Rosh Hashanah: Science vs Religion


Rosh Hashanah: Science vs Religion

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'We're living in an age of unprecedented scientific progress.

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'Every aspect of our lives

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'is shaped by the latest discoveries and innovations.

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'For me, science is one of the greatest achievements of humankind -

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'a gift given to us by God.

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'But there are many who see me as misguided -

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'they say my religious faith has become invalid.

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'It's an outdated way of thinking that doesn't fit

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'in a scientific world of hard evidence and binary logic.'

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'There is something insidious about training children to believe things

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'for which there's no evidence.'

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'Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, is when we commemorate

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'the creation of the universe and its God-given wonders.

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'It's a good time to challenge the assumption

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'that science and religion cannot co-exist.

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'I'm about to meet three non-believing scientists,

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'each working at the frontier of scientific discovery.

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'A neurologist.

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'A theoretical physicist.

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'And the evolutionary biologist who leads the scientific war on religion.

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'My mission is not to convert - that's not the nature of my faith.'

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What I hope to show is that belief in God doesn't require

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a suspension of our critical faculties.

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And that together,

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religion and science CAN make a great partnership.

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'For centuries, religion and science stood happily side-by-side,

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'but in the last few decades, that relationship has broken down.

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'You'd be forgiven for thinking they were never on speaking terms.

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'As we face the challenging problems of the 21st century,

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'I think we need to reopen the dialogue between science and religion.

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'In my latest book, I've written a letter to scientists

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'like Richard Dawkins, who use science to argue

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'that there is no God.'

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Well, I've written it to somebody who believes

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that because we live in an age of science,

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there's no need for religion any more,

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someone who believes that you have to be sad,

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mad or bad to believe in God, or practise a religious faith,

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that religion is immature, it's primitive,

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something that we have no need of,

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something that belongs to a bygone age.

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I believe that religion is being misrepresented.

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In my letter, I hope to show

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that religion is about answering questions that science cannot.

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It's about...how to live.

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What kind of world we want to create.

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How we relate to the ultimately unknowable.

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Those things are not scientific things.

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I want to show them that science and religion CAN work together,

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SHOULD work together, because they're actually

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two quite different ways of thinking and we need them both.

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Science takes things apart to see how they work,

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religion puts things together to see what they mean.

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But what I believe is about to be put to the test.

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I'm about to meet three non-believing scientists.

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I don't know what they're going to say

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and there are bound to be points on which we differ.

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Will I get them to agree

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that science and religion need not be opposing forces?

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I'm hoping to express my view that God made us in his own image.

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He marked us out from other animals by giving us free will,

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morality and conscience.

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It's precisely these aspects of the human mind

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that are under scrutiny by modern neuroscientists.

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My first encounter is with

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a neuroscientist from Oxford University.

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Now is the time when we really need to understand

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more than ever before how the brain is working.

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Baroness Susan Greenfield has pioneered research

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into how the human brain generates consciousness.

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How does the objectivity get converted?

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How do ordinary old brain cells, ordinary old chemicals, how do they suddenly get

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into a scenario where you have this

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subjective sensation no-one else can share? It's an impossible

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but very exciting issue,

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but I think at the moment it's something we can...

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think about almost as philosophers...

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rather than expect scientists to come along with a tidy little experiment.

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'So far, science has been unable to explain how human consciousness is generated,

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'or even what it is.'

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Science HAS to be impersonal

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-and consciousness has to be personal.

-Yes.

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Aren't we at that point when we reach consciousness

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and the self - or what used to be called the soul -

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aren't we reaching the very limits of science?

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The big problem is not so much that we're saying, "We're scientists

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"and we're going to butt out of this." It's more, if I said to you,

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"I've discovered, John... I've just discovered how the brain generates consciousness."

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What do you expect me to show you? We don't even know.

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-No idea.

-No, exactly.

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See, that's the problem -

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until we actually know what kind of answer, what kind of...

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thing or solution are we supposed to come up with,

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only then can you bring the machinery of scientific method to deal with it.

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'Not only is science not able to explain human consciousness,

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'it doesn't even know what type of question to ask.

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'For me, it's religion, not science, that speaks of choice, freedom

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'and responsibility - things that make us human.

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'With neuroscience and religion competing over territory,

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'Susan's work is at the front line of the battle

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'between science and religion.'

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So are science and religion destined always to conflict?

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Absolutely not,

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I really don't think that is doing any service to science.

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Science is all about...

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having curiosity, having an open mind and challenging EVERYTHING.

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Challenging everything.

