BHA Vice President Professor Richard Dawkins and renowned and much-loved naturalist and broadcast David Attenborough are jointly interviewed for the Guardian.
On the weirdness of modern physics, and God.
RD: There does seem to be a sense in which physics has gone beyond what human intuition can understand. We shouldn’t be too surprised about that because we’re evolved to understand things that move at a medium pace at a medium scale. We can’t cope with the very tiny scale of quantum physics or the very large scale of relativity.
DA: A physicist will tell me that this armchair is made of vibrations and that it’s not really here at all. But when Samuel Johnson was asked to prove the material existence of reality, he just went up to a big stone and kicked it. I’m with him.
RD: It’s intriguing that the chair is mostly empty space and the thing that stops you going through it is vibrations or energy fields. But it’s also fascinating that, because we’re animals that evolved to survive, what solidity is to most of us is something you can’t walk through. Also, the science of the future may be vastly different from the science of today, and you have to have the humility to admit when you don’t know. But instead of filling that vacuum with goblins or spirits, I think you should say, “Science is working on it.”
DA: Yes, there was a letter in the paper [about Stephen Hawking's comments on the nonexistence of God] saying, “It’s absolutely clear that the function of the world is to declare the glory of God.” I thought, what does that sentence mean?!
On Richard Dawkins’ upcoming children’s book:
RD: It’s about science more generally. Each chapter begins with the myths, so in the sun chapter, for instance, we have an Aztec myth, an ancient Egyptian myth, an Aboriginal myth. It is called The Magic Of Reality and one of the problems I’m facing is the distinction between the use of the word magic, as in a magic trick, and the magic of the universe, life on Earth, which one uses in a poetic way.
DA: No, I think there’s a distinction between magic and wonder. Magic, in my view, should be restricted to things that are actually not so. Rabbits don’t really live in hats. It’s magic.
RD: OK, but what if you took a top hat and all you can see inside is some little boring brown things, and then one splits and out emerges a butterfly?
DA: Yes, that’s wonderful. But it’s not magic.
RD: OK. Well, you’re rather dissing my title…
DA: The wonder of reality? But that’s rather corny.
RD: Yes, it’s a bit like “awesome”.
Full interview: http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/sep/11/science-david-attenborough-richard-dawkins