Coulson Dr Charles Alfred, FRS
1910-1974

Scientist and leading Methodist layman, he was born on 13 December 1910 at Dudley, where his father, Alfred Coulson, was Principal of Dudley Technical College and Sunday School Superintendent of the local Methodist Church. After the family moved to Bristol in 1920, he and his twin brother John were educated at Clifton College. At Trinity College, Cambridge, he played a leading role among Methodists at the University. He achieved 1st class honours in both Maths and Natural Science, captained the university chess team, became a Fellow in 1934 and gained his PhD in 1936. Associated with the poineering work in atomic physics at the Rutherford Laboratory, his special field was molecular physics. In 1947 he was appointed to the new chair of Theoretical Physics at King's College, London; in 1952, Rouse Ball Professor of Applied Mathematics, Oxford, with a professorial fellowship at Wadham College, establishing the new Mathematical Institute there. In 1972 he became the first Professor of Theoretical Chemistry (now named after him). He received many academic honours, including a Cambridge ScD in 1971. He became an FRS in 1950 and was awarded the Society's Davy Medal; also the Faraday medal (1968) and the Tilden Medal of the Chemical Society. A gifted teacher, he was frequently in demand abroad as visiting lecturer. He was always keen to stress the social implications of all 'pure' science.

He also appeared on television and was a prolific author. Besides over 300 scientific papers, his 1954 Rede Lectures on Science and Religion and his Beckly Lecture on Science, Technology and the Christian (1960) were influential contributions to the on-going debate. At a more popular level, Science and Christian Belief (1955) was an important work of Christian apologetics. He was an accredited local preacher from 1929 and was Vice-President of the Conference in 1959. He served on the central Committee of the World Council of Churches from 1962 to 1968 and from 1965 to 1971 was Chairman of OXFAM. He died in Oxford on 7 January 1974. A memorial fund, set up by his colleagues and former students, gave financial support to students from overseas who came to Oxford to study Theoretical Chemistry.

Quotations

'As no one else I have known, Charles combined intellectual brilliance with passionate commitment to Christianity and a deeply sensitive, practical insight into human problems. He was a leading pacifist before, during and after the war; despite this (for pacifism was regarded with some distrust by the Methodist Church and even more by society at large) he was elected Vice-President of the Methodist Conference in 1959. His influence on me was twofold and decisive, leading me towards a full Christian commitment and a pacifist inrterpretation of it.'

Frank Garforth, Travelling along with Methodism(1990) p.158

Sources
  • Methodist Recorder, 9 July 1959, 17 January 1974, 9 January 1975
  • Conference Handbook, 1959
  • Times, 8 January 1974
  • David J. and Eileen Hawkin, The Word of Science: the religious and social thought of C.A. Coulson (London, 1989)
  • Oxford DNB

Occupations

Entry written by: JAV
Category: Person
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