Interview of Kerry McElroy’s Interview Series “A Light in the Mineshaft: An Interview Series With Society’s Traumaworkers”
Dr. Moshe Szyf is a professor of pharmacology and held a Glaxo Smith Kline and James McGill Chair in Pharmacology at McGill University in Montreal Canada and is a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences. Szyf has pioneered research in DNA methylation for the last three decades and published more than 300 papers on the biological role of DNA methylation that span a broad spectrum from basic mechanisms to cancer diagnostics and therapeutics, as well as behavior, chronic pain and addiction. Szyf pioneered epigenetic pharmacology in cancer and as well as the field of behavioral epigenetics. Szyf studies provide a molecular link between environment and genes and between nurture and nature that had a wide impact on the social sciences and psychiatry. Szyf founded the first Pharma in the world dedicated to developing DNA methylation drugs Methylgene Inc. Last year Szyf founded HKG epitherapeutics which develops a novel class of epigenetic diagnostic markers for early detection of cancer and other diseases.
Kerry McElroy is a Contributing Editor to Narrative Paths Journal. She is a feminist cultural historian and writer holding a doctorate in Humanities from Concordia University, Montréal. Her thesis entitled Class Acts: A Socio-Cultural History of Women, Labour, and Migration in Hollywood, focused on women in performance systems. She has published articles on cinema, women, history, culture, and politics in Irish America, The Independent, and Montréal Serai, among other magazines. She holds master’s degrees from Columbia and Carnegie Mellon Universities.
KLM: So today I’m speaking with Dr. Moshe Szyf of McGill University. We’re discussing the science of epigenetics, but specifically from the perspective of this magazine series: trauma, human behavior, and how we can apply the more empirical and hard sciences to some of these kinds of difficult questions that come up in the series. How do we connect science with trauma and with PTSD, and free will and destiny, religion and philosophy and existentialism?
So I know this is probably a difficult question, to go back to laypeople with such a broad question when it’s your entire life’s work. But if you can explain for a lay audience, just the very basics. How would you explain epigenetics?
MS: Right. So if you think about our DNA as the minicomputer that runs our body, you can think about the genetics, the sequences that we inherit from father and mother, as the operating system. And epigenetics as a software. Essentially, what epigenetics does is writes apps on the operating system, and these apps can run different tissues. Running a heart is not the same as running a lung, a brain, an eye, and so forth.
And this process of epigenetic programming, or writing the software, occurs mostly when we are in our mother’s womb. Slowly, during the process of what we call embryogenesis, the baby develops, different tissues emerge, and new software is written. This software is going to run our lives till we die.
And it is very sophisticated software, because it also anticipates things that will happen in the future. It programs our DNA in a way that we will adapt to the environment. And to any trigger that will happen later in life. For example, the immune system that will have to deal with infections that we have never seen. And the stress system that will have to deal with stressors that we never thought about when we were babies. So the whole system is amazing– in not only programming the baby, but programming the entire life course, and the changes that happen in life. So epigenetics is great. It’s the way the genome can do so many different things.
And what people are excited about with epigenetics is that it also explains things that happen to us later in life. So not just in our development. For example, epigenetic changes happen during aging. And hence, we have a DNA methylation clock that tells us how old we are. So not only is this movie anticipating events in the future. It is an interactive movie. It is modifying itself throughout our life in response to new signals that emerge during life. For example, we believe that we can change our epigenetic clock and slow down aging by different lifestyle changes that we make.
And the fundamental difference between epigenetics and genetics is that genetics is impossible to change. It’s fixed, it’s inherited. Whereas the epigenetics is still malleable to change.
And that’s what makes it exciting, but also prone to cause trouble. If it changes in the wrong way, or in a way that doesn’t program us properly to deal with the challenges. And what we’ve learned is that environment can affect how our epigenome is programmed. And that actually makes sense, because the genome is very old. We inherited it from human evolution, animal evolution. And it doesn’t know whether we are going to live in a cold climate or a warm climate. It doesn’t know whether we are going to live in a place where the day is long or the day is short. It doesn’t know whether we will have a lot of food or little food. So the genome doesn’t know that, but the epigenome will know that. And the epigenome will program our genome to fit with the environment.
So this is, of course, all good. Its purpose is to allow us to survive in a very dynamic environment, and to allow us to have multiple tissues that do many different things with one genome. We have one genome, we have one operating system with many, many different softwares, that program so many different things.
