Ian Barbour died on Christmas Eve at the age of 90. He is credited by many to be the father of the contemporary academic discipline of science and religion. His 1966 book, Issues in Science and Religion, was the starting point for a generation who began to reflect more seriously on the relationship between the two.
Ian Graeme Barbour was born in 1923 to missionary teachers in China, where his family was acquainted with a forerunner of science and religion studies, Teilhard de Chardin. Barbour came to the States to take degrees in physics from Swarthmore and Duke, and then a PhD in cosmic-ray physics from the University of Chicago, where he studied with Enrico Fermi and Edward Teller. On the theological side of his education, he earned a divinity degree from Yale Divinity School, and then spent a year at Harvard studying process theology with Gordon Kaufman. In 1955 an opportunity opened for Barbour to teach both physics and religious studies at Carleton College in Minnesota, where he spent the rest of his scholarly career until retirement in 1986.
Besides Issues, Barbour’s other significant books in science and religion are Myths, Models, and Paradigms: A Comparative Study in Science and Religion (1974), Religion in an Age of Science (1990, revised in 1997 as Religion and Science: Some Historical and Contemporary Issues), When Science Meets Religion (2000), and Nature, Human Nature, and God (2002). In recognition of his contribution to science and religion, Barbour gave the Gifford Lectures in Aberdeen in 1989-90 and was awarded the Templeton Prize in 1999.
The concept for which Barbour is most well-known is his four-fold typology for ways of relating science and religion. Conflict, Independence, Dialogue, and Integration are four models for understanding how the two different disciplines might be related to each other. Many people see them in Conflict, such that science or religion can be victorious in their explanations, but not both. Others hold to Independence, according to which each has its own separate sphere of inquiry and so they do not conflict with each other. But Barbour preferred Dialogue and Integration, believing that we must move beyond Conflict but also that human experience does not lend itself to Independence. He thought that the potential for dialogue could be found in comparing the methodologies of science and religion, as well as at the boundary questions which science might raise but cannot answer (like the reason for the orderliness and intelligibility of the universe). And the Integration model focusses on the relationships between theological doctrines and particular scientific theories. Barbour’s favorite example of Integration was the development of a theology of nature (as opposed to natural theology).
Barbour was deeply influenced by Quaker faith and possessed a gentle demeanor. His wife of 64 years, Deane Kern, preceded him in death in 2011, and he is survived by four children, three grandchildren, and a great-grandson. Barbour’s professional legacy lives on at Berkeley’s Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, where he donated a significant portion of his Templeton Prize money to endow the Ian G. Barbour Chair for Theology and Science. Watch a video of Barbour in 2012 reflecting on his work and the field of science and religion.
For further reading
- Nathan J. Hallanger, “Ian G. Barbour” in The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity, J.B. Stump and Alan G. Padgett (eds.), Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.
- Robert John Russell (ed.), Fifty Years in Science and Religion: Ian G. Barbour and His Legacy, Aldershot: Ashgate, 2004.