Polite fisticuffs between philosophers and scientists at Eckersley Lecture

It’s polite fisticuffs between philosophers and scientists at the annual Eckersley Lecture where Professor Peter Atkins, strong ally of Dawkins and arch-materialist, gives a wonderfully pugnacious, clear and fluent account of the power of science: science is the only measure of reality; scientists are “hewers of simplicity out of complexity” who, using  a “sinewy language of the utmost austerity” can “drive out ignorance whilst retaining wonder”.  It is an amazing whirlwind tour of many of the areas covered in his recent book On Being, which many buy on the way out: Creation, Birth, Neuroscience, the scientific method.  For some it will be most memorable for the way that it has drawn our philosophers into a warm debate: are the myths explaining the world’s creation merely “stylish new clothes with no emperor within”? Is it really the role of religious belief to be the “millstones round the neck of Science”?  Are philosophers really “professional pessimists”? Does scientific enquiry and the accompanying search for truth constitute a kind of spirituality?  No quarter is asked or given – biff!, thwack! – rhetorical flourishes, knockout blows – a mind-stretching but combative occasion and plenty of hares set running in the minds of the audience.

By Keith Budge, Headmaster, Bedales Schools


Bedales School is one of the UK’s top independent private co-education boarding schools. Bedales comprises three schools situated in Steep, near Petersfield, Hampshire: Dunannie (ages 3–8), Dunhurst (ages 8–13) and Bedales itself (ages 13–18). Established in 1893 Bedales School puts emphasis on the Arts, Sciences, voluntary service, pastoral care, and listening to students’ views. Bedales is acclaimed for its drama, theatre, art and music. The Headmaster is Keith Budge.