"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." Yet again the prize has gone to a scientist who says nice things about religion.

"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.

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."

This all harks back to the fragile idea of non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA) as espoused by Stephen Jay Gould. If science and religion really did not overlap then we wouldn't even be discussing this topic. For religious (or even scientific) apologists to claim that the two magisteria ask different questions is merely a linguistic sleight of hand - at least Aquinas was more consistent, if doubly wrong. Alaya's work defending the teaching of evolution can be commended without agreeing with his overall vision.

"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." This doesn't sound to me like an open enquiry but a way of ring-fencing religion - more precisely, Christianity - from further scientific investigations into its origins and legitimacy.

The Templeton Foundation keeps changing its website and is trying to broaden its appeal outside of Christianity, but anybody who tries to seek a grant from them to teach a Science and Religion course will soon discover what their real aims are. Perhaps the Foundation will evolve into something other than a Christian crusade into science; and I would support it more if that were the case. But a quick glance at Sir John Templeton biography again confirms the true aims of the Foundation that bears his name.

"Although Sir John was a Presbyterian elder and active in his denomination (also serving on the board of the American Bible Society), he espoused what he called a "humble approach" to theology. Declaring that relatively little is known about the divine through scripture and present-day theology, he predicted that "scientific revelations may be a gold mine for revitalizing religion in the 21st century." To his mind, "All of nature reveals something of the creator. And god is revealing himself more and more to human inquiry, not always through prophetic visions or scriptures but through the astonishingly productive research of modern scientists.""

The Templeton Foundation has about £1 billion in assets and distributes about £50 million every year. The Templeton Prize is currently set at £1 million and is pegged to always be greater than the Nobel Prize. This underlines the influence that this foundation has to fund research that it considers will confirm its stance and to fund scientists who are more than willing to propagate its beliefs.