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The evolution of the human brain


A feeling of mystery
Christian de Duve Scientist
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Now there is another aspect again – oh, it's the old trinity, the good and the true – I mean, the beautiful... beauty, truth and goodness. And here... here is where religion, as far as I'm concerned, is still needed and still has something to do. As human beings we need... we need guidance. I mean, society cannot work without laws – laws that are followed by the people – and among those laws, the moral laws are extremely... extremely important. We all have instinctively... instinctively, we make a distinction between what is good and what is bad. But exactly what is good and what is bad is not always easy to know, and it changes with times, with the people, generations and so on. Contraception was bad when I was young; now it's considered very good by most people except the Vatican. And so on, so distinction between goodness and badness is inherent – it's inborn. But to know what is good and what is bad, and how the laws should be shaped in terms of that distinction – that is something that society has to decide and that we decide all the time. And I think that, in this respect, we need guidance. Most of us don't have the time or the energy or the interest to start thinking and working on that. We're all busy doing our thing, and so we are not really free enough to start thinking about these very deep problems, and so I think it is useful to have... to have moral guides. And in this respect, for instance, I'm quite ready to describe myself as a Christian because I think Christianity, whatever the beliefs on which it rests and which I think is nonsense... but Christianity is a teaching. It includes the moral teaching by a historical person who happens to be Jesus and I think that moral teaching was something new for the times. You know, turn the other cheek and love thy neighbour – I don't know exactly the English words – like you love yourself. So... and I think that is useful and I think... I think churches... at least the old style churches, the cathedrals, are still... are still buildings that have a significance to me. I mean, when you are in a building like that you... you do feel that it brings you somehow in... in contact with another facet of what I call Ultimate Reality. So call me a mystic or a romantic; I'm an unbeliever but I still have this... this feeling of mystery that... that awes me and that inspires me.

Belgian biochemist Christian de Duve (1917-2013) was best known for his work on understanding and categorising subcellular organelles. He won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1974 for his joint discovery of lysosomes, the subcellular organelles that digest macromolecules and deal with ingested bacteria.

Listeners: Peter Newmark

Peter Newmark has recently retired as Editorial Director of BioMed Central Ltd, the Open Access journal publisher. He obtained a D. Phil. from Oxford University and was originally a research biochemist at St Bartholomew's Hospital Medical School in London, but left research to become Biology Editor and then Deputy Editor of the journal Nature. He then became Managing Director of Current Biology Ltd, where he started a series of Current Opinion journals, and was founding Editor of the journal Current Biology. Subsequently he was Editorial Director for Elsevier Science London, before joining BioMed Central Ltd.

Tags: Jesus Christ

Duration: 3 minutes, 37 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008