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In Memoriam: Professor Tom McLeish FRS

The Revd Prof David Wilkinson

It is with great sadness we announce that our friend and long-time co-investigator on the ECLAS project, Professor Tom McLeish died yesterday. Tom founded the project with David Wilkinson and contributed wisdom, boundless energy and a passion which celebrated both science and Christian faith.

His main scientific discipline was theoretical physics but this was only a small part of a gigantic range of interests and work across science, social sciences, arts and humanities. He was a true polymath and when appointed to be the first Chair of Natural Philosophy at the University of York it summed up his unique approach and international standing.

As a scientist, he was both an experimentalist and a theorist across physics, chemistry and biology – his work is renowned for increasing our understanding of the properties of soft matter. He began as a lecturer in physics at Sheffield and then held Professorial posts at Leeds and Durham. At Durham University he was Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research between 2008 and 2014. It was during this time at Durham that he and David Wilkinson conceived the initial idea of ECLAS, wanting to change the culture among senior Christian leaders in their view of science – from fear to joy.

Alongside his world leading scientific research, Tom also pioneered work in medieval science and theology working with Professor Giles Gasper and others on the Ordered Universe project. In his book Faith and Wisdom in Science he demonstrated biblical expertise on the book of Job and brought it into dialogue with a theology of science. In The Poetry and Music of Science: Comparing Creativity in Science and Art he showed how his love of music and poetry could both illuminate the scientific enterprise and respond to it. All of this fed into the shaping of the ECLAS project, where he also worked alongside social scientists on the nature of narratives of science and theology.

Tom was a Fellow of the Institute of Physics (FInstP), a Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (FRSC) and in 2011, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS).

An Anglican lay reader, in 2018, Tom was awarded the Lanfranc Award for Education and Scholarship by the Archbishop of Canterbury for his record as one of the most outstanding scientists of his generation, and the leading contemporary lay Anglican voice in the dialogue of science and faith’.

Alongside all of these achievements, Tom was a human being who demonstrated generous friendship to all, eager to serve, help, comfort and encourage. Loved and respected for his humility, his sense of fun and commitment to truth, generations of students and colleagues were shaped by his work and his life. At the heart of this was a Christian faith which saw the whole of life as a gift from God.

David Wilkinson writes, ‘there are few people who have influenced my life as much as Tom McLeish. I owe him a huge debt as a friend, mentor and inspiration. I am so thankful for the privilege of his friendship and for all the insights that shaped my own thinking about science and theology. Our love, sympathy and prayers go out to his wife Julie and all of the family at this time.’

 

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Article By The Revd Prof David Wilkinson

David is a professor in the Department of Theology and Religion at Durham University and has PhDs in astrophysics and systematic theology.

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