Genes Determinism and God
Dr. Denis Alexander (University of Cambridge) will present The Gifford Lecture Series at St. Andrews beginning December 3, 2012. The lecture series will be delivered in School III of St Salvator’s Quad, North Street, St Andrews. Each lecture will begin at 5.15pm, and following the first there will be a reception in Lower College Hall. Lectures are free and open to the public as well as to staff and students of the University.
|Monday, December 3rd
||Genes, History and Ideology
|Tuesday, December 4th
||Reshaping the Matrix of Genes and Environment
|Thursday, December 6th
||Genetic Variation and Human Behaviour
|Friday, December 7th
||Molecular Genetics, Determinism and the Imago Dei
LECTURE 1: Genes, History and Ideology
This lecture provides an introduction to the general theme of the series, raising the question of whether variant genes are involved in constraining us to follow one particular future, and showing how the long historical debate between the idea of the mind as a blank slate compared to the idea of innate dispositions has been powerfully influenced by competing ideological priorities. The dichotomous language of ‘nature’ and ‘nurture’, arising in the late 19th century, has provided the biological parameters for this discussion, and has been re-framed numerous times in the past 100 years, most recently as ‘genes’ and ‘environment’. Academic opinion has tended to oscillate between the two poles, a trend that has continued up to the present day, but which is now being subverted by recent advances in the biological sciences. It is concluded that these advances lead to a very different understanding of the role of genes in the construction of human identities, an understanding which readily lends itself to an engagement with natural theology.
LECTURE 2: Reshaping the Matrix of Genes and Environment
This lecture reviews six different insights from contemporary biology, including some very recent discoveries, that provide a more integrated picture of the complexity of living organisms than the dichotomous language of nature/nurture will allow. These insights will be used to describe a model for human development that does justice to the richness of human diversity, and which raises questions about the meaning of causality in the relationship between genes and environments. It is suggested that genetics of all kinds, including epigenetics, together with environments of all kinds, both micro- and macro-, are all 100% involved in the generation of the complexity of human personhood. Such insights are illuminated by the behavioural biology of relatively simpler organisms, such as worms and rats. In place of linear chains of causal inevitability we find a succession of integrated Olympic rings of finely-tuned biological complexity with particular emergent properties. The implications of these insights for the profound sense of personal responsibility that characterizes human agency will be discussed.
LECTURE 3: Genetic Variation and Human Behaviour
This lecture begins to assess the relationship between the great swathes of human genetic variation uncovered by recent genomic analysis and differential human behaviours, particularly as estimated by the methodology of quantitative behavioural genetics. The definition and calculation of ‘heritability’ is described, along with the various assumptions inherent in family-based approaches, particularly twin studies, which are commonly used for its estimation. Some of the complications involved in the interpretation of heritability data are assessed, complications well illustrated by reports on the heritability of religiosity. This leads to the question of whether quantitative behavioural genetics has any relevance to the elucidation of particular variant genes, genes that might constrain us to follow one particular future. It is concluded that the extensive human variation uncovered by genomics is consistent with a God who places great value on each person’s uniqueness, and, with the exception of severe genetic pathologies, does nothing to render the experience of human freedom less persuasive.
LECTURE 4: Molecular Genetics, Determinism and the Imago Dei
This lecture suggests that recent findings in molecular behavioural genetics do raise questions about personal destiny and introduces the role of Genome Wide Association Studies (GWAS) in the search for genetic variants of possible relevance to differential human behavioural traits. The mystery of ‘missing heritability’ is reviewed and it is concluded that, outside of medical pathology, GWAS is of limited use in the field of behavioural genetics. By contrast, the correlation of gene variants of known function with individuals displaying common behavioural traits may provide a more fruitful research strategy, although consideration of recent findings on impulsivity in a population of violent offenders highlights the dangers of over-interpreting the data. Irrespective of the precise role of specific variant genes, it is clear that variant genomes play an integral role in the generation of unique human persons. How can this biologically conceptualized notion of human personhood, reviewed in Lectures 2-4, be brought into conversation with theology? It is suggested that the theological notion of the Imago Dei (image of God) provides a natural conversation partner. The putative meanings of the Imago Dei are introduced within the context of the rival perceptions of humanity prevalent in the ancient Near East, and five particular strands in this idea of humankind made in the image of God are brought into conversation with human genetics. It is concluded that recent advances in biological thinking about the development of human personhood are a gift to natural theology.
Dr. Denis Alexander is the Emeritus Director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion, St Edmund’s College, Cambridge, where he is a Fellow.
