BBC Radio 4

    In Our Time: Scepticism

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    Editor's note: In Thursday's programme Melvyn Bragg and his guests discussed Scepticism. As always the programme is available to listen to online or to download and keep - AI


    I am sitting in St James's Park, overlooking the pond, after lunch with a pal. Before that there was a stroll in Green Park - in the sun for a change - with the usual green and white-striped deckchairs full and the attendants moseying from one clump of people to another with nobody noticeably retreating, past the new war memorial for Bomber Command, which was absolutely crowded with people looking eagerly and intently at the content of the monument itself and at the information inside the monument.

    And I've just received a message from Tom Morris, the producer of In Our Time as you all know, who tells me that the Higgs Boson programme which we did in 2004, "long before anybody else", is currently the second most listened-to programme on the In Our Time website, which is going some. This was undoubtedly the big news of the day and only one of the newspapers caught on to that; in other papers we had the usual - how can I put this politely - fiddling bankers, flapping politicians, futile policy makers, the usual depressing flannel of a country which really needs to get hold of its past and pull itself up to the future.

    But enough of that. Let us be cheerful. What about? Well, the programme on Scepticism made me realise that I had become a sceptic. I was born naïve and grew up naïve and was ridiculously naïve, even through Oxford and into the BBC. Quite comic this, looking back. I did things like believed that people meant what they said and said what I thought was the truth to people who thought that I must be joking. Possibly because I had a problem with communication. But scepticism has now lowered itself on me like a mountain mist and I welcome it.

    The world is not as it seems, alas. How could I have thought otherwise? But I was young and foolish and it is not only the prerogative but perhaps the duty of the young and foolish to think otherwise. Scepticism as a stratum of philosophy in the Western tradition is fascinating, and I thought that the brilliant array of professors this morning examined it with such skill and speed and care that no-one could be in any doubt of its range, its relevance and its - I think I've run out of alliteration - significance to everybody who thinks about thinking.

    Now off to the Lords and then to St Mary's Church in Barnes. I'll be talking to the former Bishop of Oxford, Richard Harries, about art and religion. He has written several books on this subject and is immensely articulate and convincing. He is a hero of Richard Dawkins, who unfortunately in his wild attacks on religion doesn't quote him, preferring to refer to American religious right-wing jocks, which is a shame because Dawkins is such an intelligent man.

    I think that's about it. I'm a bit tired already and it's mid-afternoon, despite looking over the calm waters of St James's and being passed by the extraordinary mix which is the new country of London. Or perhaps it's the old country of London. Perhaps London always was a separate state. Always, in the sense of post-Tudor. Perhaps even before then. Chaucer speaks of it in terms which make it seem like a separate entity.

    Anyway, never mind all that. St James's is still managing to survive, despite being totally invaded by Olympic preparations which even exceed the Jubilee preparations - tents, scaffolding, goodness knows what - in order that the marathon can finish splendidly down the Mall. It's a great thing to be happening to the city, but now and then I think it will be very nice to wander round in the city as a city and not the city as a spectacle provider. Is that curmudgeonly? If so, I apologise.

    Don't quite know how to end this, so I'll just say cheerio. It's sunny here, which is a change. I was up North last week and will be going North again tomorrow where it is slashing down, pouring down, hailstoning down. The parnee is everywhere.

    Best wishes

    Melvyn Bragg

    PS: I'm still sitting on a bench in St James's Park. A free bench in a free park in a free country. What a treat. At my feet are six of the fattest pigeons imaginable, pecking away at the ground. There must be something there, but I can't see it.

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