For over a century, the annual Gifford Lectures have provided the premier venue for the finest scientific and theological minds in the world to speak to "all questions about man's conception of God or the Infinite." Endowed in 1887 by Scottish judge Adam Gifford, the Giffords are a window into the conflict between the natural sciences and the claims of religion. The list of Gifford lecturers is a veritable Who's Who of modern scientists, philosophers, and theologians: from William James to Karl Barth, Albert Schweitzer to Reinhold Niebuhr, Niels Bohr to Iris Murdoch, Hannah Arendt to Carl Sagan -- and includes eight Noble Prize winners.
Some Gifford lecturers have raced to show that science could not possibly undermine religious belief, while others have tried to reconcile science and faith, and even to show that the tools of science -- facts and reason -- could support knowledge of God. British anthropologist Edward B. Tylor argued that the origin of religion was nothing more than primitive humanity's experience of death and dreams, while American psychologist William James argued that "medical materialism" fell short inexplaining the varieties of religious experience. When the atom was being split and the concept of a predictable universe ruled by Newtonian laws no longer worked, Albert Einstein incredulously demanded whether subatomic physicist Niels Bohr believed "God could play dice" with the universe. Bohr, a Gifford lecturer, politely replied perhaps Einstein should stop telling God what to do. In advocating American democracy against post-War communism, ethicist Reinhold Niebuhr referred to the neo-orthodoxy of Swiss theologian Karl Barth as "irrelevant." And the search for "who we are" has ranged from the molecular biology of the discoverer of RNA, Sydney Brenner, to the cosmology of Carl Sagan. Whether the Gifford lecturers have been scientists or theologians, skeptics or believers, their task has always been to argue whether God exists and how we know. The Measure of God offers the inside story of the genius and drama that have fueled our continuing debate over God and science.