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So my own view is that you can have two seemingly incompatible things,

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that explain the same phenomena

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and you can do both - you can use both and it doesn't matter.

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So as a neuroscientist,

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I'm quite happy dealing with the subjective of my friend who is now convinced that God is with him.

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At the same time, one can talk about changes in brain connectivity

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and how experience leaves its mark on the brain. I don't think that

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one has to have both things completely reconciled.

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I think you can have the two sides to the same coin - it doesn't invalidate the coin.

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Do you think that science might not be the only way of seeing the world?

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Might...induce a little bit of humility into science?!

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See, science is now the alpha male of the intellectual world.

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Religion used to be, and,

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heaven help us when religion loses its humility.

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Yeah, I remember Michael Faraday, the great scientist,

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he had a lovely quote - he said,

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"There's nothing quite as frightening as somebody who knows they're right."

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I think that sometimes one sees among some scientists

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complete intolerance, complete intransigence,

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complete conviction that you're right and everyone else is wrong, and what real science is about,

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is about having an open mind, a really open mind to things.

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My own view is that if you have a very rigid way of approaching...

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And this might apply to religion as well,

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then perhaps you're not going to progress or have the same insight,

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as if you just question everything and as I say, the whole trick

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is to ask the question rather than know all the answers.

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So would you buy the proposition that religious people

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ought to have respect for science

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and that scientists ought to have respect for religion?

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I would say, that all people ought to have respect for all other people

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and I think respect is something, er, that we can't have enough of

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and that irrespective of whether you're religious

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or scientist, or just a human being, that clearly having respect

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for others is a very good starting point in life.

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'I find Susan's approach very encouraging.

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'For her, science isn't competing with religion. In its quest

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'to understand how our minds work,

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'neuroscience isn't attempting to replace faith.

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'But there is another area of science which some claim

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'IS encroaching on religion's territory -

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'that it challenges the idea of God the Creator.

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'Within the last few years,

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'physicists have been making remarkable advances

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'in finding scientific explanations for the origins of the universe.

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'Just this year, they believe they've discovered the Higgs boson,

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'the so-called "God particle".'

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This is the particle that explains why all the other particles

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are the way they are. And by particles, I mean the very

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fundamental building blocks of everything in the universe.

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'Professor Jim Al Khalili is at the forefront of transforming

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'our understanding of the universe.

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'He's also an atheist.

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'What will he make of my mission

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'to get science and religion to work together?'

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Would I be right in thinking that there's a division

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of labour here? I mean, religious people are interested in whodunnit

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and WHY done it and scientists are interested in HOW done it.

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I guess from a scientist's perspective,

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a non-religious scientist's perspective,

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the why may not be as important as the how, because for me,

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the laws of nature,

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the laws of physics and the reason the universe is the way it is,

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are just there. In religion, you're looking for a reason behind it.

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For me, the universe just happens by accident,

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it doesn't have meaning or, or purpose, or a need...

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for a grand designer.

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Do you think that the success of cosmology thus far

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in explaining how the universe began

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has put religion on the defensive?

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To some extent, yes.

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I mean, what we've learnt in the last century... You know,

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100 years ago, we didn't know that our galaxy was just

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one of billions of other galaxies,

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we didn't know the extent of the universe of reality, and you know,

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when you say science can no longer explain...

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Well, that's where religion comes in,

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in a naive sense, it's.. This is the extent that science can answer,

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and what science has been able to do is push that boundary back.

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You know, we are now...

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We believe we understand a lot about the Big Bang itself,

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and theoretical physicists are even now beginning

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to ask the question of whether there was something BEFORE the Big Bang,

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that caused our universe to come into existence.

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So,

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in that area of science,

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I do wonder whether religion feels it's on the back foot as it retreats,

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as science encroaches on what was religion's territory,

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and I guess... How do YOU feel about that? Do you think that's true?

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Yeah, I think that there was this view that has been called "God of the gaps".

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-Yes.

-So God explains whatever science can't explain.

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-Right.

-And that means that every great advance in science is...

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-Squeezes that.

-..seen as a retreat for religion.

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I think the whole "God of the gaps" theory is crazy

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and incompatible with the religion that I believe in -

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the religion of the Bible, which is,

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that God, creating us in his image,

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wanted us to use our critical intelligence

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to understand the universe, to understand Creation,

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and therefore the more we understand, the more we wonder

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at the greatness of God and the universe

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and the smallness of us.

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So I see every advance for science

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as an advance for religion as well.

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That, I think, is where

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scientists and religious believers come closest together.

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We're very small, the universe is very big, and the miracle is

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that it's here, we're here and we're beginning to understand it.

