Advisory Memorial Board

Rev Dr. John Polkinghorne

John Polkinghorne, Ph.D., ScD, KBE, FRS is a Fellow of the Royal Society, a Fellow (and former President) of Queens’ College, Cambridge.
John was born 16th Oct 1930 in Weston-super-Mare, England, and was married to Ruth until she died in 2006. They have three children (Peter, Isobel and Michael). He was at school at Elmhurst Grammar School, Street, Somerset and his distinguished career as a Physicist began at Trinity College Cambridge where he studied under Dirac and Abdus Salaam and others. He earned his MA in 1956, was elected a Fellow of Trinity in 1954, and gained his Ph.D. in 1955.
In 1956 he was appointed a Lecturer in Mathematical Physics at Edinburgh: returning to Cambridge as a Lecturer in 1958, promoted to Reader in 1965 and Professor in 1968. In 1974 he was elected FRS in and awarded an ScD by Cambridge. During this time he published many papers on theoretical elementary particle physics in learned journals, and 2 technical scientific books, The Analytic S-Matrix (CUP 1966, jointly with RJ Eden, PV Landshoff and DI Olive) and Models of High Energy Processes (CUP 1980).
In 1979 he resigned his Professorship to train for the Anglican Priesthood, studying at Westcott House, He was ordained Deacon in 1981 and served as Curate in Cambridge (St Andrew’s Chesterton 1981–82) and Bristol (St Michael and All Angels, Bedminster 1982–84) and was Vicar of Blean (near Canterbury) from 1984–86. He was appointed an Honorary Professor of Physics at the University of Kent in 1984. In 1986 he was appointed Fellow, Dean and Chaplain Trinity Hall, Cambridge, and in 1989 (“you could have knocked me over with a feather” was his comment) he was appointed President of Queens’ College, from which he retired in 1996. He was appointed KBE (Knight Commander of the order of the British Empire) in 1997.
He was Chairman of the Science, Medicine and Technology Committee of the Church of England’s Board of Social Responsibility, of the Advisory Committee on Genetic Testing (‘96-‘99) and of the publications committee of SPCK. He chaired the joint working party on Cloning of the Human Genetics Advisory Commission and the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority He served on the General Synod (‘90-‘00) and the Doctrine Commission (‘89-‘95) of the Church of England, and on the Medical Ethics Committee of the British Medical Association (‘89-‘98).
During the same period he has published a series of books exploring and developing aspects of the compatibility of religion and science. These began with The Way the World Is: The Christian Perspective of a Scientist (“What I would like to have said to my scientific colleagues who couldn’t understand why I was being ordained”), and continued in a trilogy published by the SPCK: One World, Science and Creation, and Science and Providence. He has continued to produce a superb series of books.
He was awarded the Templeton Prize for Science and Religion in 2002 and also in that year became the Founding President of the International Society for Science and Religion. John has Hon DDs from the Universities of Kent (1994) and Durham (1999), Hon DScs from the Universities of Exeter (1994) Leicester (1995) and Marquette (2003), and an hon D.Hum. (Hong Kong Baptist University, 2006). He is an Hon Fellow of St Chad’s College, Durham (1999) and of St Edmund’s College, Cambridge (2002) and Trinity Hall (1989).
He was Canon Theologian of Liverpool Cathedral 1994–2005 and Six Preacher, Canterbury Cathedral 1996–7. He was awarded a von Humboldt Foundation Award in 1999.
He was Chairman of the Committee on the use of Foetal Material (1988–89), the Nuclear Physics Board (1978–79) of the Task Force to Review Services for Drug Misusers (1994–96) and of the Governors of the Perse School, Cambridge (1972–81). John is a respected scientist who is not afraid to ask difficult questions about God’s action in His creation. How can God act in a world governed by scientific law? Are miracles possible? What kinds of petitionary prayer can God reasonably be expected to answer? These are the unacknowledged doubts which lurk in the minds of many believing Christians. These are the kinds of questions clergy need to be able to answer with educated assurance.
John believes that the universe is an “open” and “flexible” system, where patterns can be seen to exist, but where “the providential aspect cannot be ruled out.” But, in fact, his own faith has little to do with physics. It stems, instead, from a more personal “encounter with Christ”. When asked if his exacting scientific background makes him scornful of the vagaries of theology, he responds: “Far from it. Theology is much more difficult. Physics, at least at the undergraduate level, is a subject on which the dust has settled. In theology the dust never settles.”
His books include Questions of Truth: Fifty-one Responses to Questions About God, Science, and Belief (which includes a foreword by Tony Hewish, who won the Nobel Prize for Physics and an endorsement from Bill Phillips who also won the Nobel Prize for Physics), Quarks, Chaos & Christianity: Questions to Science And Religion, Quantum Physics and Theology: An Unexpected Kinship, One World: The Interaction of Science and Theology, From Physicist to Priest: An Autobiography, Theology in the Context of Science, Belief in God in an Age of Science, Exploring Reality: The Intertwining of Science and Religion, Quantum Theory: A Very Short Introduction, Faith, Science and Understanding, The God of Hope and the End of the World, and The Way the World Is: The Christian Perspective of a Scientist.
His papers include The physical structure of non-scaling parton models, So Finely Tuned a Universe: Of atoms, stars, quanta, and God, and Cross-Traffic Between Science and Theology.
Watch John Polkinghorne on God, Time, and Causality – Parts 1, 2, and 3. Watch Cosmology and God – Parts 1, 2, and 3. Watch Interview of John Polkinghorne – Parts 1, 2, and 3. Watch John Polkinghorne, Fine Tuning, and An Afternoon with John Polkinghorne.