Creationism does not exist for Francisco Ayala—he calls it ‘anti-evolutionism.’ As an evolutionary biologist and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the most prestigious science association in the United States, Ayala often functions as the authority on evolution.
Ayala served as an expert witness in the 1981 Supreme Court trial of McLean v. Arkansas Board of Education, which addressed the teaching of evolution in public schools. Currently he also appears in a video segment on the alleged debate between religion and evolution as part of the American Museum of Natural History’s ‘Darwin,’ the most comprehensive exhibit ever created on the man who developed the theory of evolution, and was supposed to become a clergyman. And when Ayala faces anti-evolutionists, he explains with a sly smile, he often surprises them when he knows theology and the Bible better than they do.
The Spaniard’s Catholic upbringing may seem an unlikely match to evolutionary genetics, but his religious beliefs have never come into conflict with the theory of evolution. A 12-year-old Ayala was taught the theory in his first science class by a priest, and he calls faith and science ‘perfectly compatible.’
Ayala left Spain because, under the dictator Francisco Franco, science was underdeveloped with most of the distinguished scientists having left in 1939.
In 1961, he began studying for his Ph.D. at Columbia University under one of the 20th century’s great geneticists, Theodosius Dobzhansky, whose name Ayala ‘spells’ by selecting one of his books from his bookshelf, which is decorated with fossils and taxidermized birds, and opening it on his desk.
In the past week, the soft-spoken, Spanish-accented scientist has signed two book contracts and he’s negotiating a third. His office walls are lined with photographs of him with presidents and the department he has helped develop since he came to UC Irvine in 1987 is one of the most distinguished in the world, with more members of the National Academy of Sciences in the field of evolutionary biology than any other institution.