Francisco Ayala Wins Templeton Prize

By Chris Mooney | March 25, 2010 4:56 pm

ayala.1216.cm.jpgNews here. It’s great to see such a staunch champion of the teaching of evolution, and of embryonic stem cell research, winning this award. There is no better demonstration, I think, that science and religion don’t have to be at war all the time–for after all, Ayala is also a former priest and has been exceedingly prominent in making the argument against the problematic “conflict thesis.”

Meanwhile, those who embrace that thesis, and dislike the Templeton Foundation, will still have a hard time saying anything bad about Ayala, I would imagine.

In addition to fighting doggedly in defense of evolution, his scientific credentials include winning the National Medal of Science and serving as president and chairman of the board of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

In congratulating Ayala, the National Center for Science Education adds:

Among his contributions to the defense of the integrity of science education was his testimony for the plaintiffs in McLean v. Arkansas and his coordination of support for evolution education at the National Academy of Sciences, including his lead authorship of the publication Science, Evolution, and Creationism (National Academies Press, 2008). NCSE’s executive director Eugenie C. Scott commented, “Ayala’s contributions to NCSE and its goal of defending the teaching of evolution in the public schools are comparable to his contributions to biology in general: immense.”

Comments (29)

  1. bilbo

    I wonder how long it will take the NA ideologues to assume that the TF didn’t think that Ayala was really worthy of the prize, but that he was given it instead as a political move.

    Because you just know that’s freaking inevitable. It’s the easiest line of criticism to be made to foster their conspiracy theory, because there’s not a ton to hurl at Ayala personally.

  2. Old Gringo Stan

    Maybe they finally realized the invisible people are not co-operating with their prayers…………

  3. John Kwok

    I don’t know anyone who is far more deserving of this award than Francisco Ayala is. Congratulations to one of the greatest evolutionary biologists of our time.

  4. Sorbet

    Congratulations to Ayala, a truly fine scientist and writer. I have enjoyed reading his excellent books over the years.

  5. bilbo

    HA! I’m a prophet. PZ has indeed painted the selection as purely political. Similar content (among the other conspiracy theories being bandied about implicating Ayala in financial indiscrepancies without substantiation) in WEIT comments.

    If these guys keep flinging new and wild ideas about The Great Templeton Conspiracy, they’ll soon end up with fodder for their own Dan Brown-esque novel – complete with the TF plotting to destroy the AMNH with dark matter!!!

  6. Milton C.

    Remember folks, GM said on the other thread that Francisco Ayala can’t realllly be a supporter of science as long as he’s religious. In fact, he’s anti-science.

    From those of us with non-tribal brains: congrats to Ayala. He’s done more for fighting creationism and ID than any loudmouth ideologue with a blog ever will. We all owe him a debt of gratitude.

  7. bilbo

    Remember folks, GM said on the other thread that Francisco Ayala can’t realllly be a supporter of science as long as he’s religious. In fact, he’s anti-science.

    That National Medal of Science means nothing if you sit in a church on Sunday.

  8. Schaffaeri

    Some words from Dr. Ayala:

    “Science is a very successful way of knowing, but not the only way. We acquire knowledge in many other ways, such as through literature, the arts, philosophical reflection, and religious experience. A scientific view of the world is hopelessly incomplete. Science seeks material explanations for material processes, but it has nothing definitive to say about realities beyond its scope. Once science has had its say, there remain questions of value, purpose, and meaning that are forever beyond science’s domain, but belong in the realm of philosophical reflection and religious experience.”

    I’ve got a bone to pick with Ayala about two things here: first, when it comes to “knowledge,” science is the only way to acquire it. But can we process and personally relate knowledge through different media – such as literature, the arts and (dare I say it!) religious introspection? Sure.

    Second, because something is beyond our current scope of analysis does not make it religious (that’s almost “God of the gaps”-ish, which of course is bunk). But he’s got a point here, also. When science and/or logic can dictate clear solutions to unsavory ethical issues that are clearly non zero-sum, then I’ll fully disagree with the “A scientific view of the world is hopelessly incomplete.” As of yet, however, it cannot – and Ayala’s got a point, not necessarily about God but about the utility of ethical introspection.

    Here’s a figurative toast to the one accommodationist I can find myself agreeing with. Congrats, Francisco!

  9. James F

    Warmest congratulations to Prof. Ayala, an outstanding scientist and an outstanding advocate for science.

  10. Jon

    I’ve got a bone to pick with Ayala about two things here: first, when it comes to “knowledge,” science is the only way to acquire it.

    I don’t follow this argument. Why is science the only way to know something? I know that Milton is a good poet from reading his poetry. Does that have anything to do with science? Not that I can see. You could come in afterward and scan my brain and find out something about my appreciation of the good and beautiful in Milton, but is that the same as saying that I used science to acquire the knowledge I did?

