Evolutionary biologist Francisco Ayala makes the case that life is about more than just the science. In his latest book, Am I a Monkey? Six Big Questions about Evolution, Ayala takes on the notion that evolution and God are incompatible.
His argument runs counter to a number of high profile book releases as of late that question the source of morality being religious belief and the idea of whether God was necessary in creating the universe. Ayala is a professor of both the biological sciences and philosophy at the University of California at Irvine and has been the President of the Society for the Study of Evolution, a member of the Council of the US National Academy of Sciences, the National Advisory Council for the Human Genome Project and in 1981 served as an expert witness in the Arkansas trial on the teaching of evolution.
“Successful as it is, and universally encompassing as its subject is, a scientific view of the world is hopelessly incomplete,” writes Ayala in the introduction to Am I a Monkey? “In order to understand the purpose and meaning of life, as well as matters concerning moral and religious values, we need to look elsewhere.”
The cover of the book is provocative in that it is an illustration of a fork going through a banana. Through questioning a purely scientific view of evolution, Ayala seeks to educate non-scientists on evolutionary theory and how evolution is viewed within the scientific community. The work is one of more than a dozen books Ayala has authored related to biology.
Educating university students and the public on evolution has been Ayala’s lifelong pursuit and has earned him many accolades. This year, UC Irvine’s Science Library was formally renamed the Francisco J. Ayala Science Library. He also received the Templeton Prize and donated the $1.5 million award to scholarships for graduate students at the university. This summer, Ayala traveled to Madrid to receive the Federation of Scientific Societies of Spain’s first ever Prize for the Public Understanding of Science.
In a recent interview the Los Angeles Times, Ayala answered the question posed in the title of his book by saying that while humans are genetically and evolutionarily very close to a monkey, we are extremely different when it comes to intelligence. It’s that intelligence – displayed via our technology, literature, art, morality, religion, politics and government institutions – that actually affects the way we adapt to the environment.