Lecture One: Who Are We? Belief, Evolution, and Our Place in the World

In this first lecture Professor Agustin Fuentes set the stage for the next five to come. The video of Fuentes’ lecture is embedded below for those who were unable to attend in person, or for those who’d like to listen to it again. An audio only version can also be found at the end of this post. In order to further facilitate discussion my colleague Jaime Wright will be adding her initial reflections on Professor Fuentes’ first Gifford Lecture. Wright is currently a PhD candidate at New College, University of Edinburgh. We’d like to reiterate that we warmly welcome anyone wishing to engage with Fuentes’ lectures to contribute their comments and questions below.

Professor Fuentes started off his first lecture earlier this evening by beginning to clarify what he does and does not mean by “belief.” For Fuentes the concept and phenomenon of human believing is more rich, dynamic, and holistic than it is often taken to be. As he stated, “belief is the human capacity to imagine, to be creative, to hope and dream, to infuse the world with meanings, and to cast our aspirations far and wide, limited neither by personal experience nor material reality.” In this sense one can see that belief, for Fuentes, is not merely concerned with assenting to what is, but it is also a way of intentionally existing toward what could be.  As he went on to state, “Believing is a commitment, an investment, a devotion to possibilities,” and that beliefs are embedded, embodied, and enacted by human agents in evolutionary processes. Belief (both the capacity for and the specifics of) play a central role in normatively guiding our being in the world with, for, and against one another. This being the case Fuentes asserted that “belief is the most prominent, promising, and dangerous capacity of humanity.

Continue reading

Getting the Conversation Started

The 2018 Edinburgh Gifford Lectures are finally here. Professor Agustin Fuentes is set to give the first of his six Gifford Lectures tomorrow evening. In anticipation of the lectures, and to get the conversation started, here Professor J. Wentzel van Huyssteen engages some of Fuentes’ previous work,  focusing on the significance of imagination as it concerns human origins and the emergence of morality and religion. Professor van Huyssteen is the James I. McCord Professor of Theology and Science Emeritus at Princeton Theological Seminary. He himself is also a former Gifford Lecturer, having given the lectures at the University of Edinburgh in 2004, which were published as Alone in the World? Human Uniqueness in Science and Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006). As always, anyone who is interested in joining the discussion is warmly encouraged and welcome to do so by adding questions and comments below.



– J. Wentzel van Huyssteen

One of the most remarkable traits of our species is the defining ability of humans for symbolic behavior. At the heart of this ability lies our equally remarkable ability for imagination. To approach and understand defining traits like these, especially if we add our enduring but controversial propensity for religious imagination, Agustin Fuentes has suggested an important distinction: the quest for understanding the human propensity for religious imagination can be aided and enriched by investigating more fully the core role of the evolutionary transition between becoming human and being human (Fuentes 2014: 1; cf. also Mithen 1996).

Continue reading

2018 Lectures Nearly Here

Gifford_Lecture_Series_2018 Fuentes

The 2018 Gifford Lectures at the University of Edinburgh are less than a month away! Professor Agustin Fuentes will give the first of his six Gifford Lectures on Monday, 26 February. Fuentes’ lectures promise to be of interest to a wide-ranging audience. He gives the following overview of the entirety of his lectures:

Humans can see the world around them, imagine how it might be different, and translate those imaginings into reality… or at least try to. Humans believe. Meaning, imagination, and hope are as central to the human story as are bones, genes, and ecologies. Neither selfish aggression nor peaceful altruism dominates human behavior as a whole. We are a species distinguished by our extraordinary capacity for creative cooperation, our ability to imagine possibilities and to make them material, and our powerful aptitudes for belief, hope, and cruelty. In the 21st century significant shifts in our understanding of evolutionary biology and theory, radical expansions in the archeological and fossil records, and increasing collaboration across multiple fields of inquiry alter our capacities to investigate the human niche, how humans shape and are shaped by the world. Via exploring our evolution, the emergence of our capacity to create, innovate, and collaborate we develop better understandings of human natures and the answers as to why we believe. And, hopefully, to better contemplate the possibilities of human futures.

As in past years this blog will be active to facilitate discussion of Fuentes’ lectures online. I will be posting lecture summaries shortly after the lectures are given, the videos of each lecture will be posted on the blog, and several contributors will offer their reflections to further facilitate conversation.

This year’s lectures will be held in The Playfair Library Hall.


Whether you are able to attend the lectures in person (you can reserve your free tickets here) or are only able to engage from a distance your contribution is most welcome either way. For further details on how to join the conversation see How to Engage. This weblog offers the opportunity to further develop our critical perspective by engaging with the content of the Gifford Lectures online. As David (the 2016 blog host) importantly noted, “We are not only seeking contributions from members of the academy, nor is discussion limited to those who practice a particular faith.” Anyone is warmly invited to join the discussion by sharing comments and questions on the content of the lectures.

We look forward to this year’s discussion!