Lectures

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.

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."

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

In this volume, Michael Ignatieff seeks to answer the following question: should liberal democracies be free of violence or are ‘lesser evils’ justified under the auspice of protecting the values represented by democracies? Despite having been written in the aftermath of 9/11, Ignatieff’s lectures draw on a wide range of historical material in the pursuit of his argument, i.e.

Wandering in the Darkness

  • Eleonore Stump
2003
University of Aberdeen

The problem of suffering has generally been taken to be a challenge to religious belief because it seems hard to reconcile the fact that there is suffering in the world with the belief that there is an omniscient, omnipotent, perfectly good God. This problem is a very old one in philosophy; in recent decades, philosophers have discussed it with increasing technical virtuosity.

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’.

Autonomy and Trust in Bioethics

  • Onora O'Neill
2000 to 2001
University of Edinburgh

Individual rights and autonomy are now well-accepted goals in medicine and biotechnology, yet distrust and suspicion of doctors and scientists seems to grow. Is the proper remedy for this loss of trust a renewed effort to secure autonomy and rights for patients and others?

Or is loss of trust itself exacerbated by pursuing a questionable conception of autonomy? Could a different approach to bioethics take both autonomy and trust seriously?

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.

Characters in Search of Their Author

1999
University of Glasgow

Rather than contributing a new work of natural theology, Characters in Search of Their Author is a philosophical defence of the broad task of natural theology, which takes as its starting point the assumption that some knowledge of God is attainable through ordinary means.

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.

Christ and Horrors: The Coherence of Christology

  • Marilyn McCord Adams
1998
University of St. Andrews

The thesis of these lectures is that a Christology that is metaphysically high (in the direction of medieval interpretations of Chalcedon) but materially low to medium (in attributing to Christ a human nature much more like ours than patristic or medieval theology will allow) gives a Christian worldview its coherence and explanatory power.

Genes, Genesis and God

  • Holmes Rolston III
1997
University of Edinburgh

1.  Genetic Creativity: Diversity and Complexity in Natural History

Central to the contemporary Darwinian view is emerging diversity and complexity. Genes are critical in this historic composition. In physics and chemistry, there is matter and energy, but in biology there is proactive information. Scientists divide over whether such evolution is contingent or directional. Elements of trial and error are incorporated in a searching generative process, analogous to genetic algorithms in computing.   

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.

The Production of Equality

  • Gerald Allan Cohen
1995 to 1996
University of Edinburgh

This series presents an introspective consideration on the nature of Marxism and egalitarianism in today’s society and how the people how hold to these claims can justify their role in society. He examines the implications, both political and moral, of the socialist spectrum ranging from Marxism on one side to morally guided individual socialist decisions on the other with a keen look at Rawlsian liberalism in the middle. 

The Order of Nature: Natural Law and Civil Theology in Sixteenth Century Scotland

  • James Henderson Burns
1994 to 1995
University of Aberdeen

James Burns’ Gifford lectures focus on Natural Law and Civil Theology in sixteenth century Scotland but begin with the late-medieval/early-modern John Ireland. Ireland grounds the series in the world of French and Scottish monarchy with a debt to Scotist thought. Ireland offers and example of civil theology that seeks an idealised kingship modelled on divine majesty amid the bloodiness of state politics.

The Bible and Criticism in Victorian Britain

  • John W. Rogerson
1994 to 1995
University of Aberdeen

John Rogerson’s The Bible and Criticism in Victorian Britain has a curious focus: ‘scholars who were dismissed from their posts’. The author chooses two, F. D. Maurice, obliged to resign from his post at King’s College in 1853; and, drawn from a series of Gifford lectures Rogerson gave in 1994, William Smith, expulsed from the Free Church College in 1881. Smith wrote that some work of Moses was actually post-exilic and, in his Theological Essays, Maurice felt punishment in hell was not everlasting.

Christianity and Classical Culture

  • Jaroslav Pelikan
1992 to 1993
University of Aberdeen

Christianity and Classical Culture is an examination of the Christian encounter with Hellenism. It maps the importance of the Cappadocian system of natural theology as it developed in relation to classical culture, first into a natural theology as apologetics, and subsequently into the dogmatics of the Nicene orthodoxy. Insofar as this is the case, natural theology in classical culture underwent a metamorphosis in the hands of the Cappadocians, first becoming a natural theology as apologetics, and later, a natural theology as presupposition.

Deciphering the Signs of God: A Phenomenological Approach to Islam

  • Annemarie Schimmel
1991 to 1992
University of Edinburgh

The 1992 edition of the Gifford Lectures brings an analysis of the perceptible details of Islam and the symbolism and meaning in relation to the divine. Sacred texts, scholarly commentary on those texts, poetry and traditions in the lives of the people are used to identify the signs of the religion, such as the symbols and rituals commonly found. The same sources are also used to identify the importance and meaning of these same signs of God for the followers of Islam.

Biblical Faith and Natural Theology

  • James Barr
1990 to 1991
University of Edinburgh

In Biblical Faith and Natural Theology, based on his 1991 Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh, James Barr argues that the Bible not only endorses elements of natural theology, but also is heavily dependent on natural theology both in its composition and for its responsible interpretation. Interacting throughout with the influential views of Karl Barth, Barr thus offers a devastating critique of the notion that natural theology is at odds with biblical theology.

Grammars of Creation

  • George Steiner
1990
University of Glasgow

In Grammars of Creation, his 1990 Gifford Lectures, George Steiner discusses the relationship between our creation stories and the process of human creation in literature, the sciences, mathematics and music. Exhibiting his profound grasp of languages and the history of thought, Steiner examines the ways in which technological advances alter communication and, ultimately, meaning itself.

Claims on God

  • Mary Douglas
1989
University of Edinburgh

In this volume, Mary Douglas provides an incisive reading of the book of Numbers through the lens of social anthropology and history of religions. She reads the work as the product of priestly redactors operative in the decades immediately following the return of exile from Babylon and suggests that the final form of the book reflects the protest of a minority group toward the employment of defilement and strict community boundaries by the Persian appointed governors Ezra and Nehemiah.

Ethics in an Age of Technology and Religion in an Age of Science

  • Ian G. Barbour
1989
University of Aberdeen

Barbour attempts to ‘present an interpretation of Christianity that is responsive both to the historical tradition and to contemporary science’. The first volume (Religion in an Age of Science) explores the impact of science and its challenges to religious life, asking and answering questions surrounding the compatibility of science and religion and the impact of science on human nature.

Science and Salvation

  • Mary Midgley
1989 to 1990
University of Edinburgh

Science as Salvation looks at the development of beliefs regarding the nature of our world, our future, our origins and our outlook on life through the changing views about natural sciences, specifically physics. As our understanding of the nature of physical matter has changed, combined with a hypothesized need for faith and a worldview dependent on faith, human understanding of life and humanity has also changed.

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