The Gifford Lectures (//) are an annual series of lectures which were established in 1887 by the will of Adam Gifford, Lord Gifford. Their purpose is to "promote and diffuse the study of natural theology in the widest sense of the term – in other words, the knowledge of God." A Gifford lectures appointment is one of the most prestigious honors in Scottish academia. The lectures are given at several Scottish universities: University of St Andrews, University of Glasgow, University of Aberdeen and University of Edinburgh. They are normally presented as a series over an academic year and given with the intent that the edited content be published in book form. A number of these works have become classics in the fields of theology or philosophy and the relationship between religion and science.
Due to the patriarchal tradition within Christian theology and the long history of the lecture series, which predates postmodern emancipation, out of 174 speakers to date,[when?] 156 presenters have been men and 18 presenters have been women. The first woman appointed was Hannah Arendt who presented in Aberdeen between 1972 and 1974.
A comparable lecture series is the John Locke Lectures, which are delivered annually at the University of Oxford.
As of 2021, the primary public portal of the Gifford Lectures is maintained by the Templeton Press, an affiliated publisher of the John Templeton Foundation, which has been accused of attempting to blur the line between religion and science by Richard Dawkins, among others.
As of February 2021, the 1985 Gifford Lecture by Freeman Dyson is titled on their website as "In Praise of Divinity", although it was originally presented under the title "In Praise of Diversity" and became the the source of his later book, Infinite in All Directions (1988), which was described as follows in a review from the New Scientist:
What recommends [Dyson] is his ability to communicate, not merely the interest of science and its application to human activities of every kind, but the sheer delight he takes in the universe. He loves diversity. Frequently throughout the book a passage will reveal his pleasure at being alive and seeing and thinking. He has much of Richard Feynman's enthusiasm for the strangeness of people and things. [emph. added]
As hosted by Templeton, Dyson's 1985 lecture begins:
I chose the title "In Praise of Divinity" partly because it expresses my attitude to the universe and partly because it describes my style of thinking and writing. The title gives me an excuse for talking about a variety of miscellaneous topics, some scientific, some political, some personal, without attempting to fit them together into a coherent doctrine. [emph. added]
His lecture continues, opening as follows in the third paragraph:
Another theologian, with whom I have a more distant acquaintance, is Saint Paul. Saint Paul had some good things to say about diversity (1 Corinthians 12:4–6). "Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all." [emph. added]
Arendt, the first female Gifford Lecturer, delivered her lectures in Aberdeen between 1972 and 1974.
Templeton Press was founded in January 1997 as a program of Templeton Foundation, Inc., a nonprofit foundation established by Sir John Templeton.
The lectures were given under the title "In Praise of Diversity," which gave me license to talk about everything in the universe.