KLM: I think, first of all, that’s an excellent layout, for a layperson. And I’m getting to this in later questions, but we might as well address it head-on right now. Clearly, in your doing this work, and you’re already saying: these are the positives. This is an exciting field. This is also the way that our bodies are adapting. This is an evolutionary advantage, not a disadvantage.
Now, perhaps because of the kind of grim nature of this project as I began it in some ways, or the overarching premise here, or the fact that I’m coming from a humanities and literature and philosophical background– a humanistic background, I can’t help but think about some sort of negatives. So this idea of how human cultures for thousands of years now, all human cultures, have had concepts of fate, destiny. The ancient Greeks and hubris. And we have from the Bible– the sins of the father, things like that.
So you’re coming at it from the perspective of empirical science and being able to define things that people have grappled with throughout human history— but generally towards the negative. So where does that come into your work? Both in the way that you feel about it– I mean how it makes you personally feel to work on it. But also: where is our free will as humans, and these sorts of deep, existential questions?
MS: Okay, so you pose many questions here.
What’s the downside of epigenetics? I think the downside is not really a downside. But what happens is that sometimes our program– our programming– is maladaptive. So if the system is created to adapt us, sometimes it anticipates things that will not happen, and therefore it will maladapt us to a situation. For example, high blood pressure could be very useful, but it could also kill you, when it becomes maladaptive. For another example, stress! The stress response is great if you run away from a lion. It’s an amazing thing, right? If it just happens when you sit in your bedroom, it can kill you.
So why do these things happen? Why do these things cause disease? Why does the epigenetic system go awry? It goes awry in in cancer. The system, rather than protecting us, is killing us. It goes awry in mental health cases, where events that happen in childhood cause epigenetic changes, that are then directing mental health disorders.
Trauma is another good example. When we’re exposed to trauma, we develop—sometimes– PTSD. And so PTSD is not an adaptive response. It’s a maladaptive response. And there’s evidence suggesting that this also is through epigenetic programming. So, different places in our brains are programmed by the trauma. And they lead to just seeing the trauma all the time, till the trauma kills us. Even though we have no trauma [anymore]. So what happens with PTSD is that a person who was once exposed to a trauma sees trauma everywhere, even if it doesn’t exist.
KLM: Right. So then we get to the level of one of the most famous cases in your field, where we’re not just talking about the trauma that the person has experienced in their own life, but maybe that their mother experienced, or even their grandmother.
MS: Or grandparents. Things that have to do with food, for example. Diabetes is probably also an epigenetic disease. And it’s known that certain nutritional restrictions during early childhood, or early or even pre-childhood– prenatal restrictions of the mother– can cause diabetes. And actually can pass to another generation, and three generations down. So the famine, the Dutch famine [in WWII] has consequences in grandchildren, we’ve found.
So how do we look at this? This is the dark side, that the systems that are supposed to protect us are fighting us. The immune system is another example, right? The immune system is supposed to protect us from infection, from an assault, a foreign assault on our body pattern. It can turn on to attack our body, and that’s when we get autoimmune disease. Like, for example, lupus, which is a horrible disease. Or even diabetes, Type One diabetes– the immune system is attacking the pancreas, which is supposed to protect us. So why does this happen? Why do bad things happen?
I understand it also from the context of adaptation. Which is, these processes are not necessarily bad. They become bad in the wrong context. So for example, when you’re nutritionally restricted as a baby, as an embryo, the signal that your body is getting is that life is going to be tough. There isn’t going to be enough food. And therefore, you should program yourself to store every bit of food to fat, because this will be the reserves that you will use when famine hits. And also, your brain should train itself to binge. Whenever you see food, you should just eat as much as you can. Because you never know when your next meal will come. So that’s actually adaptive. So if you live in the jungle, that will probably save your life. But what happens is that you’re actually born in a middle-class society where food is plenty. So something that was extremely useful, the context has changed. Context has changed because human culture has changed, human life has changed, and now it becomes maladaptive. Same as with stress.
Same as, I believe, also with PTSD. I think that PTSD probably has an adaptive value, probably not to the individual, but to the society. For example, we never know when a threat is a real threat, or not a real threat. For example, when Hitler threatened the world, you can see in the United Kingdom there were two kinds of approaches: the Chamberlain approach, and the Churchill approach. We can say Churchill had PTSD. You know, he saw death everywhere. Chamberlain was kind of a relaxed guy. He says, you know, Hitler doesn’t really mean it. We can reach peace with Hitler. And so, because the British society had both kinds of people, it survived the war. Because when things really got tough: those kind of PTSD responses saved the United Kingdom.
