Zygon: Journal of Religion & Science

Symposium Honoring Arthur Peacocke Peacocke Symposium Papers Peacocke in Zygon

Arthur Peacocke

    Arthur Peacocke (1924-2006)—died in Oxford, October 21, 2006

Dr. Peacocke at the ZCRS
Inaugural Event, 2003

Arthur Peacocke was one of the most influential and most respected twentieth-century contributors to the dialogue between religion and science. A noted physical biochemist, he directed laboratories at the Universities of Birmingham and Oxford for research that focused particularly on DNA and the thermodynamics of physical systems. He worked with two Nobel laureates in the field, Ilya Prigogine and Manfred Eigen.

“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,” Peacocke wrote. He believed that, in the modern age, any theology is doomed unless it incorporates the scientific perspective into its “bloodstream”.

An evangelical Christian in his teenage years, Peacocke turned agnostic as an undergraduate, repelled by conservative evangelical Christianity, which challenged some of the key discoveries of science. This phase lasted until he heard a sermon at Oxford“s university church by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, and began to conceive of the possibility that Christianity might be intellectually defensible. In the 1960s, he began seminary studies, and was ordained a priest in Church of England in 1971. He was a prolific writer, the first of his major works being the Bampton Lectures of 1978, published as Creation and the World of Science (1979).

Peacocke had many contacts in the United States, and was a great friend of LSTC and ZCRS. He first visited the seminary in 1972, and was a visiting professor in 1990. Most recently, he spoke at the inauguration of Antje Jackelen as director of ZCRS in May 2003. He visited LSTC several times over the years, and preached more than once in the chapel services. During his tenure as a visiting professor, he taught a course from the manuscript of what was later to become his most influential work, Theology in an Age of Science, and he led a seminar entitled, “The Challenge of Science to Theology and the Church.” One of the lectures he gave at the Center, “The Kindling of the Divine Flame,” was published by the Center in Insights, December 1990.

Dr. Peacocke is rightly called one of the pioneers of the modern religion-and-science dialogue. His books include titles that have become standard works in the field, including Science and the Christian Experiment (1971), From DNA to Dean: Reflections and Explorations of a Priest-Scientist (1996), Paths from Science towards God: The End of all our Exploring (2001), and, together with Ann Pederson, The Music of Creation (2006). Dr. Peacocke was deeply involved in the life of the Anglican Church—serving as dean of the chapel at Clare College, Cambridge, honorary chaplain and canon at Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, and participating in theological projects for the church. He also founded the Society of Ordained Scientists (S.O.Sc.); the Ian Ramsey Centre, an interdisciplinary institute at the Theology Faculty of the University of Oxford; and was one of the founders of the European Society for the Study of Science and Theology (ESSSAT). The Queen honored him with the award of MBE in 1993. In 2001, his achievements in the field of religion and science were recognized by the awarding of the Templeton Prize for Research about Spiritual Realities.

— Philip Hefner
Editor, Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science
ZCRS Senior Fellow