In an announcement today of the award, Polkinghorne, 71, was honoredfor integrating scientific approaches and religious thinking into "amodern and compelling, new exploration of the faith."
Polkinghorne, whose previous honors include being knighted in 1997by Queen Elizabeth II, left a prestigious teaching position at theUniversity of Cambridge in 1979 to become an Anglican priest, a movethat startled his students and colleagues in the field of mathematicalphysics.
But Polkinghorne had long been gravitating toward religion and felthe had made his mark on the world of physics. "I had done my little bitfor science," he said later, "and it was time to try to do somethingdifferent."
In the years since, Polkinghorne has become a prominent leader inthe growing interdisciplinary field of science and religion, and has wongreat acclaim for what Thomas Torrance, former moderator of the Churchof Scotland and a professor of Christian dogmatics at the University ofEdinburgh, called a "new stage in (the) conceptual integration" of thetwo realms.
In an interview prior to the announcement, which was made at theChurch Center for the United Nations in New York, Polkinghorne calledhimself passionate about the unity of knowledge, and faulted thecontemporary world for its tendency "to press for specialization, whichmeans knowing more and more about less and less."
He acknowledged the difficulty the worlds of science and religionhave in meeting each other, but suggested that interest in science andthe need to affirm its importance was actually a point at whichdifferent religious faiths and traditions could meet.
Prior to Polkinghorne's and Peacocke's winning the Templeton, twoother scientists had won the honor: the physicist Freeman J. Dyson in2000, and physicist and theologian Ian Barbour in 1999.
Of the recent winners, Polkinghorne said he was perhaps the mosttraditionally Christian -- saying his work has to be seen in the contextof a peculiarly Anglican tradition that emphasizes reason as well asScripture and tradition.
In that spirit, Polkinghorne utilizes what he calls scientific"bottom-up thinking" for his theological work; it is a way, he said, to"move from experience to understanding," and enables him to discern whatevidence is needed to be persuasive.
"It is asking: `What makes you think that might be the case?'"Polkinghorne said, citing the method of his 1993 Gifford Lectures at theUniversity of Edinburgh in which he examined, phrase by phrase, therationality of the Nicene Creed.
Polkinghorne said he finds religion to be the thornier and moredifficult of the two fields because of its deeper implications, and saidthe consequences of distorting religion can be grave -- something he isacutely aware of, being in New York City six months after the Sept. 11terrorist attacks. "Religion is the source of much good in the world butit is also the source of much evil," he said. "When religion goes wrong,it goes terribly wrong."
The Templeton Prize -- formerly the Templeton Prize for Progress inReligion and renamed this year the Templeton Prize for Progress TowardResearch or Discoveries About Spiritual Realities -- was established inthe early 1970s by John Marks Templeton, a U.S.-born investor who is nowa British subject and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1987.
The prize is valued at 700,000 pounds sterling -- about $1 million-- and is the largest monetary prize given to an individual. Itsurpasses the amount given Nobel laureates because Templeton believesthe advances in religion are often of greater importance to humanitythan the work in fields acknowledged by the Nobel prizes.
Polkinghorne said he planned to donate most of the prize money tofund science and religion postdoctoral programs at Cambridge, where hereturned in the mid-1980s to pursue his interdisciplinary work.
Polkinghorne will be awarded the Templeton Prize April 29 at a privateceremony at Buckingham Palace.
Though in recent years the award has been presented to the growingnumber of scientist-theologians, the Templeton Prize was initially givento such prominent religious figures as the late Mother Teresa and theevangelist Billy Graham.