He was previously Chairman of the Molecular Immunology Programme and Head of the Laboratory of Lymphocyte Signalling and Development at the Babraham Institute, Cambridge. Prior to that Dr. Alexander was at the Imperial Cancer Research Laboratories in London (now Cancer Research UK), and spent 15 years developing university departments and laboratories overseas, latterly as Associate Professor of Biochemistry in the Medical Faculty of the American University of Beirut, Lebanon, where he helped to establish the National Unit of Human Genetics. Dr. Alexander was initially an Open Scholar at Oxford reading Biochemistry, before obtaining a PhD in Neurochemistry at the Institute of Psychiatry in London.
Dr. Alexander writes, lectures, and broadcasts widely in the field of science and religion. Since 1992 he has been Editor of the journal Science and Christian Belief and currently serves on the National Committee of Christians in Science and as a member of the International Society for Science and Religion.
He is the author of the critically acclaimed book Rebuilding the Matrix: Science and Faith in the 21st Century (Oxford: Lion, 2001) which provides a general overview of the science-religion debate. More recently he has edited Can We Know Anything? Science, Faith and Postmodernity (Leicester: Apollos, 2005), co-authored (with Bob White FRS) Beyond Belief: Science, Faith and Ethical Challenges (Oxford: Lion, 2004), published Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose? (Oxford: Monarch, 2008, 4th printing 2010), and co-edited with Ronald Numbers Biology and Ideology: From Descartes to Dawkins (Chicago University Press, 2010). His most recent book, The Language of Genetics: An Introduction (Philadelphia: Templeton Foundation Press) was published in Spring 2011.
Gifford Lectures now has a YouTube Channel! Visit http://www.youtube.com/user/GiffordLectures?feature=mhee to watch videos of recorded lectures.
Upcoming Gifford Lectures
University of Aberdeen
King’s College Conference Centre at 6:00pm
The series will be delivered by Professor Sarah Coakley, under the title of Sacrifice Regained: Evolution, Cooperation and God:
- 17 April — “Stories of Evolution, Stories of Sacrifice”
- 19 April — “Cooperation, alias Altruism: Game Theory and Evolution Reconsidered”
- 24 April — “Ethics, Cooperation and Human Motivation: Assessing the Project of Evolutionary Ethics”
- 26 April — “Ethics, Cooperation and the Gender Wars: Prospects for a New Asceticism”
- 1 May — “Teleology Reviewed: A New ‘Ethico-Teleological’ Argument for God’s Existence”
- 3 May — “Reconceiving ‘Natural Theology’: Meaning, Sacrifice and God”
University of Edinburgh
Diarmaid MacCulloch (23, 24, 26, & 30 April and 1 & 3 May 2012)
University of Glasgow
The University of Glasgow is pleased to announce that registration for the 2012 Gifford Lecture Series is now open.
Lecturer: Professor Vilayanur S Ramachandran (University of California, San Diego)
Theme: Body and Mind-Insights from Neuroscience
Art , metaphor and synesthesia (afternoon workshop)
Sunday 27th May, 2:30pm – 4:30pm
Sir Charles Wilson, Seminar Room
Illusions , delusions and the brain
Monday 28th May 6pm (doors open 5:30pm)
Sir Charles Wilson, Lecture Theatre
Molecules , neurons and morality
Wednesday 30th May 6pm (doors open 5:30pm)
Sir Charles Wilson, Lecture Theatre
Events are free and open to the public, however you are required to register online by following the link below:
Alternatively, please contact Laura Gallagher
0141 330 3190
Sir Charles Wilson is located at the corner of University Avenue and Woodlands Road.
V.S. Ramachandran Biography:
V.S. Ramachandran is Director of the Center for Brain and Cognition and Distinguished Professor with the Psychology Department and Neurosciences Program at the University of California, San Diego, and Adjunct Professor of Biology at the Salk Institute. Ramachandran initially trained as a doctor and subsequently obtained a Ph.D. from Trinity College at the University of Cambridge. Ramachandran’s early work was on visual perception but he is best known for his experiments in behavioral neurology which, despite their apparent simplicity, have had a profound impact on the way we think about the brain. He has been called “The Marco Polo of neuroscience” by Richard Dawkins and “The modern Paul Broca” by Eric Kandel.
