British Scientist-Priest Wins $1M Templeton Prize

BY: Gregg Easterbrook

 

Arthur Peacocke, an English biochemist and Anglican priest who founded the Society of Ordained Scientists, today won the million-dollar Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion--in money terms, the world's largest annual prize awarded to individuals. The announcement was made at the Church Center for the United Nations in New York.

Peacocke, who is 77 years old, began his academic career in the 1950s, studying the newly discovered double helix of DNA; he was part of a group of researchers at the University of California at Berkeley who detailed some of the technical properties of the double helix shortly after its discovery. Later, Peacocke returned to Oxford University in England, where he has taught since, and developed an interest in religion, eventually becoming the only person on the school's divinity faculty to hold dual doctorates in science and theology.

In 1971, he was ordained as a member of the Anglican clergy, and in 1986 he founded the Society of Ordained Scientists, a mainly Anglican organization for working scientists. He has published numerous books on the boundary between science and religion, notably the 1986 "God and the New Biology," which argues against the view that advances in science show human beings to be just biological machines. He often lectures on the "deist" idea that the laws of nature indicate there must be a Creator or Lawgiver.

Peacocke's work is considered significant because he is an accomplished scientist who also believes in the existence of God. His ordination 30 years ago was a celebrated event in England; while in the 19th century many Oxford scientists were Anglican clergy, by the postwar era this had become somewhat rare. (Peacocke is often confused with John Polkinghorne, an English physicist who was ordained as a priest at about the same time; their similar science backgrounds and similar last names lead to regular misunderstandings.)

Speaking in New York, Peacocke said, "I have often been asked something like this: `How is it that you, a research scientist involved in the early work on the exciting structure of DNA, could have become so interested in what many think of as the opposite of science, religion, that you should not only be a member of the Church but even become a priest in it?' My response is that the search for intelligibility that characterizes science and the search for meaning that characterizes religion are two necessary intertwined strands of the human enterprise and are not opposed. I came only gradually to this understanding by persistently asking the question `Why?' as my scientific training had rightly impressed upon me." In 1994 he wrote, "Although faith goes beyond what is logically demonstrable, it is capable of rational motivation. Christians do not have to close their minds, nor are they faced with the dilemma of having to choose between ancient faith and modern knowledge. They can hold both together."

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