Ayala nabs Templeton Prize

March 25, 2010 • 11:55 am

Surprisingly, Francis Collins didn’t get this year’s Templeton Prize. In retrospect, one might have added evolutionary geneticist Francisco Ayala as a contender, but that’s the wisdom of hindsight.  Ayala, at least, is not nearly as woo-laden as Collins.  And although he used to be Dominican priest, I’m not at all sure if he still believes in God, a deistic God, or a theistic God (I haven’t followed his talks or read his book Darwin’s Gift to Science and Religion, which Russell Blackford reviews here). And, in contrast to Collins, he doesn’t go around mixing faith with science.

On the positive side, he’s done a lot to promote straight, unsullied evolutionary biology and to battle creationism and its country cousin intelligent design.

But he got the prize not for science but for accommodationism.  Despite my respect for Ayala’s scientific accomplishments and his public defense of evolution, I nevertheless oppose his assertion that religion is “a way of knowing” that is complementary to science.  (Ayala helped write the NAS’s statement to that effect).  Here’s part of his statement for the Templeton Prize:

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.

I respectfully disagree, for this statement assumes that there is a “proper” way to understand religion.  As I have written incessantly on this website, a huge number of believers—probably at least half of the Christians in America—don’t understand their religion in this way.  Is Ayala then going to tell these folks that their faith is “improper,” and they simply have to modify it so that it comports with science?  That advice would offend them far more than any amount of shrill and militant diatribes from new atheists!

And, of course, what Ayala means by a “proper”  religion is one that cannot contradict science, presumably because it makes no empirical claims about the world.  That makes his NOMA-like harmony a semantic rather than an empirical or philosophical issue. How many Christians, for instance, have a “proper” Christianity that denies the virgin birth, the Resurrection, the efficacy of prayer, or any other way that a theistic deity could affect the world? Certainly not Kenneth Miller or Francis Collins! They are theists, and that’s a form of religion that does contradict science.

As for Guernica, a painting that I love, well, you don’t need religion to be moved by it.  You don’t even need “spirituality,” whatever that means.  All you need is the purely human emotion of being sickened by the horrors of war and their effects on innocent people.  Both atheists and the faithful can fully appreciate the “totality” of this painting, and I don’t see that being religious helps you appreciate it more.

If religion is “essential to human understanding,” then what, exactly, does it help us understand? And would Ayala diagnose his fellow Europeans, who are largely atheistic, as lacking some important component of human understanding?

UPDATE:  As Paul points out in the comments below (gleaned from CalGeorge at Pharyngula), Ayala was formerly on the Board of Advisors of the John Templeton Foundation.  This means that he joins the large-ish group of members of that Board who won the Templeton Prize after their service as advisors. I believe that these include at least six of the last thirteen winners, but I may be wrong.

UPDATE DEUX:  According to the online (UK) Times, Ayala hasn’t lost any time attacking Dawkins for espousing “scientific fundamentalism.” Ayala says this:

“The scientific fundamentalism proposed by Dawkins implies a materialistic view of the world. But once science has had its say, there remains much about reality that is of interest. Common sense tells us that science can’t tell us everything.”

Perhaps, but what can religion tell us about reality? Please, somebody, just give me one thing!

82 thoughts on “Ayala nabs Templeton Prize

  1. Thank you Jerry for this post. Picasso’s Guernica is about anger and pain and death by real humans against other real humans. The remedies are awe and wonder and compassion and altruism not some ill-define ‘spirituality’.

    1. The word “religion” isn’t used very often in the Bible – maybe 2 or three times – and probably the best known instance is this: “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.”
      Religion, spirituality are a more down-to-earth affair than you imagine.

  2. First of all, a huge number of believers don’t understand religion in this way. Is Ayala going to tell these folks that they don’t have a “proper understanding” of their faith?

    I would assume so. That’s what accomodationists tend to do, actually. They have their own personal harmonization of science and religion and then get huffy and offended when you can’t see the logic of their harmonization. That holds true both for believers and non-believers who can’t see it for the most part.

