Ian Barbour

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Ian Barbour
Ian Graeme Barbour

(1923-10-05)October 5, 1923
Beijing, China
DiedDecember 24, 2013(2013-12-24) (aged 90)
Deane Kern
(m. 1947; died 2011)
AwardsTempleton Prize (1999)
Academic background
Alma mater
ThesisMagnetic Deflection of Cosmic-ray Mesons Using Nuclear Plates (1950)
Academic work
Sub-disciplineParticle physics[2]
School or tradition
InstitutionsCarleton College
Main interestsRelationship between religion and science
Notable worksIssues in Science and Religion (1966)
Notable ideasTheological critical realism

Ian Graeme Barbour (1923–2013) was an American scholar on the relationship between science and religion. According to the Public Broadcasting Service his mid-1960s Issues in Science and Religion "has been credited with literally creating the contemporary field of science and religion."[5]

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."[6]


Barbour was born on October 5, 1923, in Beijing, China,[7][8] the second of three sons of an American Episcopal mother (who was the daughter of the obstetrician Robert Latou Dickinson) and a Scottish Presbyterian father.[5][9] His family left China in 1931 and Barbour spent the remainder of his youth in the United States and England.[10] A conscientious objector, he served in the Civilian Public Service for three years during the Second World War.[11][12]

He received his Bachelor of Science degree in physics from Swarthmore College and his Master of Science degree in physics from Duke University in 1946.[5] In 1950, he received a Doctor of Philosophy degree in physics from the University of Chicago,[5] where he worked as a teaching assistant to Enrico Fermi.[5][11] He earned a Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1956 from Yale University's Divinity School.[5]

Barbour taught at Carleton College beginning in 1955[citation needed] with a joint appointment in the departments of physics and philosophy.[13] He began teaching religion full-time in 1960, when the university established a religion department.[13] In the 1970s, he co-founded of 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.

Barbour gave the Gifford lectures from 1989 to 1991 at the University of Aberdeen. These lectures led to the book Religion in an Age of Science. He was awarded the Templeton Prize in 1999[5][14] for Progress in Religion in recognition of his efforts to create a dialogue between the worlds of science and religion.

Barbour was married to Deane Kern from 1947 until her death in 2011.[8] They had four children.[15]

Barbour suffered a stroke on December 20, 2013, at his home in Northfield, Minnesota, and remained in a coma at Abbott Northwestern Hospital until his death four days later.[16]

Philosophy and theology[edit]

In his efforts to link science and religion in Issues in Science and Religion, Barbour coined the term critical realism. This has been adopted by other scholars. He claimed the basic structure of religion is similar to that of science in some ways but also differs on some crucial points. They are part of the same spectrum in which both display subjective as well as objective features. The subjective include the theory on data, the resistance of comprehensive theories to falsification, and the absence of rules for choice among paradigms. Objective features include the presence of common data, evidence for or against a theory, and criteria which are not paradigm-dependent. The presence of subjective and objective features in both science and religion makes his thinking valuable and original. Barbour's arguments have been developed in significant and diverse ways by a variety of scholars, including Arthur Peacocke, John Polkinghorne, Sallie McFague, and Robert John Russell. His subjective / objective approach is prominent in the evolving paradigm of religious naturalism.[17]

Barbour considered critical realism an alternative to the competing interpretations of scientific theories: classical or naive realism, instrumentalism, and idealism. A critical realist perspective sees scientific theories yielding partial, revisable, abstract, but referential knowledge of the world that can be expressed through metaphors and models.

