Philosopher and theologian, born at Stockport. From 1954 to 1958, he read History, then Divinity at Trinity College, Cambridge, followed by a year studying philosophical theology at the Perkins School of Theology. He trained for the ministry at Hartley Victoria College from 1959 to 1961 and studied in the University of Manchester for an MA on Newman’s 'Grammar of Assent'. An enlarged version of this was published as The Way to Faith (1969). After five years in circuit, in 1966 he became an assistant lecturer (and later lecturer, senior lecturer, reader, and finally professor) in the Philosophy of Religion in the University of Manchester and was also for a time Head of the Department of Philosophy in the Faculty of Arts. He retired in 2001.
His considerable literary output takes a critical realist approach to theology, with particular attention to the possibility of reconstructing a theism that is both credible and significant. In this he has shown the influence of fundamental ideas in Whitehead and Hartshorne and their followers in the so-called ‘process’ school. While critical of certain of their basic positions (especially panpsychism and the use of a priori arguments), he is probably the foremost British exponent of ‘process’ approaches to theology. His works include Groundwork of Philosophy of Religion (1986), God and the Processes of Reality (1989), The Anthropological Character of Theology (1990) and Probing the Foundations: A study in Theistic Reconstruction (1994). His work for his PhD was on the faith-reason controversies of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. The Lockean requirement that assents be warranted by sound reasons has been a formative factor in all his theological works. Other books reflect wider interests. There is Attitudes to Other Religions: Comparative Religion in Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Britain (1984) and A Gentle Touch: From a Theology of Handicap to a Theology of Human Being (1992). In 1992 he was awarded the Cambridge D.D. Although Pailin does not write explicitly as a Methodist theologian, an Arminian perspective and an emphasis upon grace pervade his writings.