Ayala wins Templeton Prize

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In Pablo Picasso’s painting “Guernica,” a woman’s pained face is turned upward as she wails over a dead child in her lap. Various other faces appear scattered over the canvas, each one clearly in some kind of suffering.

The work was an expressive reaction by Picasso after the bombing of the Basque city of Guernica in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War.

But to Francisco Ayala, acclaimed evolutionary geneticist and molecular biologist, and the winner of the 2010 Templeton Prize, the painting is also an example of how science and religion do not contradict each other.

The shapes, size, dimensions and pigments can be observed using scientific analysis, he said Thursday at the Templeton Prize news conference, but the dramatic message, the pain, the aesthetic value and historical significance are beyond the scope of science.

Science and religion, he explained, are two different ways of looking at the world and both are useful.

Mr. Ayala won the prestigious $1.5 million prize for his extensive work in biological and genetic research and writings on the relationship between science and religion. He said science and religion should not be entangled and can respect each other.

So is there a God? Mr. Ayala does not claim to have proof that a higher power does exist, and would not say whether he believes in God himself for fear of being observed as having subjective opinions, but he reiterated that science does not prove that God does not exist.

“Scientific knowledge cannot show any such thing,” he said. “Scientists can be people of faith and many are.”

His observations, he said, “explain the presence of evil in the world.”

“I would say that science is more compatible with monotheistic religion than the so-called creationism and intelligent design,” said Mr. Ayala, a professor at the University of California, Irvine.

Mr. Ayala described the human jaw as poorly designed. It is too small, often resulting in the removal of wisdom teeth. If an engineer today had designed the human jaw, he would be fired, he said. Similarly, 20 percent of all human pregnancies result in spontaneous abortion because of flaws in the human reproductive system. These problems, Mr. Ayala said, are explained by the imperfect natural processes of evolution.

“Think about it,” he said, according to intelligent design, God should be held responsible for the failure of 20 percent of pregnancies. “Dont think that way.”

Described by John Templeton Foundation President and Chairman John M. Templeton Jr., son of the founder of the Templeton Prize, as a man of persistent questioning, Mr. Ayala is an accomplished author as well as scientist. He was nominated by Ralph J. Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences and former chancellor at the University of California, Irvine, for his extensive writing on the significance of science in relation to human life and religion.

“He is not ever going to allow in his mind, and hopefully his students, or all of our minds to let us stop asking questions,” Dr. Templeton said of Mr. Ayala, adding that he deserves the Templeton Prize because of his humility toward different scientific opinions, a quality of which his father was a great proponent.

“His publications show the power of science as a way of knowing and the significance and purpose of the world and human life, as well as matters concerning moral or religious values that transcend science,” Mr. Cicerone said.

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