Documentary in which Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks meets three leading non-believing scientists and attempts to convince them of his position that science and religion need not be at war.
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'We're living in an age of unprecedented scientific progress.
'Every aspect of our lives
'is shaped by the latest discoveries and innovations.
'For me, science is one of the greatest achievements of humankind -
'a gift given to us by God.
'But there are many who see me as misguided -
'they say my religious faith has become invalid.
'It's an outdated way of thinking that doesn't fit
'in a scientific world of hard evidence and binary logic.'
'There is something insidious about training children to believe things
'for which there's no evidence.'
'Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is when we commemorate
'the creation of the universe and its God-given wonders.
'It's a good time to challenge the assumption
'that science and religion cannot co-exist.
'I'm about to meet three non-believing scientists,
'each working at the frontier of scientific discovery.
'A theoretical physicist.
'And the evolutionary biologist who leads the scientific war on religion.
'My mission is not to convert - that's not the nature of my faith.'
What I hope to show is that belief in God doesn't require
a suspension of our critical faculties.
And that together,
religion and science CAN make a great partnership.
'For centuries, religion and science stood happily side-by-side,
'but in the last few decades, that relationship has broken down.
'You'd be forgiven for thinking they were never on speaking terms.
'As we face the challenging problems of the 21st century,
'I think we need to reopen the dialogue between science and religion.
'In my latest book, I've written a letter to scientists
'like Richard Dawkins, who use science to argue
'that there is no God.'
Well, I've written it to somebody who believes
that because we live in an age of science,
there's no need for religion any more,
someone who believes that you have to be sad,
mad or bad to believe in God, or practise a religious faith,
that religion is immature, it's primitive,
something that we have no need of,
something that belongs to a bygone age.
I believe that religion is being misrepresented.
In my letter, I hope to show
that religion is about answering questions that science cannot.
It's about...how to live.
What kind of world we want to create.
How we relate to the ultimately unknowable.
Those things are not scientific things.
I want to show them that science and religion CAN work together,
SHOULD work together, because they're actually
two quite different ways of thinking and we need them both.
Science takes things apart to see how they work,
religion puts things together to see what they mean.
But what I believe is about to be put to the test.
I'm about to meet three non-believing scientists.
I don't know what they're going to say
and there are bound to be points on which we differ.
Will I get them to agree
that science and religion need not be opposing forces?
I'm hoping to express my view that God made us in his own image.
He marked us out from other animals by giving us free will,
morality and conscience.
It's precisely these aspects of the human mind
that are under scrutiny by modern neuroscientists.
My first encounter is with
a neuroscientist from Oxford University.
Now is the time when we really need to understand
more than ever before how the brain is working.
Baroness Susan Greenfield has pioneered research
into how the human brain generates consciousness.
How does the objectivity get converted?
How do ordinary old brain cells, ordinary old chemicals, how do they suddenly get
into a scenario where you have this
subjective sensation no-one else can share? It's an impossible
but very exciting issue,
but I think at the moment it's something we can...
think about almost as philosophers...
rather than expect scientists to come along with a tidy little experiment.
'So far, science has been unable to explain how human consciousness is generated,
'or even what it is.'
Science HAS to be impersonal
-and consciousness has to be personal.
Aren't we at that point when we reach consciousness
and the self - or what used to be called the soul -
aren't we reaching the very limits of science?
The big problem is not so much that we're saying, "We're scientists
"and we're going to butt out of this." It's more, if I said to you,
"I've discovered, John... I've just discovered how the brain generates consciousness."
What do you expect me to show you? We don't even know.
See, that's the problem -
until we actually know what kind of answer, what kind of...
thing or solution are we supposed to come up with,
only then can you bring the machinery of scientific method to deal with it.
'Not only is science not able to explain human consciousness,
'it doesn't even know what type of question to ask.
'For me, it's religion, not science, that speaks of choice, freedom
'and responsibility - things that make us human.
'With neuroscience and religion competing over territory,
'Susan's work is at the front line of the battle
'between science and religion.'
So are science and religion destined always to conflict?
I really don't think that is doing any service to science.
Science is all about...
having curiosity, having an open mind and challenging EVERYTHING.
So my own view is that you can have two seemingly incompatible things,
that explain the same phenomena
and you can do both - you can use both and it doesn't matter.
So as a neuroscientist,
I'm quite happy dealing with the subjective of my friend who is now convinced that God is with him.
At the same time, one can talk about changes in brain connectivity
and how experience leaves its mark on the brain. I don't think that
one has to have both things completely reconciled.
I think you can have the two sides to the same coin - it doesn't invalidate the coin.
Do you think that science might not be the only way of seeing the world?
Might...induce a little bit of humility into science?!