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I do that all the time. I don't...

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I don't praise a higher intelligence,

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in the way that you do, but I acknowledge the wonder

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of the universe and the way it is the way it is.

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I try to understand it,

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I know I'm a very, very long way from being able to do that,

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but I, I guess like you, daily struggle to understand it.

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Despite our conflicting views on how the universe was created,

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ultimately, Jim and I are united in our shared awe at its wonder.

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'So far I've spoken to non-believing scientists

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'who've been prepared to engage in a productive dialogue with me.

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'But I'm less certain about the outcome of my next encounter.

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'I'm about to meet Britain's most vocal atheist

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'and I know I am going to be challenged about the very nature of my faith.

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'Richard Dawkins is an evolutionary biologist

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'who first made his name 36 years ago with his seminal book, The Selfish Gene.

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'Since then, he has achieved worldwide fame for his militant atheism.

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'His best-selling book, The God Delusion,

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'was a virulent attack on religion.

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'For him, the supernatural aspects of religious belief

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'are an affront to science.'

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We can never say that there definitely is no fairy, er...

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and that's the way I feel about God.

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God has the same status as fairies.

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'It's not my intention to convert Richard Dawkins.'

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I just want to see if he's willing to admit

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that there's more to life than science

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and more to religion than ignorance and superstition.

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'We're meeting in the hallowed halls of the Royal Society -

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'the institute dedicated to the pursuit of scientific excellence.

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'Its motto, "Nullius in verba" -

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' "take no-one's word for it" - is at the very heart

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'of the discipline of science.

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'This could be seen as the opposite of faith,

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'but, for me, religion at its best involves asking questions

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'and challenging conventional assumptions.

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'Will Richard see that we have something in common?

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'I've asked him to read a letter he once wrote to his daughter.'

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"Dear Juliet, now that you're ten I want to write..."

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'It offers her a life lesson about the importance of thinking for yourself.

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"Next time somebody tells you something that sounds important,

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"think to yourself, 'Is this the kind of thing that people probably know because of evidence

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" 'or is it the kind of thing that people

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-" 'only believe because of tradition, authority or revelation?' "

-Mmm.

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"And next time somebody tells you that something is true,

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"why not say to them, 'What kind of evidence is there for that?'

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"And if they can't give you a good answer,

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"I hope you'll think very carefully before you believe a word they say."

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She was ten years old at the time and I wanted to do the opposite

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of indoctrinate her, I wanted to ask her

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-to think for herself.

-Mmm.

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So, er, what would you say, for instance, about the Jewish tradition?

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The first duty of a Jewish parent to a Jewish child

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is to teach them to ask questions.

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Admirable.

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That's exactly what the first duty seems to me should be.

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Er, I would hope then that the parent would answer the questions

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on the basis of evidence

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rather than on the basis of tradition or scripture -

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that might be where we differ.

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'It is indeed the nature of my religion

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'for tradition and scripture to play a central role.

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'I believe the Bible records events that actually happened,

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'like God talking to Abraham, arguing with him, challenging him.

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'God really did intervene in human history.'

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You don't really believe that Abraham talked to God

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and God bargained with him.

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This is some kind of symbolic parable that you're talking about.

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It's clearly a parable and the argument between God and Abraham

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is God giving Abraham a seminar in how to be a Jewish parent.

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Teach your child to argue, teach your child to challenge.

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I get the feeling that theologians, whether Jewish or Christian,

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almost don't bother to distinguish between that which is symbolic

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and that which is literal.

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Tell me, when your daughter was ten,

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did you teach her theories or tell her stories?

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Well, you make a good point which is that there are times

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when stories get across a point better than telling it literally.

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-And when civilisation was in its childhood...

-Yes.

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-..you tell it as stories.

-Yes, yes,

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there's a lot to be said for parables, certainly,

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but what I want to know,

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and I always want to know this from theologians, Christian or Jewish,

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is do you actually think it happened?

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Do you actually think that Abraham did truss Isaac on an altar

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and then let him off an altar?

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I definitely think that something happened

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that made Jews value their children

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more than in any other civilisation I know.

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I really think that God wanted Abraham,

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and Jews from that day to this, to know one thing above all others -

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don't sacrifice your children.

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Virtually every other culture in the ancient world sacrificed its children.

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It's entirely admirable that these moral lessons

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should become enshrined in the culture of any people,

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and it's entirely admirable...

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Especially, it seems to have been enshrined in Jewish culture in a very big way.

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-Something interesting happened in Jewish history...

-Yes.