    And, of course, what Ayala means by a “proper” religion is one that cannot contradict science, presumably because it makes no empirical claims about the world. That makes this NOMA-like harmony a semantic rather than an empirical issue.

    It makes it a theological issue rather than an empirical issue. Which I would argue makes it a semantic issue, but theologians seem to think there’s a difference. I’ve never been able to get one to adequately explain the difference to me, but perhaps I haven’t studied enough theology.

    As for Guernica, well, you don’t need religion to be moved by that. You don’t even need “spirituality,” whatever that means. All you need is the ability to be emotional and to reflect on the horrors of war visited on innocent people.

    Ah, but that’s exactly the kind of thing that people mean when they say “I’m not religious, but I am spiritual.” Certain things strike an emotional resonance with them and they don’t want to believe that it comes down to a biochemical or psychological reaction so they attribute it to “something greater than themselves”. They don’t want to believe that their reaction can be explained by biochemistry or psychology or any other empirical explanation – it must be something mystical because of the emotions it generates in them. Therefore God. Or Goddess. Or Brahma. Or Zeus.

  3. So is he suggesting that the human mind is incapable of interpreting art and emotion without supernatural intervention or does he think that the humanities are a religion?

  4. I have a hypothesis. Religious people were all seriously emotionally blackmailed when they were too young to think critically about the things they were taught. By emotional blackmail I mean that they were told that they wouldn’t ever be able to feel all of those wonderful, compassionate, happy, satisfied, caring, meaningful emotions we all feel unless they could affirm some meaning of a propositions like “I’m a spiritual person” or “God exists” (even if they don’t want to attribute anything as vulgar as the property of existence to this god). It’s no surprise that anyone would fall so utterly in love with their concept of spirituality or God if they were taught this, that they would be completely incapable of drawing the simple logical conclusion from the fact that plenty of atheists are happy and find something like “Guernica” meaningful and moving – that is, the conclusion that meaning is possible without faith. Without any good reason, people like Ayala just refuse process the information that people who reject spirituality aren’t miserable and depressed. To my mind, this also goes to show that religious upbringing doesn’t have to threaten an eternity of hellfire to be child abuse or something close enough.

    1. So, let’s test this wonderful scientific mindset you have here:

      You have a hypothesis. How do you plan on testing it? What empirical data do you have to support it? What experiments do you think could be run demonstrating it? What evidence could falsify it? Surely you wouldn’t assert an actual hypothesis based on no evidence and with no idea how to test or falsify it, right? That wouldn’t be scientific.

      Now, I do philosophy more than I do science, so I don’t really have to be bound that strictly by formal scientific methods. So let me apply “armchair philosophy” and look at myself. Well, I’m religious, so that puts me in that list of people you start with (inclusive with the “all” qualifier). Hmmmm. I don’t seem to think that atheistic people can’t, in fact, find meaning in those works, or that they’re all miserable and depressed. Nor do I believe that compassion et al are impossible without religion or God. Nor do I recall being taught that as a child, and I was raised in my religion. So, that that is a common thing that applies to all religious people seems, to me, to be false, since it doesn’t seem to apply to me. This may not be sufficient for a scientific rebuttal, but it’s certainly enough for me to say that I don’t believe your “hypothesis” until you can prove it.

      About the only thing relevant that I DO believe is that it seems unlikely that that meaningful connection from that painting is, in fact, scientifically gained. I can’t see any method that can decently be called scientific that could do that. But I’m willing to hear examples. That said, my reaction to that is philosophical, not religious.

      I know this might sound like nitpicking, but this sort of claim irritates me, where we have people making claims about how they only follow science and rationality and then make arguments that utilize neither …

      1. On the one side we have experiments that show brain activity that corresponds to the timing of emotional responses, this occurs irrespective of those that are infected by a god idea or those that are not.

        On the others side we have numerous conflicting claims with no evidence or consistency.

        It is true that scientific inquiry has not yet reduced emotional responses to a verifiable step by step process but it is also true that the information shows no evidence of any supernatural origin.

