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WASHINGTON, D.C., 25 de marzo de 2010. – El genetista y biólogo molecular Francisco J. Ayala ha recibido el premio Templeton, el galardón anual con mayor valor económico del mundo, dotado con más de un millón de euros. Ayala ha recibido esta distinción por su vigorosa defensa del conocimiento científico frente a la intromisión de la religión, junto a su demanda de un respeto mutuo entre ambas esferas.

Francisco J. Ayala, de 76 años, nació en Madrid, se graduó en la Universidad de Salamanca y continuó sus estudios de doctorado en la Universidad de Columbia, para posteriormente lograr la cátedra de Ciencias Biológicas en la Universidad de California en Irvine y obtener la nacionalidad norteamericana. Descubrió el mecanismo de reproducción del agente patógeno del mal de Chagas, abriendo el camino al desarrollo de una cura efectiva, y ha realizado averiguaciones clave sobre el origen en simios de la malaria. Considerado una autoridad internacional en evolución molecular y genética por su trabajo científico, ha dedicado más de 30 años a manifestar la diferencia entre la ciencia y la fe, y a llamar la atención sobre el daño que se hace a ambas cuando se las mezcla y confunde.

Premiado por su amplitud y profundidad de análisis científico

En su intervención, Ayala ha insistido en que la ciencia no contradice a la religión, ya que “si se las entienden de manera correcta, atañen materias diferentes, y ambas son esenciales para el entendimiento del hombre”. En referencia al Guernica de Picasso, señaló que “mientras la ciencia puede estudiar la enorme dimensión física de la obra y el uso de los colores, solo una mirada espiritual es capaz de hacernos apreciar en su totalidad el horror que refleja”. Juntos, explicó, ambos análisis “revelan la obra de arte en toda su extensión”.

El doctor John M. Templeton, Jr., presidente y director de la Fundación John Templeton, alabó el trabajo investigador y docente de Ayala, como creador de nuevas escuelas de pensamiento y de visiones innovadoras sobre algunas de las cuestiones vitales más importantes. Reconoció en el galardonado su “notable amplitud y profundidad de análisis, dirigidas hacia un continuo y auténtico descubrimiento, que ejemplifican el fin mismo del legado de la Fundación”. El hijo del fundador añadió que “la voz nítida de Ayala en cuestiones de ciencia y fe representa fielmente nuestra convicción de que la evolución de la mente humana y una investigación auténticamente abierta son capaces de conducirnos a un progreso espiritual genuino en el mundo”.

Clave en la refutación del creacionismo y el diseño inteligente

El científico premiado ha afirmado que los esfuerzos para evitar la intromisión de la religión en la ciencia son equiparables a “la supervivencia de la racionalidad”. Actuó como testigo experto durante el juicio federal que tuvo lugar en 1981 y que resultó básico para declarar inconstitucional una ley del estado de Arkansas que imponía la enseñanza del creacionismo junto a la de la evolución de las especies. Tres años tras el juicio de Arkansas, la Academia Nacional de Ciencias le solicitó su participación como autor principal de Ciencia, Evolución y Creacionismo, una refutación categórica y definitiva del creacionismo y del llamado diseño inteligente. La obra se reeditó en 1999 y 2008.

En 1994, El presidente Bill Clinton le incluyó en el Comité Presidencial de Consejeros sobre Ciencia y Tecnología. Durante su periodo como presidente de la AAAS, entre 1993 y 1996, desarrolló el “Diálogo sobre Ciencia, Ética y Religión” de esta entidad. En 2001, el presidente George W. Bush le concedió la Medalla Nacional de la Ciencia. Es miembro de la Academia Norteamericana de Ciencias y forma parte como miembro extranjero de, entre otras, las Academias de Ciencias de España, Rusia, Italia, México y Serbia.

Aunque siempre ha llamado la atención sobre las intrusiones de la religión en la ciencia, Ayala, que en su momento se ordenó sacerdote dominico, también ha sido un abanderado de la fe como una vía única y fundamental para comprender lo relacionado con el fin, los valores y el significado de la vida. Este respeto por el legítimo papel tanto de la ciencia como de la fe ha permitido a Ayala, ex presidente de la Asociación Americana para el Avance de la Ciencia (AAAS), plantearse cuestiones tales como si el conocimiento científico contradice las creencias religiosas, o si la moral es un producto de la evolución biológica. Estos interrogantes tienen raíces en ambas disciplinas y pueden aportar nuevas perspectivas para el avance del esfuerzo humano.

