US geneticist wins $1.5 million religion prize
By BRETT ZONGKER (AP)
March 25, 2010
WASHINGTON — A one-time priest who later became an evolutionary geneticist and molecular biologist and helped scientifically refute creationism with his research was honored Thursday with one of the world's top religion prizes.
Francisco J. Ayala, 76, a U.S. citizen originally from Spain, will receive the 2010 Templeton Prize, valued at $1.53 million, the John Templeton Foundation announced at the National Academy of Sciences.
It is the largest monetary award given each year to an individual and honors someone who made exceptional contributions to affirm spirituality. Officials increase the value each year to exceed the Nobel Prize.
"I see religion and science as two of the pillars on which American society rests," Ayala told The Associated Press, saying the United States is one of the world's most religious countries. "We have these two pillars not talking, not seeing they can reinforce each other."
Ayala is a notable choice because he opposes the entanglement of science and religion. The former Dominican priest is adamant that science and religion do not contradict each other.
"If they are properly understood, they cannot be in contradiction because science and religion concern different matters, and each is essential to human understanding," he said in remarks prepared for the acceptance ceremony.
Ayala is a top professor of biological sciences at the University of California, Irvine. His pioneering genetic research led to revelations that could help develop cures for malaria and other diseases.
In January, he co-authored a paper that established gorillas and chimps may serve as reservoirs for parasites that cause human malaria, showing that even if a vaccine is developed, humans will be vulnerable to re-infection.
Ayala has long worked to foster dialogue between religion and science and said tension between the fields has subsided over time.
In 1981, Ayala was an expert witness in a U.S. federal court challenge that helped overturn an Arkansas law mandating the teaching of creationism alongside evolution. Three years later, the National Academy of Sciences asked Ayala to serve as principal author of "Science, Evolution and Creationism," which categorically refuted creationism and intelligent design.