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Templeton Prize Laureate Ian Barbour, pioneer in science and religion, dies at 90

The John Templeton Foundation mourns the passing of Dr. Ian Graeme Barbour, physicist, theologian, the Winifred and Atherton Bean Professor Emeritus of Science, Technology and Society at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, and the 1999 Templeton Prize Laureate. Barbour died on Tuesday, December 24 after suffering a stroke at his home in Northfield on December 20. He was 90 years old.

Barbour is widely acknowledged as an unparalleled pioneer in science and religion. His 1966 Issues in Science and Religion, one of the first books to treat the fields as two disciplines that share a common ground rather than as two completely separate or conflicting spheres, is credited with launching the recent era of scholarly study in this interdisciplinary field.

His subsequent writings over more than four decades, including Religion in an Age of Science (1990) and Ethics in an Age of Technology (1993), both based on his 1989–90 Gifford Lectures, often deal with the ethical issues arising from technological applications of science as well as with science and religion, and have influenced generations of international, intercultural, and interreligious dialogue.

At the March 1999 news conference in New York when he was announced as winner of the Templeton Prize, Barbour said: “We hear of debates between scientists who defend a philosophy of materialism, and biblical literalists who defend what they call creation science. One group believes in evolution but not God, and the other believes in God but not evolution. But between these two extremes are many people who believe in both God and evolution, or see evolution as God’s way of creating. In reality there are diverse viewpoints among scientists, and diverse views within our religious traditions.”

In the citation nominating Barbour for the Prize, John B. Cobb, Jr., then Emeritus Professor of the School of Theology at Claremont College in California and founder and co-director of the Center for Process Studies, 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 G. Barbour. With respect to the breadth of topics and fields brought into this integration, Barbour has no equal.”

Born in Beijing in 1923, Barbour was originally trained as a physicist. He earned a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, where he studied with Enrico Fermi, in 1949, and became chairman of the physics department at Kalamazoo College in Michigan in 1951. But in 1953 he changed direction and enrolled at Yale Divinity School to study theology and ethics, receiving his divinity degree in 1956, a year after he was appointed to teach in both the religion and physics departments at Carleton College. He created an interdisciplinary program there in 1972, was named Professor of Science, Technology and Society in 1981, and became professor emeritus in 1986.

Barbour often described four ways in which science and religion has been viewed:

Barbour earmarked $1 million of the Templeton Prize award to help establish the Ian G. Barbour Chair in Theology and Science at the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, where he was a founding member of the Board of Directors.

He and his wife, the former Deane Kern, were married for 64 years until her death in 2011. They had four children, three grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.

A memorial service will be held on Saturday, January 18th, 2014 at 3:00 PM at the Carleton Chapel with a reception following in Great Hall.

Ian Barbour reflects on his 1989-90 Gifford Lectures, videotaped on June 1, 2012 at the British Academy in London

Ian Barbour (left) with three other Templeton Prize Laureates at the International Society for Science & Religion meeting in Boston on August 19, 2004 (L to R): Holmes Rolston, III (2003), John Polkinghorne (2002), and George Ellis (2004)
(Photo credit: Templeton Prize / Alexander Nesbit)