Lectures

What is Caesar's? Adjudicating Faith in Modern Constitutional Democracies

  • Catherine O'Regan
2014
University of Edinburgh

Courts in constitutional democracies face tough questions in developing a principled jurisprudence for the adjudication of claims based on faith.

This lecture will consider some of the recent jurisprudence from Europe, North America, India and South Africa and discuss key questions including whether it is possible to identify a principled basis for the adjudication of claims based on faith, whether cross-jurisdictional learning is possible and proper and whether different social, political and religious contexts should and do make a difference to answering these questions.

Making Representations: Religious Faith and the Habits of Language

  • Rowan Williams of Oystermouth
2013
University of Edinburgh

In The Edge of Words, Rowan Williams explores the ways in which “ordinary language” gestures in the direction of what religious believers claim about God. According to Williams, the more we reflect upon human speech, the more we discover that the universe is “irreducibly charged with intelligibility” (p. 64).

Genes Determinism and God

  • Denis Alexander
2012
University of St. Andrews

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.

Sacrifice Regained: Evolution, Cooperation and God

  • Sarah Coakley
2012
University of Aberdeen

In this series, Professor Sarah Coakley explores the implications of recent developments in the mathematical study of “evolutionary dynamics” for ethics, metaphysics, the philosophy of science and theology.  Arguing that the last decades of the twentieth century saw a notable failure of nerve in universal accounts of religious rationality, and a simultaneous obsession with the “selfishness” of evolutionary phenomena, Coakley seeks to clarify afresh the importance of the countervailing sacrificial dimensions of evolutionary processes for central issues in the philosophy of science and ethics

Morality and the Mammalian Brain

  • Patricia Churchland
2010
University of Edinburgh

Self-caring neural circuitry embodies self-preservation values, and these are values in the most elemental sense. Whence caring for others?

The Face of God

  • Roger Scruton
2010
University of St. Andrews

Scruton suggests that the crisis of the modern world has arisen from losing a sense of its sacred “subjectivity” in persons, culture, and finally God’s presence. Science only addresses “objects,” so it will be resources such as philosophy and religion that help explain the mystery of the subject. Scruton identifies the subject through the theme of “faces” in the world and the fact that every human being experiences an “I” and “you,” and ultimately asks the question “why” regarding existence.

The God Debate

  • Terry Eagleton
2010
University of Edinburgh

Why has God suddenly reappeared in intellectual debate? The lecture attempts to put these contentions in the broader political context of the so-called 'war on terror'.

The Necessity of Secularist Regimes

  • Charles Margrave Taylor
2009
University of Glasgow

Secularist regimes are the subject of vigorous debate in many countries: France, USA, Turkey, India and others. What are the defining features of secularism (or laîcité)? Very often we reach for some institutional definition, like 'the separation of church and state', or 'neutrality of the state.' But in fact, we need to define better the goals or values we are trying to foster or defend by these institutions. The centre of gravity of secularist regimes is changing in our day, and this is a positive development.

"Because it was he, because it was I": Friendship and Its Place in Life

  • Alexander Nehamas
2008
University of Edinburgh

The basis of moral engagement in modernity has been the realization that human beings are importantly similar to one another; its aim is to act toward others in ways these similarities support and justify. That has made the aspirations of modern moral philosophy impartial and universal. The values of morality bind us together. Emblems of our commonalities, they urge us to expand our range of concern. But there are other values as well. Badges of our particularities, these values favour imposing limits on our solicitude.

Why Does Faith Survive

  • Jonathan Sacks
2008
University of Edinburgh

Neither the state nor the market, the two dominant institutions in liberal democracies, are society-creating forces. They do not sustain relationships, or provide a framework for meaning, identity and community. That is why, against prediction, religion survives and will grow stronger in the course of the 21st century. How can we ensure that it does not bring with it the religious conflicts of the past?

 

Seeing Things: From Mantelpieces to Masterpieces

  • Stephen Pattison
2007
University of Aberdeen

Professor Stephen Pattison delivered a series of six Gifford Lectures at the University of Aberdeen, entitled Seeing Things: From Mantelpieces to Masterpieces.

In the first of his six lectures, ‘Ordinary Blindness’, Professor Pattison outlines how a practical theologian approaches contemporary beliefs and practices, in this case related to sight and seeing. He examines the cultural assumptions and practices adopted by Westerners and describes how we tend to overvalue and misunderstand the apparently autonomous sense of sight.

Sovereign God, Sovereign State, Sovereign Self

  • Jean Bethke Elshtain
2005
University of Edinburgh

Professor Elshtain presents a series of six Gifford Lectures examining the changing understanding of God’s sovereignty in relation to the development of the state and the concept of the self. From Lecture 1, which traces the movement from God as Logos to God as will, to Lecture 2, which suggests that God’s sovereignty is moved to the margins or ‘privatized’, Dr. Elshtain raises questions about changing political configurations and what that means for whether God’s will is in any way bound. Lectures 3 and 4 explore the sovereign state and whether and how God’s will influences or is affected by political will. Lectures 5 and 6 examine the emergence of the sovereign self and whether the self that rises in importance in relation to God can find a via media between pridefulness and inappropriate self-loss.

