David Attenborough, the quintessential TV naturalist, is celebrating 60 years of presenting insights into the world around us. Unfortunately what he also continues to present is a lack of insight into himself.
Network Ten is showcasing a package of Attenborough’s nature programs over the next few weeks. These will include 60 Years In The Wild and Natural Curiosities, the latter airing every Monday evening right about the time your bug-collecting primary school child is keen to watch TV. Natural Curiosities is a collection of Attenborough’s favourite peculiarities from the natural world and is well worth watching for the wow factor the intricacies of creation produce. However beware of the philosophical perspectives our grandfatherly host slips in.
Attenborough is a convicted evolutionist. That in itself is not a problem; many Christians are as well. However he, like Thomas Huxley (better known as ‘Darwin’s Bulldog’) is not above using his platform to promote misinformation about the relationship between Christianity and science. For example in the Natural Curiosities episode titled Bad Reputations, Attenborough examines not so much the biology as the history of the Gorilla and the Vampire Bat. In both cases representatives of the church are singled out as opponents of true knowledge. In the case of the Vampire Bat it’s the Conquistadores who are blamed for introducing the idea of blood-sucking demons from the New World. In the case of the Gorilla, it’s Christian scientists of the Victorian era who are held responsible for its mistakenly violent character.
Attenborough introduces us to Sir Richard Owen, the founder of the London Natural History Museum as one of the, “…most respected and widely disliked of Victorian era scientists.” He then associates that dislike with Owen’s Christian convictions:
“He was vehemently opposed to Darwin’s theory of natural evolution which suggested apes and humans were closely related. [Descriptions] of a ferocious gorilla suited Owen because it seemed to support his view that we could not possibly be related to such dreadful monsters.”
Attenborough goes on to show how Owen’s own documentation of the similarities between human and gorilla skeletons undermined his Christian position. He then uses the words of Huxley to accuse him of being “… guilty of willful and deliberate falsehood,” – all the time unaware of the leading construction he’s placed on his own facts. In Owen’s case, there are many reasons why a Christian scientist might point out the similarities between ape and human and still hold back from affirming evolution. The evidence of intelligent design, and the existence of a common designer are just two.
Without doubt David Attenborough has enjoyed an extraordinary career. His work has led to not only an increased popular knowledge of the planet on which we live, but also advances in film making and environmental science. As a television host he has probably borne witness to more of the natural world and its amazing intricacies than any other human being. For me, his productions have increased my awe at the ‘fearful and wonderful’ work God has done. But I can’t help wondering at the hardness of heart he seems to have cherished across those same years. In the face of all of this beauty and undeniable genius, does Attenborough still maintain that an explosion in a brick factory could produce a radio station?
Distributor: Network Ten
Release Date: Mondays, 7:30 PM