        Personally, I don’t think there is any supernatural origin of anything but, I am also disturbed by people that would have respect for something that slinks around in the darkness without the decency to reveal itself if it were aware of the wars and destruction that occur due to disagreements regarding its hidden messages.

        1. Presuming that you’re referring to my asking for examples of how things like the painting could be scientifically described, I did consider that philosophical, not religious, but wonder how science could describe something so intensely subjective. Saying “these neurons are firing” isn’t going to work to explain why, say, someone would be deeply moved by the painting but someone else would be unaffected.

          1. Well, that might be interesting if you disregard the fact the people can learn or be taught to control or influence their emotions. It becomes akin to necessity for a doctor as an example.

            1. Why do you see the ability to subjectively change your emotional reactions as being properly and fully scientific? Philosophy’s been going on about that for years …

              In short, I just don’t see what point in what I said your example is trying to address.

            2. So if the “moved” person in your statement has trained their brain to focus on emotional reactions and the “unaffected” person has trained their brain to disregard emotional reactions – how doesn’t that provide a scientific explanation? It all hinges on which neural pathways are given preference. Your choice of liking one or the other reactions is also a matter of how you have trained your brain. However, it can become very difficult to identify how the pathways have been built or controlled in each individual person. That concept would be analogous to a therapist having a breakthrough with a patient – they will have possibly found an important pathway or control point.

              Unless you want to insert an unneeded mythological component.

              The reason I presented the “doctor” example is to point out that a person can train their brain to allow emotion but also to disregard emotion when needed. Some people are more successful at it than others, for a variety of reasons.

          2. I did consider that philosophical, not religious, but wonder how science could describe something so intensely subjective.

            Science cannot describe the subjective. I rather doubt philosophy can either. Furthermore, I doubt subjective states and experiences qualify as “knowledge” in the first place. At the very least, it needs to be distinguished from the way the word knowledge is being used in the rest of these discussions. The subjective can be defined as “self-knowledge.” It doesn’t require an epistemology or way of knowing beyond basic self-awareness, nor are subjective claims subjective to a burden of proof beyond basic self-reporting. This is fundamentally different than what’s required to make claims to knowledge about objective reality.

            As I wrote at the Sandwalk, whenever someone brings up an example of something science can’t ever “know” it’s always something subjective in nature. It’s never a brute fact about our shared, external reality; but rather some subjective “fact” like you love your wife, that chocolate is your favorite ice cream flavor, or that Guernica is a powerfully moving painting.

            This is a conflation of two huge categories: the subjective, or self-knowledge; vs. the objective, or knowledge of the external and universal. Yes, science only works for the latter. It doesn’t reveal subjective truths, only objective ones.

            But here’s the thing. The claim that god exists in reality? That’s an objective claim. It’s exactly the sort thing science is supposed to address. Religious apologists like Ayala love to treat the fact of god’s existence as a subjective claim. But unless one is willing to admit that god doesn’t exist outside of human minds, essentially adopting the atheist position, then it’s comparing apples to oranges. You can’t have it both ways. Either god is exactly like love, something which you can just know for yourself and doesn’t exist beyond yourself (and your god dies when you die), or god is a proposed entity that exists apart from humans whose existence must be established through scientific evidence.

            Those are the choices. Citing one’s personal emotional reaction to a painting has nothing to do with theology. It’s not an epistemology that could support the claim “god exists in reality.” At best it could support the claim “I believe god exists,” which is a trivial statement that doesn’t require much support to make in the first place.

  5. I think y’all may be taking “spiritual” too literally. Perhaps what he meant is that there are different ways of understanding Guernica. Truths about its meaning (“spiritual truths”–so to speak) aren’t in competition with truths about its chemical composition. No doubt he does not think science and religion can be reconciled in exactly the same way, but rather this is just supposed to be suggestive.

    1. Spiritual – of the spirit

      1 : of, relating to, consisting of, or affecting the spirit : incorporeal
      2 a : of or relating to sacred matters b : ecclesiastical rather than lay or temporal
      3 : concerned with
      religious values
      4 : related or joined in spirit
      5 a : of or relating to supernatural beings or phenomena b : of, relating to, or involving spiritualism

      Maybe there is a reason to take it literally. Words have meanings.

