Genes, determinism and God

Monday 26 November 2012

Denis AlexanderDr Denis Alexander, Founder and Director of the Faraday Institute for Science and Religion at Cambridge University, will discuss the theological implications of human genomics over the course of four free lectures, beginning 5.15pm Monday 3 December 2012, for the University of St Andrews’ 54th Gifford Lecture Series.

The lecture series, running from Monday 3 December to Friday 7 December in School III, St Salvator’s Quad, will explore continuing challenges to the notions of human freedom and moral responsibility posed by contemporary research in the biological sciences (Dr Alexander was previously Chairman of the Molecular Immunology Programme and Head of the Laboratory of Lymphocyte Signalling and Development at the Babraham Institute, Cambridge).

Over the past few centuries debate has been polarised between an emphasis on the role of either nature or nurture in shaping human destiny, a debate often energised by moral and philosophical considerations. In recent decades advancements in developmental biology, genomics, epigenetics, and our increased understanding of neuronal plasticity, have all helped to subvert such dichotomous notions.

At the same time the field of behavioural genetics continues to extend its reach into the social sciences, reporting the heritability of such human traits as religiosity and political affiliation.

Meanwhile the human genome continues to be presented as the “blueprint of life” as in recent publications describing results from the Encyclopaedia of DNA Elements (ENCODE) project.

There are therefore many continuing challenges to notions of human freedom and moral responsibility with consequent theological implications. This lecture series will critically discuss these challenges, beginning with an exploration of Genes, History and Ideology on Monday 3 December. This will be followed by:

  • Reshaping the Matrix of Genes and Environment on Tuesday December 4, 5.15pm
  • Genetic Variation and Human Behaviour on Thursday December 6, 5.15pm
  • Molecular Genetics, Determinism and the Imago Dei on Friday December 7, 5.15pm.

Alan Torrance, Professor of Systematic Theology at the University of St Andrews, said:

“Not only is Denis Alexander a cutting edge scientist, he has set up the foremost centre in the world for research into the interface between science and religion. In addition, he has written highly influential books in the field. This will be the first time he has returned to St Andrews since he was a James Gregory lecturer and it is particularly good news that we have such an impressive and popular speaker giving the prestigious Gifford lectures.”

This year’s Gifford Lecture Series is part of the University of St Andrews’ on-going 600th Anniversary celebrations and in support of the University’s 600th Anniversary Campaign which aims to raise £100 million to support projects including creation of a new Centre for the Study of Religion, Ethics & Science.

The Gifford Lecture Series was established to provide free access for all to some of the finest thinkers of their times to set out their ideas on questions of philosophy, theology, ethics, culture and science, and on the connections between these. The series was established by the will of Lord Adam Gifford’s (1885) in which he said:

“The lectures shall be public and popular, that is, open not only to students of the Universities, but to the whole community without matriculation, as I think that the subject should be studied and known by all, whether receiving University instruction or not. I think such knowledge, if real, lies at the root of all well-being.”

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