El anuncio oficial de la identidad del galardonado con el premio Templeton, que alcanza este año su edición número 38, se ha realizado en la sede de la Academia Nacional de Ciencias, en Washington DC. El premio será entregado a Francisco J. Ayala por Su Alteza Real el Príncipe Felipe, Duque de Edimburgo, en una ceremonia prevista para el jueves 5 de mayo, en el palacio de Buckingham en Londres.

FIN

WASHINGTON, D.C., MARCH 25 – Francisco J. Ayala, an evolutionary geneticist and molecular biologist who has vigorously opposed the entanglement of science and religion while also calling for mutual respect between the two, has won the 2010 Templeton Prize.

Ayala, 76, a naturalized American who moved from Spain to New York in 1961 for graduate study and soon became a leader in molecular evolution and genetics, has devoted more than 30 years to asserting that both science and faith are damaged when either invades the proper domain of the other.

Ayala, the Donald Bren Professor of Biological Sciences at the University of California, Irvine, whose groundbreaking research into parasitic protozoa may lead to cures for malaria and other diseases, has equated efforts to block religious intrusions into science with “the survival of rationality in this country.” To that end, in 1981 he served as an expert witness in a pivotal U.S. federal court challenge that led to the overturning of an Arkansas law mandating the teaching of creationism alongside evolution. In 2001, George W. Bush awarded him the National Medal of Science.

Even as he has warned against religion’s intrusion into science, Ayala, a former Dominican priest, also champions faith as a unique and important window to understanding matters of purpose, values and the meaning of life.

This respect for the rightful, if separate, roles of science and faith has allowed Ayala to consider questions such as “Does scientific knowledge contradict religious belief?” and “Is morality derived from biological evolution?” that draw upon each discipline and may bring new insights that advance human endeavor.

The Templeton Prize was announced today at a news conference at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C., by the John Templeton Foundation, which has awarded it since 1973.  Valued at one million pounds sterling (about $1.49 million or €1.12 million), the Prize is the world's largest annual award given to an individual and honors a living person who has made exceptional contributions to affirming life’s spiritual dimension. HRH Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, will award the Prize at a private ceremony at Buckingham Palace on May 5.

In a statement prepared for the news conference, Ayala forcefully denied that science contradicts religion. “If they are properly understood,” he said, “they cannot be in contradiction because science and religion concern different matters, and each is essential to human understanding.” Referring to Picasso’s Guernica, he noted that while science can assess the painting’s massive dimensions and pigments, only a spiritual view imparts the horror of the subject matter. Together, he explained, these two separate analyses reveal the totality of the masterpiece.

John M. Templeton, Jr., M.D., president and chairman of the John Templeton Foundation, praised Ayala’s research, scholarship, development of new schools of thought, and innovative assessments of some of the most fundamental questions of life. He recognized that his remarkable breadth and depth of analysis, focusing on genuine discovery, exemplify the design and purpose of the Prize program founded by his late father, Sir John Templeton. “Ayala’s clear voice in matters of science and faith echoes the Foundation’s belief that evolution of the mind and truly open-minded inquiry can lead to real spiritual progress in the world,” said Dr. Templeton.

In nominating Ayala for the Prize, Dr. Ralph J. Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences, recounted the broad influence of Ayala’s scientific teaching and writings, including more than 1,000 papers and 40 books, adding, “His publications show the power of science as a way of knowing and the significance and purpose of the world and human life, as well as matters concerning moral or religious values that transcend science.”

Ayala’s news conference reference to Picasso’s Guernica was more than simple metaphor. Born in Madrid in 1934, shortly before the Spanish Civil War unleashed its terror, he grew up within the smothering restrictions of the Franco era. Though his family was largely involved with business and finance, Ayala showed an early interest in science that was cultivated by the priests who taught him. In 1960 he, too, became a priest, but soon decided to leave the priesthood – and the intellectual repression of Franco’s Spain – to attend Columbia University in New York, despite virtually no working knowledge of English.

There he met Theodosius Dobzhansky, considered among the 20th century’s most distinguished geneticists and evolutionary biologists, who saw Ayala as a student with potential to lead the field’s next generation. Ayala did not disappoint. Under Dobzhansky’s tutelage, he received his Ph.D. from Columbia in 1964 with a thesis that established that rates of evolution depend on the genetic variation of a species.

It was the first of many discoveries that placed Ayala among the pioneers of genetic research in the second half of the 20th century, including his proof that the parasites responsible for Chagas, an often fatal disease afflicting millions of people living in the tropics, reproduced not sexually but by cloning. This led to similar discoveries about the parasites that cause malaria and other tropical diseases, opening up new approaches to potential vaccines.