      1. You’re all entirely correct, but there’s more to words than dictionary definitions. According to one dictionary, as one who doesn’t believe in God but disclaims any more rigorous philosophical assertion, I’m neither an atheist nor an agnostic, but rather a pagan.

        People tend to use “spiritual” in a very loose manner to refer to nearly anything outside of immediate material concerns, including morals and aesthetics. We can and should deprecate this usage, but we should perhaps be as generous as possible when considering what might be meant.

        Keynes wasn’t being animistic when he referred to “animal spirits”, and when a critic describes a “spirited performance” she may not be crediting the intervention of an actual muse.

        1. But he used the word specifically when arguing that science and religion are both necessary. That makes it seem very likely that he meant ‘spiritual’ in the context NewEnglandBob cites. And if he doesn’t – then yes let’s all concede that if by ‘spiritual’ you mean ’emotional’ then spirituality is good for something; but what on earth is religion good for?

    2. I agree with you that truths about chemical composition and truths about meaning aren’t in competition. But I disagree that a truth about the meaning of “Guernica” is a truth about the painting. It’s a truth about what I take its meaning to be. Or about what a culture agrees that its meaning is. There are objective facts about what objects are taken to mean by subjects but not about what meaning objects have in and of themselves. They have none.

      1. Surely when the object is a work of art, and the artist has been most explicit about its intended meaning, that must be taken into account?

        1. If you love “Guernica”, you owe yourself a visit to Madrid to see it at MNCARS. If you really love it, bring a hankie.

          Not only do they have photographs of the work in progress, and variations on details, you can see in the final canvas the traces of things Picasso painted first, then painted over.
          Whatever its intended meaning, Picasso certainly had second thoughts while expressing it.

          I’d say that, like any piece of art, it doesn’t have a single meaning; it’s a political statement, but it’s also a massive Picasso from the late 1930’s.

  6. Did you guys know Ayala was on the advisory board of the Templeton Foundation? But for some odd reason, he no longer is.

    CalGeorge posted this on Pharyngula:

    Scientific American, Nov. 2008:

    Ayala is again giving his colleagues pause by sitting on the advisory board of the John Templeton Foundation, which paid out $70 million in grants last year alone for research and scholarly programs “engaging life’s biggest questions.” Some scientists complain that the organization’s main mission is to inject religion into science. But Ayala defends Templeton’s interest in connecting science to religious life. The foundation has “started to do very good things in recent years,” he explains.


    He’s no longer listed as an advisor.


    1. Interesting that! They might consider adding his removal to their list of “life’s biggest questions.”

  7. Here’s a take from a past Templeton Fellow:

    When I attended a journalism fellowship funded by the Templeton Foundation in 2005, I learned from Templeton-endorsed scientists and theologians that the way to establish a peaceful co-existence of science and religion was to make no religious claims at all.

    By its efforts to validate religious belief in scientific terms, Templeton has actually stripped religion of all ideas, rendering it entirely pointless.

    More of that, please! Unfortunately, the writer is unhappy with Templeton for this:

    But attempting to prove your religion is based on anything rational or scientific is a fool’s errand. As the Templeton Foundation has rather self-defeatingly shown over the last few years, it just doesn’t work because they actually do have overlapping concerns, whatever Ayala says.

    What’s more, you might just strip away your own faith in the process. Believe me.

    That’s the end. By Michael Brooks, on newscientist.com. Is he admitting Templeton caused him to lose faith?

  8. He is saying nothing really. Religion is a valid way of learning. That’s it. That’s all that can be said. Further, it is usually not the best way of learning.

    1. Not as I understand learning, i.e. learning empirical facts.

      Religion can tell you about religion in the sense of rote learning of metaphors: “if A then B”. But you need comparative religion and history to make any empirical meaning out of it: “A and B are religious metaphors in religion X since date Y.”

      1. Should have said it better. I was making a distinction between knowing and learning, the semantic game that I think is being played. A religious school can teach math, history, art appreciation, etc. That’s all I meant. I do not maintain that it is a separate and valid path to “knowledge” or “truth”.