And so– I believe in evolution. Every group of animals, including humans, had to have a mixture of the two types of people. Those who are relaxed, are less anxious, in response to stress. And those that are hypervigilant, that always see a negative outcome. So to a certain extent, this probably was a positive thing. This memory of trauma is to protect you from the next trauma. So it’s not necessarily bad. But individually, it could become a mental health burden that can destroy you. And so, adaptation can become maladaptation.
KLM: And then also when the trauma is– when the adaptation is reacting to a trauma… Like you gave the example of food and diabetes. But I’m thinking of two generations down– descendants of Holocaust survivors, or famine survivors. Where the maladaptation, psychologically, has absolutely nothing to do with the life they’re living. And yet it’s being raised over and over.
MS: Exactly. They’re afraid of something that doesn’t exist. But, these kinds of people can really help you when things really get bad. Because they are the sensors of pending danger. And you know, it’s interesting that this response is not unique to humans, the PTSD response. We see it in animals as well. So it’s probably very old in evolution that a group, a social group– whether animals or humans– has to have some members that are hypervigilant. And groups that didn’t have that did not survive in evolution. And so, the balance.
Of course, PTSD is something that can destroy you as an individual, can lead to your death. It’s very morbid and has high mortality. But the understanding of these processes, one day will allow us to devise some strategies to take advantage of them, and to reduce the disadvantage.
KLM: It’s so interesting because then it loops back around to the premise of this whole project. Which is that the people– the hypervigilant people in society– whether they harness that mental state into their professional work, or they just live that way even in a family system, or a community– they are doing a bit of suffering for everyone else in a way, in the way that you’re putting it.
MS: Right. Yes. I think that’s the price of social evolution. And I think social evolution is still hard to understand, because Darwinian evolution and natural selection always go at the level of the individual. But how a society is selected? And how social behaviors are selected? That’s not questioned. And what is the process?
I think because you usually live with people who are genetically linked to you, because you mate and have offspring and usually they are close to you. So you create, normally. a clan. And if the genes that you pass to your clan are genes that enable a stronger social cohesion, that group will survive, and that genome will survive. So even though it’s not individual, it is driven by an individual who bequeathed those genes to that clan. And that clan survives. And these genomes survive and eventually take over.
Why did Homo sapiens succeed, where Neanderthals and Denisovans failed? We don’t know. But one speculation is that Homo sapiens developed a much more sophisticated social structure, where people who were hypervigilant lived with people who are not hypervigilant. And both are required to keep society going. In times of peace, the hypervigilant guys are just a menace. And in a time of war, these are the guys who are going to save you– because they see an enemy where the other guys don’t see it. And so I think we need to think about evolution, and also social context, and how social groups preserve genomes. This way they’re naturally selected.
But, the issues of faith, and fate, that you raise are really interesting, because the concept of fate is everywhere, to different extents. So the question is, how much does fate determine?
And what is fate in a scientific way? It’s probably your genetic inheritance. For example, if you have a breast cancer gene, you’re kind of doomed to get breast cancer, or you have a very high risk. Or a colorectal cancer gene, or Alzheimer gene, or Parkinson gene. And so genetics is a very fate-determining kind of idea.
But epigenetics is actually both fate and freedom. The side of fate in epigenetics is that a person who is a descendant of Holocaust survivors will carry the memory of the Holocaust in his DNA, assuming he does. And this science, of course, is not yet completely researched. But there is some idea that there is an epigenetic pathway by which trauma could be bequeathed to future generations. And on the other hand, we also know that epigenetic marks are reversible. So that, hence: the idea of freedom.
So, for example: certain childhood adverse effects could be reversed by enrichment later in life, both in animals and in humans. So on one hand, epigenetics is a memory that you did not create, that was created by previous generations. It’s like you’re not responsible for it. You’re just suffering from its consequences. On the other hand, you still have the potential– you, or the society in general– to define policies or to define behaviors that could erase those effects.
And so epigenetics is a flexible but fixed system. On one hand, it’s extremely fixed. On the other hand, it’s flexible. So it’s kind of in between those two concepts of fate and predetermination– fate and freedom of choice.
