I loved this New York Times profile of Francisco J. Ayala, an evolutionary biologist and geneticist at the University of California, Irvine, and former Dominican priest:
An evolutionary biologist and geneticist at the University of California, Irvine, he speaks often at universities, in churches, for social groups and elsewhere, usually in defense of the theory of evolution and against the arguments of creationism and its ideological cousin, intelligent design.
Usually he preaches to the converted. But not always.
As challenges to the teaching of evolution continue to emerge, legislators debate measures equating the teaching of creationism with academic freedom and a new movie links Darwin to evils ranging from the suppression of free speech to the Holocaust, “I get a lot of people who don’t know what to think,” Dr. Ayala said. “Or they believe in intelligent design but they want to hear.”
Dr. Ayala, a former Dominican priest, said he told his audiences not just that evolution is a well-corroborated scientific theory, but also that belief in evolution does not rule out belief in God. In fact, he said, evolution “is more consistent with belief in a personal god than intelligent design. If God has designed organisms, he has a lot to account for.”
. . .
Dr. Ayala, who is 74, was born in Madrid and studied theology at the Pontifical Faculty of San Esteban in Salamanca before coming to the United States in 1961, for graduate study in genetics at Columbia. From there he went to Rockefeller University, then Davis and then to Irvine. He became a United States citizen in 1971. He and his wife, an ecologist who works to encourage conservation efforts by resorts in tropical areas, have two grown sons.
Dr. Ayala said he remained surprised at how many Americans believe the theory of evolution is contrary to belief in God, or that the theory is erroneous or even fraudulent. (In fact, there is no credible scientific challenge to it as an explanation for the complexity and diversity of life on earth.)
Sometimes, he says, people come to his talks determined to challenge him, usually by citing familiar creationist arguments — that a body part like the bacterial tail, or flagellum, is too complex to have arisen through evolution, or that scientists lied when they demonstrated that moths in England evolved to be darker as the Industrial Revolution covered their native trees with soot.
But he said he had yet to encounter a challenge he could not meet. When people ask about the bacterial flagellum, for example, “I bring up that by now it has been worked out in great detail how the basic parts of the bacterial flagellum have evolved independently and exist independently,” he said.
. . .
And he dismisses the argument that it is only fair to teach both sides of the evolution/creationism controversy. “We don’t teach alchemy along with chemistry,” he said. “We don’t teach witchcraft along with medicine. We don’t teach astrology with astronomy.”
He said he was saddened when he saw the embrace of evolution identified with, as he put it, “explicit atheism,” as in the books of the evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins or other writers on science and faith.
Neither the existence nor nonexistence of God is susceptible to scientific proof, Dr. Ayala said, and equating science with the abandonment of religion “fits the prejudices” of advocates of intelligent design and other creationist ideas.
“Science and religion concern nonoverlapping realms of knowledge,” he writes in the new book. “It is only when assertions are made beyond their legitimate boundaries that evolutionary theory and religious belief appear to be antithetical.”
It is important that Dr. Ayala “is not a religion-basher,” Dr. Scott said, “because creationists always showcase the religion-bashers in science as if they speak for all scientists. They clearly do not speak for Francisco and many others.”
Nevertheless, Dr. Ayala will not say whether he remains a religious believer.
“I don’t want to be tagged,” he said. “By one side or the other.”
Read it all here.