See, science is now the alpha male of the intellectual world.
Religion used to be, and,
heaven help us when religion loses its humility.
Yeah, I remember Michael Faraday, the great scientist,
he had a lovely quote - he said,
"There's nothing quite as frightening as somebody who knows they're right."
I think that sometimes one sees among some scientists
complete intolerance, complete intransigence,
complete conviction that you're right and everyone else is wrong, and what real science is about,
is about having an open mind, a really open mind to things.
My own view is that if you have a very rigid way of approaching...
And this might apply to religion as well,
then perhaps you're not going to progress or have the same insight,
as if you just question everything and as I say, the whole trick
is to ask the question rather than know all the answers.
So would you buy the proposition that religious people
ought to have respect for science
and that scientists ought to have respect for religion?
I would say, that all people ought to have respect for all other people
and I think respect is something, er, that we can't have enough of
and that irrespective of whether you're religious
or scientist, or just a human being, that clearly having respect
for others is a very good starting point in life.
'I find Susan's approach very encouraging.
'For her, science isn't competing with religion. In its quest
'to understand how our minds work,
'neuroscience isn't attempting to replace faith.
'But there is another area of science which some claim
'IS encroaching on religion's territory -
'that it challenges the idea of God the Creator.
'Within the last few years,
'physicists have been making remarkable advances
'in finding scientific explanations for the origins of the universe.
'Just this year, they believe they've discovered the Higgs boson,
'the so-called "God particle".'
This is the particle that explains why all the other particles
are the way they are. And by particles, I mean the very
fundamental building blocks of everything in the universe.
'Professor Jim Al Khalili is at the forefront of transforming
'our understanding of the universe.
'He's also an atheist.
'What will he make of my mission
'to get science and religion to work together?'
Would I be right in thinking that there's a division
of labour here? I mean, religious people are interested in whodunnit
and WHY done it and scientists are interested in HOW done it.
I guess from a scientist's perspective,
a non-religious scientist's perspective,
the why may not be as important as the how, because for me,
the laws of nature,
the laws of physics and the reason the universe is the way it is,
are just there. In religion, you're looking for a reason behind it.
For me, the universe just happens by accident,
it doesn't have meaning or, or purpose, or a need...
for a grand designer.
Do you think that the success of cosmology thus far
in explaining how the universe began
has put religion on the defensive?
To some extent, yes.
I mean, what we've learnt in the last century... You know,
100 years ago, we didn't know that our galaxy was just
one of billions of other galaxies,
we didn't know the extent of the universe of reality, and you know,
when you say science can no longer explain...
Well, that's where religion comes in,
in a naive sense, it's.. This is the extent that science can answer,
and what science has been able to do is push that boundary back.
You know, we are now...
We believe we understand a lot about the Big Bang itself,
and theoretical physicists are even now beginning
to ask the question of whether there was something BEFORE the Big Bang,
that caused our universe to come into existence.
in that area of science,
I do wonder whether religion feels it's on the back foot as it retreats,
as science encroaches on what was religion's territory,
and I guess... How do YOU feel about that? Do you think that's true?
Yeah, I think that there was this view that has been called "God of the gaps".
-So God explains whatever science can't explain.
-And that means that every great advance in science is...
-..seen as a retreat for religion.
I think the whole "God of the gaps" theory is crazy
and incompatible with the religion that I believe in -
the religion of the Bible, which is,
that God, creating us in his image,
wanted us to use our critical intelligence
to understand the universe, to understand Creation,
and therefore the more we understand, the more we wonder
at the greatness of God and the universe
and the smallness of us.
So I see every advance for science
as an advance for religion as well.
That, I think, is where
scientists and religious believers come closest together.
We're very small, the universe is very big, and the miracle is
that it's here, we're here and we're beginning to understand it.
I do that all the time. I don't...
I don't praise a higher intelligence,
in the way that you do, but I acknowledge the wonder
of the universe and the way it is the way it is.
I try to understand it,
I know I'm a very, very long way from being able to do that,
but I, I guess like you, daily struggle to understand it.
Despite our conflicting views on how the universe was created,
ultimately, Jim and I are united in our shared awe at its wonder.
'So far I've spoken to non-believing scientists
'who've been prepared to engage in a productive dialogue with me.
'But I'm less certain about the outcome of my next encounter.
'I'm about to meet Britain's most vocal atheist
'and I know I am going to be challenged about the very nature of my faith.
'Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist
'who first made his name 36 years ago with his seminal book, The Selfish Gene.
'Since then, he has achieved worldwide fame for his militant atheism.
'His best-selling book, The God Delusion,
'was a virulent attack on religion.
'For him, the supernatural aspects of religious belief
'are an affront to science.'
We can never say that there definitely is no fairy, er...
and that's the way I feel about God.