And I think everybody understands that freedom of choice is not total. Freedom of choice is a window. It’s a small window of freedom. And we have degrees of freedom in statistical calculations. There is a degree of freedom– that’s a small space where you can operate your free will. A lot of it is predetermined: for example, your height, the color of your eyes, you have long telomeres and you’ll live long, or you have short ones and you’ll live for short. Disease, genes, and so on. You have no control over this, but you still can affect them.
And what epigenetics has taught us is that you can change genetic destination by epigenetic strategies. Because for every gene, there’s another gene that can rescue your phenotype. So, let’s say this gene is defective. But you could maybe activate other genes that could compensate for your defective genes. Now this way, we see that even genetic burdens could be overridden by epigenetic interventions.
And so epigenetics to me is the kind of bridge between the deterministic, let’s say Greek, philosophy that is so foundational in Western thinking, and the biblical concept of freedom of choice. And freedom. And even the biblical concept of freedom. We understand it’s not complete. It’s not total. Freedom is limited. There are degrees of freedom, where a human can operate within. And a human could take advantage of that.
So not everything could be fixed by epigenetic interventions. But certain things could— and certain things could be affected in a way that can override the genetic consequences. So for example, we have a model of Alzheimer in a mouse, and it’s a genetic model. This mouse has kind of the same genetic alteration that a human who will develop Alzheimer will have. But we could actually prevent the Alzheimer in this animal by feeding it with a metyl donor, an epigenetic modifier. And so this illustrates that certain genetic defects could be overridden by epigenetic interventions. And I think that’s the power and the promise of epigenetics.
KLM: One thing I’m finding so interesting as you’re speaking is to think that– well, let me let me step forward to where my mind was going there. I can imagine from your field of science– if you could imagine 500 years in the future, when we have a far more civilized society: you know, a “super” society, where we don’t worry about money for medicine and health care, and things like that. Have you ever, by any chance, seen the film Gattaca?
KLM: It’s a genetic kind of utopian, dystopian, futuristic film. It’s kind of like the baby is born, and they get the workup– every single aspect, they’re completely coded. And it says, okay, well, we’ll tweak this and we’ll fix this. It’s basically a kind of dystopian future film about designer babies. But the idea would be, if you could have a new child and we could see exactly what was wrong, we could tweak it, like fixing a new car or something. And then we send it out into the world.
Well, we don’t live in that space. And there would certainly be moral questions about that space anyway. But it’s just amazing to me, really, when you think about it. That it could be possible.
Some of the other things I’m talking about in this project are humans trying to work with these retooling questions, when they don’t have those tools in scientific contexts. In all the ways that humans have always tried to work with these things.
So, how do people try to break generational family trauma? Therapy, medication, religion, healing ceremonies. Now there’s work with psychedelics, there’s work with ayahuasca, there’s hypnosis. And I’m just kind of struck by, like you mentioned, something about three generations. I know a therapist who is trained in traditional psychology, but also works with spiritual practices. Who really believes in this idea of the healing ceremony, and the three generations down. So it’s almost like we’re coming to the same conclusions from different sides. They can’t necessarily meet. But this is where we have to work and live in our world, I guess.
MS: Right. We have to understand that science provides some mechanisms to observations that smart people have seen without science. And so, the observation doesn’t require a mechanism. Observation is a fact. And by trial and error, people figured out ways of dealing with things without completely understanding their mechanisms.
It’s true for us, too. You know, a lot of things in medicine work without understanding how they work. And sometimes we think we understand how they work, but they turn out to work by a completely different way. And so the fact that the ancient healers had ideas that are similar to ours is not really surprising. They understood, probably, intergenerational transmission of trauma without knowing anything about epigenetics. They just knew it as a fact. And also, they developed strategies to deal with it without having a formal knowledge of modern pharmacology. Because I think trial and error is a huge power. And human evolution is a huge force.
So we need to understand that a lot of our behaviors that sometimes we ridicule are probably a product of a long time of social evolution: that we tried things, and things that worked, survived. And so that’s why I have tremendous respect for social structures. And I don’t think that we should just shatter them just because it’s cool– without fully understanding the significance. Because it took us tens of thousands of years. And some of them involve not only humans, but in animals before there were humans. And just throw them out, because we came up with some idea that is different. We have to be attentive to biology and evolution. And usually, it’s a good guide. When we try to fight biology, we pay a heavy price. That’s where hubris comes in.
