Ian Graeme Barbour, Professor of Religion Emeritus at Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota, who is credited with launching the current international dialogue between science and religion, died on December 24, 2013, surrounded by his family.
Barbour was born in Beijing, China on October 5, 1923, the second of three sons of missionary parents George Brown Barbour, a Scottish Presbyterian geologist, and Dorothy Dickinson, an American Episcopalian teacher. After the family left China in 1931, Ian attended schools in England, Deerfield Academy, and Swarthmore College, where he graduated in 1943 with a degree in physics.
During World War II he spent three years as a conscientious objector in Civilian Public Service fighting forest fires in Oregon and working in a psychiatric hospital in North Carolina. In 1947 he married Deane Kern, his wife of 64 years.
Ian received a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Chicago, where he was a teaching assistant of Enrico Fermi. After teaching physics at Kalamazoo College for four years, his evolving interests led him to complete a degree at Yale Divinity School.
Ian came to Carleton College in 1955 with the founding of the Religion Department. Initially he taught Physics and Religion, and he soon was teaching Religion full time. In the 1970s, he initiated Carleton’s Science, Technology and Public Policy Program, the precursor to the College’s Environment and Technology Studies Program. He later became the Winifred and Atherton Bean Professor of Science, Technology, and Society, retiring in 1986. In 1992, Carleton awarded Barbour an honorary degree, a distinction the College seldom bestows upon one of its own faculty.
As a scholar, Barbour was a crucial figure in the founding of the interdisciplinary field of Science and Religion in the 1960s. He published sixteen books, including Issues in Science and Religion (1966), Myths, Models, and Paradigms (1973), and two volumes developed from his Gifford Lectures in Scotland, Religion in an Age of Science (1990) and Ethics in an Age of Technology (1993). The Gifford Lectures focus on issues of natural theology; previous lecturers include Albert Schweitzer, William James, Reinhold Niebuhr, Paul Tillich, and Carl Sagan. Barbour’s most recent books were When Science Meets Religion (2000), which has been translated into 14 languages, and Nature, Human Nature, and God (2002). At age 90 he was still writing, and an article will be published posthumously.
In 1999 Barbour was awarded the Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion in recognition of his efforts to create dialogue between science and religion. The Templeton Prize is given each year to a living person who has shown extraordinary originality in advancing humankind’s understanding of God and/or spirituality. Past recipients include Mother Teresa, the Rev. Dr. Billy Graham, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and the Dalai Lama. In the citation nominating Barbour for the 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.” Barbour donated most of the Templeton Prize to the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California.
Ian was a member of the First United Church of Christ in Northfield, where he was a steady worshiper and active member of his congregation. Ian left a wide and deep intellectual legacy, and he also led a life of great kindness and generosity. He was a humble man of deep faith, finding awe and wonder in the natural world, and great love and joy in his family and friends.
Barbour was predeceased by his wife Deane and his brother Freeland. He is survived by his brother Hugh (Sirkka) of Sleepy Hollow, New York; four children, John (Meg Ojala) of Dundas, Blair of Oak Park, Illinois, David of Richfield, and Heather (Tom Eberhart) of Arlington, Virginia; three grandchildren, Graham Ojala-Barbour (Yinfei Wu) of Minneapolis, Alexandra Barbour Albers of San Francisco, and Reed Ojala-Barbour of Big Bend, Texas; and his great grandson, Edgar Deane Ojala-Barbour.
A memorial service will be held at the Carleton College Chapel on January 18, 2014 at 3:00 p.m. In lieu of flowers, contributions in Ian’s memory may be given to the First United Church of Christ in Northfield, the Ian Barbour Memorial Fund to benefit religious studies and religious life at Carleton College, or the Center for Theology and Natural Sciences in Berkeley, California.