Richard Dawkins & Steven Pinker: Is Science Killing The Soul - Page 2
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Is it important to us? Yes it is important. Natural selection is the environment. We started altering our environment back at the beginning of the 19th century. We have now comprehensively changed it, so we run the world for our benefit, and every now and then it gets a bit fragile at the edges, we have to start worrying about the ozone layer, or the carbon dioxide crisis -- but we have changed the environment. More alarmingly, we have begun to understand how we could change ourselves; we could take charge of our own genes. We aren't doing it yet. You hear talk about designer babies; there are no such things, but we have reached the stage where we have to ask ourselves whether we want some of our babies. We can now see what kind of baby we might be about to have, and people are suddenly thrust into the position of having to ask themselves, what is a gene, what does it do, and how will it all turn out? So these are very important questions, and they do actually concern us. These questions are not academic.

Nor are they new. There's a wonderful passage in the Book of Job, Chapter 38, I think, in which the poet who composed Job speaks as if God, and asks Job a series of questions which begin, Hath the rain a Father? Who hath begot the drops of dew? out of whose womb came the ice? and the hoary frost of Heaven, who hath engendered it? the waters are hid as with stone, and the face of the deep is frozen. Canst thou bind the sweet influence of Pleiades, or loose the bands of Orion?? Now that of course is great poetry, and one of the issues that we are discussing here is whether science is killing the soul in the sense of poetry. All I point out to you is that that is a series of questions about the hydrological cycle, you cannot say that it's just poetry, they are also real questions which demand real answers, which people are supplying, scientists among them.

We have with us tonight two extraordinarily gifted writers. One of them is Richard Dawkins, Charles Simonyi Professor of Public Understanding of Science at the University of Oxford, and he's the man who more than two decades ago introduced the notion of the selfish gene, upsetting a lot of people, creating a debate that hasn't stopped yet. He followed this up with a series of dazzling books, of which the latest is called Unweaving the Rainbow, which is not just about Darwinism, but about science itself, and about our understanding of the planet we live on. The other is Steven Pinker, who is a professor of psychology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. And he leapt onto the best-seller list about three years ago with a wonderful book called The Language Instinct, which was just about this remarkable ability that 3-year-olds have to learn any grammar that happens to be lying around, with the implication that either babies are born knowing, in principle, all the languages that have ever been invented, or yet to be invented, -- or that there is a universal grammar and it's already composed in their own brains. If so, what a remarkable thing the brain is. I'll let them talk about that. The subject tonight is "Is Science Killing the Soul?" You will not find this a straight-forward head-to-head debate in which one man says yes and the other says no. It all depends, as Professor Joad used to say, on what you mean by soul. Richard Dawkins.