NEW YORK, MARCH 10, 1999 — Ian Barbour, a physicist and theologian who launched a new era in the interdisciplinary dialogue between science and religion more than three decades ago and is now one of the world’s most forceful advocates for ethics in technology, has won the 1999 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. The announcement was made today at a news conference at the Church Center for the United Nations in New York.
Barbour, the Winifred and Atherton Bean Professor Emeritus of Science, Technology and Society at Carleton College in Northfield, Minn., drew attention to the concept of interdisciplinary dialogue with his groundbreaking book, Issues in Science and Religion, in 1965. An exploration into the relation of religion to the history, methods and theories of science, Issues set in motion the ongoing scrutiny of areas where science and religion might meet. Subsequent writings and lectures by Barbour cultivated the dialogue and examined the social and environmental impacts of technology, and ethical issues in such areas as energy policy and genetic engineering.
The Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion is the world’s largest annual award, this year valued at 750,000 pounds sterling, about 1.24 million dollars. Begun in 1972 by the renowned global investor Sir John Templeton, the prize is given each year to a living person who has shown extraordinary originality in advancing humankind’s understanding of God and/or spirituality.
Others honored by the prize include Rev. Dr. Billy Graham in 1982, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in 1983, and Charles Colson, the former Watergate figure who went on to establish Prison Fellowship, the largest prison ministry in history, who won in 1993. Last year’s recipient was Sir Sigmund Sternberg, honored for advancing interfaith dialogue, particularly between Christians and Jews and, more recently, Muslims. The first Templeton Prize recipient was Mother Teresa in 1973.
Although other scientists have received the Templeton Prize for their work in the fields of science and religion — including British astrophysicist Paul Davies, who won in 1995, physicist Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker, the recipient in 1989, and Benedictine monk and professor of astrophysics Stanley L. Jaki, winner in 1987 — Barbour is notable for his efforts to bring the two fields together to the benefit of both disciplines.
In the citation nominating Barbour for the prize, John B. Cobb, Jr., Emeritus Professor of the School of Theology at Claremont College in California and founder and co-director of the Center for Process Studies, 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 G. Barbour. With respect to the breadth of topics and fields brought into this integration, Barbour has no equal.”
The seminal event in Barbour’s career came with the publication of Issues in Science and Religion, published by Prentice-Hall in 1965 and reissued in paperback by Harper & Row in 1971. The book brought him international attention and soon became the standard text in the field, influencing an entire generation of scientists, religious scholars, church leaders and laity. As Barbour’s nominating citation points out, Issues “literally created the current field of science and religion.”
In accepting the award, Barbour said that he plans to give $1 million of the prize money to the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences affiliated with the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, Calif. It will establish an endowment for its continued work encouraging the dialogue between scientists and theologians.
Although today’s press conference announced this year’s recipient, the actual awarding of the prize will take place in a private ceremony on May 11 at Buckingham Palace in London, followed by the public ceremony on May 17, this year to be held for the first time in Russia, at the Kremlin in Moscow.
Barbour has written or edited a dozen books on science and religion, including Myths, Models and Paradigms (Harper & Row, 1974), which was nominated for a National Book Award, and authored more than 50 articles or book chapters on the relation of science to religion and on ethical issues arising from technology. His Gifford Lectures, published by HarperCollins in two volumes as Religion in an Age of Science (1990) and Ethics in an Age of Technology (1993), received the 1993 book award of the American Academy of Religion. Both books have been widely used as texts in college and university courses.
In a statement prepared for the award ceremony, Barbour said:
“We hear of debates between scientists who defend a philosophy of materialism and biblical literalists who defend what they call creation science. One group believes in evolution but not God, and the other believes in God but not evolution. But between these two extremes are many people who believe in both God and evolution, or see evolution as God’s way of creating. In reality there are diverse viewpoints among scientists, and diverse views within our religious traditions.”
Barbour describes four ways in which science and religion has been viewed:
- The Conflict of Science and Religion, which pits biblical literalists against scientific materialists, two extreme positions that offer no possibility of constructive interaction;
- The Separation of Domains, the compartmentalization of science and religion into completely separate, watertight realms in an attempt to avoid conflict, but a view that ultimately ignores the fact that humans cannot divide their lives into compartments;
- Religious Dimensions of Science, such as the awe and wonder inspired by the universe, or the religious implications of the order and mathematical beauty of nature, or the claims of evidence of design in nature. Such arguments are appealing because they start from science which is accepted in diverse cultures, but they lead only to the absentee God who started the show and then, as Barbour puts it, “went out to lunch;” and finally,
- Barbour’s favored alternative, Dialogue Between Science and Religion, an approach that draws upon the wisdom of both the scientific and religious communities. Among his major interests are the religious implications of theories of the Big Bang. He has also explored ways in which the traditional concepts of God and of human nature can be reformulated in the light of evolutionary theory.
More recently, he has written extensively about ethical issues in the applications of science, including agriculture, computer technology, and cloning. Holding that traditional Christianity contributed to the environmental crisis in western culture by stressing God’s transcendence and by drawing an absolute line between humanity and other creatures, Barbour points to biblical themes that can encourage new attitudes toward nature, including stewardship, celebration, and recognition of the sacred in nature.
Born in 1923 in Beijing to George and Dorothy Dickinson Barbour, both on the faculty of Yenching University, Barbour grew up in China, England, and the United States. In 1943, he graduated from Swarthmore College, majoring in physics. He earned a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Chicago in 1949 and became chair of the physics department at Kalamazoo College. He then studied theology and ethics at Yale and was awarded a divinity degree. In 1955 he came to Carleton College to teach in both the physics and religion departments. In 1981 he was appointed to his present position.
Ian Barbour and his wife, Deane, with whom he recently celebrated a 50th wedding anniversary, live in Northfield, Minn. They have four children and three grandchildren.