God has the same status as fairies.
'It's not my intention to convert Richard Dawkins.'
I just want to see if he's willing to admit
that there's more to life than science
and more to religion than ignorance and superstition.
'We're meeting in the hallowed halls of the Royal Society -
'the institute dedicated to the pursuit of scientific excellence.
'Its motto, "Nullius in verba" -
' "take no-one's word for it" - is at the very heart
'of the discipline of science.
'This could be seen as the opposite of faith,
'but, for me, religion at its best involves asking questions
'and challenging conventional assumptions.
'Will Richard see that we have something in common?
'I've asked him to read a letter he once wrote to his daughter.'
"Dear Juliet, now that you're ten I want to write..."
'It offers her a life lesson about the importance of thinking for yourself.
"Next time somebody tells you something that sounds important,
"think to yourself, 'Is this the kind of thing that people probably know because of evidence
" 'or is it the kind of thing that people
-" 'only believe because of tradition, authority or revelation?' "
"And next time somebody tells you that something is true,
"why not say to them, 'What kind of evidence is there for that?'
"And if they can't give you a good answer,
"I hope you'll think very carefully before you believe a word they say."
She was ten years old at the time and I wanted to do the opposite
of indoctrinate her, I wanted to ask her
-to think for herself.
So, er, what would you say, for instance, about the Jewish tradition?
The first duty of a Jewish parent to a Jewish child
is to teach them to ask questions.
That's exactly what the first duty seems to me should be.
Er, I would hope then that the parent would answer the questions
on the basis of evidence
rather than on the basis of tradition or scripture -
that might be where we differ.
'It is indeed the nature of my religion
'for tradition and scripture to play a central role.
'I believe the Bible records events that actually happened,
'like God talking to Abraham, arguing with him, challenging him.
'God really did intervene in human history.'
You don't really believe that Abraham talked to God
and God bargained with him.
This is some kind of symbolic parable that you're talking about.
It's clearly a parable and the argument between God and Abraham
is God giving Abraham a seminar in how to be a Jewish parent.
Teach your child to argue, teach your child to challenge.
I get the feeling that theologians, whether Jewish or Christian,
almost don't bother to distinguish between that which is symbolic
and that which is literal.
Tell me, when your daughter was ten,
did you teach her theories or tell her stories?
Well, you make a good point which is that there are times
when stories get across a point better than telling it literally.
-And when civilisation was in its childhood...
-..you tell it as stories.
there's a lot to be said for parables, certainly,
but what I want to know,
and I always want to know this from theologians, Christian or Jewish,
is do you actually think it happened?
Do you actually think that Abraham did truss Isaac on an altar
and then let him off an altar?
I definitely think that something happened
that made Jews value their children
more than in any other civilisation I know.
I really think that God wanted Abraham,
and Jews from that day to this, to know one thing above all others -
don't sacrifice your children.
Virtually every other culture in the ancient world sacrificed its children.
It's entirely admirable that these moral lessons
should become enshrined in the culture of any people,
and it's entirely admirable...
Especially, it seems to have been enshrined in Jewish culture in a very big way.
-Something interesting happened in Jewish history...
..which led to these admirable things,
but...I actually care about what's historically true.
So do I.
Yes, but do you think that Abraham really did truss Isaac on an altar?
-I want to know whether you think it is literally true?
Well, first of all, I think
that story is a protest against the belief throughout the ancient world,
-that parents own their children.
And I think God is saying,
-"Don't think you own this one."
-"No Jew owns his or her child.
"They have a life of their own, they have a mind of their own,"
and that is what I am reading from all these stories.
These things happened, but they didn't happen as mere facts.
They happened as morally instructive lessons, whose full import we still haven't learnt,
because we are still allowing children to die every single day of malnutrition
in the 21st century.
We're still sacrificing our children.
OK, I thoroughly applaud your statement that parents don't own their children
and I would extend that to we should not as a society make the assumption
that a child belongs to the same religion as its parents, which we virtually all do.
We assume that children will automatically be labelled
with the religion of their parents, and I think that is wicked
and it goes with all the things you've just been saying
about the wickedness of, er, what we do to children.
'It's a point on which Richard and I will never agree.
'For me, we have to give our children an identity, a heritage,
'a story of which they are a part.
'Will Richard have more time for a recent study from Harvard University
'that offers evidence that religion can be a force for good?'
Religious people are more likely than secular people
to give money to charity, er, to do voluntary work,
-to give money to a homeless person...
-Would that be evidence?
-Yes, it would.
-I mean, I've seen counter evidence to that.
-It is disputed.
Even if that were true, it doesn't bear in any way on the truth
of religious claims about the universe, which is what I care about.
