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Dr. Francisco Ayala: Donald Bren Professor, Biological Sciences; Professor of Philosophy; and Professor of Logic and the Philosophy of Science, University of California, Irvine (Part Two)

June 22, 2014

Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 5.A, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (Part One)

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Web Domain:

Individual Publication Date: June 22, 2014

Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2014

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 2,180

ISSN 2369-6885


In the following comprehensive interview with Dr. Francisco Ayala, Donald Bren Professor of Biological Sciences at University of California, Irvine, he discusses: geographic, cultural, and linguistic background; youth and early interest in the natural world; pivotal moments motivating an interest in biology; early study and investigation of biology and evolution; mentoring of Theodosius Dobzhansky; Dobzhansky’s influence on Dr. Ayala; Ph.D. thesis work with Drosophila flies; Dobzhansky’s essay entitled Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution (1973);  Charles Darwin, William Paley, Natural Theology (1802), and the antecedents to the design arguments for biological organisms’ functionality and complexity; his 2007 book entitled Darwin’s Gift to Science and Religion; Dr. William Dembski’s Specified Complexity and Dr. Michael Behe’s Irreducible Complexity; predictions of intelligent design theoretic explanations of biological organisms; thoughts on climate change with caveats of the field not being his area of expertise; responsibility of academics and researchers; conception of God in a world of material processes; responsibilities to earning numerous awards such as the National Medal of Science in 2002 and the Templeton Prize; personal influences; and projects in the coming years.

Keywords: Academics, Biological Sciences, Biology, Darwin, Dr. Franciscio J. Ayala, Evolution, God, Irreducible Complexity, Irvine, Specified Complexity, Templeton, Theodosius Dobzhansky, University of California.

11. Even in terms of the scientific process, does intelligent design make predictions?  Do you see any predictions within the framework proposed by them?

One can have certain predictions.  I can do experiments and test my hypothesis, which are sometimes corroborated by the results, and other times not.  This is what science is about.  In terms of predictions of certain experiments, I do not think that one could have predicted in the Cambrian when the first animals came into existence 500 million years ago that one could have predicted them becoming humans, rabbits, or anything else.  In the long-term, you cannot always make predictions.  With regards to evolution, it is sometimes predictive, but we study what already exists rather than predict what is going to be – we can make predictions in the short-term.  We can make predictions that the temperature of the planet is increasing in the short-term.  The way in which science is predictive is in very specific ways, and in the short-term, which is essential to corroborate our theories. 

12. If I may enter into the topic, which you raised briefly, of climatic change, what do you consider the strongest evidence for people to understand the evidence behind it that the Earth is warming?

It is not my area of expertise, but it seems to me that one sees increasing temperature over the last 20 years because we have this periods of increasing and decreasing temperature.  However, when you compare it with the last glaciation, the coldest period in the last geological time happened about 15,000 years ago or so.  Since then, the temperature in the Earth has been increasing at a slow rate, but when one superimposes it.  The actual temperature increase in the last 20 years or so, you see the great increase in temperature is much, much faster than it ever was, which convinces me of human activity contributing to it.  However, I go from the evidence provided by people in the field.  It is not my field of knowledge

13. If any, what responsibility do academics and researchers have for contributing to society and culture?  Furthermore, and for those that practice in academe, where do you see the greatest benefits and damages to society and culture from well- or ill-conceived contributions?

We have the responsibility of carrying on our jobs properly and responsibly in one instance evolution and genetics.  We have the responsibility to teach it well and thoroughly, and become knowledgeable.  First of all, one is a scientist in addition to being a teacher.  We do research.  We need to educate the younger generations because to lead a productive life in the modern world people need to know science.  Science is very important.  It can depend on the careers and for the public in general to have a knowledge of science.  We live in a world of natural phenomena: physics, chemistry, and biology.  So we need to understand that world.

14. In terms of the world of science and faith, and you do consider yourself a man of faith, how do you conceive of God in this world of material processes? 

