Issues in Science and Religion

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Issues in Science and Religion (1966) is a book by Ian Barbour, originally published by Prentice Hall. A biography provided by the John Templeton Foundation and published by PBS online states this book "has been credited with literally creating the contemporary field of science and religion."[1] A review by physics professor John M. Bailey of Beloit College notes in his review of Issues that religion and science are "two of man's most basic activies [and] would seem to lie furthest apart and hence most difficult to reconcile." He adds that there are a large number of books that attempt to compare and contrast religion and science. In comparison to these other books, Bailey states that Barbour's book is "a valuable review of ideas in both science and theology." [2] Another reviewer, Eric Lionel Mascall states "To indulge in superlatives is usually unwise, but I am tempted to say that this is by far the most competent book on the subject of science and theology that has appeared in the last twenty-five years." Mascall further states "the range of reading that it shows is staggering", "its style is lucid and interesting," and "the judgements that its author expresses are penetrating and balanced."[3]


The book is divided into three parts. The first part is concerned with the history of science and religion, the second with the methods of science and religion, and the third with the issues themselves—e.g. chapters on "Physics and Indeterminacy," "Life and Mind," "Evolution and Creation," and "God and Nature."

Discussion of philosophy and theology

Barbour provides introductions to several schools of philosophy—positivism, empiricism, linguistic analysis, existentialism, process philosophy, process theology, neo-orthodoxy, and liberalism—in order to give the reader knowledge enough to understand how relations between science and religion look from these distinct viewpoints.[4] Other related schools of thought discussed by Barbour include Determinism, Idealism, Metaphysics, Naturalism, Natural theology, Critical realism, Naive realism, Reductionism, and Roman Catholicism.

Discussion of science topics

Several specific, non-philosophical areas of science are employed in the discussion. These include Astronomy, molecular biology, Chemistry, Cybernetics, Evolution, Atomic physics, Classical physics, Psychology, Relativity, and Social sciences.

Objects of discussion

Several specific concepts and objects are brought up in the discussion generally along with summaries of significant criticisms. These include Christ, Role of the Community, Principle of complementarity, Ethics, Problem of evil, Role of Experiment, Role of theory, Freedom, concept of God, interpretation of history, Imagination, Indeterminacy and Novelty, Involvement of the knower, Levels, status of man, Mind, Models, Providence, Religious experience, Revelation, Scripture, Symbols, Time, Uniqueness and Lawfulness, Verification, and properties of wholes.


In a section titled Man as Perfectible by Reason Barbour writes (pages 62–64) The men of the Enlightenment were confident of the power of reason not only in science and in religion but in all human affairs.[5] ... Science was to be the great liberator—not the enslaver of man as in recent novels (for example, George Orwell's 1984, Aldous Huxley's Brave New World). ... Far from being an age of skepticism, this was an age of great faith—in man and his capacities. Nature, God, and man were all approached in the same rationalistic spirit.

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  1. The PBS Online Newhour May 28, 1999. Retrieved on 2008-06-30.
  2. John M. Bailey (physicist), American Journal of Physics, Volume 36, Issue 6, 1968, pages 562-563.
  3. Mascall, E. L., Book Review, Journal of Theological Studies, n.s.:18 (1967) p.542
  4. Issues in Science and Religion (1966), page 115
  5. Here Barbour has a footnote to Ernst Cassier, The Philosophy of the Enlightenment, Princeton University Press, 1951.

Further reading

  • Ian Barbour, "A Respone to David Griffin" Zygon, volume 23, issue 1, March 1988, p. 83-88
Though the author is searching for unity and coherence, does Issues have unity and coherence? In one sense it has. The author previews, outlines, reviews, and summarizes each successive question. However, with each summary he also tells the reader a little more about critical realism, the philosophical stance he feels to be most fruitful. Thus, the volume is both cyclic and linear. To understand and learn from it, the reader should make heavy use of the index. Only after he has read all the entries under a give topic--whether it be dualism, positivism, language analysis, critcal reality or teleology--can the reader be certain he's heard all that Barbour is going to say about that topic.
The book can thus be seen as a compact encyclopedia in the philosophy of religion and science. It is a clear account of the people involved and the ideas they proposed.
  • History of science and religion critique: Science and Religion in the English Speaking World, 1600-1727 A Biliographic Guide to the Secondary Literature, Richard S. Boorks & David K. Himrod, Scarecrow Press, 2001, ISBN 0-8108-4011-1, p. 17
This is a presentist survey of topics related to the title. It oversimplifies intellectual history using a retrospective historiography smiliar to (and possibly based on) Franklin L. Baumer's Religion and the Rise of Scepticism (1960), E.A. Burtt's The Metaphysical Foundations of Modern Physical Science (1925, revised 1931), John Herman Randall, and the early Westfall [Science and Religion in Seventeenth Century England, 1958, 2nd ed. 1973]. But Barbour provides a valuable typological scheme of five key issues by which to analyze the historical relations between science and religion and to compare historical eras. This scheme is (1) methods in science; (2) the character of nature; (3) methods in theology; (4) God and his relation to nature; and (5) man and his relation to nature.
  • Citation: Holmes Rolston III, Science and Religion: A Critical Survey (Random House 1987, McGraw Hill, Harcourt Brace; new edition, Templeton Foundation Press, 2006), p. 78 n.10
See Ian G. Barbour, Issues in Science and Religion (New York: Harper and Row, 1971), pp. 298-305. Barbour is especially good on the philosophical and religioius implications of quantum mechanics and indeterminacy.
There is a prolific literature having "the relations between science and religion" as its organizing theme. Much is suspect because of thinly veiled apologetic intentions; much is vitiated by an insensitivity to the richness of past debates that historical analysis alone can remedy. Among recen studies... One of the most encyclopedic treatments remains Ian G. Barbour, Issues in science and religion (Englewood Cliffs, N.J. 1966) Although colored by a distinctive Protestant neo-orthodoxy, the historical interpretation in John Dillenberger, Protestant theology and natural science (London, 1961), has also retained much of its value.