Science and Society

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


Duration: 30 minutes
First broadcast: Thursday 06 May 1999

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the way perceptions of the importance of mathematics have fluctuated in the 20th century, the nature of mathematical ability, and what mathematics can show us about how life began, and how it might continue.

Galileo wrote “this grand book the universe… is written in the language of mathematics”. It was said before Galileo and has been said since and in the last decades of the 20th century it is being said again, most emphatically. How important is maths in relation to other sciences at the end of the twentieth century – will it ever be made redundant, or is it increasingly crucial to our understanding of the world and ourselves? What insight can it give us into the origins of life, and the functioning of our brains, and what does it mean to say that maths has become more ‘visual’?

With Ian Stewart, Professor of Mathematics and Gresham Professor of Geometry, University of Warwick; Brian Butterworth, Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College, London