The Listener: Right Back to Basics ; A New Series of `the Brains Trust' - a Panel of Big Thinkers Discussing Questions Submitted by the Public - Returns to Radio 3 This Week. in This Selection from the Best of BBC Radio, the `Brains' Re-Evaluate Some Fundamental Principles for the 21st Century. Why Do We Divide Time into BC and AD? What Is Hope? and Do the Ten Commandments Need to Be Updated?
1 JOAN BAKEWELL
Broadcaster and presenter
1 THEODORE ZELDIN
Writer and Professor of History at St Anthony's, Oxford
1 ANGELA TILBY
Theologian, writer and ordained priest in the Church of England
1 IAN STEWART
Mathematician, writer and pioneer of bio-mathematics
1 JONATHAN GLOVER
Writer and Professor of Ethics at King's College, London
JOAN BAKEWELL: Good evening and welcome to a new series of The Brains Trust. We're back with a range of questions to test the best brains of our times. The first of tonight's questions comes from Christine Perry. As we stand at the threshold of the second millennium, in retrospect has the division of years into BC and AD been a good or a bad thing? Theodore Zeldin.
THEODORE ZELDIN: The argument against it might be that it devalues what happened before Christ, and does not take into account other religions. But no one has suggested that we should restart in the year 2000. This would not be accepted - just as around the time of the French Revolution they tried to start again with Year One, and it lasted only a little while.
ANGELA TILBY: I was rather struck in the Millennium celebrations to hear the vast choirs of Tonga starting with the Hallelujah Chorus, and almost more than any other moment it made me realise how Christianity, Christian time-counting and Western dominance go hand- in-hand.
And that sets for me a theological teaser: why it is that the early Church should feel that it needed to dominate time, to sanctify time, in the way it did when it made this division? At least for the first few hundred years of the church's existence, it lived in secular time, Roman time.
There's no particular advantage in setting arbitrary divisions. So I'm stuck with that conundrum, because I suspect now in some ways it would enhance the status of Christianity as a religion if it decoupled itself from Western economic and cultural dominance.
JB: Couldn't the scientists do something about this and have a globalisation of time?
IAN STEWART: It wouldn't be a bad idea. We missed a golden opportunity to have a Year Zero in between 1BC and 1AD which has caused all the confusion now. The 1900s would have been the 19th century, and we would now have ploughed into the 20th century, instead of clinging on to the last year of the technical 20th century, with many believing we're into the 21st.
JONATHAN GLOVER: I would have thought that the reason why Christians wanted to use time in this way was because, for them, the arrival of Christ was the most important event in human history. There are many Biblical scholars who think that Christ actually was born in 4BC - but it doesn't matter a jot, of course.
TZ: Angela asked why the church should take this attitude? I'd answer that it's because nothing much happened in the seventh century. If every year had something remarkable about it, you could say that was the year when so-and-so happened - say the explosion of the atom bomb. But if nothing happens, you have to resort to dates that are anonymous.
AT: There was a real religious doubt about the appropriateness of making such a thing of this moment, and I think that doubt is now coming home to roost.
TZ: Is it desirable that we should realise we are 10 million years old?
AT: Yes - but we can't accurately place that, can we? It's 10 million or 2000.
TZ: Now, what was important in 1999?
IS: We could date from 1969, when we landed on the moon, that's quite a milestone. Before Moon, After Moon; Before Apollo, After Apollo.
JB: The next question comes from Martin Oxley in Devon. It's brief but not simple. What is hope?
AT: Hope is what's left when all the evils come out of Pandora's box, isn't it? It's the last shred at the end of all, when all the evils go flying around the world, and it says: Here I am, you need me because everything is so dreadful, otherwise you wouldn't survive. …