John Polkinghorne | Closer to Truth


The Rev. John Charlton Polkinghorne was an English theoretical physicist, theologian, writer, and Anglican priest. He was professor of Mathematical Physics at the University of Cambridge for 11 years, after which he resigned his chair to study for the priesthood, becoming an ordained Anglican priest. He served as the president of Queens' College, Cambridge for eight years

Polkinghorne was the author of five books on physics, and 26 on the relationship between science and religion; his publications include The Quantum World (1989), Quantum Physics and Theology: An Unexpected Kinship (2005), Exploring Reality: The Intertwining of Science and Religion (2007), and Questions of Truth (2009). The Polkinghorne Reader (edited by Thomas Jay Oord) provides key excerpts from Polkinghorne's most influential books. He was knighted in 1997 and in 2002 received the £1 million Templeton Prize, awarded for exceptional contributions to affirming life's spiritual dimension. Following National Service in the Royal Army Educational Corps, Polkinghorne read Mathematics at Trinity College, Cambridge, then earned his PhD in physics supervised by Abdus Salam in the group led by Paul Dirac.

Polkinghorne accepted a postdoctoral Harkness Fellowship with the California Institute of Technology, where he worked with Murray Gell-Mann. Toward the end of the fellowship he was offered a position as lecturer at the University of Edinburgh.

After two years in Scotland, he returned to teach at Cambridge. He was promoted to reader, then was offered a professorship in mathematical physics. For 25 years, he worked on theories about elementary particles, played a role in the discovery of the quark, and researched the analytic and high-energy properties of Feynman integrals and the foundations of S-Matrix theory. While employed by Cambridge, he also spent time at Princeton, Berkeley, Stanford, and at CERN in Geneva. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1974.

Polkinghorne studied at Westcott House, Cambridge, an Anglican theological college, becoming an ordained priest. He worked for five years as a curate in south Bristol, then as vicar in Blean, Kent, before returning to Cambridge as dean of chapel at Trinity Hall. He became the president of Queens' College that year, a position he held until his retirement. He served as canon theologian of Liverpool Cathedral from 1994 to 2005.

In 1997 he was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE). He was made an honorary fellow of St Chad's College, Durham and awarded an honorary doctorate by the University of Durham. Polkinghorne was awarded the Templeton Prize for his contributions to research at the interface between science and religion.

He was a member of the BMA Medical Ethics Committee, the General Synod of the Church of England, the Doctrine Commission, and the Human Genetics Commission. He was a fellow of Queens' College, Cambridge and was for 10 years a canon theologian of Liverpool Cathedral. He was a founding member of the Society of Ordained Scientists and also of the International Society for Science and Religion, of which he was the first president. He was selected to give the prestigious Gifford Lectures, which he later published as The Faith of a Physicist.

Polkinghorne was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Hong Kong Baptist University as part of their 50-year celebrations. This included giving a public lecture on "The Dialogue between Science and Religion and Its Significance for the Academy" and an "East-West Dialogue" with Yang Chen-ning, a nobel laureate in physics. He was a member of staff of the Psychology and Religion Research Group at Cambridge University.

Polkinghorne passed away in 2021.