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Ian G. Barbour

Winifred and Atherton Bean Professor Emeritus of Science, Technology and Society, Carleton College
1923 to 2013

Throughout his career, Ian Barbour has been at the forefront of the dialogue between scientists and theologians. Trained as a physicist with a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago (1950), and as a theologian with a B.D. from Yale University (1956), Barbour has drawn on the philosophical insights of both disciplines to transcend their boundaries. Because he is a professor of both physics and religion, Barbour's initial books depict the relationships between physical science and religion. For example, his broad-ranging overview Issues in Science and Religion (1966) and his classic Myths, Models and Paradigms (1974) focus on the language parallels between these disciplines.

During the 1970s and 1980s, Barbour began to expand his focus to include technological and environmental themes; at that time, the field of STS emerged in response to increased concern over technology's societal impacts, especially regarding energy and the environment. 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). All of the books focus on the need for an enhanced technological and environmental ethic.

Barbour continued to pursue these intertwined themes in his 1989–1991 Gifford Lectures at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, which were published as Religion in an Age of Science (1990) and Ethics in an Age of Technology (1993). Barbour serves as Winifred and Atherton Bean Professor Emeritus of Science, Technology and Society at Carlton College.

Born in Beijing in 1923, Ian Barbour spent his childhood in China, the United States, and England. After the family settled in the U.S. he attended Swarthmore College, receiving a degree in physics. Later, while studying at the University of Chicago, he served as a teaching assistant to Enrico Fermi. In 1949 he completed his Ph.D. in physics and accepted a position in the physics department chair at Kalamazoo College in Michigan, becoming department chair two years later. In 1953 he enrolled in Yale Divinity School, a move that began his investigation into interrelationships between scientific and religious thought.

In 1955 he was appointed to teach both physics and religion at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, and became chair of the religion department in the 1960s. His Issues in Science and Religion (1965), widely acclaimed as a groundbreaking volume, discussed the relation of religious thought to the history, methods, and theories of science. In Myths, Models and Paradigms (1973) he explored the role of conceptual models in science and in religion. During the 1970s he developed a program of interdisciplinary courses dealing with ethical issues in the applications of science, exploring the social and environmental consequences of a variety of technologies. He wrote and edited several volumes on environmental and technological ethics.

Barbour gave two series of Gifford Lectures in Aberdeen, the first published 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). He was awarded the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion in 1999. In a shorter volume, When Science Meets Religion (2000), he used a fourfold typology of ways of relating science and religion developed in earlier writings (Conflict, Independence, Dialogue, Integration) as the structure of successive chapters on particular scientific disciplines (Astronomy, Quantum Physics, Evolutionary Biology, Genetics and Neuroscience) and a concluding chapter on God and Nature. It has been translated into fourteen languages. Barbour was Winifred and Atherton Bean Professor Emeritus of Science, Technology, and Society at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota until 2013, when he suffered from a stroke and passed away.


Recent books by Ian Barbour:

Religion and Science: Historical and Contemporary Issues (Harper SanFrancisco, 1997).

When Science Meets Religion (Harper SanFrancisco, 2000).

Nature, Human Nature and God (Fortress Press, 2002).


  • Ian G. Barbour