Well, (laughs), very interesting, I was reading something explaining that in the modern world earlier today a notice came to me.  The Templeton Prize, it has been given to a Czech Priest named Tomas Halik.  He said, “You cannot believe in God in the same way that we believe in the existence of another human being because God is not another being, but the source of being itself.  Belief in God is therefore more like seeing in the light.  I cannot see in the light.  I can only see things in light.  Likewise I cannot see and visualize God.  We say all I can do is see the world in God.”  He says that not, of course, as 100% in Christianity or some other religion as a superhuman being, but as a reality that transcends the world.  I think he puts it very well.  You can probably, if you look at Templeton report, you can see his picture and words on these matters.

15. You earned the National Medal of Science in 2002 and the Templeton Prize in 2010.  Each awarded for separate contributions to the academic world.  What do awards such as these, and numerous others, mean to you?  If any, what kind of further responsibilities does this recognition mean to you?

What it means to me in terms of my activities, as it were, is that these recognitions allow me to speak with authority, and therefore with credibility.  Of course, these kinds of recognition are very pleasant at the personal level, very satisfying, and very rewarding.  I have a list of prizes with my assistant, which is from several places around the world such as Europe and elsewhere.  I have many, many prizes.  I have pictures and some of these prizes in my office.  I have a very large office – at least 600 square feet or something like that.  I have beautiful windows with views outside.  I have diplomas and objects on display.  That is, of course, very satisfying and pleasing like anybody else.  I am vain.  So I enjoy these things.  Of course, there is the other dimension.  I earned the National Medal of Science.  It provides me with authority to speak on things I like to speak on.

When I earned the Templeton Prize, I was given 1 million pounds.  It was presented to me by Prince Philip at Buckingham Palace, which I donated right away to fellowships for students.  Now, it is even more money now.  I do not mind them giving it to me again – just being playful. 

16. What advice do you have for young scientists?

When they are going to study for a Ph.D., I always tell the students here to look for mentors.  At other universities, students apply for several universities and teams.  You want a mentor who is going to give you personal attention. Of course, you have to take your work seriously and work hard.  You will not have an 8-5 job.  You will have to work 10 hours a day and many weekends too.  It is very important within the areas of science that they are interested in to identify scientists who are mentors.

17. This echoes Dobzhansky.

It does.  There are many good scientists.  There are many who are not, you know. 

18. Who most influenced you? Why them?  Can you recommend any books or articles by them?

Scientifically in terms of genetics, I would say Dobzhansky.  His books too.  Of course, I can mention some other great evolutionists of the 20th century such as Ernst Mayer, George Simpson, and so on.  These are the people who influenced me the most. 

At a different level, as I was young, I was very interested in art and literature.  I can mention much fiction and non-fiction that have had an influence on my life.  Artists too.  Spanish painters too.  I collect Spanish paintings.  They influence me because of the view of the world.  Very explicit in the case of writers, but not so much in the case of painters or sculptors.  But their view of the world makes me understand the world better and to relate to the world better.

19. What projects do you have in progress over the next few years?

(Laughs)  Right now! I have been typing a book over the last few days, which is on the philosophy of biology.  The title will likely be something like ‘Evolution: Philosophical Reflections’.  That is the book that I am finishing.  I have already finished writing something about these things.  I want to write more about evolution in general and the advances that are taking place as we use molecular biology to understand evolutionary processes.  Two lines of work as in the past, doing the work in specific projects.  Technically, it is very esoteric.  I want to continue writing books for specialists.  Others for use as textbooks such as these philosophy texts that I am working on, which I think will probably be used as a textbook in many cases.

By the way, I will mention something that you may be surprised to know.  I write all of my textbooks and books by pencil on yellow paper.  I type them and write the words here and there.  Usually, my first draft is my final draft for the article or book.  I have developed over many, many years a synchronization between the speed of my writing by hand, in pencil, and the way I can generate text in my mind – generate sentences.  While I can use the computer sometimes for other purposes, indeed for communication for people, my creative works are still done by writing in paper and pencil.


