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John Polkinghorne

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John Polkinghorne in 2007.
The facts of the matter
May the mass times acceleration be with you
Let's get physical!
Atoms trying to understand atoms
The question of the existence of God is the single most important question we face about the nature of reality.
—John Polkinghorne[1]

John Charlton Polkinghorne (1930–2021) was an English theoretical physicist and Anglican priest known for his views regarding the relationship between science and religion. He was also a writer, theologian, KBE, and a Fellow of the Royal Society. He was awarded the 2002 Templeton Prize.[2]


Polkinghorne received his Master's degree in mathematics in 1956 and his PhD in physics in 1955 from the University of Cambridge under the direction of Paul Dirac.[3][4] He taught at his alma mater, where he helped develop theories about particle physics and helped discover the quark.[2] After figuring that his best scientific contributions were behind him, he decided to train for a position in the other important aspect of his life: Christianity. He became an ordained deacon in 1981.[5]

On science and religion[edit]

Polkinghorne saw science and religion as two methods of viewing the same reality,[6] including believing that the body, mind, and soul are different parts of this same reality.[7] He believed God was why there was "something" rather than "nothing."[8] Three of the most important reasons he cited for why he believed "theism better makes more sense of the world, and of human experience, than...atheism"[9]:71–83 are the "intelligibility" of the universe,[9]:76 where organisms evolved to survive every day can understand very advanced and unrelated-to-survival topics such as relativity; moral knowledge,[9]:81–82 where humans have developed strong morals; and the anthropic fine-tuning of the universe.[9]:75

Despite his theism, Polkinghorne believed in evolution and rejected young-Earth creationism,[10] saying that:

As a Christian believer I am, of course, a creationist in the proper sense of the term, for I believe that the mind and purpose of a divine Creator lie behind the fruitful history and remarkable order of the universe which science explores. But I am certainly not a creationist in that curious North American sense, which implies interpreting Genesis 1 in a flat-footed literal way and supposing that evolution is wrong.[11]

In the scientific community[edit]

Polkinghorne was one of the most well-known, respected, and accomplished scientists who professed a belief in God that went beyond basic deism — a status that elicited interesting opinions between himself and atheistic scientists. Evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins considered him a more sophisticated and respectable theologian who understood and respected science but still didn'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 [religion] of explanation" nor "why [he wastes his] time going into this other stuff [religion] which never has added anything to the storehouse of human wisdom, and I don't see that it ever will."[12] Polkinghorne, however, wasn't quite as big on Dawkins as Dawkins was on him, saying in a CBC interview that Dawkins' "very militant form of atheism" saddens him "because it seems to me it is so polemical, it is so argumentative. Its concern is not with truth but somehow to browbeat you into unbelief. Dawkins for example continually puts up straw men to demolish."[13]

Books on science and religion[edit]

After becoming part of the Anglican clergy, Polkinghorne kept hmself busy writing books on the relationship between science and religion.

  • The Way the World is: The Christian Persepective of a Scientist (1984)
  • One World (1987)
  • Science and Creation (1989)
  • Science and Providence (1989)
  • Reason and Reality: Relationship Between Science and Theology (1991)
  • Quarks, Chaos and Christianity (1994)
  • Science and Christian Belief (1994)
  • Serious Talk: Science and Religion in Dialogue (1996)
  • Scientists as Theologians (1996)
  • Beyond Science: The wider human context (1996)
  • Searching for Truth (1996)
  • Belief in God in an Age of Science (1998)
  • Science and Theology (1998)
  • The End of the World and the Ends of God (2000)
  • Traffic in Truth: Exchanges Between Sciences and Theology (2000)
  • Faith, Science and Understanding (2000)
  • The Work of Love: Creation as Kenosis (2001)
  • The God of Hope and the End of the World (2002)
  • The Archbishop's School of Christianity and Science (2003)
  • Living with Hope (2003)
  • Science and the Trinity: The Christian Encounter With Reality (2004)
  • Exploring Reality: The Intertwining of Science & Religion (2005)
  • Quantum Physics & Theology: An Unexpected Kinship (2007)
  • From Physicist to Priest, an Autobiography (2007)
  • Theology in the Context of Science (2008)
  • Questions of Truth: Fiftyone Responses to Questions about God, Science and Belief (2009)
  • The Polkinghorne Reader: Science Faith and the Search for Meaning (2010)
  • Reason and Reality: The Relationship Between Science and Theology (2011)
  • Science and Religion in Quest of Truth (2011)


  1. The Faith of a Physicist. pp. 52
  2. 2.0 2.1 John Templeton Foundation: Participants
  3. Paul Dirac at the Mathematical Genealogy Project
  4. Socrates In the City: Sir John Polkinghorne
  5. The MacTutor History of Mathematics archive: John Charlton Polkinghorne
  6. Times Higher Education: On the side of angels. 19 February 2009
  7. Science and Christian Belief. pp. 21
  8. Closer to Truth: Polkinghorne, John
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 John Polkinghorne, Science and Theology: An Introduction. Fortress Press, 1998.
  10. The Times: Shining a light where science and theology meet. 19 September 2008
  11. The Byzantine Anglo-Catholic: Polkinghorne on Creationism
  12. PBS Faith and Reason: Richard Dawkins (interview)
  13. Digital Journal: From physicist to priest — John Polkinghorne talks about science and religion. Op-Ed