Thou Shall Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself

  • Lenn Evan Goodman
  • John Hare
  • Abdulaziz Sachedina
2005
University of Glasgow

In 2005 Lenn E. Goodman, along with John Hare, Abdulaziz Sachedina and A.C. Grayling, delivered the Gifford Lectures at the University of Glasgow on the topic "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." Professor Goodman, approaching the topic from the perspective of Jewish philosophy, published his lectures.

In his first lecture Professor Goodman seeks to put the commandment in the broad context of the Hebrew Bible and in the context of rabbinic tradition. His second lecture attempts to answer the question as to the relationship between ethics and God. Dr. Goodman's thesis is that "We learn about God through our ethical understanding and we learn about ethics through our understanding of God."

Illegal but Legitimate: A Dubious Doctrine

  • Noam Chomsky
2005
University of Edinburgh

The 2004–2005 Gifford Lectures were originally to be delivered by Professor Edward Said. His untimely death in September 2003 meant that the Gifford Lectures were given by Dame Margaret Anstee, Dr. Stephen Toulmin and Professor Noam Chomsky in memory of Professor Said.

Peacebuilding in a Shrinking World

  • Margaret Anstee
2005
University of Edinburgh

In the opening remarks to her lecture, Peacebuilding in a Shrinking World, Dame Margaret described her academic career and went on to give details of her own experience of serving the United Nations, particular in war-torn Angola. In setting the scene she covered the evolution of the concept of peacebuilding which went back fifty years.

Alone in the World? Human Uniqueness in Science and Theology

  • Wentzel van Huyssteen
2004
University of Edinburgh

The long and rich tradition of the Gifford Lectures challenges the feasibility and credibility of modern dialogues between theology and the sciences. J. Wentzel van Huyssteen rejects the idea that religious faith and scientific thought inhabit opposing domains of rationality. He argues that these seemingly incompatible reasoning strategies actually share in the resources of human rationality and should, therefore, be able to be linked in interdisciplinary dialogue.

Mind, Soul and Deity

  • John Haldane
2003 to 2004
University of Aberdeen

In his six Gifford Lectures, John Haldane discusses thought as it relates to mind, as it relates to nature, as it relates to the world and as it relates to Deity. Although speculative, his is not an overly abstract endeavour but an attempt to understand what it is to be a human being. What is involved in thinking truly and acting rightly? Haldane’s approach draws upon a variety of sources, philosophy being just one.

Reason's Empire

  • Simon Blackburn
2003 to 2004
University of Glasgow

In his introduction, Blackburn describes this work as a cursory investigation of the philosophical schools and figures that constitute the debate between relativism and absolutism. Truth is a matter of great importance for all people, but it is particularly significant for those in scientific, philosophical and religious communities. It is to these groups of people that Blackburn’s analysis is directed.

The Lesser Evil

  • Michael Ignatieff
2003
University of Edinburgh

Ignatieff traces the modern history of terrorism and counter-terrorism, from the nihilists of Czarist Russia and the militias of Weimar Germany to the IRA and the unprecedented menace of Al Qaeda, with its suicidal agents bent on mass destruction. He shows how the most potent response to terror has been force, decisive and direct, but—just as important—restrained.

The Problem of Evil and the Argument from Evil

  • Peter van Inwagen
2002
University of St. Andrews

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, the problem of explaining why such a Creator would permit the existence of vast amounts of truly horrible suffering. This problem is called the problem of evil. Many are convinced that the problem is insoluble. The reasons that underlie this conviction can be formulated as an argument for the nonexistence of God: If there were a God, he would not permit the existence of vast amounts of truly horrible suffering. There is, therefore, no God. This is the argument from evil. In these eight lectures, Professor van Inwagen examines the problem of evil. The examination of the problem of evil is largely an examination of the argument from evil, which he regards as a paradigmatically philosophical argument. In the lecturer’s judgment, the argument is, like most philosophical arguments, a failure. The central argument of the lectures is a defence of this judgment.

