Who Is Francisco Ayala (& Why Did Philly’s Templeton’s Foundation Just Give Him $1.5 Million)?

A man who explores science and faith — and who doesn't creep me out

This week the locally based John Templeton Foundation awarded its annual $1.5 million Templeton Prize to UCal-Irvine professor of biology and philosophy Francisco J. Ayala. The annual prize honors a “living person who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical work.” Ayala was chosen for his attempts, through writing and teaching, to show that religious faith isn’t incompatible with science — in particular, with evolutionary theory.

Normally, this is the sort of thing that gives me the willies, since the foundation’s mission is to examine life’s big questions via probing at the axis between science and faith. (The amount of the prize was deliberately set higher than the Nobel prizes by founder John Templeton to enforce his belief that spiritual exploration is as vital as scientific inquiry. Templeton had the leisure to wonder about life and science and faith because he made a killing in the mutual fund industry before he died in 2008.) [SIGNUP]

I have to say, though, that Ayala seems like a very cool guy, at least based on this 1999 Q&A in the New York Times. In our current polarized, Red-v.-Blue, Democrat-v.-Republican United States, a hardworking, humble, down-to-earth scientist/ex-priest who adores fruit flies, grows wine grapes, and tries to “get a dialogue going” with students who reject evolutionary theory surely deserves the big bucks more than loud-barking idiots who make their livings shouting other people down. I wonder what a Francisco Ayala bumper magnet would look like?

SANDY HINGSTON is a Philly Mag senior editor.