Gifford Lectures 2010

April 26, 2010

Roger Scruton has come up for approving comment here recently, so I was intrigued to learn that he is delivering the 2010 Gifford Lectures.  The Giffords, if you don’t know, are generally considered to be the most prestigious lectures on the general topic of the relationship of science and religion.  A list of past lecturers — William James, Karl Barth, Gabriel Marcel, Michael Polanyi, Hannah Arendt, Richard Swinburne, Freeman Dyson, Jaroslav Pelikan, Alfred North Whitehead, Reinhold Niebuhr, Christopher Dawson, Niels Bohr, Arnold Toynbee, Iris Murdoch, Alasdair MacIntyre, John Polkinghorne, Charles Taylor, Carl Sagan, Werner Heisenberg, Antony Flew, Roger Penrose, and Stanley Hauerwas, just to name a few — gives a good idea of the high standards this lectureship has maintained in the past.  (Of course, the list also includes Richard Dawkins and Michael Ignatieff, so they don’t hit a home run every time.)

The topic for Scruton’s series of six lectures is “The Face of God”.  In the course of the first lecture, he puts his general purpose this way:

I will be considering some of the consequences of the atheist culture that is growing around us, and I will suggest that it is not only an intellectual phenomenon expressing disbelief in God, but also a moral phenomenon, and in its moral aspect the atheist culture involves a turning away from God. You might wonder how someone can deliberately turn away from a thing that he believes not to exist, but it is a peculiarity of God that we can do just this to him.  And we do this, I maintain, by acts of systematic aggression towards the face — not the human face only, but the face of the world.

I don’t deny that atheists can be thoroughly upright people — far better people than I am — but there is more than one motive underlying the atheist culture of our times, and the desire to escape from the eye of judgment is one of them.  You escape from the eye of judgment by blotting out the face.

That seems a worthy subject for extended discussion, and it will be interesting to hear what he does with it.

And we can hear: the lectures are being made available online.  To date only the first two have been delivered; the others will follow between now and May 6.

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