And there’s the degrees of freedom. Yes, we have a certain degree of freedom. We don’t necessarily have to get cancer. We probably can prevent it or treat it. But on the other hand, there’s certain things that we inherited that are extremely useful. They’ve evolved in long term, and evolution. And we need to be attentive and have respect. So epigenetics has taught me to have respect, towards social evolution.
KLM: That’s a really nice segue to my next question, which is a little bit less about the content of the field, and more about what it’s like to work in the field. And so: have you ever experienced– we’ve talked about the positive side and the hopeful side, and also the kind of darker side of it. Have you ever felt depressed by any of your findings? Or do you think other people who work as epigeneticists ever get a little too weighted down by the responsibility of it, or the implications of it? Or do you think it’s generally a positive field to work in, because you feel like you can always move towards improvement of the human condition?
MS: I’ve always looked at it very, very positively. To me, it’s a source of optimism in a sea of pessimism. And I see the struggle within myself. I see certain behaviors that I feel I can’t control because I kind of inherited them. And probably we inherit a lot of our behaviors. And sometimes it’s scary how you behave exactly as your parents did, or your grandparents did. And a lot of it is genetics. And so there’s very little we can do about it except in science fiction. So that’s depressing. If you feel that you’re a victim of human evolution. Of some mistake that happened 500 years ago and it makes you crazy now. And you can’t do anything about it. So that’s the downside.
I think that epigenetics is actually optimistic. Because epigenetics provides you with something that changes. And something that changes could change to the worse, but could also change to the better. And is also something that is amenable to your intervention. We know that we can intervene and change epigenetics. We don’t know exactly how to do it, but we know it’s doable. And that’s the optimistic side.
So, I’m enthusiastic about the potential of epigenetics. Even when we deal with issues like trauma, or borderline disorders or autism, or all the awful things that happen. With each of these, we approach it with an idea: I want to understand it, I want to prevent it. If I understand it– because it’s epigenetic, it should be possible. Both to prevent and to intervene. If it was just genetic, it is impossible to deal with. It’s extremely painful to see a kid that carries a congenital defect. And you still have very little in your arsenal to deal with it.
The optimistic side says: today, we don’t know. But we at least know that it’s possible. And if we study it enough, we will figure this out. So, I was always overly optimistic. You know, I had a few cases where people consulted me, and they had some congenital disorders in children. And my idea was, yes, their genes are defective, but we might work on the epigenes to override this. My ideas were wrong. And that was frustrating, but I still think it could work. I still think that it didn’t work because we don’t fully understand how to get it to work. And in certain cases, it should work.
Even when people are doomed with terminal cancer and things like this, I always still suggest some epigenetic intervention. Again, the frustration is that they don’t always work, or almost never work yet, because we have a very primitive notion of how to impact epigenetics. But I think we’ll get better at it.
KLM: My concluding question is: what would you say in the best-case scenario– what would you see as the most likely sort of breakthroughs, or the ways that this could improve human life in the next– not 500 years, but decades, let’s say?
MS: Yeah, I think that would be understanding of interventions that can rewire the epigenome in a positive way, or remove the marks of trauma. We’re already working on these things, at least in animals we can do that. And these epigenetic interventions need not be chemical toxins, like some drugs are, but can actually be natural products or behaviors. So they could be lifestyle changes, nutritional changes, supplement changes. Because epigenetics is sensitive to these things, it should be possible to use things that are around us, that we know we can do and are not very dangerous. And that could affect epigenetics.
And perhaps we could treat trauma and autism and other diseases like this, or diabetes, with interventions that can affect the epigenome and remove the marks of early life adversity or trauma. People are already doing it.
And I think laypeople don’t necessarily need to understand the mechanistic detail, the sophistication of the system, like the academics involved in it do. But they get a big picture of it. And they’re trying to affect their own lives. I meet people like this all the time. They’re experimenting with themselves, with the same idea. That whatever my genetic fate is, I can still modify. And they’re trying a lot of things.
One of the things that I hope will happen is that we will benefit from these experiments. So, the traditional way of doing experiments in medicine is always the clinical trial. It’s always the case control, randomized clinical trial. The idea is that there are only two possibilities. It’s always binary, right? There is a case, there is a control. Sometimes there’s two arms or three arms. But that’s very complicated.
The reason it was designed this way is because it is impossible for the human naked mind to analyze too many variables at the same time. And it gets really confounded. And so we prefer to study things this way. Also, the way clinical trials are designed, they’re extremely expensive. So nobody’s going to design as a clinical trial in lifestyle, because that will take too long. And who’s going to pay for it, and who’s going to control it? How can you control lifestyle? When I treat with a drug, I bring people to a hospital. I totally control what they eat, when they sleep, I give the drug to the people. So I totally control the experiment. But when I follow lifestyles, it’s impossible.
