|A MAN OF ETHICS AND SCIENCE|
May 28, 1999
JIM LEHRER: Next, a prize-winning merger of science and religion, and to Elizabeth Farnsworth in San Francisco.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: The Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion is given each year to an individual who in the official wording has shown extraordinary originality advancing the world's understanding of God and/or spirituality. John Marx Templeton, who founded several investment funds, established the prize in 1972. Its first recipient was Mother Teresa. This year, the prize went to physicist and theologian Ian Barbour. He was cited for pioneering a framework for discussing scientific issues with significant moral and ethical implications. Barbour is Professor Emeritus at Carlton College in Minnesota, and has edited or written a dozen books, including "Issues in Science and Religion." Congratulations Professor Barbour, and thank you for being with us.
IAN BARBOUR, Templeton Prize for Religion: Thank you for having me on.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You got a Ph.D. in Physics at the University of Chicago, you studied under the physicist who carried out the first atomic chain reaction, Enrico Fermi, and then a few years later you went to Yale and got a divinity degree. Why? What drives this interest in both fields?
IAN BARBOUR: Well, after I had been teaching Physics for a year years, I felt the need to study ethics and theology to look at some of the issues that had come out of science, and after I got a second degree at Yale, Carlton College offered me a joint appointment, half-time in Physics and half-time in the Religion Department. So I think it started as a sort of personal quest to integrate these two halves of my own life. As I got into writing, I found other people were quite interested in these issues. And there's been a growing interest, I think. The popular image is of science and religion in conflict or in warfare. The atheistic scientists on the one hand and the creationist or biblical literalist on the other. One believes in evolution but not God. The other believes in God but not evolution. What about the people in between who believe in God and evolution, or who see evolution as God's way of creating? So that's the area that I've been exploring, and there are significant number of scientists.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Excuse me one minute. You said that interest in it is growing. Why is it growing? It's on the cover of magazines. I notice it's been on "NewsWeek" on "U.S. News and World Report," the interest in the dialogue between the two. The American Association of Advancement for Science has a special office devoted to this dialogue. Why? Is it because of changes in science?
IAN BARBOUR: No, I think it's more attitudes towards science. I think scientists are more aware of the limitations of their specialized disciplines. Their disciplines raise boundary questions, they raise ethical questions that science doesn't itself answer, and I think at the other hand, theologians are more aware of the need to reformulate ideas, particularly ideas of God and of human nature in the light of science. So that this opens up at least some humility, some recognition that no discipline has all the answers.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Let's start with one of the scientific discoveries that seems to have opened up a new room for religious discussion with scientists, and that's these discoveries that come out regularly in cosmology, about the Big Bang and the expansion of the universe. Am I right to believe that it's opened more talking between the two disciplines?
IAN BARBOUR: I think it has.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And why? Why?
IAN BARBOUR: I think because, again, questions are raised that are sort of at the boundary of science. You don't need to raise religious questions when you're doing your daily scientific work. But when you ask where it fits into a larger framework, as you press back in time to a beginning, the Big Bang, which we thought was 15 billion years ago, I think a couple of weeks ago NASA said the evidence points more towards 12 billion years, but what happened to Tequals 0?
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You mean when time equals zero in all this.
IAN BARBOUR: Right. That's sort of the singularity at which the laws of physics break down. And the question, why is there a universe at all, why does it have the kind of order it has, and particularly why are the constants so finely tuned that life is possible? You know, Hawkins said that if the force of gravity were smaller by one part in a thousand million million, the universe would have collapsed before it had time for planets and galaxies to form, for the heavy elements to form. If it had been just a fraction lower, it would have expanded too rapidly for matter to coalesce. So that's the kind of question that I think is raised by science, but not answered by science. Is there a kind of design there? At least the idea of a beginning -- now, of course you can say it's all chance. And the atheist scientist tends to say there may be billions of universes, not just billions of galaxies but billions of universes, we just happen to live in one in which all these constants come out right. Well, I think that's a possible answer, it's not scientifically verifiable, because there's no communication between these galaxies, but I think this kind of -- I think there is a greater humility on the scientific side.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You've written a lot about technology. Do you think that religion has an important role to play right now with the technological issues, with the ethical issues raised by technology, like cloning, for example?
IAN BARBOUR: Yes. I think scientists are more likely to recognize today that the applications of science raise ethical issues that their own discipline cannot answer. Science can tell you what's possible, but it can't tell you what's desirable, what one should do. And cloning is a good example. It's fine to think about cloning dolly the sheep for medical purposes, but when you talk about cloning human beings, then it becomes more dubious. What are the motives? A father might want a son exactly like himself, or a mother might want to replace a child that's died, or supply organs for a child with a disease. But I think that's using people for other purposes rather than valuing them in themselves. And I don't think the biblical tradition gives you a neat answer. There's no verse in the Bible that says thousand shall not clone or thou shall clone. It's a new problem never faced before. And I think in that issue, the biblical sense does hold up the value of the individual. The family, the family is kind of broken up by if a father's clone is both a son in a different generation and a twin -- and no woman is involved in the genetic heritage -- the whole family structure is more severely threatened than any other reproductive technology. I think that raises question in which the religious community and the scientific community and the public in general needs to get involved because that's a problem that science itself doesn't answer. It's the question of what contributes to human welfare, what contributes to human justice?
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Are there dangers here? After all, it took centuries for science and religion to separate and for superstition not to block scientific progress. Aren't there dangers if science and religion become too close again?
IAN BARBOUR: There are dangers if the scientist claims to answer question that is are not really scientific ones, but -- and that's certainly been the cause of conflict in the past. Or when the religious person is outside of their territory and gets into making scientific pronouncements. But I think if each recognizes their limitations and is open to the other, and to the need to reformulate the ideas, I find theologians are rethinking the concept of God in an evolutionary world, the concept of human nature. And I think this is a challenge as one faces the new millennium, how can we guide technology towards human betterment?
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Your prize, the Templeton Prize is $1.2 million, what will you do with it?
IAN BARBOUR: I've given a million to the Center of Theology and Natural Sciences in Berkeley, California, a center that has been promoting that dialogue between scientists and theologians. It's just to be an endowment to help them carry on their work.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Thank you so much and congratulations again.