Ayala also developed highly-accurate ways to read genetic clocks to determine the timing of precise steps in the evolution of a species over millions or even billions of years. Recently, he and colleagues determined that malaria was likely first transmitted from chimpanzees to humans a mere five or six thousand years ago, possibly through a single mosquito. In January 2010 he co-authored a paper establishing that gorillas and chimps may now serve as reservoirs for the parasites that cause human malaria, so that even if a vaccine is developed, humans will always be vulnerable to re-infection.

Besides holding professorships in biology, philosophy, logic, and philosophy of biology (a field he helped establish), at the University of California, Irvine, Ayala is also University Professor, the highest rank within the California university system and the only person with that title at Irvine.

Three years after the Arkansas court challenge, Ayala was asked by the National Academy of Sciences to serve as principal author of Science, Evolution, and Creationism, a categorical refutation of creationism and so-called intelligent design. Follow-up editions were published in 1999 and 2008.

In 2007, Ayala wrote Darwin’s Gift to Science and Religion (Joseph Henry Press), a broad review of the proper context of science and religion in modern society. His new book, Am I a Monkey? Six Big Questions about Evolution, will be published by Johns Hopkins University Press in October.

In 1994, President Bill Clinton appointed Ayala to the U.S. President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology. While president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) from 1993 to 1996, he developed the AAAS “Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion.” He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a foreign member of the scientific academies of, among others, Spain, Russia, Italy, Mexico and Serbia.

Ayala has two children, Francisco José and Carlos Alberto, from a first marriage which ended in divorce. He married Dr. Hana Lostakova, an ecologist, in 1985.

After moving to California in the 1970s, Ayala purchased a weekend property with a vineyard. Following several expansions, he now supplies major wineries with grapes from more than 2,400 acres of fields in San Joaquin and Sacramento counties.

 

NOTES:

  • The Templeton Prize each year honors a living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works.
  • Created by the late global investor and philanthropist Sir John Templeton, the Prize is a cornerstone of the John Templeton Foundation’s international efforts to serve as a philanthropic catalyst for discovery in areas engaging life's biggest questions, ranging from explorations into the laws of nature and the universe to questions on love, gratitude, forgiveness, and creativity.
  • The monetary value of the prize is set always to exceed the Nobel Prizes to underscore Templeton's belief that benefits from discoveries that illuminate spiritual questions can be quantifiably more vast than those from other worthy human endeavors.

Photos of the Laureate will be available at:  www.flickr.com/photos/templetonprize
Videos of the Laureate will be available at: www.youtube.com/templetonprize

downloads PDFs Links PDFs Photo
May 5, 2010, Buckingham Palace – Francisco J. Ayala was formally presented with the 2010 Templeton Prize by His Royal Highness Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, at a private ceremony at Buckingham Palace, with Dr. John M. Templeton, Jr., president and chairman of the John Templeton Foundation (left).  (Photo Credit: Clifford Shirley / Templeton Prize)

May 5, 2010, Buckingham Palace - Francisco J. Ayala was formally presented with the 2010 Templeton Prize by His Royal Highness Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, at a private ceremony at Buckingham Palace, with Dr. John M. Templeton, Jr., president and chairman of the John Templeton Foundation (left).
(Photo Credit: Clifford Shirley / Templeton Prize)

Francisco J. Ayala

Templeton Prize 2010 Laureate Professor Francisco J. Ayala
at the Templeton Prize news conference
March 25, 2010, National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C.
(Photo Credit: Mark Finkenstaedt)

downloads PDFs Links Photo
May 5, 2010, Buckingham Palace – Francisco J. Ayala was formally presented with the 2010 Templeton Prize by His Royal Highness Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, at a private ceremony at Buckingham Palace, with Dr. John M. Templeton, Jr., president and chairman of the John Templeton Foundation (left).  (Photo Credit: Clifford Shirley / Templeton Prize)

5 de mayo de 2010, Palacio de Buckingham - Francisco J. Ayala fue galardonado con el Premio Templeton 2010, en una ceremonia privada presidida por Su Alteza Real el Príncipe Felipe, Duque de Edimburgo, en el Palacio de Buckingham, con John M. Templeton, Jr., presidente y director de la Fundación John Templeton.
(Fotografía: Clifford Shirley / Premio Templeton)

Francisco J. Ayala

El Profesor Francisco J. Ayala, galardonado con el Premio Templeton 2010, en la conferencia de prensa del Premio que tuvo lugar el 25 de marzo de 2010, en la Academia Nacional de Ciencias en Washington, D.C. (Fotografía: Mark Finkenstaed)

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