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March 10, 2001
Column #1019

SCIENTIST-THEOLOGIAN WINS TEMPLETON PRIZE

     Dr. Arthur Peacocke, a physical biochemist and an Anglican priest who pioneered early research into the physical chemistry of DNA a half century ago, and has become a leading advocate of the compatibility of science and theology - was awarded the 2001 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion this week. 

     The first winner of the Templeton Prize in 1973 was Mother Teresa. Others have been Billy Graham, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Chuck Colson and Bill Bright.

     For hundreds of years scientists have mocked belief in God. Darwin said the origins of life and even the human species could be explained by blind mechanisms. By contrast, Dr. Peacocke has earned doctorates in both science and theology and became so interested in what many see as the opposite of science - religion - that he became a priest. 

     In an interview with me, the day before his $1 million Templeton Prize was announced, he said, ''The universe is not self-explanatory. Science can describe what it is like, but it can not tell us why it is. I want to ask the question why?'' 

     His exciting conclusion: ''There must be a God. We can't prove God exists. But God makes more sense than not believing. If any of the physical constants of the world, such as gravitation were slightly different, carbon-based life could never have evolved.''

     Patrick Glynn, in his short profound book, ''God: The Evidence,'' notes gravity is 1039 times weaker than electromagnetism. ''If gravity had been 1033 times weaker than electromagnetism, stars would be a billion times less massive and would burn a million times faster. 

     Not only does Peacocke believe God created the universe, but ''Creation is going on all the time. Time itself is created by God, and is an aspect of the whole created order.''

     The Rev. Canon Dr. Arthur Peacocke was born in 1924, had a typical Church of England upbringing by parents who left school at ages 14 and 11 respectively. After winning scholarships as a young man, he became alienated from ''all things Christian.'' However, in attending a sermon by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple, he began to think of Christianity as intellectually defensible, but developed a career as a biochemist who taught at Oxford.

     In what had to be courageous step, he began studying theology, receiving a Diploma in Theology in 1960 and became a Lay Reader for the Church of England, but found not being able to administer the sacraments ''like trying to walk on one leg.'' After receiving his Doctor of Science degree from Oxford for research in biochemistry, he was ordained in 1971 as a ''priest-scientist'' with no interest in being pastor of a local church.

     His book ''Science and the Christian Experiment'' outlined the parallel nature of scientific and theological quests, an almost unheard of concept in 1971. His 1976 book, ''Creation and The World of Science,'' was the first to consider the ''anthropic principle,'' a rediscovery of the intricate order and design of the universe, conditions that are exactly those needed for human life to appear. He formed a creative synthesis reinterpreting theology in the light of science.

     The anthropic principle (from the Greek word anthropos, ''man'') argues that all of the myriad laws of physics and chemistry were fine-tuned by God from the beginning of the universe for the emergence of human beings. Thus, Peacocke stood up to scientists who for generations have described the universe as mechanistic, impersonal and random. 

     In ''Theology for a Scientific Age,'' he even argued that God works ''to influence events.''  He expounded both divine and human ''being and becoming'' which led him to demonstrate that Christian beliefs are consistent with science. However, he chides arguers of Creationism vs. Evolution, an issue he feels has clearly been decided in favor of Evolution. 

     In his press conference this week, 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!

     I asked him what he thought of Jesus. He replied, ''He is a full human being, but he is so open to god, his person was saturated by the divine life. We see in him the fundamental character of God, loving and self-offering...through his death and resurrection.''

     And prayer? ''Prayer is not about asking God to do things, but to be in a position where God can work through you. Prayer is meditation, reflection, quietly waiting upon God.'' 

Copyright 2001 Michael J. McManus.

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