 

The Nature and Limits of Human Understanding

  • Brian Hebblethwaite
  • George Lakoff
  • Lynne Rudder Baker
  • Michael Ruse
  • Philip Johnson-Laird
2001
University of Glasgow

The 2001 Gifford Lectures commemorate the 550th anniversary of the founding of the University of Glasgow in 1451. In two lectures each, five scholars from various disciplines examine The Nature and Limits of Human Understanding. In Part I, cognitive psychologist Philip Johnson-Laird discusses the relationship between language and understanding. In Part II, linguist George Lakoff explores the mind-body relationship and the shaping influence of embodiment on thought, arguing for a new philosophy of ‘embodied realism’. In Part III, biologist and philosopher Michael Ruse discusses epistemology and ethics through the lens of Darwinian evolution. Philosopher Lynne Rudder Baker contrasts first-person knowledge and third-person understanding to scientific knowing in Part IV. In Part V, philosopher and theologian Brian Hebblethwaite approaches human understanding from the perspective of metaphysics and then theology, which he describes as ‘metaphysics plus revelation’. Psychologist Anthony Sanford of Glasgow University, who conceived this unique collaborative lecture series, edited the volume and composed the prefatory remarks.

Autonomy and Trust in Bioethics

  • Onora O'Neill
2000 to 2001
University of Edinburgh

Autonomy and Trust in Bioethics explores the complex issues of autonomy and trust in the modern life as they apply to medicine, science, biotechnologies and the impact that these fields have on a variety of people, both those working in those fields and those who work with them. Individual autonomy and related concepts that figure so prominently in modern bioethical discussions are compared in many ways, both philosophically and ethically, to issues of trust and how autonomy and trust may or may not be compatible under certain views of the responsibilities and obligations of medicinal, scientific and biotechnological advances.

The Concept of Nature

  • John S. Habgood
2000 to 2001
University of Aberdeen

The Concept of Nature is an expanded version of John Habgood’s Gifford Lectures delivered at the University of Aberdeen in 2000. The book explores the concept of ‘nature’ under a broad range of considerations. Attention is given to questions concerning the multiple meanings of the concept of ‘nature’, the use of the concept in the natural sciences, the concept in relation to the question of environmentalism and the concept with regard to its meaning in the field of morality. These considerations are brought together and considered in relation to the traditional beliefs about God. Nature is ultimately analysed as ‘a means through which the grace of God can be discerned and received’.

 

The Grain of the Universe

  • Stanley M. Hauerwas
2000 to 2001
University of St. Andrews

Hauerwas uses his Gifford Lectures to explore the possibility of natural theology and the connection between doctrine and ethics. His basic thesis is that the truth of Christianity cannot be demonstrated, only believed and witnessed. The most convincing witness is that of a life lived in conformity with the gospel, which suggests the possibility that these teachings might be liveable, and thus true.

The argument is carried forward by sustained interaction with three previous Gifford lecturers: William James, Reinhold Niebuhr and Karl Barth. James’ Varieties of Religious Experience demonstrates the attempt to understand the persistence of religion in terms of human psychology; Niebuhr’s Nature and Destiny of Man appears to be a contrasting work of orthodox Christian doctrine, but Hauerwas attempts to show that Niebuhr’s methodology is in fact little different from James’. In both cases, religious ideas are held to be true insofar as they are useful; Niebuhr regards more of Christian doctrine as retrievable on such a basis, but that is not saying very much.

Karl Barth stands in radical contrast. He refuses, on good intellectual grounds, to accept that there is any possibility, or any need, to demonstrate the truth of the Christian gospel beginning from more basic premises. Truth comes from without, as revelation; as such, it can never be demonstrated, but must be received, and it can never be proved, but must be witnessed. The lectures end with a consideration of the category of witness, with Barth himself, John Howard Yoder and Pope John Paul II being held up as examples of lives that would be inconceivable if the gospel were not true.

God and Being

  • Robert Merrihew Adams
1999
University of St. Andrews

The traditional idea that the concept of being can be used to explicate the divine nature - for example, by characterising God as being itself (ipsum esse subsistens) or the most real being (ens realissimum) - presupposes a substantive conception of being, and thus is in tension with deflationary conceptions of being that have dominated modem philosophy. These lectures will explore from a contemporary but historically informed perspective the prospects for a moderately substantive conception of being and an account of God as ens realissimum.

The God Experiment

  • Russell Stannard
1997 to 1998
University of Aberdeen

In The God Experiment, Stannard attempts to provide a coherent framework of evidence for the existence of God. Drawing on information from the classical arguments for God’s existence and exploring them in relation to considerations from modern science, he attempts to challenge some prejudiced assumptions about God, science and the universe. Ultimately, Stannard intends to invite the reader to ask whether the evidence provided for God’s existence makes more coherent sense toward the assumption that there is, rather than is not, a God.

Emotion and Peace of Mind

  • Richard Sorabji
1996 to 1997
University of Edinburgh

Sorabji’s Emotion and Peace of Mind, subtitled From Stoic Agitation to Christian Temptation, traces the historical development of ancient philosophy on emotions, emphasizing the contribution of the Stoics to the debates about what emotion is in general and how to cope with one’s own emotions and establish peace of mind. He examines how the Stoics, including Zeno, Chrysippus and Seneca, reacted to their predecessors and influenced their rivals in the issue of whether emotions are mental judgements and attitudes or if they involve irrational forces, including physical ones.

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