Evangelist Greg Downes shares his personal reflections on his friend, the scientist and apologist Professor Thomas Charles Buckland McLeish, who died on 27th February

I’ve just heard that my friend Tom McLeish has died (after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in August) and I’ve been crying and in a state of shock. Tom was one of the most distinguished theoretical physicists of our day (FRC, FRSC, FlinstP) and was Professor of Physics and a Pro-Vice Chancellor at Durham University before moving to the University of York to be Professor of Natural Philosophy. 

He was, more importantly than all of these things, a committed disciple of Jesus Christ.

I used to cite Tom all the time when engaging in apologetics and some young undergraduate would tell me (with all the arrogance youth affords): “Science has disproved God.” I met him when I was the Theologian and Missioner of St Michael Le Belfrey in York, where he was a licensed Church of England Reader (lay preacher). I will never forget the mind blowing series he did on the book of Job.  


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In 2018, the Archbishop of Canterbury awarded him the Lafranc Award for Education and Scholarship. The citation read: “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.” 

Tom and I used to enjoy passionate debates about theology and mission over coffee, not always agreeing, but full of mutual respect. He was a gifted, committed and persuasive apologist and I admired his academic rigour and intellectual honesty. 


I used to invite him to give talks on university missions I was leading on the myth of the incompatibility of science and faith (the photo above is us collaborating for a mission at Lancaster University in February 2019).

I would wheel him in as the expert, stating that science was the one apologetic talk I could NOT do (“I haven’t a scientific bone in my body Tom!” I would declare). He would protest and say I should educate myself in that area and do it myself. I didn’t and he would come anyway.


Read more:

Does Science need God? David Hutchings, Tom McLeish & Suzie Sheehy

Professor Tom McLeish (1962-2023): A joyful scientist and evangelist for Jesus


Tom was a gentle and loving man with a big brain and kind heart and I will forever be thankful to the Lord for the privilege of knowing him.

Shortly after Tom’s diagnosis, he put an update about his health on his Facebook page concluding with the words: “In Him was life, and that life was the light of all humankind.” His final public words to the world (again on Facebook) were on 13th of January, just six weeks before his death, and befitted this humble and understated follower of Jesus: “‘Love is strong as Death…many waters cannot quench Love.’ Song of Songs. So if you love, and are loved, you have nothing to fear from death. Nothing especially complicated about it.” 


Greg Downes is an international evangelist and director of Kingfisher Ministries. He is the former Dean of the Wesley Centre at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University.