  11. John Kwok

    @ Jon –

    I agree. There are other types of knowledge besides scientific knowledge. There is the knowledge gained in understanding the complex scores of Beethoven’s late piano sonatas, for example. Or one of Mahler’s or Bruckner’s symphonies. And both knowledge and understanding of the human condition acquired from reading Shakespeare, Milton, Swift, Dickens, Poe, Hawthorne, Melville, Twain, etc. etc.

  12. Schaffaeri

    Jon –

    Perhaps I should clarify that I’m viewing “knowledge” as “truth.” If you read Milton and find it good and beautiful, but I read Milton and find it terrible and horrific, is either “truth?” This raises the issue of whether there is universal truth with such topics or if this kind of “truth” of opinion at the personal level is altered by personal experience.

    Maybe I’m no articulating myself correctly. I’m mostly agreeing with Ayala’s argument, just not his wording of it.

  13. Albert Bakker

    #12 – I think you are articulating yourself perfectly fine. The argument of Ayala in #8 rests on a different interpretation of what knowledge is as is used in science in order to be able to acquire it in the first place. This fuzzy and diluted understanding of knowledge in this convoluted sense almost includes any random opinion, perhaps as long as you are able to come up with some reason: I saw a painting, I read a poem, I almost understood something Heidegger said, I was really impressed by a beautiful satanic ceremony etc.. that caused you to hold it, than that would be “knowledge.” That’s not knowledge, that’s wilful self-delusion that just might occasionaly resonate with the real world. But anyway good scientists are not necessarily also always infallible truths sprouting fountains of eternal wisdom.

  14. Sorbet

    John, what performances and pianists would you especially recommend for the late Beethoven sonatas?

  15. SLC

    Re John Kwok @ #11

    In addition, I would state that the issue of who was the greater composer, Bach or Beethoven is not subject to scientific investigation.

  16. Guy

    I agree that the Ayala deserves to win this. Congrats!

  17. John Kwok

    @ Sorbet –

    There are quite a few great recordings of the late Beethoven sonatas. One of my recent favorites is Mitsuko Uchida’s recent recording of them (though I am biased since I’ve heard her perform them live at Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium). Her friend Richard Goode has recorded them as part of his critically acclaimed Beethoven piano sonata cycle (Not one I’ve heard, but it’s garnered ample praise from critics.). I’m not sure whether Canadian pianist Louis Lortie has recorded them, but have one or two CDs of his earlier Beethoven piano sonatas which I like a lot. Two much older recordings which I’ve heard – but not lately – are 1960s and 1970s recordings from, respectively, Wilhelm Kempff and Maurizio Pollini. And then, there’s the recordings from Claudio Arrau and Alfred Brendel (Have a slight preference for his earlier, analogue recordings from the 1970s; did hear him perform at least one of the three a few years ago at Carnegie Hall and didn’t find it as emotionally riveting as Uchida’s performances.).

  18. Jon

    Perhaps I should clarify that I’m viewing “knowledge” as “truth.” If you read Milton and find it good and beautiful, but I read Milton and find it terrible and horrific, is either “truth?” This raises the issue of whether there is universal truth with such topics or if this kind of “truth” of opinion at the personal level is altered by personal experience.

    But that’s a classic philosophical problem–are there “intelligibilities separate from the natural world“? Are there things that aren’t discoverable in a way empiricists would accept, but are real nonetheless. The idealist position is that there are. Hegel, and I believe Kant as well, thought there were. And Kant and Hegel were as much a part of the Enlightenment as the English Empiricists were.

    There is something disturbing about the idea that there is no “good”, only subjective impressions that everyone has–that any slob is free to kick Milton out of the canon, for instance. You could say something like “too bad for you, it’s all subjective.” Well, not all people agree with you, including some very informed ones…

  19. Sorbet

    @John,

    Thanks for the list. I have heard good things about Brendel and Pollini. I just purchased Pollini’s Chopin Etudes which I am finding very satisfying. As for Uchida, I haven’t heard her Beethoven but I do have her Mozart sonatas which are excellent.

  20. John Kwok

    @ Milton C –

    Along with NCSE’s Genie Scott, Francisco J. Ayala may be our most important opponent of evolution denialism, especially since his testimony was important in at least one case that was heard before the United States Supreme Court (One of the ones back in the 1980s) and, most recently, before the California Board of Regents in a case in which a “Christian” school challenged the science entrance requirements for admission to the University of California’s elite campuses, such as Berkeley and UCLA.

  21. Paul

    Seems odd that the Templeton Foundation’s article on Ayala winning doesn’t mention that he was on the Templeton Board of Advisors in 2008 (possibly 2009? I can’t find when he stopped, or when they removed him from their rolls online).