      2. Learning is in no way limited to empirical facts. It can’t be if we expect to survive. Our world desperately needs to learn much more about justice, love, kindness, freedom, equality, and the like, even though our best conclusions won’t be demonstrable via empirical facts. Science is a wonderful tool, but still only a tool that deals with mechanism, not meaning. As such, we need more — much more — than just that.

  9. Ah, such a political choice! But it is good that Collins isn’t empowered for a while.

    denied that science contradicts religion

    It is not enough to not contradict science. After all, murder doesn’t contradict science.

    The question is if religion is in conflict with science. Indeed it is so, because trivially faith and fact can never be reconciled. The moment you know, faith is rejected. Religious faith is moreover rejected by its insistence on supernaturalism and creators IMO, but that is actually a superfluous observation as the weaker general form suffices.

    Now this is an interesting showcase in accommodationist psychology. First Ayala has to rewrite the issue so that he can assert his a priori assumption without running into a testable rejection. Then he asserts it without having trouble with that an a priori is used to shore up itself.

    This he could have done if it was subjected to testing. But not now, it is now a perfectly circular argument: Because A and B was chosen to not give a contradiction, A and B does not give a contradiction. Because A and B does not give a contradiction, A and B can never be chosen to give a contradiction. Testing would eliminate the illusion, so it has to go.

    And they ask us why we think accommodationism is a perfect example of religious insanity?

  10. Ayala – never really heard of him – well, no more than a name. However, this crops up in the Publishers Weekly review of his book Darwin’s Gift (posted on amazon.com):

    According to Ayala, Darwin provides both a clear understanding of the nature of the physical world and an explanation for its flaws that takes the onus for them off of God.

    If this is Ayala’s claim to fame in the Relgion-Science sweepstakes, it won’t work. Because, if there is a god, and this god uses evolution as the means of creation, god is still responsible for the flaws, because it’s responsible for the system. Good heavens, has philosophy come to this?! Is this really Ayala’s argument?

    1. What is Nature’s Worst Design? Francisco Ayala answers.

      The human reproductive system. Twenty percent of pregnancies end in spontaneous abortions and miscarriages in the first two months. In the world, that’s 20 million abortions per year. Twenty million abortions per year? You wouldn’t want to blame God for that.


      So yeah, it would seem he really does see evolution as a way for God to create imperfect beings without being responsible for their imperfections.

      1. Far from it, but Ayala is listed as a Professor of Philosophy, and Professor of the Philosophy of Science, as well as being a Professor of Biological Science. He may be a great biologist, but as a philosopher (or a theologian)… well! This is pretty simplistic stuff.

    2. Since Ayala used to be a Dominican this doesn’t surprise me at all. Theistic evolution is the standard Roman Catholic position to wriggle away from making the Galileo mistake again with evolution.

      It really doesn’t take the blame off of God if you don’t already have a preconception of a perfect, infinitely good, infinitely just God embedded in your head. I’m fairly convinced that stuff like this, like most apologetics actually, isn’t supposed to convince non-believers of anything. It’s supposed to keep believers from sliding away into non-belief by giving them a small branch to cling to as reality smacks their beliefs upside the head.

  11. Wow – I would never have expected Ayala to get a Templeton. Aha! No one expects the Inquisition! Unlike Collins and Miller I don’t see Ayala trying to say that everything we discover must be a sign that there is a god (or that god has your children raped to ‘test’ you – whatever the hell that means). I guess the Templetons are now being given to anyone seen as friendly to religion. I’m sure Mooney will redouble his efforts now.

  12. I’d just like to point out that there *is* a proper way to understand religions and their claims – it is called “reason” (as opposed to blind faith) – and when religion is understood with reason the invariable outcome is that religion is nothing but mere superstition.