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..which led to these admirable things,

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but...I actually care about what's historically true.

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So do I.

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Yes, but do you think that Abraham really did truss Isaac on an altar?

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-I don't...

-I want to know whether you think it is literally true?

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Well, first of all, I think

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that story is a protest against the belief throughout the ancient world,

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-that parents own their children.

-Yes, indeed.

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And I think God is saying,

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-"Don't think you own this one."

-Yes.

-"No Jew owns his or her child.

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"They have a life of their own, they have a mind of their own,"

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and that is what I am reading from all these stories.

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These things happened, but they didn't happen as mere facts.

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They happened as morally instructive lessons, whose full import we still haven't learnt,

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because we are still allowing children to die every single day of malnutrition

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in the 21st century.

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We're still sacrificing our children.

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OK, I thoroughly applaud your statement that parents don't own their children

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and I would extend that to we should not as a society make the assumption

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that a child belongs to the same religion as its parents, which we virtually all do.

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We assume that children will automatically be labelled

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with the religion of their parents, and I think that is wicked

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and it goes with all the things you've just been saying

0:20:590:21:02

about the wickedness of, er, what we do to children.

0:21:020:21:05

'It's a point on which Richard and I will never agree.

0:21:070:21:11

'For me, we have to give our children an identity, a heritage,

0:21:110:21:15

'a story of which they are a part.

0:21:150:21:18

'Will Richard have more time for a recent study from Harvard University

0:21:190:21:24

'that offers evidence that religion can be a force for good?'

0:21:240:21:28

Religious people are more likely than secular people

0:21:280:21:32

to give money to charity, er, to do voluntary work,

0:21:320:21:36

-to give money to a homeless person...

-I've seen...

-Would that be evidence?

-Yes, it would.

0:21:360:21:40

-I mean, I've seen counter evidence to that.

-Yeah.

-It is disputed.

0:21:400:21:45

Even if that were true, it doesn't bear in any way on the truth

0:21:450:21:48

of religious claims about the universe, which is what I care about.

0:21:480:21:53

You can't say that because I have evidence

0:21:530:21:57

that religious people are more likely to give blood or give money to charity,

0:21:570:22:01

therefore what they believe about God or the Trinity,

0:22:010:22:04

or whatever it might be, is more likely to be true.

0:22:040:22:07

It has nothing to do with it.

0:22:070:22:09

'Richard Dawkins is renowned for proselytising about the damage religion can do,

0:22:090:22:16

'but he's also acknowledged that, in the wrong hands,

0:22:160:22:18

'science can be just as terrifying.'

0:22:180:22:20

You actually said I think, very wisely and courageously,

0:22:230:22:27

that when you take Darwinism and turn it into a social philosophy,

0:22:270:22:31

it becomes very dangerous.

0:22:310:22:33

It can become very dangerous, and if you take it...especially if you take it in a naive way,

0:22:330:22:36

it can become... it can become Nazism.

0:22:360:22:40

If we based out politics on a naive interpretation of Darwinism,

0:22:400:22:44

we'd be living in a kind of, erm...

0:22:440:22:47

-..Darwinian universe...

-Yes.

-..in which the strong eliminate the weak.

0:22:470:22:51

And I've frequently argued against that.

0:22:510:22:54

I've frequently said I'm a passionate Darwinian,

0:22:540:22:56

when it comes to understanding how we got here,

0:22:560:22:59

but I'm a passionate anti-Darwinian

0:22:590:23:01

-when it comes to deciding what kind of society we want to live in.

-Mmm.

0:23:010:23:06

So, erm, I just wonder

0:23:060:23:09

since that you say that Darwin is one of the great...

0:23:090:23:13

I mean, the greatest scientist in recent centuries,

0:23:130:23:17

and at the same time you point out the way that Darwin has been misused,

0:23:170:23:23

and you don't let the fact that it's been misused

0:23:230:23:26

compromise your admiration for Darwin.

0:23:260:23:29

Could you not also understand that in certain ways,

0:23:290:23:33

-religion has been misused...

-Yes.

-..and that that should not compromise

0:23:330:23:38

at least some of us admiring and respecting the greatness of the great religions?

0:23:380:23:43

Yes, I agree that it has been misused,

0:23:430:23:46

I think what I would say, however, is that an unquestioning faith,

0:23:460:23:52

and I accept that Judaism is a bit unusual in...

0:23:520:23:56

because questioning is favoured,

0:23:560:23:58

but an unquestioning faith justifies somebody who says,

0:23:580:24:02

"I don't have to argue with you, I don't have to give you my reasons.

