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Professor Sir Roger Penrose FRS, OM

Distinguished mathematical physicist and patron of Humanists UK

Sir Roger Penrose, born in 1931, is an English mathematical physicist and Emeritus Professor of Mathematics at the Mathematical Institute, University of Oxford and Emeritus Fellow of Wadham College. He has received many prizes and honours for his work, including the 1988 Wolf Foundation Prize for Physics, which he shared with Stephen Hawking for their contribution to our understanding of the universe. He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1972 and in 1985 was awarded the Royal Society Royal Medal. In 1990 he was awarded the Albert Einstein Medal. In 1994 he was knighted for services to science and in 2000 he was awarded an Order of Merit.

Despite his support for Humanism, like many physicists Sir Roger is more sympathetic to mystery and uncertainty than some atheists and humanists. His praise for Sam Harris’s polemical book “Letter to a Christian Nation” was qualified; he described it as “elegant … most refreshing and a wonderful source of ammunition for those who, like me, hold to no religious doctrine”, but he also stated: “I have some sympathy also with those who might be worried by his uncompromising stance. Read it and form your own view, but do not ignore its message.” He has also said: “There is a certain sense in which I would say the universe has a purpose. It’s not there just somehow by chance. Some people take the view that the universe is simply there and it runs along – it’s a bit as though it just sort of computes, and we happen by accident to find ourselves in this thing. I don’t think that’s a very fruitful or helpful way of looking at the universe, I think that there is something much deeper about it, about its existence, which we have very little inkling of at the moment.”

He was one of the 43 scientists and philosophers who in March 2002 signed a letter to Tony Blair and relevant Government departments, deploring the teaching of Creationism in schools. He was also one of the signatories to a letter supporting a holiday on Charles’ Darwin’s birthday, published in The Timeson February 12, 2003, and also sent to the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary.

His books include:
The Emperor’s New Mind (1989) which won the Rhone-Poulenc science book prize in 1990
Shadows of the Mind: A Search for the Missing Science of Consciousness (1994)
The Nature of Space and Time (with Stephen Hawking, 1996)
The Large, the Small, and the Human Mind (with Abner Shimony, Nancy Cartwright, and Stephen Hawking, 1997)
The Road to Reality: A Complete Guide to the Laws of the Universe (2004
(Buy his books at Amazon.co.uk through this link and a small commission will go to Humanists UK.)

See also
2008 New Scientist video in which he talks about the limits of reason
His Wikipedia profile

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