  13. On the shameful Templeton-Ayala sleight of hand, everything substantive has been said.
    I am not competent to judge the scientific accomplishments of Prof. Ayala. But his nauseating crack about Picasso’s Guernica — if reported truthfully — makes me question his discernment and tact.
    I was in the town of Guernica in 1975, during Franco’s agony. The Guardia Civil was patrolling everywhere. In the houses I visited, the Basque showed me, with pride and more than a little defiance, ‘their Guernica’: often a postcard of the painting, worn from frequent hiding, sometimes a larger reproduction. As to their views on Catholicism and the social role of religion in general, well, Christopher Hitchens himself would have been considered an accommodationist.

    Two or three years ago, I was at the Reina Sofía in Madrid. While in the gallery where Picasso’s Guernica cycle is exhibited, I and the other visitors were rudely pushed aside by Men In Black forming a security cordon. A group of ladies ostentatiously draped in Islamic headscarfs and wearing ankle-length gowns marched in and posed in front of the main painting, while a ‘court’ photographer was taking dozens, if not hundreds of shots, all with a high-power flashgun. The curator was noticeably cringing. The most prominent of the Islamically headscarfed ladies tried every modellish pose indicated by the photographer; an exercise in visual malapropism, and revulsing in view of the backdrop. When done, the pack marched away as fast as they had come in, not deigning as much as a glance at Picasso’s masterwork.
    Later that evening, I learned that the newly-elected Turkish president, the Islamist Abdullah Gül, was on official visit. His wife, noted for her relentless promotion of the Islamic headscarf in formerly secular Turkey, had ‘honoured’ the Reina Sofía Museum with her august presence, debasing Guernica as a vulgar photo-op.

    When misusing this immense work of art for the sake of his religious views, Francisco J. Ayala gets the company he sadly deserves.

      1. Need I be more explicit?
        As NewEnglandBob pointed out, Ayala did not use the term ‘spiritual view’ innocently. Not in the Templeton context, not when contrasting it to science.
        Had he done so with regard to a Madonna by El Greco, or a St. Jerome by Zurbarán, one might let that pass. But Guernica has a precise history and a precise meaning. Its instrumentalisation as a showpiece for the kind of fuzzy religiosity, bashfully veiled as ‘spiritual view’, that was worth mucho dinero to Templeton, is in my view totally inappropriate. The implication that this is necessary for its understanding and appreciation is insulting. I find it just as debasing as using Guernica as a backdrop for an Islamic headscarf fashion show.

            1. Guernica was painted for the pavilion of the Spanish Republic during the civil war, when the anticlerical Republicans, with Soviet support, were contending with Franco’s devoutly Catholic Falangists.

              Using it as a backdrop for any sort of celebration of religion would be like using a reliquary as a backdrop for one of Madonna’s music videos, if there was more than one Guernica.

    1. Yes, NOMA seems to apply when scientists turn their head towards any religious claims but not when religions decide that they know the TRUE answer to something.

  14. I just heard him interviewed on the BBC World Service. The presenter said a lot of stupid things and asked a lot of stupid questions, and Ayala was actually quite winning at first. Well he has a lovely accent, you know.

    But then the presenter brought up the ‘New’ atheists, and Ayala became less winning. He thinks it’s regrettable that scientists try to say stuff about religion, on account of science has nothing to do with religion and nothing to say about it. You think they should be stopped then, the presenter prompted. Ayala said we could speak (oh thank you) as long as we stick to the limits – we have to be clear that science and philosophy have nothing to say about religion, that they’re all different-like. He said it in a lovely voice, but he said it.

    1. Once you’re paid by Templeton, I guess you have to sing the Templeton theme song. I’m not surprised.

  15. I posted earlier to the wrong thread–sorry for the duplication, but…

    If we make people like Ayala our enemy, we will be left with few friends. I do not like this accomodationist demonization. Lets get back on track.

      1. Look at Ayala’s work and previous statements, and look at the snide remarks on this blog.

        What are we about here? The truth of evolution, on which Ayala has been unambiguous, or a philosophical difference about how to deal with the imponderables of existence?

        1. Why, exactly, must we pick one?

          The Pope agrees with the truth of evolution – does that mean I can’t criticise him for his ridiculous position on condoms or abortion?

