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Scientist Obituary: Physicist Ian Barbour, 90, Created Dialogue Between Faith and Science

Dr. Ian Barbour was a teaching assistant to physicist Enrico Fermi, a developer of the atomic bomb, when the second world war began and raised questions that he couldn’t answer in a laboratory. Barbour decamped and accepted a fellowship at Yale, where he gained a divinity degree. His dual pursuits eventually became a job: he was hired to teach physics and religion at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota.

Dr. Ian Barbour is now credited with creating an academic dialogue between science and religion, and was awarded the prestigious Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion for his work in the field. For Barbour, to pit the two against each other is to miss the point.

“Scientists have to acknowledge that science does not have all the answers, and theologians have to recognize the changing historical contexts of theological reflection,” he wrote.

Ian Barbour

Barbour was born in Beijing in 1923, the child of missionaries. His father was a Scottish geologist and Presbyterian who was involved in the discovery of the Peking man fossils.

“I always felt we needed to move beyond the hostility,” Barbour told The LA Times in 1999. “Scientists say they believe in evolution, not God. Religious scholars say they believe in God, but not evolution. Well, I say we don’t have to choose a side. We can meet somewhere in the middle.”

More on Barbour in his New York Times obituary and his LA Times obituary.

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Seandor Szeles

    Seandor Szeles is the co-editor of the Secret Life Blog. He is most interested in the human side of science and providing take-away for educators.