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Thursday, March 25, 2010

NCSE Lauds Templeton Prize Winner

As most of us know, the Templeton Prize goes to, "outstanding individuals who have devoted their talents to expanding our vision of human purpose and ultimate reality. The Prize celebrates no particular faith tradition or notion of God, but rather the quest for progress in humanity’s efforts to comprehend the many and diverse manifestations of the Divine." In other words, it's a prize of £1,000,000 sterling for the best accommodationist. The National Center for Science Education has just posted an official press release praising the winner of this religious prize [Ayala wins the Templeton Prize.]

What's up with that? What does tying to understand God have to do with science education? I don't know if NCSE makes a habit of issuing press releases for this sort of thing. Does anyone know if they've posted official press releases for the winners of the Richard Dawkins Award given out by Atheist Alliance International?

In case there was ever any doubt, NCSE publicity supports the position that science and religion are compatible.

Here's the full press release ...
NCSE congratulates Francisco J. Ayala on winning the Templeton Prize. The prize, worth about $1.5 million, is awarded annually by the John Templeton Foundation to "a living person who has made exceptional contributions to affirming life's spiritual dimension." A March 25, 2010, press release from the Foundation highlighted Ayala's vigorous opposition to "the entanglement of science and religion while also calling for mutual respect between the two," saying, "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." Ayala told the Los Angeles Times (March 25, 2010) that he regarded the award as honoring his scientific work and its "very important consequence of making people accept science, and making people accept evolution in particular."

In his essay "Science and religion: Conflict or dialogue?" posted on the Washington Post's On Faith blog (March 25, 2010), Ayala sketched his views on science and religion, writing, "Science and religious beliefs need not be in contradiction. If they are properly understood, they cannot be in contradiction, because science and religion concern different matters. ... The proper relationship between science and religion can be, for people of faith, mutually motivating and inspiring. ... As I see it, scientific knowledge is consistent with a religious belief in God. More so than the 'creationists[']' assertion that everything in the world has been precisely designed by the Creator. Because, then, how to account for human crimes and sins (including the Biblical Fall) and for all the catastrophes that pervade the natural world?" His Darwin's Gift to Science and Religion (Joseph Henry Press, 2009) presents his views in greater detail.

A Supporter of NCSE since its founding, Ayala is University Professor, the Donald Bren Professor of Biological Sciences, and Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Irvine; he received the National Medal for Science, the nation's highest award for lifetime achievement in scientific research, in 2002. Among his contributions to the defense of the integrity of science education was his testimony for the plaintiffs in McLean v. Arkansas and his coordination of support for evolution education at the National Academy of Sciences, including his lead authorship of the publication Science, Evolution, and Creationism (National Academies Press, 2008). NCSE's executive director Eugenie C. Scott commented, "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."


  1. Oh for fu–

    Bill Maher is a) not an official NCSE Supporter (a distinction of unclear import, but still a distinction) and b) did not get the inaugural Dawkins award for his work on evolution education. Ayala's award from Templeton explicitly cites his work against creationism, making it legitimate fodder for NCSE.

    So far as I can tell, this is the only Templeton winner that NCSE has congratulated in this manner, or indeed written up as a news item (not, FWIW, a press release).

  2. Josh,

    Why did the NCSE not just ignore the Templeton award ? I am sure NCSE supporters get awards all the time. Why single out the Templeton ? What relevance does the Templeton prize have to the work of the NCSE ?

    As and aside, did any anyone notice how Mooney has blogged on this and failed to mention he (Mooney) has been made a Templeton Fellow. Does the man have no ethical sense at all ?

  3. So far as I can tell, this is the only Templeton winner that NCSE has congratulated in this manner, or indeed written up as a news item (not, FWIW, a press release).

    What a terrible oversight. Perhaps you can rush out a belated congratulations to YEC Charles Colson.

  4. NCSE had a news item mention on the death of Arthur Peacocke - Templeton Prize winner 2001.

    They also had a news item on the 2008 winner.

    "The recipient of the 2008 Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities was Michael Heller, a Polish cosmologist and Catholic priest, currently Professor in the Faculty of Philosophy at the Pontifical Academy of Theology in Krakow. John M. Templeton Jr., the chair of the John Templeton Foundation and the son of Sir John Templeton, who established the prize in 1973, told the Times of London (March 13, 2008), "Michael Heller's quest for deeper understanding has led to pioneering breakthroughs in religious concepts and knowledge as well as expanding the horizons of science." Heller will receive the prize from Prince Philip at a private ceremony at Buckingham Palace on May 7, 2008; it brings with it 1.6 million dollars, which Heller plans to use to establish a center for the study of science and theology in Krakow."

  5. NCSE deservedly recognised Ayala's award of the National Medal of Science in 2002 for his work in evolutionary biology.

    I think that was sufficient. The Templeton Foundation promote the philosophical position that science and religion are harmonious. Many scientists disagree. The prize is meaningless as far as science goes.

  6. Bayesian Bouffant, FCDFriday, March 26, 2010 2:35:00 PM

    has led to pioneering breakthroughs in religious concepts and knowledge

    Like this one

  7. Josh,

    PZ has just brought an interesting fact to light.

    PZ is a member of the NCSE. Last year he won Humanist of the Year, awarded by the American Humanist Association.

    The NCSE did not acknowledge that fact.

    It seems you and your employer are engaged with rather underhand double standards. Not good on the part of the NCSE, but then it does employ you, and your record of late with regards intellectual honesty is piss poor.

  8. Ayala's award from Templeton explicitly cites his work against creationism, making it legitimate fodder for NCSE.

    And Myers' Humanist of the Year Award explicitly cites HIS work against creationism.

    As a vocal atheist and skeptic of all forms of religion, superstition, and pseudoscience, Myers was a founding member of the pro-evolution website The Panda's Thumb and has long been a leading critic of creationism and intelligent design.

  9. NCSE did mark Myers' win of the Humanist of the Year, as PZ notes in an update to this post

    If NCSE thinks that not conflating science and atheism is useful in their fight for good science education, they're quite sensible in promoting someone who opposes that view.

    Mike from Ottawa

  10. Leigh: Noting the death of someone who won a Templeton is not "congratulat[ing] in this manner," nor is pointing out the anti-ID views of a previous winner.

    Matthew: Like it or not, the Templeton award gets a lot of press, and a review of the search I helpfully provided will show that NCSE congratulates Supporters on a range of awards. Contra Leigh, there's no reason who only one honor in a Supporter's career should be so noted. (Note that "Supporter" is an official NCSE designation:

    Twitter tells me that Jim Lippard has already pointed out that RNCSE did note PZ's award, and I see that PZ has corrected the post. And I see that Penfold is in the comments there asking me for "an official explanation," which suggests that he's missed the point about my not blogging or blog-commenting in my official capacity at NCSE. I'm just some guy, and other just some guys already addressed the major points.

  11. Josh: I did not say those other two news items were "congratulating". They were, however, altogether, three very odd-looking news items set amongst a list relating to awards for achievement in evolutionary science or education.

    The Templeton Prize is an award for scientists who speak nicely about spiritual/religious stuff.

    I cannot find a news item for PZ's award amongst your google list. Is there one? If not, and if the newsworthiness of the three Templeton Prize winners was entirely due to the fact that they have spoken against Intelligent Design, and absolutely nothing to do with their Christian faith, then why no equivalent recognition for PZ?