Science and Religion in Ian G. Barbour

Issue 1807

16 July 2018

Ian Graeme Barbour (1923-2013) was someone rather rare: a physicist and a theologian. Born in Beijing, in the course of his studies in Chicago he was the assistant of Enrico Fermi and, after graduating in physics, he began work as a physicist at Kalamazoo College in Michigan. He later applied himself to the study of theology, ethics and philosophy at the Yale Divinity School and from 1955 was the first person in the United States to teach in both a Physics and a Religion Department, introducing for the first time in a university environment academic courses in Religion and Science and setting out for this combined discipline, starting in the 1960s, the paths that would be followed by other scholars. He may justly be deemed their precursor.

A recent learned publication has brought to light the probable influence that Barbour, with his theory of integration, exercised on Paul VI and his reflections on the relationship between faith and science.[1]

For those who want to become directly familiar with the writings of the American physicist and theologian, it would be appropriate to point out that he makes use of two principal concepts without adequately distinguishing them. The first is that theology seems to mean the analysis of the religious convictions of people and society. The second is that religion seems to mean the entire doctrinal content proper to each religious faith.[2]

The principal text of Barbour was published in 1988[3] and, amplified and with different titles, re-edited in 1990, 1997, and 2000.[4] Its originality is in the fact that the author does not limit himself in underlining the importance of the dialogue between science and faith, but he pushes himself to propose their integration and to hope for their reciprocal illumination.

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