Fr. Juan Ignacio Molina (June 24, 1740 – September 12, 1829) was a Spanish, later Chilean, Jesuit priest, naturalist, historian, botanist, ornithologist and geographer. He is usually referred to as Abate Molina (a form of Abbott Molina), and is also sometimes known by the Italian form of his name, Giovanni Ignazio Molina.
Molina was born at Guaraculén, a big farm located near Villa Alegre (General Captaincy of Chile), in the current province of Linares, in the Maule Region of Chile. His parents were Agustín Molina and Francisca González Bruna.
He was educated at Talca and the Jesuit College at Concepción. He was forced to leave Chile in 1768 when the Jesuits were expelled from the Spanish Empire. He settled in Bologna, Italy, and became professor of natural sciences there. He wrote Saggio sulla Storia Naturale del Chili (1782), which was the first account of the natural history of that country, and in which he described many species new to science.
As a scientist native to the Americas Molina was very critical of the work of Cornelius de Pauw, who was in Europe regarded as an expert on the Americas, and accused him of "always attempting to degrade and discredit the Americas". Some of De Pauw's statements on the supposedly poor aspects of the mineral wealth of the Americas were countered by Molina as well as De Pauw's claims on the shorter lives of people that inhabited the Americas.
Molina expressed support for a sedimentary origin of basalt in Ensayo sobre la historia natural de Chile where he pointed out the fact that basalt occurred both in the Andes and in coast of Chiloé where there were no sign of eruption and believed basalt to be a sort of compacted slate with vesicles.
As early as 1787 Molina mentioned the possibility of South America being populated from south Asia through the "infinite island chains" of the Pacific while North America could have been populated from Siberia.
Ruiz and Pavón dedicated to him the plant genus Molina, later considered a subgenus of Baccharis by Wilhelm Heering (Reiche 1902), and recently recreated as Neomolina by F.H. Hellwig and ranked as genus. Other authors dedicated Moliniopsis, a genus of Gramineae, as a synonym of Molinia Schrank (nomen illegitimum). Molina has also been linked to the naming of the genus Maytenus.
A species of Chilean lizard, Liolaemus molinai, is named in his honor.