Templeton prizewinner Ayala interviewed in New Scientist

The Templeton Prize was recently awarded, garnering considerable criticism and gossip in the scientific blogosphere.  Partly this was due to the venue chosen to host the event (the American National Academy of Sciences), but also in part due to the sport of guessing who would be the recipient (the Templeton Foundation appeared to forbid discussion of our guesses as to the likely recipient).  In the end most of the guessing seemed to be in error – the recipient turned out to be Francisco Ayala.  While best known as a population biologist and evolutionary geneticist, he was ordained as a Dominican priest in 1960 (though his Wikipedia page indicates he left the priesthood in the same year).

The science magazine New Scientist has an interview with Ayala, in the wake of the award (Templeton prizewinner: We need science plus morality).  In the interview, the usual subjects are touched upon.  Typically, in response to  “You won for arguing there is no contradiction between science and religion. Many disagree.”, Ayala responds:

They are two windows through which we look at the world. Religion deals with our relationship with our creator, with each other, the meaning and purpose of life, and moral values; science deals with the make-up of matter, expansion of galaxies, evolution of organisms. They deal with different ways of knowing. I feel that science is compatible with religious faith in a personal, omnipotent and benevolent God.

I kind of take exception to this response, principally because is implies those of us who hold no religious beliefs are somehow lacking in morality.  Further, this “different ways of knowing” is, it seems to me, something of a cop out, particularly in light of his statement that “Religion deals with our relationship with our creator”.  Different ways of knowing what, exactly?  What indeed does “knowing” mean?  As an atheist, who sees no evidence for any god, it looks to me as though religion is “a way of deluding” oneself rather than a different “way of knowing”.

I also (personally) cannot see how “science is compatible with religious faith in a personal, omnipotent and benevolent God”, given that science requires an evidence-base.  That’s not to say that I accept some individuals are capable of such compatibility – after all, there is evidence that some people are capable of this duality.

At the same time, some scientists claim they can use science to prove God does not exist. Science can do nothing of the kind.

Hmm…well I suggest that an observation that there is no evidence for a deity leads me to think there is probably no deity, a probabilty which approaches unity. Asked “Why do you say creationism is bad religion?”,  Ayala responds:

Creationism and intelligent design are not compatible with religion because they imply the designer is a bad designer, allowing cruelty and misery. Evolution explains these as a result of natural processes, in the same way we explain earthquakes, tsunamis or volcanic eruptions. We don’t have to attribute them to an action of God.

I suspect that (in light of Ayala’s refusal to answer the interviewer’s final question on whether he believes in God), he may well be talking in general terms.  But you’ve really got to accept that an omnipotent and all-seeing deity (were one to exist) allows these natural events to happen, even though such a hypothetical deity is supposed to be omnipotent.  At the very least one would have to attribute non-intervention as carelessness!

All in all a rather unsatisfying interview (after all it’s just a brief opinion piece), and one that might well serve to harden agnosticism/atheism.  Perhaps not what the Templeton Foundation would really exist.  I’m unable to comment at the New Scientist site, as one has to be a subscriber to do so.

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  1. Peter G Kinnon’s avatar

    Why should one expect any connection whatsoever between mythology (of which the many and varied religions are a major subset) and science?

    "Science" (I prefer the terms "Common Sense" or "cognos") is an empirical discipline grounded in the acceptance that the information provided to us by our senses is generally a true representation of the real world. In that sense is must be admitted that it is a "faith".

    It differs significantly from other "faiths" (systems of axioms) in that, for practical purposes, it is one that we all share. Furthermore it is not based entirely on hearsay as are all mythologies. Its precepts are essentially checkable,

    It is interesting to note that the vast assortment of deities and "spirits" that our species has dreamed up over millennia all show characteristics of our own mental processes and sometimes even, our own bodily forms.

    Man invents gods in his own image!

    This is the great trap of anthropocentrism. Unfortunately it catches not only those who lean to mythologies but also to most practitioners of the sciences.

    Only by casting off the shackles of this human arrogance can we become able to objectively perceive the true nature of the holistic life process and of the impending redundancy of our species.

    We silly little bipeds are, after all, but very tiny cogs in an extraordinarily complex universal machine.

    This, together with closely related topics, is discussed in detail in my recent work "Unusual Perspectives" The electronic edition of can be freely downloaded from the eponymous website

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