        2. Neil has a point in that we have been rough on Ayala, when he’s one of the more reasonable “accomodationists”. (Of course, Ayala wasted no time in getting pretty rough on Dawkins, eh? But that’s just a tu quoque argument, hence I restrict it to parenthesis) For better or worse, it’s because he got the Templeton prize. That makes his lukewarm comments on science/religion compatibility a lot more annoying. Is that fair to Ayala? Well, no. But that’s life. (And anyway, I’ll take a million bucks in exchange for some people on the Internet being a little mean to me any day!)

          1. To perhaps make my point more succinctly: Ayala’s NOMA-esque opinions are nothing remarkable, but his receipt of the Templeton Prize is — hence, we are remarking on his NOMA-esque opinions.

          2. I’m sorry but I don’t agree here. If you read the comments on the thread, most of them deal with Ayala’s ideas, whether he mixes science and religion, whether art gives evidence for faith, and so on. And this website has always discussed and criticized NOMA-esque opinions, e.g. from Ken Miller, Michael Ruse, Genie Scott, ad infinitum. It’s a theme of this place, so you’re just wrong to say that we’re singling out Ayala for unique opprobrium because he won the Templeton prize.

            For some reason people can’t stand having ideas criticized when they’re religious ideas–that’s being “mean.” Now if we went after Rush Limbaugh’s political opinions with the same kind of discussion we’ve had here, well, that would be JUST FINE.

            1. so you’re just wrong to say that we’re singling out Ayala for unique opprobrium because he won the Templeton prize.

              I think you are interpreting me as making a stronger statement than I really am.

              Would we be talking about Ayala and NOMA in the same sentence today if he hadn’t won the Templeton Prize yesterday? No. That’s all I’m really saying.

              Neil is concerned that we are criticizing Ayala’s viewpoints, even though they are not particularly remarkable, and even though he is definitely an ally. In response, I’m pointing out that, just as you say, NOMA is criticized regularly in this blog, so that is nothing new; and the reason Ayala’s specific NOMA-ish opinions are being criticized today is because he won the prize yesterday. That’s, you know, how blogs often work: The usual themes are explored in the context of current events.

  16. Perhaps we’re defining “track” differently, then. To me, staying on “track” means sticking to rationality, not pretending that religion offers some sort of legitimate “other way of knowing”, not pretending that science and religion aren’t fundamentally incompatible, and not tolerating Ayala’s NOMA-esque (but far worse than NOMA) nonsense simply because he accepts evolution.

    1. Miranda,

      I doubt that we disagree on rationality. What I am saying is that a healthy society allows for different opinions. We do not need ideological purity. A disagreement about whether god exists (which I happen to doubt) is different from a disagreement about whether evolution is true (which I do not doubt). I do not care about the former, but I do care about the latter. I will accept people’s need to believe in god, as long as it does not conflict with their acceptance of the obvious facts of evolution. I do not know how they reconcile the two, and I don’t care. Evolution is under attack by idiots, and that is why I think this war on accomodationism against people who accept evolution is unwise. I am a great fan of Dawkins and Coyne, but when your allies are on a track that you think is wrong, it is your duty to say so.

      1. Of course a healthy society allows for different opinions. For Zeus’s sake, none of us are seeking that Christianity be BANNED. Criticising a person is not the same as saying that the person’s opinion should not be allowed. Sheesh.

      2. Neil, the simple acceptance of evolution is only one strand of a much larger rope. The ‘new atheist’ consensus position, as far as I can tell, has never been to compel people to abandon their religious beliefs, but rather to keep them in the private sphere and not impose sectarian religious ideas on the wider population.
        The question is whether, in a political tactic to gain wider acceptance of evolution, we are prepared to compromise on ideals such as preventing discrimination against homosexuals (which comes almost exclusively from a sectarian religious worldview).
        How about Women’s reproductive rights?
        How about stem cell research or in-vitro fertilization?
        All of these are opposed by the largest religious organization that accepts evolution, namely that great protector of morals, the Catholic church.
        The anti-accomodationists are simply not prepared to ignore these points.

