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Arthur Peacocke

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Arthur Peacocke

The Reverend Canon Arthur Robert Peacocke MBE (29 November 1924 – 21 October 2006) was a British Anglican theologian and biochemist.


  • Biography 1
  • Peacocke's views 2
    • Process as immanence 2.1
    • Chance optimising initial conditions 2.2
    • Random process of evolution as purposive 2.3
    • Natural evil as necessity 2.4
    • Jesus as pinnacle of human evolution 2.5
    • Relationship between theology and science typology 2.6
  • Styles and honours 3
  • See also 4
  • Further reading 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


Arthur Robert Peacocke was born at Watford on 29 November 1924. He was educated at Watford Grammar School for Boys, Exeter College, Oxford (BA 1945, MA 1948, BSc 1947, DPhil 1948, DSc 1962, DD 1982), and the University of Birmingham (DipTh 1960, BD 1971).

He taught at the University of Birmingham from 1948 until 1959 when he was appointed University Lecturer in Biochemistry in the University of Oxford and Fellow and Tutor of St Peter's College. In 1960 he was licensed as a Lay Reader for the Diocese of Oxford and he held this position until 1971, when he was ordained deacon and priest, unusually, both in the same year.

From 1973 until 1984 he was Dean, Fellow, and Tutor and Director of Studies in Theology of Clare College, Cambridge, becoming a Doctor of Science (ScD) by incorporation of the University of Cambridge.

In 1984 he spent one year as Professor of Judeo-Christian Studies at Oxford, living in St John Street, just across the road from another eminent theologian, Henry Chadwick.

He had been Select Preacher before the University of Oxford in 1973 and 1975 and was Bampton Lecturer in 1978. He was Hulsean Preacher at Cambridge in 1976 and Gifford Lecturer at St Andrew's in 1993.

Among Peacocke's numerous subsidiary appointments he was the President of the Science and Religion Forum from 1995 until his death, having previous been chairman (1972–78) and Vice-President (1978–92). He was an Academic Fellow of the Institute on Religion in an Age of Science in 1986. He was Warden of the Society of Ordained Scientists 1987–92 and Warden Emeritus from 1992 until his death. He was also a sometime Vice-President of the Modern Church People's Union and member of the council of the European Society for the Study of Science and Theology (Esssat).

Peacocke was awarded the DLittHum 1991). He was appointed Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by HM The Queen in 1993. In 2001 he was awarded the Templeton Prize.

Arthur Peacocke married Rosemary Mann on 7 August 1948. They had a daughter, Jane (born 1953), and a son who is the distinguished philosopher Christopher Peacocke. They also have five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Peacocke's views

Peacocke self-identified as a panentheist, which he was careful to distinguish from being a pantheist.[1] He is perhaps best known for his attempts to argue rigorously that evolution and Christianity need not be at odds (see Creation-evolution controversy). He may be the most well-known theological advocate of theistic evolution as author of the essay "Evolution: The Disguised Friend of Faith?".

Arthur Peacocke describes a position which is referred to elsewhere as "front-loading", after the fact that it suggests that evolution is entirely consistent with an all-knowing, all-powerful God who exists throughout time, sets initial conditions and natural laws, and knows what the result will be. An implication of Peacocke's particular stance is that all scientific analyses of physical processes reveal God's actions. All scientific propositions are thus necessarily coherent with religious ones.

According to Peacocke, Darwinism is not an enemy to religion, but a friend (thus the title of his piece, "The Disguised Friend"). Peacocke offers five basic arguments in support of his position outlined below.