In 2005 he was awarded the Henry Dale Medal and elected to an honorary life membership by the Royal Instituion of Great Britain, where he also gave a Friday evening discourse (joining the ranks of Michael Faraday, Thomas Huxley, Humphry Davy, and dozens of Nobel Laureates). His other honours and awards include fellowships from All Souls College, Oxford, and from Stanford University (Hilgard Visiting Professor); the Presidential Lecture Award from the American Academy of Neurology, two honorary doctorates, the annual Ramon Y Cajal award from the International Neuropsychiatry Society, and the Ariens-Kappers medal from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences. In 2003 he gave the annual BBC Reith lectures and was the first physician/psychologist to give the lectures since they were begun by Bertrand Russel in 1949. In 1995 he gave the Decade of the Brain lecture at the 25th annual (Silver Jubilee) meeting of the Society for Neuroscience. In 2010 he delivered the annual Jawaharlal Nehru memorial lecture in New Delhi, India. Most recently the President of India conferred on him the second highest civilian award and honorific title in India, the Padma Bhushan. And TIME magazine named him on their list of the 100 most influential people in the world.
Ramachandran has published over 180 papers in scientific journals (including five invited review articles in the Scientific American). He is author of the acclaimed book “Phantoms in the Brain” that has been translated into nine languages and formed the basis for a two part series on Channel Four TV (UK) and a 1 hour PBS special in USA. NEWSWEEK magazine has named him a member of “The Century Club” – one of the “hundred most prominent people to watch in the next century.” He has been profiled in the New Yorker Magazine and appeared on the Charlie Rose Show. His new book, "The Tell Tale Brain" was on the New York Times best-seller list.
In addition, Ramachandran has an interest in history and archaeology (see his article on the Indus Valley Code).
University of St. Andrews
Denis Alexander (December 2012)
June 1—Gifford Lecture/Templeton Prize Event
St Andrews now has a Gifford Lectures page, which presently has a detailed description of Roger Scruton’s upcoming Lecture series.
Recent Gifford Lectures
University of Aberdeen
Professor Alister McGrath, Chair in Theology Education and Head of Centre for Theology Religion & Culture at Kings College, London, delivered a series of six Gifford lectures entitled: “A Fine-Tuned Universe: Science, Theology and the Quest for Meaning” in February 2009. For a synopsis of these lectures or to download lecture notes go to www.abdn.ac.uk/gifford/synopsis.shtml. For the book published from these lectures, see below.
University of Edinburgh
Professor Patricia Churchland gave a lecture titled “Morality and the Mammalian Brain” on 11 May 2010.
Terry Eagleton’s Gifford Lecture, “The God Debate,” given 1 March 2010, can be seen on YouTube.
Alexander Nehamas, Edmund N Carpenter II Class of 1943 Professor in Humanities, Professor of Philosophy, and Professor of Comparative Literature at Princeton University, delivered a series of Gifford Lectures, “‘Because it was he, because it was I’: Friendship and Its Place in Life,” in March 2008. Abstracts and podcasts of his lectures are now available.
Robert M. Veatch, Professor of Medical Ethics and the former Director of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at Georgetown University, delivered a Gifford Lecture titled “Hippocratic, Religious and Secular Medical Ethics: The Point of Conflict” in August 2008. An abstract and podcast of the lecture are now available.
Diana Eck, Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies and Frederic Wertham Professor of Law and Psychiatry, Harvard University, presented a series of Gifford lectures on “The Age of Pluralism” through 7 May 2009. For abstracts and videos of the lectures go to: http://www.hss.ed.ac.uk/giffordexemp/2000/details/ProfessorDianaEck.html.
Michael Gazzaniga delivered a series of six Gifford lectures at the University of Edinburgh in October 2009. A professor of psychology at the University of California, Santa Barbara, where he heads the SAGE Center for the Study of the Mind, Professor Gazzaniga is also the director of the Summer Institute in Cognitive Neuroscience, president of the Cognitive Neuroscience Institute, and a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics. For abstracts and videos of his lectures, go to: http://www.hss.ed.ac.uk/giffordexemp/ProfessorMichaelGazzaniga.htm.
“Why Does Faith Survive?” was the title of the Gifford lecture presented by Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks in November 2008. For an abstract and video of this lecture go to: http://www.hss.ed.ac.uk/giffordexemp/2000/details/ChiefRabbiSirJonathanSacks.html.
University of Glasgow
On 21 May 2009 Professor Charles Taylor, Professor Emeritus at McGill University in Montreal, gave a single lecture on “The Necessity of Secularist Regimes.”
Professor David Fergusson, Professor of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh, gave a series of six Gifford lectures titled “Religion and Its Recent Critics” in April 2008.
