NEW YORK, MARCH 8 — Arthur Peacocke, a physical biochemist and Anglican priest who pioneered early research into the physical chemistry of DNA and has since become a leading advocate for the creative interaction of theology and science, has won the 2001 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. The announcement was made today at a news conference at the Church Center for the United Nations in New York.
Peacocke, the only Oxford University Theology faculty member to be both a Doctor of Science and a Doctor of Divinity, in 1986 founded the Society of Ordained Scientists (S.O.Sc.), 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. He is a strong proponent of “critical realism,” holding that science and theology both aim to depict reality and must be subject to critical scrutiny, and that neither Scripture, Church nor religious tradition can be accepted as self-authenticating.
The Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion is awarded annually to a living individual who has shown originality in advancing ideas and institutions that deepen the world’s understanding of God and of spiritual life and service. It is the world’s best known and largest religion prize, this year valued at 700,000 pounds sterling, about one million dollars, and the largest annual prize given to an individual. Global investor Sir John Templeton created the prize in 1972 to honor the discipline of religion in the same way that the Nobel Prizes honor such disciplines as economics, medicine and physics. The monetary level of the Templeton Prize is always set at an amount that exceeds the Nobel Prizes.
In his nomination of Peacocke to the Templeton Prize judges, Dr. David Hay of the Centre for the Study of Human Relations at Nottingham University in England wrote that Peacocke had created a new understanding of the relationship between theology and science “which has brought about an increase in our understanding of God in the contemporary world…generating a new theology for a scientific age.”
The Rev. Canon Dr. Arthur Peacocke was born in 1924 in Watford, Hertfordshire, England, about 20 miles northwest of London. He had a typical Church of England upbringing though his family was not religiously active. At age 11 he won a scholarship to Watford Boys’ Grammar School, which gave him a disciplined, rigorous education through wide-ranging debates on science, religion and philosophy.
These early experiences set the path for much of Peacocke’s life, during which he has established an international reputation as a diligent investigator and indispensable resource with a succinct, no-nonsense style in writing and speech. He has been known to chide arguers of Creationism versus Evolution, an issue he feels has clearly been decided in favor of Evolution. His many books and lectures vigorously challenge dominant orthodoxies in a determined effort to find truth in both science and religion.
As an undergraduate, perhaps appropriately, Peacocke was an unabashed skeptic. After an adolescent evangelical phase, he became a “mild” agnostic whose contact with conservative evangelical Christianity further alienated him from “all things Christian.” Yet, he hungered to make sense of fundamental issues, a quest largely unfulfilled until he heard a sermon at Oxford’s university church by the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, and, for the first time, conceived of the possibility that Christianity might be intellectually defensible. World War II and post-war revelations of the horrors of Nazi concentration camps further prodded his religious thought as he sought to come to grips with the problem of evil.
In 1941, he had won an Open Scholarship in Natural Science to Exeter College, Oxford. After receiving a Bachelor of Arts in Chemistry with 1st Class Honors and Bachelor of Science and Doctor of Philosophy research degrees from Oxford University, Peacocke became in 1948 a lecturer in chemistry, and then senior lecturer in biophysical chemistry at the University of Birmingham in England. While there, conventional church teaching left him disenchanted. Seeking an alternative to automatic acceptance of Church or scriptural authority, 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.
In 1952, when the structure of DNA was announced in the British journal Nature, Peacocke was a Rockefeller Fellow in Natural Science working at the Virus Laboratory at the University of California at Berkeley. With his colleagues in Birmingham, he was able to show that the chains in DNA are not branched, as once thought, and that the double helix exists in a solution. Later, beginning in 1959, he continued his research as a physical biochemist at Oxford.
Parallel to his scientific endeavors, however, Peacocke was investigating the relation of science and theology. He continued to demand a reasoned approach to religious tradition and dogma, and found himself drawing closer to full Christian adherence. Beginning in 1961 he served as a Lay Reader in the Church of England, but felt his inability to administer sacraments was “like trying to walk on one leg.” Ten years later, he entered the Anglican priesthood, determined to live as a priest-scientist.
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 with a research group working on the physical chemistry of DNA and proteins. 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.
Among his other 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 Christian Credibility (1996), and Paths from Science Towards God: The End of All Our Exploring (scheduled for April 2001).
Besides founding the Society of Ordained Scientists, of which he is now Warden-Emeritus, in 1985 Peacocke initiated the Ian Ramsey Centre for the Interdisciplinary Study of Religious Beliefs in Relation to the Sciences, including Medicine, at Oxford. The center’s namesake, a former Bishop of Durham and philosopher of religion, had in the early 1960s urged the cooperation of Christian theology with other disciplines for its own intellectual integrity and to help solve contemporary ethical dilemmas. Peacocke also initiated the establishment of the UK Science and Religion Forum and the European Society for the Study of Science and Theology.
In remarks prepared for the news conference, Peacocke said, “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. They are essential to each other, complementary yet distinct and strongly interacting — indeed just like the two helical strands of DNA itself!” He added, “Science is the global language and possession of our times and it is time, especially now at the beginning of this first century of the new millennium, for thinkers and adherents of all religions to engage creatively with the universal perspectives of the sciences.”
Peacocke joins an illustrious group of professional scientists who have won the Templeton Prize, including physicist and theologian Ian Barbour in 1999, astrophysicist Paul Davies in 1995, physicist Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker in 1989, and Benedictine monk and professor of astrophysics Stanley L. Jaki in 1987. Last year the prize was given to Freeman J. Dyson, a physicist whose futuristic views have consistently called for the reconciliation of technology and social justice.
Among the best known recipients of the prize are the Rev. Dr. Billy Graham in 1982, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in 1983, and Watergate figure Charles Colson who received the prize in 1993 for his work in founding Prison Fellowship. Mother Teresa received the first Templeton Prize in 1973, six years before she won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Peacocke lives in Oxford and has been married for 52 years to the former Rosemary W. Mann who, from being a headteacher of a church school, went on to be one of Her Majesty’s Inspectors of Schools with national responsibility for the education of young children. They have two children, Christopher, a professor of philosophy, and Jane, an Anglican priest and educator.