1)  [IDQuest] (2013, January 17). Is Intelligent Design Viable? A Debate: Francisco Ayala vs. William Lane Craig. Retrieved from

2)  [TEDxUCirvine] (2012, May 6). TEDxUCIrvine – Francisco Ayala – Cloning, Genetic Engineering, & The Future of Mankind. Retrieved from

3)  Ayala, F. J. (2012). All for One and One for All?: An eminent scientist reconsiders natural selection. American Scholar, 81(2), 112-114.

4)  Ayala, F. J. (2006). Darwin’s Greatest Discovery: The complex designs of living things need not imply a designer. American Scholar, 75(1), 131-134.

5)  Ayala, F. J. (2000). Debating Darwin (Book Review). Quarterly Review Of Biology, 75(1), 37.

6)  Ayala, F. J. (2007). Evolution. Nature Genetics, 39(10), 1179.

7)  Ayala, F. J. (2006). THE POLITICS OF SCIENCE. Bioscience, 56(1), 78-80.

8)  Ayala, F. J. (1976). THEODSIUS DOBZHANSKY: THE MAN AND THE SCIENTIST. Annual Review Of Genetics, 101-6.

9)  AYALA, F. J. (2012). WALTER MONROE FITCH. Proceedings Of The American Philosophical Society, 156(4), 435-442.

10)  AYALA, F. J. (2008). Where is Darwin 200 years later?. Journal Of Genetics, 87(4), 321-325.

11)  Balakirev, E. S., Anisimova, M., & Ayala, F. J. (2011). Complex Interplay of Evolutionary Forces in the ladybird Homeobox Genes of Drosophila melanogaster. Plos ONE, 6(7), 1-12. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0022613

12)  Barahona, A., & Ayala, F. J. (2005). The emergence and development of genetics in Mexico. Nature Reviews Genetics, 6(11), 860-866. doi:10.1038/nrg1705

13)  Behe, M.J. (1996b). Darwin’s Black Box: The Biochemical Challenge to Evolution. New York, NY: The Free Press.

14)  Behe M. J. (2007). The Edge of Evolution: the search for the limits of Darwinism. New York, NY: Free Press.

15)  Cela-Conde, C. J., Gutiérrez Lombardo, R., Avise, J. C., & Ayala, F. J. (2013). In the light of evolution VII: The human mental machinery. Proceedings Of The National Academy Of Sciences Of The United States Of America, 11010339-10342. doi:10.1073/pnas.1307207110

16)  Darwin, C. (1859). The origin of species. New York, NY: Bantam Books.

17)  Dawkins, R. (1986). The blind watchmaker. New York, NY: Norton.

18)  Dembski, W. (1998). The Design Inference: Eliminating Chance through Small Probabilities. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press.

19)  DOBZHANSKY, T. (2013). Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution. American Biology Teacher (University Of California Press), 75(2), 87-91. doi:10.2307/4444260

20)  Forrest, Barbara & Gross, Paul R. (2004). Creationism’s Trojan Horse: The Wedge of Intelligent Design. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

21)  Francisco J. Ayala. (2014).In Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved from

22)  principles of physical science. (2014). In Encyclopaedia Britannica. Retrieved from

23)  Reason Television [ReasonTV] (2010, July 19). From Priest to Scientist: An Interview with Francisco J. Ayala. Retrieved from

24)  Theodosius Dobzhansky. (2014). In Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved from

25)  University of California, Irvine News [UCIrvine News] (2012, November 28).What Matters to Me and Why?. Retrieved from

26)  University of California, Irvine (n.d.). Francisco J. Ayala. Retrieved from

27)  Chardin, P.T. de (1959). The Phenomenon of Man. New York, NY: Harpers and Brothers.


In-sight by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.


© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, In-sight, and In-Sight Publishing 2012-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen and In-sight with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.


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