You can't say that because I have evidence
that religious people are more likely to give blood or give money to charity,
therefore what they believe about God or the Trinity,
or whatever it might be, is more likely to be true.
It has nothing to do with it.
'Richard Dawkins is renowned for proselytising about the damage religion can do,
'but he's also acknowledged that, in the wrong hands,
'science can be just as terrifying.'
You actually said I think, very wisely and courageously,
that when you take Darwinism and turn it into a social philosophy,
it becomes very dangerous.
It can become very dangerous, and if you take it...especially if you take it in a naive way,
it can become... it can become Nazism.
If we based out politics on a naive interpretation of Darwinism,
we'd be living in a kind of, erm...
-..in which the strong eliminate the weak.
And I've frequently argued against that.
I've frequently said I'm a passionate Darwinian,
when it comes to understanding how we got here,
but I'm a passionate anti-Darwinian
-when it comes to deciding what kind of society we want to live in.
So, erm, I just wonder
since that you say that Darwin is one of the great...
I mean, the greatest scientist in recent centuries,
and at the same time you point out the way that Darwin has been misused,
and you don't let the fact that it's been misused
compromise your admiration for Darwin.
Could you not also understand that in certain ways,
-religion has been misused...
-..and that that should not compromise
at least some of us admiring and respecting the greatness of the great religions?
Yes, I agree that it has been misused,
I think what I would say, however, is that an unquestioning faith,
and I accept that Judaism is a bit unusual in...
because questioning is favoured,
but an unquestioning faith justifies somebody who says,
"I don't have to argue with you, I don't have to give you my reasons.
"My faith tells me that X is the right thing to do."
Now, if a child is bought up to think that faith trumps evidence, or trumps reason,
then that child could be equipped to do something truly terrible.
This is precisely what I think is the common ground between us.
I don't minimise the differences.
The common ground between us is that you and I are committed
-..to the use of critical intelligence,
to valuing human rights and the dignity of the human person
and you acknowledge that there have been times when science has been misused,
-but the answer to bad science is not no science...
-..it's good science.
And I acknowledge that religion has sometimes been misused,
but I argue that the answer to bad religion is good religion not no religion.
-And so even though there is this gap between us,
you are not religious and I am
and I'm not seeking to change you on this,
could we not work together
to value human rights, human dignity,
where we engage in the collaborative pursuit of truth?
Yes, it's clear that we could.
I mean, it's clear that people of goodwill, wherever they're coming from,
could and should work together.
Science can be hideously misused -
indeed if you want to do terrible things, you'd better use science to do it,
because that's the most efficient way to do anything.
'Religion and science have been set up as polar opposites,
'but it appears that Richard Dawkins and I
'might have found a way to work together.'
So, Richard, if I can sum up our conversation,
despite clearly major differences between us,
I think we've found major areas of agreement and commonality -
a respect for truth, openness,
a willingness to question,
and the collaborative pursuit of knowledge for its own sake.
And you've agreed that as we think our way through
the very challenging problems of the 21st century,
a conversation between us might give both of us humility,
but might give both of us a fresh perspective.
Now if we can actually to walk hand in hand towards the future
on that basis,
I think that's a tremendous source for both optimism and hope.
I'll go along with that. Amen to that.
-Thank you very much.
'I feel that we've made a real breakthrough.
'It's the first time I've ever heard Richard be so open
'to my position on science and religion.
'Well, I think that was a bit of an epiphany.'
You know, he met me more than halfway
and I actually felt something of the magic of the power of a conversation -
when two people really open to one another
and that allows each of us to move beyond our normal positions.
I really think that's what happened.
And if it is really so, and I believe it is,
that we do have so much in common,
then that is a very strong argument
for saying that there can be a great partnership between religion and science.
'All too often, science and religion are set up as mutually exclusive,
'but through meeting three non-believing scientists,
'it feels to me that despite our differences, we have much in common.
'And through conversation,
'we may discover we're united in a desire to pursue a common good.'
I see no conflict between religion and science.
Science tells us about the origin of life,
religion tells us about the purpose of life.
Science explains the world that is.
Religion summons us to the world that ought to be.
On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, we rededicate ourselves
to the idea that God created us in love and forgiveness,
asking us to love and forgive others.
Add that to science and it equals hope.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
Religion and science are frequently set up as polar opposites; incompatible ways of thinking. The Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks begs to differ. For him, science and religion can, and should, work together. To mark Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, he puts his position to the test. He meets three non-believing scientists, each at the top of their field: neurologist Baroness Susan Greenfield, theoretical physicist Professor Jim Al-Khalili, and the person best known for leading the scientific attack on religion, Professor Richard Dawkins. Will the Chief Rabbi succeed in convincing the militant defender of atheism that science and religion need not be at war?