[Robert J. Sawyer] Science Fiction Writer
Hugo and Nebula Winner

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2020 Vision

Second Coming

(Rehearsal Transcript)

First aired 10 April 1998

(Our Special Easter Installment)

What is 2020 Vision?

Jay Ingram introduces Robert J. Sawyer as a scientist in the employ of the Vatican.

Jay: Hello, Dr. Sawyer. I understand you've been investigating some very unusual phenomena in the year 2020.

Rob: "Unusual" is an understatement. Some people are calling them "miraculous."

Jay: What sort of things have happened?

Rob: We've been tracking appearances of a mysterious man. He appeared first in Ethiopia, where there was a famine going on. Apparently, he managed to feed thousands of people even though there was virtually no food available.

Jay: What else has he done?

Rob: He was next seen in the countryside in Peru. He seems to have cured a woman of blindness.

Jay: Even in my time people who are blind have occasionally been known to recover their sight — sometimes following a sharp blow to the head.

Rob: Yes, but this woman was blind since birth. People who have never seen before usually take weeks or months to learn to interpret the images their eyes are sending to their brains; normally at first they can make no sense of them — they don't understand depth perception or how shading indicates three-dimensional shape. But not only was this woman able to see, she was able to understand everything she was seeing.

Jay: That does sound incredible.

Rob: There's more: in Soweto, South Africa, he is said to have brought a person back to life.

Jay: Well, one of the problems we have even in the 1990s is determining the line between life and death. Physicians restart hearts and even brain-wave activity fairly routinely these days.

Rob: This dead person had supposedly been cremated. Of course, the reports aren't necessarily reliable.

Jay: Oh. Well, it sounds like — it sounds like Jesus Christ, doesn't it?

Rob: Some people are saying that, yes. But other religions are claiming that this person might be their prophet or savior, too.

Jay: Well, you're a scientist. What kind of tests are you bringing to bear on this problem?

Rob: We have a DNA sample from the man. People are constantly leaving little scraps of DNA wherever they go; it wasn't hard to come by.

Jay: And what does his DNA show?

Rob: Well, although this person is clearly a man — he's got a full beard and has been seen by thousands now — he has no Y-chromosome. Indeed, each pair of his chromosomes is identical. As you know, humans have 23 different chromosomes, and you get two versions of each one: one from your father, and one from your mother. But in this person's DNA, each pair of chromosomes is identical. It's as if the egg he grew from simply started dividing on its own.

Jay: That's incredible.

Rob: We've gleaned something else, this time from his mitochondrial DNA — a special kind of DNA that is inherited solely from the mother. We've compared his mitochondrial DNA to an existing database of such DNA from all over the world. It seems clear that this man's roots can be traced back to northern Israel. But — well, this is weird — but, you know, there's drift in DNA from generation to generation; you can calculate roughly how closely related people are using this technique. This person's DNA — well, it IS from that part of the world — but there's been about one hundred generations worth of genetic drift between him and everyone else who can trace their ancestry back to that area.

Jay: A hundred generations? Well, if the average generation is twenty years, that's — my God — that's about two thousand years.

Rob: That's right.

Jay: Amazing. Well, I know you've got a lot of work to do. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us.

Rob: Thank you.

Jay: That was Robert J. Sawyer, a 21st-century scientist investigating a series of startling occurrences. When we return Robert J. Sawyer, the 20th-century science-fiction writer, and our 2020 panel will debate what role, if any, science should have in investigating matters of faith.

More Good Reading

The James Ossuary

Other "2020 Vision" scenarios
"2020 Vision" press release
Rob on TV — with lots of stills!
Media backgrounder on Rob Sawyer
Radio-TV Interview Report ad for Factoring Humanity
Radio-TV Interview Report ad for Frameshift

Information about Rob's novel about the human soul, The Terminal Experiment Rob's essay Science and God

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