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Geneticist wins £1 million religious prize

29 March 2010
Appeared in BioNews 551

A former priest who is now an authority on genetics and evolution has won the Templeton prize - one of the world's top religious accolades - and its £1 million award.

Professor Francisco Ayala, a molecular biologist and former president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, was announced as the winner last week. The annual prize is given to individuals deemed to have made 'an exceptional contribution to affirming life's spiritual dimension'.

Professor Ayala has long championed the distinctiveness of science and religion, and was an expert witness in the 1981 court case that overturned the Arkansas, USA, law mandating the teaching of creationism alongside evolution. He is the principal author of the USA's National Academy of Sciences (NAS) publication - Science, Evolution, and Creationism - a refutation of creationism and intelligent design.

In congratulating Professor Ayala, Dr Eugenie Scott, executive director of the USA's National Center for Science Education (NCSE), said: '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'.

However the award has caused some controversy due to the involvement of the NAS (National Academy of Sciences), which hosted the Washington ceremony where the prize was announced. Some scientists cited concerns that the John Templeton Foundation may gain scientific respectability by associating with scientists and their institutions.

Professor Ayala told the Guardian he had no reservations about accepting the award, adding that he intended to give much of the prize money to charities and other organisations, including the NAS.

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