In Remembrance: Ian Barbour ’56BD Died on December 24 2013

Ian Barbour first studied science, then religion, but instead of concluding that the two are in eternal conflict, he helped create an academic realm where they share common ground. Dr. Barbour, who was 90 when he died on December 24, 2013, earned a doctorate in physics at the University of Chicago and then a divinity degree from Yale, and he never abandoned his passion for scientific exploration or his place in the pew. He embraced the complexities of evolution and the Big Bang theory, of genetics and neuroscience. He also embraced Christianity. He was a devoted parishioner at First United Church of Christ in Northfield, Minnesota.

The New York Times published his obituary on January 12, 2014.

2 remembrances

    NORMAN E THOMAS, 6:51pm July 10 2017 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    Ian G. Barbour

    Ian Graeme Barbour was born on October 5, 1923 in Beijing, China, the second of three sons of an American Episcopalian mother and a Scottish Presbyterian father. His parents were missionary teachers and acquainted with a forerunner of science and religion studies, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. Ian spent his childhood in China, the United States, and England.

    After the family settled in the U.S., he attended Swarthmore College, receiving his B.Sc. degree in physics in 1943. He earned the M.Sc. in physics from Duke University in 1946, and a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Chicago in 1950. At Chicago, Barbour specialized in cosmic ray physics, studied under Edward Teller, and served as a teaching assistant to Enrico Fermi, a developer of the atomic bomb. Beginning in 1949, Ian spent four years teaching physics at Kalamazoo College in Michigan, where he experimented with cosmic rays, and became department chair after two years.

    At Duke, Ian met Deane Kern, who was studying religion as an undergraduate. They married in 1947—and together raised four children: sons David and John, and daughters Blair and Heather.

    A committed Christian, Ian was a conscientious objector during World War II. When the nuclear age raised questions bigger than he could answer in a laboratory, Barbour accepted a fellowship at Yale. One year led to two, and then the BD/MDiv degree in 1956. Before graduation, Ian’s dual pursuits became one job: he was hired to teach physics and religion, though in separate classes, at Carleton College, in Northfield, Minnesota. Throughout his years in Northfield, Ian was a devoted parishioner at First United Church of Christ.

    Barbour spent his entire teaching career at Carleton College from his first appointment in 1955 as chairman of a newly-created religion department and professor of religion. Even as he became prominent around the world, he remained deeply involved at Carleton. He created interdisciplinary programs that spanned religion, environmentalism, technology and public policy. In the 1970s, he co-founded the Science, Technology, and Public Policy program at Carleton, which later became the Environment and Technology Studies program. He retired in 1986 as the Winifred and Atherton Bean Professor Emeritus of Science, Technology and Society.

    Because he was a professor of both physics and religion, Barbour's initial books, Issues in Science and Religion (1966) and Myths, Models and Paradigms (1974) focus on the language parallels between these disciplines. His first book reached many people struggling to reconcile faith and science. “It really transformed my life,” said Robert John Russell as a Stanford undergraduate majoring in physics. Russell later founded the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences, an affiliate of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, to which Barbour donated most of the money he later received for the Templeton Prize. Of the Center’s benefactor Russell said: “Ian was the pioneer scholar who got us out of the quicksand of either seeing science and religion as totally in conflict, or totally irrelevant to each other.”

    During the 1970s and 1980s, Barbour began to expand his focus to include technological and environmental themes. During this period he published Technology, Environment, and Human Values (1980) and Energy and American Values (1982), as well as several edited collections of essays, including Earth Might Be Fair: Reflections on Ethics, Religion and Ecology (1971) and Western Man and Environmental Ethics (1972). In each Barbour focused on the need for an enhanced technological and environmental ethic.
    Barbour gave two series of Gifford lectures in 1989 and 1991 at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.

    He published the first as Religion in an Age of Science (1990), and the second as Ethics in an Age of Technology (1993). The first series was revised-and three historical chapters added, in Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues (1997).

    In 1999 Barbour was awarded the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion, a prestigious award given annually to “a living person who has made exceptional contributions to affirming life’s spiritual dimension.” In 2000, in a much shorter volume entitled When Science Meets Religion: Enemies, Strangers, or Partners?, Barbour used a fourfold typology of ways of relating science and religion developed in his earlier writings--conflict, independence, dialogue, and integration--as structure for chapters on astronomy, quantum physics, evolutionary biology, and genetics and neuroscience. His concluding chapter dealt with “God and Nature: Can God Act in a Law-Bound World?”. It has been translated into fourteen languages.

    Barbour died on December 24, 2013 at age 90 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and was predeceased by his wife Deane who died in 2011. His survivors included two sons, David and John, two daughters, Blair Barbour and Heather Barbour; three grandchildren; and a great-grandson.

    In the citation nominating Barbour for the 1999 Templeton Prize, John B. Cobb wrote:
    No contemporary has made a more original, deep and lasting contribution toward the needed integration of scientific and religious knowledge and values than Ian Barbour. With respect to the breadth of topics and fields brought into this integration, Barbour has no equal.

    Yale University / YDS Convocation & Reunions / 1956—60th Reunion Class / [Class Composite Photo] at
    Yale Alumni Magazine / Obituaries, “In Remembrance:” Ian Barbour ’56BD,
    The New York Times, “Ian Barbour, Who Found a Balance between Faith and Science, Dies at 90,” at . Picture of him receiving the Templeton prize accompanies article.
    Ian Barbour. (2016, May 6). In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 19:03, August 23, 2016, from
    Scholarly assessments of the work of Ian Barbour are contained in:
    Hallanger, Nathan J. 'Ian G. Barbour' in The Blackwell Companion to Science and Christianity, edited by J. B. Stump and Alan G. Padgett (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012).
    Russel, Robert John, ed. Fifty Years in Science and Religion: Ian G. Barbour and his Legacy. (Ashgate: Burlington, 2004). Contains chapters by R. J. Russell, “Ian Barbour's Methodological Breakthrough: Creating the ‘Bridge' between Science and Theology,” 45–59; and N. H. Gregersen, “Critical Realism and Other Realisms,” 77–95.

  • Jim Williams
    Jim Williams, 5:10pm September 09 2021 | Ico flag Flag as inappropriate

    I had the great honor and privilege to meet and work with Ian Barbour as fellow members of the Society for Religion in Higher Education/Society for Values in Higher Education in the late 1970s/early 1980s. We were together in several, weeklong working groups on science, religion, and ethics. Ian was one of those people who stood out precisely because he made no effort to put himself forward. He was a delightful presence who impressed by his casual comments, clearly sharp mind, and evident goodwill toward all around him. I used "Religion in an Age of Science" as an optional, supplemental reading in Western Civilization courses I taught for 13 years, because that book so well addressed issues that were knotty problems for some of my undergrad students. Today, when a former colleague from the Naval Academy sent me a draft paper to review on paradigms, science, and ethics -- Ian Barbour immediately sprang to mind. I was delighted to find the lengthy piece here by Norman Thomas. I just want to add my thanks and salute to a great scholar and person. RIP, Ian Barbour!

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