Process as immanence

The process-as-immanence argument is meant to deal with Phillip Johnson's contention that naturalism reduces God to a distant entity. According to Peacocke, God continuously creates the world and sustains it in its general order and structure; He makes things make themselves. Biological evolution is an example of this and, according to Peacocke, should be taken as a reminder of God's immanence. It shows us that "God is the Immanent Creator creating in and through the processes of natural order." (473, original italics) Evolution is the continuous action of God in the world. All "the processes revealed by the sciences, especially evolutionary biology, are in themselves God-acting-as-Creator". (474)

Chance optimising initial conditions

The chance-optimizing-initial-conditions argument runs as follows: the role of

Random process of evolution as purposive

The random-process-of-evolution-as-purposive argument is perhaps best considered an adjunct to the process-as-immanence argument, and a direct response to Johnson's continued references to evolution as "purposeless." Peacocke suggests

Natural evil as necessity

The natural-evil-as-necessity argument is meant to be a response to the classic universe which will result in beings capable of having a relationship with God. God is said to suffer with His creation because He loves creation, conforming the deity to be consistent with the Christian God.

Jesus as pinnacle of human evolution

The Jesus-as-pinnacle-of-human-evolution argument proposed by Peacocke is that Jesus Christ is

the actualisation of [evolutionary] potentiality can properly be regarded as the consummation of the purposes of God already incompletely manifested in evolving humanity…. The paradigm of what God intends for all human beings, now revealed as having the potentiality of responding to, of being open to, of becoming united with, God. (484–5)

Similar propositions had previously been put by writers such as C. S. Lewis (in Mere Christianity) and Teilhard de Chardin.

Relationship between theology and science typology

In the introduction to The Sciences and Theology in the Twentieth Century,[1] Peacocke lists a set of eight relationships that could fall upon a two-dimensional grid. This list is in part a survey of deliberations that occurred at the World Council of Churches Conference on "Faith, Science and the Future", Cambridge, Mass., 1979.

  1. Science and theology are concerned with two distinct realms
    • Reality is thought of as a duality, operating within the human world, in terms of natural/supernatural, spatio-temporal/the eternal, the order of nature/the realm of faith, the natural(or physical)/the historical, the physical-and-biological/mind-and-spirit.
  2. Science and theology are interacting approaches to the same reality
    • Accuracy of this view is widely and strongly resisted among those who otherwise differ in their theologies
  3. Science and theology are two distinct non-interacting approaches to the same reality
    • The idea that theology tries to answer the question why, while science tries to answer the question how
  4. Science and theology constitute two different language systems
    • Each are two distinct "language games" whose logical pre-conditions can have no bearing upon each other according to late-Wittgensteinian theory
  5. Science and theology are generated by quite different attitudes (in their practitioners)
    • the attitude of science is that of objectivity and logical neutrality; that of theology personal involvement and commitment.
  6. Science and theology are both subservient to their objects and can only be defined in relation to them
    • Both are intellectual disciplines shaped by their object (nature or God) to which they direct their attention. Both include a confessional and a rational factor.[2]
  7. Science and theology may be integrated
  8. Science generates a metaphysic in terms of which theology is then formulated

Styles and honours

  • Mr Arthur Peacocke (1924–1948)
  • Dr Arthur Peacocke (1948–1971)
  • The Revd. Dr Arthur Peacocke (1971–1993)
  • The Revd. Dr Arthur Peacocke MBE (1993–1994)
  • The Revd. Canon Arthur Peacocke MBE (1994–2006)

See also

Further reading


  • Crockford's Clerical Directory (97th edn, London: Church House Publishing, 2001), p. 578
  • Debrett's People of Today (12th edn, London: Debrett's Peerage, 1999), p. 1522
  1. ^ The Sciences and Theology in the Twentieth Century, (ed. A.R. Peacocke, 1981, University of Notre Dame Press, ISBN 0-268-01704-2, pp. xiii–xv, xviii
  2. ^ e.g., Theological Science, T.F. Torrance, Oxford University Press, 1969

External links

  • Arthur Peacocke some biographical notes on the Gifford Lectures website, with some background on the lectures: Theology for a Scientific Age (published in book form during 1993 ISBN 978-0800627591)
  • Arthur Peacocke and Humanity's Place in Cosmic Evolution
  • Society of Ordained Scientists article by him
  • Daily Telegraph obituary
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