      3. Neil: “when your allies are on a track that you think is wrong, it is your duty to say so”

        Jerry is the ally of people like Ayala when it comes to evolution. But he believes they’re on a wrong track regarding religion. So surely it’s his duty, according to you, to say so – but that’s exactly what you’re criticising him for.

        If agreeing on evolution trumps all, then the Dawkinses can’t complain about the Ayalas but neither can the Mooneys complain about the Dawkinses.

        1. Exactly. The logic works both ways.
          Plus: Condoning blatant inconsistency for fear of alienating allies would be an insidious form of self-censorship. And in the long run, poisonous.

      4. Evolution isn’t a political idea that can be batted around to find allies. Evolution is natural processes that can be studies by any who care. Contrary to mythology, evolution remains even when there are no alliances or even if no one studies it.

  17. Re update deux: The Duke of Edinburgh will present the prize to Professor Ayala on May 5 in a private ceremony at Buckingham Palace.

    Prince Charles must be gutted.

  18. I know to whom I would look on matters factual given the choice between Dawkins & Ayala.
    Vis: the one who seeks what is the truth rather than the one who seeks that which they wish to be reality, and labels it ‘truth’.
    (No points for guessing that it is the former.)

    1. I’m curious: why wouldn’t you use your own critical judgement, examine the arguments, and see what does indeed seem to be true given the evidence? Why would you ever feel the need to prefer one person over the other a priori?

  19. I’d need to read the entire statement before I can really judge what Ayala says, but I do find the idea that the interpretation of that painting is precisely religious odd. There seems to be nothing religious about it. However, it seems to be a decent point to say that it is something other than science that allows for that, and that the interpretation of meaning there is not scientific in any strict sense. So, if Ayala wants to posit two realms — the scientific and the spiritual — and religion is PART of the one that science can’t touch, then I think that’s a fair point (that may or may not be correct, mind you). That all of that is religious is hard for me to swallow.

    1. [Perhaps, but what can religion tell us about reality? Please, somebody, just give me one thing!]

      How about: It keeps theologians, who are otherwise unemployable, employed?

  20. Perhaps, but what can religion tell us about reality? Please, somebody, just give me one thing!


    While I know many in the freethinking community agree with me, I do not personally consider science to have an epistemological monopoly (when there is a choice, science is always the best epistemology — but it’s not always practical, and certain other “ways of knowing” such as intuition, etc., aren’t completely useless).

    But just because I allow that science isn’t the perfect tool for every single little thing, how the hell does that justify religion as an epistemology???

    I do believe that there are useful and reasonable “ways of knowing” other than science — but faith ain’t one of ’em!

  21. I am struck by several things in the science vs. religion skirmish:

    The breadth scientists allow when defining terms; e.g., Coyne and Orr’s review of differences in in the definition of species in Speciation, then stating why they chose one without denigration of the other definition and proceeded with the book. One I enjoyed, although it exceeded my understanding in many places.

    The narrowness with which some scientists define religion, even to the extent that it is theistic or, more narrowly, that it be Christian or, to the razor’s edge, that it is literal Fundamentalist Creationist Christian.

    Words have many meanings. Science can be more narrowly defined than religion because science in mainly rational and objective. On the other hand, religion is more subjective and non-rational. Meanings change (evolve?). All who read the history of science and religion know this.

    The root term for religion is given in various forms as religia, religio and others which means, variously, linking, binding, connecting.

    Religion, in the broadest terms is a meaning system, a way of defining meaning in creation: the universe, earth, life, human life.

    In this sense, anyone who attaches meaning to reality is religious. Those who engage in a form of concretization of that meaning are practicing a Religion; e.g., Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Taoism, Unitarian Universalism, humanism, et. al.

    Whether science and religion are compatible depends on ones definition of the two. A case can be made for both views, but to argue about the issue using different definitions makes both parties right and wrong simultaneously.

    1. So what I glean from this, Oldfuzz is that religion, being more subjective and non-rational gets to define itself as it pleases, using any meaning of any words and then declare itself compatible with science bu fiat?

      Sorry, that is a major failure.

Leave a Reply