0:24:020:24:06

"My faith tells me that X is the right thing to do."

0:24:060:24:10

Now, if a child is bought up to think that faith trumps evidence, or trumps reason,

0:24:100:24:17

then that child could be equipped to do something truly terrible.

0:24:170:24:23

This is precisely what I think is the common ground between us.

0:24:230:24:28

I don't minimise the differences.

0:24:280:24:30

The common ground between us is that you and I are committed

0:24:300:24:35

-to question...

-Yes.

-..to the use of critical intelligence,

0:24:350:24:39

to valuing human rights and the dignity of the human person

0:24:390:24:43

and you acknowledge that there have been times when science has been misused,

0:24:430:24:49

-but the answer to bad science is not no science...

-Yes.

-..it's good science.

-Yes.

0:24:490:24:55

And I acknowledge that religion has sometimes been misused,

0:24:550:24:59

but I argue that the answer to bad religion is good religion not no religion.

0:24:590:25:03

-Yes.

-And so even though there is this gap between us,

0:25:030:25:07

you are not religious and I am

0:25:070:25:09

and I'm not seeking to change you on this,

0:25:090:25:12

could we not work together

0:25:120:25:14

to value human rights, human dignity,

0:25:140:25:18

where we engage in the collaborative pursuit of truth?

0:25:180:25:22

Yes, it's clear that we could.

0:25:220:25:23

I mean, it's clear that people of goodwill, wherever they're coming from,

0:25:230:25:28

could and should work together.

0:25:280:25:32

Science can be hideously misused -

0:25:320:25:34

indeed if you want to do terrible things, you'd better use science to do it,

0:25:340:25:38

because that's the most efficient way to do anything.

0:25:380:25:40

'Religion and science have been set up as polar opposites,

0:25:400:25:44

'but it appears that Richard Dawkins and I

0:25:440:25:47

'might have found a way to work together.'

0:25:470:25:50

So, Richard, if I can sum up our conversation,

0:25:510:25:54

despite clearly major differences between us,

0:25:540:25:58

I think we've found major areas of agreement and commonality -

0:25:580:26:03

a respect for truth, openness,

0:26:030:26:07

a willingness to question,

0:26:070:26:08

and the collaborative pursuit of knowledge for its own sake.

0:26:080:26:12

And you've agreed that as we think our way through

0:26:120:26:17

the very challenging problems of the 21st century,

0:26:170:26:20

a conversation between us might give both of us humility,

0:26:200:26:26

but might give both of us a fresh perspective.

0:26:260:26:30

Now if we can actually to walk hand in hand towards the future

0:26:300:26:34

on that basis,

0:26:340:26:36

I think that's a tremendous source for both optimism and hope.

0:26:360:26:42

I'll go along with that. Amen to that.

0:26:420:26:44

-Thank you.

-Thank you very much.

0:26:460:26:48

'I feel that we've made a real breakthrough.

0:26:510:26:54

'It's the first time I've ever heard Richard be so open

0:26:540:26:58

'to my position on science and religion.

0:26:580:27:00

'Well, I think that was a bit of an epiphany.'

0:27:020:27:05

You know, he met me more than halfway

0:27:050:27:08

and I actually felt something of the magic of the power of a conversation -

0:27:080:27:13

when two people really open to one another

0:27:130:27:18

and that allows each of us to move beyond our normal positions.

0:27:180:27:23

I really think that's what happened.

0:27:230:27:26

And if it is really so, and I believe it is,

0:27:260:27:29

that we do have so much in common,

0:27:290:27:31

then that is a very strong argument

0:27:310:27:34

for saying that there can be a great partnership between religion and science.

0:27:340:27:40

'All too often, science and religion are set up as mutually exclusive,

0:27:420:27:48

'but through meeting three non-believing scientists,

0:27:480:27:52

'it feels to me that despite our differences, we have much in common.

0:27:520:27:57

'And through conversation,

0:27:580:28:01

'we may discover we're united in a desire to pursue a common good.'

0:28:010:28:05

I see no conflict between religion and science.

0:28:120:28:15

Science tells us about the origin of life,

0:28:150:28:18

religion tells us about the purpose of life.

0:28:180:28:22

Science explains the world that is.

0:28:220:28:24

Religion summons us to the world that ought to be.

0:28:240:28:29

On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, we rededicate ourselves

0:28:290:28:33

to the idea that God created us in love and forgiveness,

0:28:330:28:38

asking us to love and forgive others.

0:28:380:28:41

Add that to science and it equals hope.

0:28:410:28:46

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