teeth, so we have wisdom teeth removed. Any engineer who designed the human jaw would be fired the next day. –Orange County Register
Consider, [Ayala] said, that at least 20 percent of pregnancies are known to end in spontaneous abortion. If that results from divinely inspired anatomy, Dr. Ayala said, “God is the greatest abortionist of them all.” –New York Times
Interestingly, when asked if he is “still a religious person,” Ayala answered, “I don’t answer that question. I don’t want to be accused (of favoring) one side or another.” Ayala has also repeated the common misperception that “The Bible is . . . not [about] how the Earth was made” and criticized creationists for reading Scripture “as if it were an elementary textbook of biology or physics.”
Sadly, even with his theological training, it seems Ayala is not familiar enough with the Bible’s teaching about creation and the Fall. God did indeed create a “very good” world (Genesis 1:31), but with Adam and Eve’s sin in the Garden of Eden came death and suffering (Genesis 3; Romans 5:12). The creation worldview explains the “deformities of the world” as the result of human sin and points out ways in which natural selection and chance mutations cannot account for the design we see all around us (albeit designs that groan under the effects of the curse). And although the Bible is not a science textbook, it is a book of history—true history. Where it speaks of historical matters, whether the creation of the universe or the Resurrection of Jesus Christ we celebrate in a few days, it can be trusted completely.