Richard Dawkins & Steven Pinker: Is Science Killing The Soul
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  Richard Dawkins & Steven Pinker

Is Science Killing The Soul?

Chaired by Tim Radford

TIM RADFORD: My name is Tim Radford; I'm the science editor of The Guardian. And I'm here to do a very strange thing, I'm here to introduce two people who obviously need no introduction whatsoever, otherwise you wouldn't be here. There are I gather 2,300 of you, and there are another three or four hundred weeping and gnashing their teeth outside. So you knew why you were coming. You thought you knew what you were going to hear. What you are going to hear is from two great story tellers of modern science. Science is a story, we're story-telling animals, we tell each other stories to explain why we're here, and since we don't know the outcome of our narrative, we conduct these things in the form of a story-so-far. This is what science does for us, but of course we've always done that.

There are three great stories in science. One of them is where the universe came from. One of them is where life came from. And the third is where we came from. Now this last aspect breaks into several different aspects, really. One is: who is this person called a human -- or indeed who is this person called a person? Where did he come from, or she? Why are we here? What are we doing, where are we going? And how did we get here, and why did one particular group of creatures on the plains of Africa suddenly pick up a stone and start playing with it, scratching things, or skinning things, doing things, going places, colonizing the globe. The second question is not about the entity called human, but the identity within that entity. What is this mind for? Why is it so big? Why could it encompass absolutely anything? Why does any mind seem to be able to encompass absolutely everything? It's all we've got, but we're not that conscious of it. We think we're occupying reality, but of course it's only our brain that tells us this. We have people here who can explain this much better than I can.

What's going on? Well, we have reached a curious situation in science in which it's possible for people to propose that science might be able to provide all the answers. Neither of the two guests tonight actually make these claims, but there are scientists who do claim such things. And one of the pieces of machinery that they use is sometimes known as Darwinism, or the theory of evolution, or just the action of natural selection upon random mutation. It doesn't really matter, because we're just going to call it tonight, Darwinism. At least I am. Professor Dawkins will actually have a better explanation if you ask him.