During the 1970s Barbour presented a program of interdisciplinary courses that dealt with ethical issues in the applications of science, exploring the social and environmental consequences of a variety of technologies. In 2000 in When Science Meets Religion (2000) he used a fourfold typology (Conflict, Independence, Dialogue, Integration) to relate religion and science that he had developed in his earlier writings.[18] In his works, Barbour writes from a Christian perspective.[19][self-published source]

Barbour compared methods of inquiry in science and religion, and has explored the theological implications of Quantum gravity, Big Bang theory, Nebular hypothesis, geological time scale, abiogenesis, evolutionary history of life, and evolutionary psychology. He also has lectured widely on ethical issues in such fields as climate change, technology policy, energy, agriculture, computers, and cloning.[6]

Forrest Clingerman ties Barbour to the religious naturalism movement via his theology of nature. His subjective/objective approach to religious is prominent in this evolving paradigm.[20] Michael Dowd calls Barbour the grandfather of the evolutionary Christianity movement.[21]

In his acceptance speech for the 1999 Templeton Prize, Barbour spoke about the need to break down barriers, using cloning as an example of science's ability to say what is possible and of religion to reflect on what is desirable.[12]


  • Christianity & the Scientists (1960)
  • Issues in Science and Religion (1966)
  • Science & Religion (1968)
  • Science & Secularity: The Ethics of Technology (1970)
  • Review of Science & Secularity with discussion of other books from Journal of Religion
  • Myths, Models and Paradigms (1974), ISBN 0-334-01037-3
  • Religion in an Age of Science (1990), ISBN 0-06-060383-6
  • Foreword in Religion & Science: History, Method, Dialogue (1996), W. Mark Richardson (ed.) and Wesley J. Wildman (ed.), ISBN 0-415-91667-4
  • Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues (1997) ISBN 0-06-060938-9 (revised and expanded version of Religion in an Age of Science)
  • When Science Meets Religion, (2000), ISBN 0-06-060381-X
  • Nature, Human Nature, and God (2002), ISBN 0-281-05545-9

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Halverson, Daniel (October 5, 2017). "Science, Religion, and Secularism. Part V: Ian Barbour – The Synthesis Model". The Partially Examined Life. Retrieved August 25, 2020.
  2. ^ York 2017, p. 17.
  3. ^ Russell 2017, p. 3.
  4. ^ Losch 2009, p. 91.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g "The PBS Online Newhour May 28, 1999". Archived from the original on January 2, 2008. Retrieved June 30, 2008.
  6. ^ a b "Carleton Professor Emeritus Wins Prestigious Templeton Prize". Northfield, Minnesota: Carleton College. March 10, 1999. Retrieved August 25, 2020.
  7. ^ Russell 2014, p. 123.
  8. ^ a b Yardley, William (January 13, 2014). "Ian Barbour, Who Found a Balance Between Faith and Science, Dies at 90". The New York Times. p. A19. Archived from the original on January 13, 2014. Retrieved August 24, 2020.
  9. ^ Barbour 2017, p. 5.
  10. ^ Barbour 2017, p. 5; Russell 2014, p. 124.
  11. ^ a b Barbour 2017, p. 6.
  12. ^ a b Woo, Elaine (January 1, 2014). "Ian Barbour Dies at 90; Academic Who Bridged Science–Religion Divide". Los Angeles Times. Archived from the original on January 21, 2014. Retrieved January 15, 2014.
  13. ^ a b Barbour 2017, p. 7.
  14. ^ Barbour 2017, p. 9.
  15. ^ Russell 2014, p. 124.
  16. ^ http://apps.carleton.edu/farewells/?story_id=1081774
  17. ^ Russell, Robert John. "Critical Realism: The Original Bridge Between Science and Religion". Seattle, Washington: Counterbalance Foundation. Retrieved April 15, 2011.
  18. ^ "Ian G. Barbour". Gifford Lectures. Retrieved April 18, 2011.
  19. ^ Taylor, Howard. "Review of When Science Meets Religion, by Ian Barbour". Faith and the Modern World. Howard Taylor. Archived from the original on May 21, 2011. Retrieved April 18, 2011.
  20. ^ Clingerman 2009, p. 143.
  21. ^ Grandddaddy of Evolutionary Christianity Archived February 10, 2011, at the Wayback Machine retrieved April 15, 2011

Works cited[edit]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by
Gifford Lecturer at the University of Aberdeen
Succeeded by
Jaroslav Pelikan
Preceded by
Sir Sigmund Sternberg
Templeton Prize
Succeeded by
Freeman Dyson