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WASHINGTON – A one-time priest who later became an evolutionary geneticist and molecular biologist and helped scientifically refute creationism with his research was honored Thursday with one of the world’s top religion prizes.

Francisco J. Ayala, 76, a U.S. citizen originally from Spain, will receive the 2010 Templeton Prize, valued at $1.53 million, the John Templeton Foundation announced at the National Academy of Sciences.

It is the largest monetary award given each year to an individual and honors someone who made exceptional contributions to affirm spirituality. Officials increase the value each year to exceed the Nobel Prize.

“I see religion and science as two of the pillars on which American society rests,” Ayala told The Associated Press, saying the United States is one of the world’s most religious countries. “We have these two pillars not talking, not seeing they can reinforce each other.”
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