Monday, May 07, 2007

Arthur Peacocke, biochemist and Anglican minister

QUESTION: What is your view of more liberal religious views that are held by people like your Oxford colleage Arthur Peacocke, who is both a biochemist and an Anglican minister?

Prof. Richard DAWKINS: More sophisticated theological views, people like Arthur Peacocke and John Polkinghorne -- obviously they're not creationists in any simple sense -- they're not fundamentalists, they're not stupid. So do I respect them more? Well, in one respect obviously I do, because really you could have an intelligent conversation with them -- they're not ignorant. On the other hand, I can't understand what they're doing it for. I mean, I don't understand what it is that is being added, either to their lives or to the storehouse of human wisdom by bringing in this additional dimension of explanation. We have science. Science is by no means complete -- there's a lot that we don't know -- but we're working on it. Both of those two gentlemen are scientists, and they know what that means. They understand it and they respect it. We're working on building up a complete picture of the universe, which if we succeed will be a complete understanding of the universe and everything that is in it. So I don't understand why they waste their time going into this other stuff which never has added anything to the storehouse of human wisdom, and I don't see that it ever will.

From Daily Telegraph

The Reverend Canon Arthur Peacocke, who died on Saturday aged 81, made a significant contribution to the understanding of the structure of DNA during his early career as a scientist, though he became better known, after his ordination as an Anglican priest, as a leading advocate of the proposition that the antagonism between science and religion is based on a fallacy.

In more than 200 papers and 12 books, Peacocke argued that the divine principle is behind all aspects of existence. He proposed a theory, known as "critical realism", which holds that both science and theology aim to depict reality and must be subject to critical scrutiny; and that Scripture, Church and religious tradition cannot be held to be self-authenticating.

"The search for intelligibility that characterises science and the search for meaning that characterises 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".

Thus he argued that Darwinian evolution, far from being a threat to Christian theology, offers a chance to develop it further. His scientific researches convinced him of the astonishing regularity of the universe, from the microscopic to the astronomic.

The processes of evolution, he believed, are consistent with an all-knowing, all-powerful God who exists through all time, sets natural laws and knows what the results will be. The implication is that progress in scientific understanding reveals God's actions and purposes, and that all scientific propositions are consistent with religious ones.

As for the problem of evil, Peacocke argued that it is necessary for organisms to die for others to enter the world. Thus pain, suffering and death are necessary evils in a universe which provides the environment for beings capable of having a relationship with God.

In 1985 Peacocke founded, and became the first director of, the Ian Ramsey Centre for the Interdisciplinary Study of Religious Beliefs in Relation to the Sciences and Medicine, part of Oxford University's Theology faculty; and the following year he established the Society of Ordained Scientists (SOSc), an ecumenical international organisation which he served as warden from 1987 to 1992.

In 2001 Peacocke won the £700,000 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, established by the billionaire philanthropist Sir John Templeton to recognise people who have shown originality in advancing man's understanding of God and the role of spirituality in people's lives.

Through helping to reconcile scientific and religious perspectives, Peacocke believed, the Anglican church was providing a service which could be crucial for the survival of the Christian faith in any form in the new millennium

The son of a butcher, Arthur Robert Peacocke was born at Watford on November 29 1924. From Watford Boys' Grammar School, he won a scholarship to Exeter College, Oxford, where he read Chemistry, graduating with a First. After completing a doctorate, in 1948 Peacocke became a lecturer in chemistry and then senior lecturer in biophysical chemistry at Birmingham University.

After Crick and Watson announced their discovery of the structure of DNA in their famous paper in the scientific journal Nature in 1952, Peacocke and his colleagues at Birmingham went on to show that the chains in DNA are not branched, as once thought, and that the double helix exists in a solution.

From 1959 he continued his research at Oxford, where he became a lecturer in biochemistry and fellow and tutor in chemistry at St Peter's College and later at Mansfield College

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.

At Birmingham, influenced by the liberal theologian Geoffrey Lampe, Peacocke began a serious study of Theology, took a diploma and a degree in the subject, and was ordained in 1971.

Peacocke's other major publications include Creation and the World of Science (1979); Intimations of Reality: Critical Realism in Science and Religion (1984); Theology for a Scientific Age (1990); God and the New Biology (1994); From DNA to Dean: Reflections and Explorations of Priest-Scientist (1996); God and Science: A Quest for Christian Credibility (1996); and Paths From Science Towards God: The End of All Our Exploring (2001).

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