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The 2010 (not prestigious) Templeton Prize Winner is....

25 March 2010. The Templeton Foundation has announced the latest winner of the biggest cash prize in the world for scholars whose work can be used to convince the world that scientists and philosophers are hard at work showing how science supports "spiritual realities." The lucky poster boy this year in the ongoing propaganda war started by Sir John M. Templeton is former Dominican priest Francisco J. Ayala, a 76-year-old evolutionary geneticist and molecular biologist who did his doctoral work under Theodosius Dobzhansky.

Ayala was born in Spain and is currently a professor of ecology & evolutionary biology and professor of philosophy at the University of California, Irvine. He will be receiving a check for 1,000,000 pounds sterling (about $1.5 million).

Ayala is best-known in science for developing ways to measure rates of evolution and the amount of genetic change needed to produce new species. The Templeton prize isn't for science, though. Ayala, like Stephen Jay Gould before him, has been a longtime advocate of NOMA and of campaigning for mutual respect between science and religion. Like Gould, Ayala has publicly decried creationism as pseudoscience and bad theology. He chaired the National Academy of Sciences committee on Science, Evolution, and Creationism. That group dismissed creationism and intelligent design, while arguing that "science and religion should be viewed as different ways of understanding the world rather than as frameworks that are in conflict with each other and that the evidence for evolution can be fully compatible with religious faith."

Ayala has also been a vocal critic of those who oppose federal funding of embryonic stem cell research.

He is the author of many books, including Darwin’s Gift to Science and Religion (2007), which attempts to reconcile religion and evolution. Publisher's Weekly says:

According to Ayala, Darwin provides both a clear understanding of the nature of the physical world and an explanation for its flaws that takes the onus for them off of God. Natural selection gives scientists an eminently plausible and verifiable explanation of the shape species and members of those species have taken over millions of years. For religious believers, evolution offers an explanation for the flawed designs—such as the too narrow human birth canal and our badly designed jawbone—that might call into question the work of a benevolent designer. Ayala points out that science and religion perform different roles in human understanding: science offers a way of knowing the material world, but matters of value and meaning—the core of religion—are outside of the scope of scientific investigation.

The idea that an omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent being (such as the god of Abraham is alleged to be) would create a universe according to the principle of natural selection and then not be responsible for the flawed designs of the human body is on par with Augustine's argument that god is so great he can bring good out of evil. Sure, and evil doesn't really exist: it's the absence of good. These arguments are specious, vacuous, and amount to little more than playing with words. In any case, Ayala is right in claiming that science can't prove or disprove that a supernatural being created the universe and did so (at least in part) according to the principle of natural selection. He's wrong in claiming that believing so deserves respect. Believing so is superfluous to understanding the universe. Of course believing so affects one's understanding of values and meaning, but believing so gives no special status to that understanding. In fact, to believe so gives one the appearance of being rather childish: believing in a fable to avoid admitting that a desert tribe's myths and superstitions might have been acceptable several thousand years ago but not today.

Usually, the Templeton prize is awarded at Buckingham Palace, but this year the winner was announced at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., because (so we're told) Ayala is a NAS member. (The Duke of Edinburgh will present the prize to Professor Ayala on May 5 in a private ceremony at Buckingham Palace.) Rumor has it that the winner was nominated by Ralph Cicerone, the president of the NAS. The Templeton Foundation's motive, however, is undoubtedly to associate itself with a prestigious scientific organization, draw attention to itself, assist in its duping the media into thinking the prize is prestigious, and to promote its belief that science and religion are complementary disciplines.

John Templeton was born in 1912 in Tennessee and became a billionaire in the mutual fund business. He was about 60 when he started using his wealth to promote religion. In 1972, he established the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, which, in 2001, became the Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries About Spiritual Realities. He stipulated that it should pay more than the Nobel Prize. Templeton died in 2008 at the age of 95. His son "Jack", a retired pediatric surgeon, has been running the show since 1995.

See also The Templeton Fundies, The 2009 (not prestigious) Templeton Prize Winner is...., Can Science Decide the God Question? and Onward Christian Soldiers: The Holy War on Science.

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