Polkinghorne, 71, resigned a prestigious position as Professor of Mathematical Physics at the University of Cambridge in 1979 to pursue theological studies, becoming a priest in 1982. Since then, his extensive writings and lectures have consistently applied scientific habits to Christianity, resulting in a modern and compelling, new exploration of the faith. His approach to the fundamentals of Christian orthodoxy -- including the Trinity, Christ's resurrection after death, and God's creation of the universe -- using the habits of a rigorous scientific mind have brought him international recognition as a unique voice for understanding the Bible as well as evolving doctrine.
The Templeton Prize for Progress Toward Research or Discoveries about Spiritual Realities, founded by Sir John Templeton in 1972 as the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, is the world's largest annual monetary prize given to an individual, currently worth 700,000 pounds sterling, about one million dollars. It is the world's best known religion prize, awarded each year to a living person to encourage and honor those who advance spiritual matters. The monetary value of the Templeton Prize always exceeds the Nobels as a way to underscore Templeton's belief that benefits from advances in spiritual discoveries can be quantifiably more vast than those from other worthy human endeavors. Mother Teresa won the first Templeton Prize in 1973, six years before she received the Nobel Peace Prize.
The Duke of Edinburgh will award the prize to Polkinghorne in a private ceremony at Buckingham Palace on Monday, April 29.
In contrast to those Templeton Prize recipients, however, Polkinghorne has established himself as a scientist-theologian much more comfortable with traditional interpretations of Christian scripture and dogma. Still, he steadfastly defends the role of science in advancing understanding of the workings of the universe. He has written, for example, that belief in the Big Bang is compatible with belief in God as the Creator and that evolution is a perfect fit with the concept of a God-given gift of creation that continues to be and to make itself.
In his citation nominating Polkinghorne, Thomas Torrance, former Moderator of the Church of Scotland and Professor of Christian Dogmatics at the University of Edinburgh, wrote, "He has not only destroyed the idea that the world-views of science and theology are opposed to one another, but he has opened up the road ahead for a new stage in conceptual integration which cannot but make for immense progress in religion all over the world." Torrance won the 1978 Templeton Prize for his pioneering insights into the rationality of the universe that attempt to evidence God through scientific reasoning.
The Rev. Dr. John Charlton Polkinghorne was born on October 16, 1930 in Weston-super Mare in Somerset, England. His quietly devout family regularly attended Church of England services. A bright youngster particularly good at mathematics, Polkinghorne majored in math at Trinity College, Cambridge. He earned his B.A., M.A., and a Ph.D. in quantum field theory, and a D.Sc. for research on theoretical elementary particle physics all at the University of Cambridge. In 1955, he married Ruth Martin, a statistician, with whom he had three children, Peter, Michael, and Isobel.
Polkinghorne soon established himself as an important figure in the world of mathematical physics at a time when the science was being revolutionized with startling discoveries about sub-atomic particles. One of his most important contributions was his creation of mathematical models that calculate the trajectory of fast-moving elementary particles, helping to reveal the structure of matter. His widely-published scientific papers in leading journals and his extensive work with graduate students in the field led to his selection as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1974.