Every year, the Templeton Foundation awards more than one million dollars to an individual who in the foundation’s estimation has made a significant contribution to affirming spirituality.1 The Templeton Prize was first given in 1973 and in its early years was awarded to such high-profile religious leaders as Mother Teresa (1973), Billy Graham (1982), Chuck Colson (1993), and Bill Bright (1996). In recent years, the award has been more heavily focused on university faculty whose research and/or writings have a spiritual aspect or offshoot.
This year’s Templeton Prize awardee, Dr. Francisco Ayala, continues the long break from religious leaders and further blurs the meaning of the term “spiritual.” In a departure from a long string of previous awards to philosophers and physicists working in an academic setting, this year’s recipient was a University of California Irvine evolutionary biologist.
Dr. Ayala is also one of the world’s most vocal anti-creationists. His books and writings are well-known in the evolutionary community for bashing intelligent design or any philosophy that counters Darwinism. In Dr. Ayala’s world, intelligent design does not really exist—he considers that biological systems are all seriously flawed and can only be explained by an impersonal and clumsy evolutionary process.
Dr. Ayala’s traditional biologist background involved the study of organisms from the broader perspective of population dynamics. However, the primary arguments for intelligent design come from biochemistry. At this level, life overwhelmingly shows irreducibly complex features that provide an unmistakable inference from design to Designer.
Some of the most vociferous anti-creationists are classical, big-picture biologists, including Richard Dawkins. They use the standard oversimplified Darwinian approaches to defending evolution that have now been falsified by new data in systems biology.
Biological systems are complex and interdependent. They rely on overlapping networks of genes and pathways that would expressly prohibit evolutionary processes from operating as envisioned by Dr. Ayala. Concepts like these are well-explored in books such as Signature in the Cell by intelligent design author and professor Stephen Meyer.2
To illustrate this, Dr. Ayala debated leading intelligent design proponent and Christian apologist William Lane Craig last year at Indiana University. Based on post-debate Internet responses, Dr. Ayala was soundly beaten. One Ayala supporter even admitted, “He got womped.”3
So, how did this individual get the Templeton Prize award for spirituality? Dr. Ayala was ordained as a Catholic priest in 1960. Although he left the priesthood to become a scientist that same year, he still supposedly maintains ties to the Vatican.
Despite this hint of spirituality, Dr. Ayala has yet to make a public statement indicating a personal belief in God. His general stance regarding religion, and biblical Christianity in particular, is that as long as religious ideas are kept separate from science and science education, the two camps can co-exist peacefully.
When asked in a recent interview why he was awarded the Templeton Prize, he claimed that it was for his research and the “very important consequence of making people accept science, and making people accept evolution in particular.”3 Thus, the spiritual component of this year’s Templeton Prize winner reflects the fact that the philosophy of evolution is belief-based and relies on proselytizers like Dr. Ayala to keep it alive.
As an interesting side issue, atheistic luminary Richard Dawkins was reportedly irate over the announcement of the Templeton Prize at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., an organization where Dr. Ayala is a member. Dawkins stated that “the U.S. National Academy of Sciences has brought ignominy on itself” by its actions and also criticized the Templeton Foundation for its spiritual leanings. In an unexpected response, Dr. Ayala retorted, “It is unfortunate that he [Dawkins] goes beyond the boundaries of science in making statements that antagonize believers.”4
Given the quirky and questionable circumstances of this year’s Templeton Prize, it will be interesting to see what happens next year.
- 2010 Templeton Prize Laureate Francisco J. Ayala. John Templeton Foundation. Posted on templeton.org March 25, 2010.
- Meyer, S. C. 2009. Signature in the Cell. New York: Harper Collins Publishers.
- Landsberg, M. UC Irvine’s Francisco Ayala Wins Templeton Prize. Los Angeles Times. Posted on latimes.com March 26, 2010.
- Devlin, H. Winner of £1m Templeton prize attacks ‘fundamentalism’ of Dawkins. TimesOnline. Posted on timesonline.co.uk March 26, 2010.
* Dr. Tomkins is Research Associate at the Institute for Creation Research.
Article posted April 7, 2010.