But: I believe social media and app technology could do part of the job, and could be used to collect information from people who want to share that information, including the outcomes. And, by applying modern mathematical tools of what we’ve so called artificial intelligence— but machine learning and neural networks and other methods that allow us to analyze millions of bits of data– and find pathways and profiles within it that can guide us towards devising other options. Maybe we will start learning from people’s behavior.
My idea is that the average human is doing the best clinical trial. And if we just could collect data in a formal way, that could be analyzed by formalistic mathematical statistical methods, we will be able to figure out some epigenetic modifiers that are useful.
It will have to be personalized. The epigenetic programming of one person is totally different than the other. So even if they’re very similar genetically, they could have different epigenetic programs. And that lays down a matrix which will define which intervention will work with them.
I always mention the example of exercise. Now exercise is a good idea. I think there’s a lot of evidence that that’s good for you. But not for everyone. There’s some people who are going to die when they’re jogging, and have a short life. Because in some extremely athletic people, they drop dead of a heart attack when they’re 30 or 35, exercising. And so how do we figure this out? For that person, probably exercise was a really bad idea, and perhaps lower impact exercise would have been a much better idea. On the other hand, other people need to do aggressive exercise because low impact is not going to work on them. For some people, eating fat is lifesaving. For others, it could kill them. And so, modern mathematics and technology will allow us to personalize these things, like to supervise and personalize the treatment.
And we’ll all share it. I believe that social media will allow sharing of information. So that everybody can personalize, based on all the data that is collected from other people. There are many hurdles on the way for doing that. One of them is privacy. One of them is abuse. Social media can become extremely abusive, and it could be abused. And this is one of the biggest problems of humans. I always answer this: social media is not evil, but it could become evil. Fire is not evil. Fire can be used to cook, or heat, or burn, or destroy.
MS: Nuclear reactions could be used to generate clean energy, or to destroy cities, and pollute. And so, technology is neutral. What we do with it has a moral value.
And so avoiding technology is nonsense. There are a lot of people who don’t want to touch social media, who will not touch a computer. I feel for them. I like the idea, I get it. Many times I feel if I could just drop the phone, my life will be so much better. Right? And it’s true. There’s a flood of information and content. On the other hand, the big challenge is how to use the phone in a proper way that it doesn’t override our lives.
So, the other thing we need to remember is that science is a neutral. Science is not good or bad. It could become good or bad depending on what we do with it. So there’s nothing bad in science, but there’s nothing good in science, except if we drive it this way.
And this touches on the last point I would like to say– as to two domains of thinking. You know, I’m a religious person and I’m a scientist, too. And everybody asks, how is it possible? And I say, because they are completely touching different domains. Science discusses how: how things work. And religion touches the why. Why things work, and why am I here? Why should I do things in a certain way? So morality is not a subject in science, and science is not a moral issue.
And we miss that. Because science, to a certain extent, replaced religion. We’ve seen this with COVID-19, the way people treated science. We follow science. We do science. I’m not sure that’s the right thing to say, because first, science is never definite. It shouldn’t be, because if it becomes definite, it will not be science anymore. So science doesn’t say anything. Scientists attempt to study and question and learn, and find errors, and move forward with new ideas.
So this is the difference between science and religion, whereas every religion tries to claim certain truths that you can’t argue with. But we need both. We need religion. We need science. Science allows us to ask questions about mechanisms, about how things work. Religion allows us to ask questions about ourselves and why. Why do things work this way? Where do we go with this, what is our destiny? Science cannot answer these questions.
And I think both domains interact. They are in conflict with each other, because one domain is trying to do things that the other domain cannot do, and they try to override each other. You know, when religion tries to define scientific ideas, you get a clash. For example, if religions try to say evolution never existed– it interferes with something that is not its domain. And when you interfere with something that is not the domain, you create an unnecessary clash. And you misuse or abuse religion, by using it for something it’s not destined to do.
The same way, if you take science and turn it into religion, it’s extremely dangerous. And when these things happen, it could be really dangerous. If you use natural selection as a moral driving force. This is exactly what the Nazis tried to do. I mean, they were extremely influenced by Darwinian theory and not for developing, you know, new therapies. But for…
KLM: Destruction. Right.