Donald Lehr / (212) 967-8200
Templeton Prize Laureate Arthur Peacocke Dies
The John Templeton Foundation mourns the passing of the Reverend Canon Dr. Arthur Peacocke, physical biochemist, Anglican priest, and the 2001 Templeton Prize Laureate. Peacocke died on Saturday, October 21 at age 81.
Peacocke’s scientific career spanned more than half a century and included groundbreaking work in early DNA discoveries. He received his Doctor of Philosophy from Oxford University in 1948 for research into the kinetics of bacterial growth. Beginning in 1952, the research he performed with colleagues showed DNA chains are not branched, as once thought, and that the double helix exists in a solution.
Peacocke began his adult life, in his words, as a “mild” agnostic, but slowly became an adherent of Christianity. Seeking an alternative to automatic acceptance of scriptural authority of the Church, however, he began a thorough study of theology, with the encouragement of a professor, Geoffrey Lampe. In 1960, he received a Diploma in Theology and in 1971, a Bachelor of Divinity from Birmingham University.
It was at this time that his scientific and theological pursuits tangibly merged with the publication of Science and the Christian Experiment, which he wrote while still a full-time scientist. In 1973, the book won the prestigious Lecomte du Noüy Prize, the first global recognition of Peacocke as a leader in the new discipline of science and religion. That same year, he became Dean of Clare College, Cambridge, allowing him to pursue more fully his interdisciplinary vocation. In 1982 he received a Doctor of Divinity from Oxford and in 1985 became the founder and director of the Ian Ramsey Centre for the Interdisciplinary Study of Religious Beliefs in Relation to the Sciences, including Medicine, at Oxford.
His leadership in science and religion – he was the only Oxford University faculty member holding both a Doctor of Science and a Doctor of Divinity, led him in 1986 to found the Society of Ordained Scientists (S.O.Sc.) to further advance the development of the field of science and religion. It is an ecumenical, international order that seeks to foster the spirituality of those working as scientists and as ordained persons and to act as a bridge between the Church and science.
Among his major publications in this area are Creation and the World of Science (1979), which established further his international reputation, Intimations of Reality: Critical Realism in Science and Religion (1984), Theology for a Scientific Age (1990, 2nd edition 1993, including his 1993 Gifford Lectures), God and the New Biology (1994), From DNA to DEAN: Reflections and Explorations of a Priest-Scientist (1996), God and Science: A Quest for Christianity Credibility (1996), and Paths from Science Towards God: The End of All Our Exploring (2001).
Peacocke had an international reputation for his succinct, no-nonsense method of challenging dominant religious orthodoxies in writing and speech. In an interview with England’s Church Times, for example, he spoke of a large proportion of his countrymen who have good reason to be skeptical of traditional religious teachings and are wistful agnostics. “They are moral, idealistic people who just cannot believe some of the baggage we hear in church,” he said. “The images have gone dead on them or are affirming things they don’t think are believable.”
At the Templeton Prize public ceremony at Guildhall, London, on May 9, 2001, Peacocke advised the scientific community to give religion its due. “The public image of the relation between science and religion has tended to be dominated by scientists who are not only gifted communicators of their respective sciences but who also, deeming science alone to be the source of knowledge and wisdom, seek to reduce human experience to purely scientific terms. This renders them antipathetic to the spiritual and religious experience of humanity and the name of the sport becomes science versus religion.”
In his introduction of Peacocke at the Templeton Prize Guildhall ceremony, his colleague at Oxford, Professor John Hedley Brooke, said:
“Never has he underrated the seriousness of the challenge that scientific methods and conclusions pose for the practice of theology; nor has he capitulated to those who would have religious sensibilities expunged in the name of science. In fact, Arthur stands in a distinguished tradition of religious thinkers who, as practicing men of science, have found their spiritual lives enriched by what the sciences have revealed…. Much of Arthur’s work could be described as a fearless exploration of the adjustments necessary in both theology and in the rhetoric of science to achieve a relation of mutual respect and support.”
for a detailed obituary
from The Daily Telegraph, 25th October 2006