University of St Andrews
The 2009–2010 Gifford Lectures, “The Face of God,” were delivered by Professor Roger Scruton, FBA, formerly professor of aesthetics in Birkbeck College, London University, and professor of philosophy and university professor at Boston University. Audio of those lectures is now available.
Books Based on Gifford Lectures
Eight books derived from the Gifford Lectures are available . . .
John D. Barrow, New Theories of Everything. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. Paperback. ISBN: 13: 978-0-19-954817-0ISBN10: 0-19-954817-X. $18.95.
Will we ever discover a single scientific theory that tells us everything that has happened, and everything that will happen, on every level in the Universe? The quest for the theory of everything - a single key that unlocks all the secrets of the Universe - is no longer a pipe-dream, but the focus of some of our most exciting research about the structure of the cosmos. But what might such a theory look like? What would it mean? And how close are we to getting there?
In New Theories of Everything, John D. Barrow describes the ideas and controversies surrounding the ultimate explanation. Updating his earlier work Theories of Everything with the very latest theories and predictions, he tells of the M-theory of superstrings and multiverses, of speculations about the world as a computer program, and of new ideas of computation and complexity. But this is not solely a book about modern ideas in physics - Barrow also considers and reflects on the philosophical and cultural consequences of those ideas, and their implications for our own existence in the world.
Far from there being a single theory uniquely specifying the constants and forces of nature, the picture today is of a vast landscape of different logically possible laws and constants in many dimensions, of which our own world is but a shadow: a tiny facet of a higher dimensional reality. But this is not to say we should give up in bewilderment: Barrow shows how many rich and illuminating theories and questions arise, and what this may mean for our understanding of our own place in the cosmos. —from the publisher
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David Daube, The Deed and the Doer. Edited and compiled by Calum Carmichael. Philadelphia: Templeton Press, 2008. Paperback. ISBN: 978-1-59947-134-1. $27.96
David Daube’s The Deed and the Doer is comprised of Daube’s first ten Gifford lectures, delivered in 1962. The overall theme of Daube’s Gifford Lectures is law and wisdom in the Bible. His wide-ranging deliberations reveal how complicated and profound the biblical text is. He analyzes deeds described in the Bible and considers, for example, what causes people to act in a certain way, the role of intent, why unintended deeds are sometimes punishable, and how the origin of a deed is determined. His lectures are aimed at professionals in the fields of biblical criticism, biblical history, ethics, and the history of law with respect to its roots in Old Testament traditions. Daube is a recognized master in these fields, and there are substantial applications to modern ethical and legal issues.
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David Fergusson, Faith and Its Critics: A Conversation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. Cloth. ISBN: 978-0199569380 $35.00
Heralded as the exponents of a “new atheism,” critics of religion are highly visible in today’s media, and include the household names of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris. David Fergusson explains their work in its historical perspective, drawing comparisons with earlier forms of atheism. Responding to the critics through conversations on the credibility of religious belief, Darwinism, morality, fundamentalism, and our approach to reading sacred texts, he establishes a compelling case for the practical and theoretical validity of faith in the contemporary world. An invitation to engage in a rich dialogue, Faith and Its Critics supports an informed and constructive exchange of ideas rather than a contest between two sides of the debate. Fergusson encourages faith communities to undertake patient engagement with their critics, to acknowledge the place for change and development in their self-understanding whilst resisting the reductive explanations of the new atheism. —from the publisher
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Peter van Inwagen, The Problem of Evil: The Gifford Lectures Delivered in the University of St. Andrews in 2003. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. Paperback. ISBN: 978-0-19-954397-7. $30.00.
It is generally supposed that the fact that the world contains a vast amount of suffering, much of it truly horrible suffering, confronts those who believe in an all-powerful and benevolent Creator with a serious problem: to explain why such a Creator would permit this. Many reflective people are convinced that the problem, the problem of evil, is insoluble. The reasons that underlie this conviction can be formulated as a powerful argument for the non-existence of God, the so-called argument from evil: If there were a God, he would not permit the existence of vast amounts of truly horrible suffering; since such suffering exists, there is no God. Peter van Inwagen examines this argument, which he regards as a paradigmatically philosophical argument. His conclusion is that (like most philosophical arguments) it is a failure. He seeks to demonstrate, not that God exists, but the fact that the world contains a vast amount of suffering does not show that God does not exist. Along the way he discusses a wide range of topics of interest to philosophers and theologians, such as: the concept of God; what might be meant by describing a philosophical argument as a failure; the distinction between versions of the argument from evil that depend on the vast amount of evil in the world and versions of the argument that depend on a particular evil, such as the Lisbon earthquake or the death of a fawn in a forest fire; the free-will defense; animal suffering; and the problem of the hiddenness of God. —from the publisher
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Alister McGrath, A Fine-Tuned Universe: The Quest for God in Science and Theology. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009. Cloth. ISBN-13: 9780664233105. $39.95.
