This I Believe

Hoyle, Fred, Sir

  • Fred Hoyle describes his belief that morality is merely a matter of what outcomes will benefit a nation, and that, since conflict happens when nations outgrow their resources, we should address the issue of overpopulation in England and America.
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And now, This I Believe, a series of living philosophies presented in the hope they may help to strengthen and enrich your life. Here is Edward R. Murrow.
This I Believe. Fred Hoyle is a young English mathematician who teaches at St. John's College of Cambridge University. Several years ago, he broke into the public's consciousness with a series of lectures on "The Nature of the Universe" over the British Broadcasting Corporation. In addition to provoking a violent controversy, the series attracted a tremendous audience and was rebroadcast in the United States and the countries of the British Commonwealth. Here now is Fred Hoyle, in a less technical and more personal vein.
I was 3 years old when the First World War ended. I remember that in our village, we children all went along to the church where we each received a shiny new medal to commemorate the occasion. But we received something else, besides. We received a sermon telling us to pray to God in thankfulness that the right side had won.
Some years later when I studied history at school, I learned with surprise that we weren't the only ones to have fought in the interests of justice and morality. The curious thing was that the Germans made exactly the same claim. Now since my school days, I've gradually been able to straighten out my thoughts on these matters. This is the way I look at it now.
Every nation has its own rules of behavior. If a particular action happens to fit in with the rules of, shall we say, our own society, we describe it as a right, or a moral, or a just action. And the other way around, if the rules are violated, then we say that the action is wrong, unjust, or evil. This means, of course, that a model code is something relative to the conventions of one's own society. It also means that a discussion based on moral issues isn't likely to be successful in settling an argument between different communities with different rules of behavior. Now this is a conclusion amply born out by the facts of history.
So you'll see why I personally don't believe that the present world can be run successfully on so-
called moral principals. Morals are too relative in their character. We need methods of argument based on the psychology of man himself--methods with a universal quality, not methods based on the conventions of particular communities. Let me give you just one example.
Now in my opinion, a people that outgrows its natural resources becomes both a nuisance and a danger--a danger because an over-swollen society sooner or later will try to grab the resources that belong to someone else, which of course must lead to trouble and possibly to war. The importance of this to our civilization may be judged from the fact that Eastern Asia has a rapidly growing population that is already much too large. And in my view, overpopulation is also the cause of Britain's economic
difficulties. Even in the United States, there are indications that the same thing is beginning to happen.
Now why is nothing being done about it? Well I feel, myself, that we are so engrossed with our political ideologies, with our ways of life, and with self-satisfaction at our own righteousness, that we're failing to appreciate the really important issues that are staring us in the face. Should we not succeed in making a go of our civilization--should some catastrophe overwhelm us--it will be no use regretting lost opportunities. I think we must seize our chances while we may. As Omar Khayem says, "The moving finger writes, and having writ moves on. Not all thy parting nor wit shall lure it back to
cancel half a lie, nor all lied tears wash out a word of it."
That was Fred Hoyle, a young English mathematician. Though he is famous as an astronomer, his ideas about life are down to earth.