    He seems to be a good choice for what they say the reward stands for, but that omission seems rather underhanded.

  22. Ken Pidcock

    The Times opened their report like this: Professor Francisco Ayala, who won the £1 million Templeton Prize for scientific thought, said that attacking religion and ridiculing believers provided ammunition for religious leaders who insisted that followers had to choose between God and Darwin.

    I can’t believe that Professor Ayala said anything of the sort, because this is the “atheists abet fundamentalism” argument used to shut people up. Nothing I know of Francisco Ayala suggests that he would stoop to that level, and I hope The Times will be publishing a correction.

  23. Schaffaeri

    But that’s a classic philosophical problem–are there “intelligibilities separate from the natural world“? Are there things that aren’t discoverable in a way empiricists would accept, but are real nonetheless. The idealist position is that there are. Hegel, and I believe Kant as well, thought there were. And Kant and Hegel were as much a part of the Enlightenment as the English Empiricists were.

    There is something disturbing about the idea that there is no “good”, only subjective impressions that everyone has–that any slob is free to kick Milton out of the canon, for instance. You could say something like “too bad for you, it’s all subjective.” Well, not all people agree with you, including some very informed ones…

    Jon, I don’t really disagree with your above points. I was generally talking earlier in hypotheticals – not really espousing my own opinion on the issue. Although I think we disagree trivially on how “knowledge” is used, we wouldn’t really disagree on the core of our arguments.

    I do very much agree that modern philosophy is much more than strict empiricism. Someone upthread here (if not, maybe another recent thread) even mistakenly called empiricism “epistomology” which, of course, is only a half-truth. I thought that kind of comment played well into the hands of “New Atheists ignore philosophy.” It’s hard to deny they do when people are making fallacies like that one!

    There is something disturbing about the idea that there is no “good”, only subjective impressions that everyone has–that any slob is free to kick Milton out of the canon, for instance.

    You’re right here. If an argument against religion is that the personal benefits it provides are worthless because they’re surbjective, then we should really be seeing people crying loudly not just for the abolition of religion but also for the death of literature, art, and music, as well.

  24. Schaffaeri

    …and while Ayala’s getting awarded, we have the other side of the science-religion world decreeing that the Pope should now get stabbed”sideways with a rusty knife.”

    I mean, I’m all with PZ on the outrage over the Pope allegedly covering up sexual abuse, 100%. But unless the majority of Catholics are somehow extensively familiar with the recent Pharyngula/Intersection rape spat, the only way they’re gonna interpret that is as a veiled threat at the Pope – an office which, unfortunately regardless of opinion on religion, has faced assassination attempts before.

    Not to mention that the appropriate response to cretins engaged in sexual abuse is…references to sexual abuse in their direction. When did hypocrisy become a virtue, exactly?

  25. bilbo

    Sigh. Predictable.

    And thus the “you don’t ever see atheists talking about violence!” argument died a quick death….by way of a rusty knife.

  26. Milton C.

    The predictable defense shall be: “Come on, guys! If a Catholic reads that in passing, they shouldn’t get upset because they should just automatically know that PZ was being hyperbolic and referencing a blog post that referenced a post on another blog which referenced one comment from PZ’s blog in which a post about a post on another blog was being discussed.”

    Sigh indeed. So much for “there are no militant atheists.” In my book, wishing violence is pretty damn close to doing it.

  27. Monotropa

    And it’s official – that does it. No more Pharyngula for me (after a good three years of reading!). I get a chuckle out of the acerbic criticism and agree with PZ, sure, but violence is the line I don’t cross or tolerate. Even good science blogging can’t make up for crap like that.

  28. Ian

    “It’s great to see such a staunch champion of the teaching of evolution, and of embryonic stem cell research, winning this award. There is no better demonstration, I think, that science and religion don’t have to be at war all the time–for after all …”

    The fact that Ayala’s a proponent of ESCR demonstrates that he is at odds with the Catholic faith which he grew up in. Just because we can do ESCR doesn’t mean that we have to do it – a human embryo is a human life, if it isn’t then what purpose does conception serve?

    And on a similar note @7 – science and religion are not at odds with eachother, and never have been … BUT … the theology must be right and the science must be right! The tremendous number of priest-scientists is testimony to this.

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About Chris Mooney

Chris is a science and political journalist and commentator and the author of three books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science--dubbed "a landmark in contemporary political reporting" by Salon.com and a "well-researched, closely argued and amply referenced indictment of the right wing's assault on science and scientists" by Scientific American--Storm World, and Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future, co-authored by Sheril Kirshenbaum. They also write "The Intersection" blog together for Discover blogs. For a longer bio and contact information, see here.

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