CAMPBELL, GEORGE (1719–1796), Scottish theologian, was born at Aberdeen on the 25th of December 1719. His father, the Rev. Colin Campbell, one of the ministers of Aberdeen, the son of George Campbell of Westhall, who claimed to belong to the Argyll branch of the family, died in 1728, leaving a widow and six children in somewhat straitened circumstances. George, the youngest son, was destined for the legal profession, and after attending the grammar school of Aberdeen and the arts classes at Marischal College, he was sent to Edinburgh to serve as an apprentice to a writer to the Signet. While at Edinburgh he attended the theological lectures, and when the term of his apprenticeship expired, he was enrolled as a regular student in the Aberdeen divinity hall. After a distinguished career he was, in 1746, licensed to preach by the presbytery of Aberdeen. From 1748 to 1757 he was minister of Banchory Ternan, a parish on the Dee, some 20 m. from Aberdeen. He then transferred to Aberdeen, which was at the time a centre of considerable intellectual activity. Thomas Reid was professor of philosophy at King’s College; John Gregory (1724–1773), Reid’s predecessor, held the chair of medicine; Alexander Gerard (1728–1795) was professor of divinity at Marischal College; and in 1760 James Beattie (1735–1803) became professor of moral philosophy in the same college. These men, with others of less note, formed themselves in 1758 into a society for the discussions of questions in philosophy. Reid was its first secretary, and Campbell one of its founders. It lasted till about 1773, and during this period numerous papers were read, particularly those by Reid and Campbell, which were afterwards expanded and published.
In 1759 Campbell was made principal of Marischal College. In 1763 he published his celebrated Dissertation on Miracles, in which he seeks to show, in opposition to Hume, that miracles are capable of proof by testimony, and that the miracles of Christianity are sufficiently attested. There is no contradiction, he argues, as Hume said there was, between what we know by testimony and the evidence upon which a law of nature is based; they are of a different description indeed, but we can without inconsistency believe that both are true. The Dissertation is not a complete treatise upon miracles, but with all deductions it was and still is a valuable contribution to theological literature. In 1771 Campbell was elected professor of theology at Marischal College, and resigned his city charge, although he still preached as minister of Greyfriars, a duty then attached to the chair. His Philosophy of Rhetoric, planned at Banchory Ternan years before, appeared in 1776, and at once took a high place among books on the subject. In 1778 his last and in some respects his greatest work appeared, A New Translation of the Gospels. The critical and explanatory notes which accompanied it gave the book a high value.
In 1795 he was compelled by increasing weakness to resign the offices he held in Marischal College, and on his retirement he received a pension of £300 from the king. He died on the 31st of March 1796.
His Lectures on Ecclesiastical History were published after his death with a biographical notice by G. S. Keith; there is a uniform edition of his works in 6 vols.