L. Charles Birch, an Australian biologist who specializes in genetics, and Baba Amte, a Hindu lawyer who has devoted his life to helping lepers and outcasts of Indian society, will share the 1990 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion.

The prize is the largest international award of its kind and is worth 330,000 British pounds (about $545,000) this year. Established in 1972 by financier Sir John Templeton to encourage understanding of the world's great religions, it honors individuals who "through original and pioneering ways" advance the love and knowledge of God.

The award ceremony will be held in London on May 8.

Among the judges of this year's awards were British statesman Sir Geoffrey Howe, former U.S. treasury secretary William E. Simon, and Sir Sigmund Sternberg, head of the International Council of Christians and Jews.

Birch, the son of a Methodist minister, is a native of Melbourne, Australia, and recently retired as professor of biology at the University of Sydney after a 30-year career there.

As vice chairman of the World Council of Churches' Church and Society committee, the Methodist layman was the first natural scientist to give a major address at a World Council Assembly when he delivered a paper on "Creation, Technology and Human Survival" in 1975.

Only a change in course could save a world headed for disaster, Birch told the assembly. "Science and technology will not always be able to pull a technological rabbit out of the hat. To pin one's faith on science and technology to provide for the future is cargo cult thinking," he said.

Amte came from the wealthy Brahmin class of India's caste-conscious society and attended a Christian college in Nagpur, where the ideals of care and service helped him throw over the "fast-lane lifestyle" of his family to seek out the poor.

Amte, who won the U.N. Human Rights Awards last year, has founded and developed modern communities for India's lepers and harijans (untouchables). One is a 450-acre complex near Najpur for 1,400 lepers. It has a hospital, schools, shops, a bank, post office and library. Amte also operates a technical college with 7,500 students.

Previous Templeton Prize winners include Mother Teresa, the Rev. Thomas Torrance, the Rev. Billy Graham, Alexander Solzhenitsyn and West German professor Carl Friedrich von Wiezaecker.