Why They Love Science

Congratulations to Parastoo Abtahi and Allison Carter, the high school students who won the Perimeter Institute’s “I Love Science” video contest.

Check out Abtahi’s video:

And here’s Carter’s:


Templeton Prize Winner Gets His Cash Award

Back in March, Francisco Ayala (pictured center) won the 2010 Templeton Prize, valued at more than 1.5 million dollars. Today, he was presented with the award by Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh (pictured right), in a private ceremony at Buckingham Palace. “This is a remarkable prize,” Ayala said. “I hope the recognition it bestows will help propagate the notion that science and religion are not in opposition and that, in fact, they may often be complementary.”
As we told you earlier, Ayala will donate the money for graduate scholarships in biological sciences and toward the evolutionary genetics program at the University of California, Irvine, where he’s a professor.


Congratulations, Tim White

TIME has named paleoanthropologist Tim White, who led the team that discovered the 4.4 million-year-old skeleton known as “Ardi,” to its annual “most influential” list.
Back in October, we asked White how important it is that we find the last common ancestor of chimps and humans, and he told us:

The more important questions for most people involve WHETHER we evolved, and HOW we evolved since we diverged from the lines that led to the extant apes. Anatomy of living forms, fossils, and genetics all independently answer the first question the same way: Yes. And fossils and genetics are also combining to reveal HOW we evolved, although there is a good deal more evidence that will reveal even more. That’s why we go to the field every year to gather more evidence and gain more knowledge. And it’s why we search in rocks of many ages, not just those older than 6 million years.


Francisco Ayala Wins Templeton Prize

Francisco Ayala, an evolutionary biologist, geneticist, and former Dominican priest who argues there is no inherent contradiction between science and religion, is the 2010 Templeton Prize winner. He is accepting the award this morning at a press conference (and live Web cast) at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, D.C. (Ayala is an NAS member and was nominated for the prize by NAS President Ralph Cicerone.)
For more than 30 years, Ayala, born in Spain and now a professor at the University of California, Irvine, has vigorously opposed blurring the boundaries between science and faith, seeing efforts to block religion from intruding into science as necessary to ensure “the survival of rationality in this country.” At the same time, he believes faith can help us better understand things like purpose, values, and the meaning of life. Science and religion have separate roles, he says, but both are valuable—and only seem contradictory and antithetical when they go beyond their scope.
In prepared remarks, he uses Picasso’s painting “Guernica” to illustrate his point:

Suppose that I list the coordinates of all images represented in the painting, their shape and size, the pigments used, and the quality and dimensions of this immense canvas, measuring 25 feet, 8 inches by 11 feet, 6 inches. This information would be interesting, but it would be hardly satisfying if I completely omitted aesthetic considerations and failed to reflect on the painting’s meaning and purpose, the dramatic message of man’s inhumanity to man conveyed by the outstretched figure of the mother pulling her dead baby, the bellowing human faces, the wounded horse, and the Satanic image of the bull.
The point is that the physical description of the painting does not tell us anything (by itself cannot tell us anything) about the aesthetic value or historical significance of Guernica; nor, on the other hand, do aesthetics or intended meaning determine the physical features of the painting.

Ayala trained as a scientist under Theodosius Dobzhansky at Columbia University, writing his thesis on how rates of evolution depend on the genetic variation of a species. He’s since developed ways of pinpointing the timing of precise steps in the evolution of a species over millions of years and studied the parasites that cause Chagas and other tropical diseases, as well as malaria.
In 1981, he was an expert witness in the important Arkansas creationism trial (which overturned a law mandating the teaching of creationism alongside evolution in science class), and from 1993 to 1996, he was president of AAAS, where he developed the Dialogue on Science, Ethics, and Religion. He served on Bill Clinton’s President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology, and in 2001, George W. Bush awarded him the National Medal of Science.
Ayala has long been a staunch defender of the teaching of evolution in public school and a strong critic of “intelligent design.” To him, there is no natural hostility between evolution and faith—and the theory of evolution is actually more consistent with belief in a benevolent God than creationism or ID. As he explains:

The point should be valid for those people of faith who believe in a personal God who is omniscient, omnipotent, and benevolent, as Christians, Muslims, and Jews do believe. The natural world abounds in catastrophes, disasters, imperfections, dysfunctions, suffering, and cruelty. Tsunamis and earthquakes bring destruction and death to hundreds of thousands of citizens; floods and droughts bring ruin to farmers. The human jaw is poorly designed; lions devour their prey; malaria parasites kill millions of humans every year and make 500 million people very sick; about 20 percent of all human pregnancies end in spontaneous abortion because of the flawed design of the human reproductive system.
People of faith should not attribute all this misery, cruelty, and destruction to the specific design of the Creator. I rather see it as a consequence of the clumsy ways of nature and the evolutionary process.

The Templeton Prize, valued at about 1.53 million dollars, celebrates someone who has made “exceptional contributions to affirming life’s spiritual dimension.” It will be officially awarded to Ayala by Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, at a private ceremony at Buckingham Palace in London on May 5.

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