Former Roman Catholic priest and respected evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala has won this year’s Templeton Prize. The $1.53 million award honors a living person “who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works.” The John Templeton Foundation cited Ayala’s dogged work through the years advocating the peaceful co-existence of science and religion in its decision. The somewhat controversial prize is often given to scientists who find common ground between religion and science, but previous winners have also included more traditional spiritual leaders like Mother Teresa and televangelist Billy Graham.
Ayala is the former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and is respected for his research into the evolutionary history of the parasite scientists have associated with malaria, with an eye toward developing a cure for the disease. He also pioneered the use of an organism’s genetic material as molecular clocks that help track and time its origins [The Christian Science Monitor]. But he is known best, perhaps, for being an expert witness in the 1981 federal court trial that led to the overturning of an Arkansas law mandating the teaching creationism with evolution in science class. In 2001, he was awarded the National Medal of Science.
French physicist Bernard d’Espagnat has won the annual Templeton Prize with its purse of $1.4 million; the prize is often given to scientists who find common ground between religion and science. Professor d’Espagnat, 87, worked with great luminaries of quantum physics but went on to address the philosophical questions that the field poses [BBC News].
Physicists may be more open to seeing a higher power behind the great mysteries of the universe than scientists in other disciplines: Including Dr. d’Espagnat, five of the past 10 Templeton winners have been physicists or have had strong connections to the discipline [The Christian Science Monitor].