Are there viable pathways from nature to God? Natural theology is making a comeback, stimulated as much by scientific advance as by theological and philosophical reflection. There is a growing realization that the sciences raise questions that transcend their capacity to answer them—above all, the question of the existence of God. So how can Christian theology relate to these new developments? In this landmark work, based on his 2009 Gifford lectures, Alister McGrath examines the apparent “fine-tuning” of the universe and its significance for natural theology. Exploring a wide range of physical and biological phenomena and drawing on the latest research in biochemistry and evolutionary biology, McGrath outlines our new understanding of the natural world and discusses its implications for traditional debates about the existence of God. Alister E. McGrath is Professor of Theology, Ministry, and Education, and Head of the Centre for Theology, Religion, and Culture at King’s College, London. —from the publisher
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Raimon Panikkar, The Rhythm of Being. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2010. Cloth. ISBN-978-1-57075-855-3. $50.00.
Twenty years after he delivered the prestigious Gifford Lectures, Raimon Panikkar's The Rhythm of Being is finally published. It is a tour de force of profound insights gleaned from a lifetime of connecting the worlds of religion, philosophy, science, and revelation. In describing his work, Panikkar says, “I am not trying to say something new. I do not wish to contribute to the alienation produced by the obsessive search for novelties. My originality, if any, will be that of going to the origins—not to do archeology, or to make anachronistic interpretations…but to perform the task of a latter day hunter gatherer, re-collecting life from the stupendous field of human experience on Earth…The ideas here expressed are the fruit not of a dialectical mind making use of induction or deduction from the sources of ancients and contemporaries, but, having paid respect to them, they are the fruit of a personal experience which has been later checked and criticized by the wisdom of all those whom I have had the privilege to hear or to read.” The Rhythm of Being offers scholars and students, philosophers and seekers a challenging and breathtaking voyage into the very heart of human belief and meaning. —from the publisher
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Stephen Pattison, Seeing Things: Deepening Relations with Visual Artefacts. London: SCM Press, 2008. Paperback. ISBN: 9780334041498. £19.99
Seeing Things is a highly original book that will have appeal across humanity departments including visual studies, theology, art history, sociology, anthropology and ethics. The book considers in detail, the experience of perceiving visual objects, from high art to everyday artefacts. It looks in particular at the problems encountered with the ways we in Western culture look upon the world and things, and encourages and argues for ways to look and visualise the world more critically, broadly and widely. Sight is one of the main ways we perceive and relate to the world, and yet it is mostly assumed rather than actively reflected on. Objects designated as art and the realm of aesthetics attract some active attention and reflection, but most of the visible world is ignored in the context of what Pattison describes as our ‘ordinary blindness’. The book argues that the range of things we choose to see and value is arbitrary and limited and the ways in which we relate to things and objects are mostly crude and un-nuanced. Pattison argues that it is desirable to consider more person-like relationships with all manner of visibly perceived objects, from classical sculptures to tennis rackets. If we begin to apply this person-like relationship with things, we transgress the Western secular and religious practice and belief that maintains that the realm of the manufactured is ‘dead’ and so can be treated by humans exactly as they wish without consideration. Pattison argues that this person-like relationship does not mean re-animating or re-sacramentalising the world, rather he argues for observation and exploration of the actual phenomenology of the object. —from the publisher
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Clement C. J. Webb, Divine Personality and Human Life: Being the Gifford Lectures in the Years 1918 and 1919. Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, 2008. Paperback. ISBN: 978-1436560054. $43.95.
In Divine Personality and Human Life, volume 2 of Webb’s Gifford Lectures, the author examines ideas of personality and persons and their relation to broadly theistic conceptions of God. The volume explores the notion of personality in ‘man’ in light of the conclusions drawn in the first volume, and how the ‘divine personality’ figures in spheres of human activity such as the economic, scientific, aesthetic, moral, political and religious lives. He then criticizes Naturalism and Absolute Idealism, bringing in considerations regarding the value of persons and concluding with a consideration of personal immortality.