Chance and Design

Duration: 45 minutes
First broadcast: Thursday 13 February 2003

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the theories of a grand design in the universe. The late evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould argued that if you re-ran the tape of evolutionary history, an entirely different set of creatures would emerge. Man would not exist because the multitude of random changes that resulted in us would never be repeated exactly the same way. Others disagree, arguing that there is a pattern that points to some kind of direction – even, perhaps, a design, a sense that some things are pre-ordained.

Who were the original proponents of the idea of a grand design? Were they deliberately setting out to find a scientific theory that could sit alongside religious faith? On the other hand, can the concept of contingency – or the randomness of evolution – be compatible with a belief in God?

With Simon Conway Morris, Professor of Evolutionary Palaeobiology at Cambridge University and author of The Crucible of Creation – the Burgess Shale and the Rise of Animals; Sandy Knapp, botanist at the Natural History Museum; John Brooke, Andreas Idreos Professor of Science and Religion at Oxford University