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Aug 21 Adam Gifford and the Gifford Lectures

Its 1885, we are in Scotland, where today Lord Adam Giffords’ will was finalised. A large part of his substantial fortune made from a lucrative private practice in law. A substantial part of his last testament and will bequeathed an endowment of the four Gifford Lectureships on natural theology in connection with each of the four universities in Scotland then in existence (Aberdeen, Glasgow, Edinburgh and St Andrews). The Lectures were to given as a series, with the intent of publishing a book. A number of these works have become classics in the fields of theology or philosophy and the relationship between religion and science.


Notable Lectures in Aberdeen have been given by Karl Barth, Paul Tillich, Alistair McGrath, N.T Wright, and Hannah Arendt who was the first woman between 1972 and 1974 on the History of the Mind. In Edinburgh, the third lecture series given in 1900–02 by the Harvard psychologist William James on The Varieties of Religious Experience, which has become a classic in the field. Other Gifford lectures in Edinburgh include Henri Bergson, Albert Schweitzer, Niels Bohr, Rudolph Bultmann, Iris Murdoch, Jurgen Moltmann. Recently the former prime Minister, and son of a presbyterian minister, Gordon Brown gave one on the Future of Jobs and Justice. In Glasgow the lecture series has been more sporadic, including more eclectic lectures by Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins who in 1988 gave a series called Worlds in Microcosm. Finally in St Andrews they have included Stanley Hauerwas and Alvin Plantinga with the American philosopher and Episcopal priest Marilyn McCord Adams speaking on The Coherence of Christology in 1999.

Gifford has been described as a man of a philosophical turn of mind, and a student of the works of the Dutch Philosopher Spinoza. one of the early thinkers of the Enlightenment and modern biblical criticism. However, a turning point in his life was when he heard a series of lectures, Ralph Waldo Emerson gave in 1843 in Edinburgh. Emerson's transcendentalism appealed to Lord Gifford as did his later reading of Spinoza. He did not explore his own religious and metaphysical ideology to the point of answering the question of whether or not he believe God was a person, but to use the words from today’s bequest he was "firmly convinced that the true knowledge of God ... when felt and acted on, is the means of man's highest well-being, and the security of his upward progress..."

Gifford held office as a judge from 1870 to 1881, despite symptoms of paralysis from 1872 onwards. As a judge Lord Gifford was known to make up his mind quickly and to act independently and fairly. He had little respect for technicalities and had a penchant for reaching conclusions based on common sense. As a judge he was in great demand as a public lecturer but one whose lecture topics related less frequently to jurisprudence than to metaphysics and philosophical religion. Lord Gifford's interest in philosophical religion was well-known in Edinburgh. After retiring in 1881 he gave lectures to popular audiences on such subjects as Emerson, substance, Hindu incarnationism, and St. Bernard.

Todays settlement partly reads ‘ there will be a large ‘residue’ of my means and estate and being of opinion that I am bound , to employ it, or part of it, for the good of my fellow-men, and having considered how I may best do so, I direct the ‘residue’ to be disposed of as follows:—I having been for many years deeply and firmly convinced that the true knowledge of God, that is, of the Being, Nature, and Attributes of the Infinite, of the All, of the First and the Only Cause, that is, the One and Only Substance and Being, and the true and felt knowledge (not mere nominal knowledge) of the relations of man and of the universe to Him, and of the true foundations of all ethics and morals, being, I say, convinced that this knowledge, when really felt and acted on, is the means of man's highest well-being, and the security of his upward progress, I have resolved, from the ‘residue’ of my estate as aforesaid, to institute and found, in connection, if possible, with the Scottish Universities, lectureships or classes for the promotion of the study of said subjects, and for the teaching and diffusion of sound views regarding them, among the whole population of Scotland, It is witnessed and sighed by , James Foulis, a Master of Divinity and John Campbell, a cab driver.


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