I love David Attenborough. I think any Brits who have watched his fantastic nature documentaries over the past few decades cannot help but have a soft spot for him.
Well - 2009 being Darwin's big year has inspired David Attenborough to pin his colours to the mast and
(a) praise Darwin to the sky (no surprise there!)
(b) and, in the process, bash Christianity.
I don't mind DA celebrating Darwin. Indeed, it is entirely appropriate! And at least he knows what he is talking about when it comes to the natural world. (a minor qualification: Attenborough's rhetoric in praising Darwin's theory does seem to claim for for it than is reasonable - apparently the theory answers all of life's questions! Wow! Great rhetoric but, in actual fact, a gross overstatement).
Why does Attenborough find Christianity problematic? Well, he was not brought up as a theist and has never believed in God. So I suppose that socialization plays a big role. However, the reasons that he gives are
(i) Darwin removes the need for God so faith in God is made redundant
(ii) Christianity (working from the 'dominion' theme in the book of Genesis) is to blame for the devastation of the planet
All those theologians, philosophers and scientists who have time and time again refuted the simplistic argument that moves from the claim that 'Darwinism is true' to the claim that 'atheism is true' must be getting a tad fed up. Has Attenborough not read them? Or does he think that they are wrong? If so, it would be nice to see this argument. Instead we have assertions. One problem is that most people - who know less than Attenborough about theology - will just assume that the great man knows what he is talking about. And so the popular myths are perpetuated!
I just think it is a great shame when such a respected man speaks with such authority about something he does not know about. He fails to appreciate the relationship between his atheism and his Darwinism. He seems to think that the latter provides solid evidence for the former, when in fact it is merely compatible with it.
And Attenborough understanding of the implications of Genesis 1 for the environment (article in The Independent 31st Jan 09) is based on ignorance of Christian history and Christian theology. One cannot help but suspect that he simply read something once (Lynn White Jr?) which argued that the Bible was to blame for the environmental crisis, and just assumed that it was indeed so. But again - no argument is provided. Simply an authoritative assertion. You could imagine the consternation amongst scientists if a theologian read a single scientific article and felt that it qualfied them to make bold assertions on scientific issues!
My plea to David Attenborough to celebrate Darwin's genius with passion, to be an atheist if he wishes, but not to make claims about Christianity which are based on ignorance.
- Robin Parry
- Robin Parry is the husband of but one wife (Carol) and the father of the two most beautiful girls in the universe (Hannah and Jessica). He also has a lovely cat called Monty (who has only three legs). Living in the city of Worcester, UK, he works as an Editor for Wipf and Stock — a US-based theological publisher. Robin was a Sixth Form College teacher for 11 years and has worked in publishing since 2001 (2001–2010 for Paternoster and 2010– for W&S).