Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Moral Maze - Radio 4 - Science v Religion - 8pm Wednesday 11th June

Image: The Moral Maze
Michael Buerk chairs a special edition recorded at the Cheltenham Science Festival. Melanie Phillips, Claire Fox, Michael Portillo and Clifford Longley cross-examine witnesses.

If you witnessed the battles between the godly and the godless over the creation of hybrid embryos recently you might think science and religion are unavoidably at odds. Listen (45 mins)

Why do so many of our foremost scientists see religion as a threat to their work and why do so many in the church worry that modern science is endangering our most basic respect for shared humanity?

As knowledge increases and new technologies abound - especially in the field of medical research - just who is setting the moral agenda?

Can science and religion ever have a meaningful dialogue? That's the question for a special edition of the Moral Maze from the Cheltenham Science Festival.

Prof Peter Atkins (author: creation revisited)

Michael Buerk: Peter Atkins I know you are an atheist. You take the view that religion and science are utterly at odds. What do you make of people who believe in God?

Peter Atkins: "They are slightly mad - well, almost completely mad! Science is the only way to true knowledge. Religion is a way of discovering what one thinks internally. Science is the way to truth. The sooner we discard religion from this world and particularly from the government of ourselves - the better it will be. "

Clifford Longley: I'm a Roman Catholic - so I'm mad? What scientific evidence is there for that?

Peter Atkins:
You believe in superstition - I believe in facts; I believe you should decide whether there is a god by starting at the bottom ... is their any evidence for the existence of God? If their is evidence we should admit their is a god, so far I've not seen any evidence whatsoever for the existence of god, therefore I do not believe their is a god.

Clifford Longley:
What can science tell us about love, self sacrifice, heroism, laying down ones life for ones friends? It was sciences exact inability to throw any light on these things - which explains my own journey from atheism to Catholicism!

Peter Atkins: science can deal with every reasonable question - I think their is nothing it cannot elucidate, provided you are patient and provided you break the questions down into smaller components.
Love, self sacrifice, heroism, laying down ones life for ones friends - Love and these other things is about pychology - Love is about physiology, love is about the workings of the human brain - all reduced to brain chemistry. The brain is a physical object - it works on physical principles. There is nothing beyond the brain and therefore presumably everything that the brain puts out into the world can be subject to analysis. I'm not saying that science can answer these things at the moment but because it is a physical entity it is open to scientific investigation. Science is theoretically able, in principle, to answer all questions.

Clifford Longley: So as a scientist - speaking strictly as a scientist - is capital punishment right or wrong?

Peter Atkins: Yes I think one can. In a very broad sense now - we need to understand the basis about what is good in the world - and I believe what the nature of goodness has been moulded by our evolutionary inheritance - from ape to human living in a socitey. Also being able to reflect on the consequences of our actions which moulds our view of good.

Melanie Philips: there are many scientists that do not share your view that there is nothing that science cannot elucidate eg Sir Martin Rees (Pres. Royal Soc), Sir Peter Medaware, cosmologist Alan Sandage ('I find it quite improbable that order came out of chaos'). Are they all mad?

Peter Atkins: Well they are all incomplete scientists. A complete scientist should be an optimist. That the extraordinary tool that mankind has discovered, namely the scientific method, is capable in principle of answering every conceivable real question. If a scientist presents himself as a pessimist then he is betraying his skill. Science is the only way to knowledge and truth.

Melanie Philips: science is not about certainty - its about probability - it weighs evidence. The claim that science can know that there is nothing it cannot know is itself unknowable and is therefore unscientific by your own test? What is your scientific evidence for your claim that science knows that there is nothing that science cannot know?

Peter Atkins: I did not say I know it but it is my belief!

Melanie Philips: Are belief! You mean faith!!

Peter Atkins: I think the distinction between a philosopher and a scientist is that a philosopher is a pessimist and a scientist is an optimist.
Because of the extraordinary tool that mankind has discovered, namely the scientific method, we are optimistic that this method is is capable in principle of answering every conceivable real question (it might take 100 or 10,00 years).

We need to understand what is good; what all of us think of good is moulded by evolution from ape to human; being able to reflect on consequences of actions; Martin Rees - is an incomplete scientist - scientific method is capable of answering every reasonable question; science is only way to knowledge and truth. A philosopher is a pessimist - a scientist is an optimist!

Prof. Raymond Tallis
Genes for religion is a category unlikely. Science cannot explain consciousness.

Prof Robert Winston
you can be moral without religion. Religion and Science are both about mans uncertainty.

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