Darwin and Faith

April 17, 2009

An interesting program from the BBC – in the usual love-fest that has been the 200 years of Darwin up pops this rather incongruent program by Conor Cunningham (trailer here). Why so bizarre? Well for one, I have seldom (actually I think it’s closer to never) seen a decent deconstruction of the usual attacks on faith by the likes of Dawkins, Dennett and co on mainstream TV. Maybe the fact that they have not often had anyone of faith manning the program is a key problem – the last program I saw had Colin Blakemore, an esteemed scientist but self-avowed atheist/agnostic, to tackle the issue of christianity and science. I guess the closest he came to finding Christians who appealed to him was when he found the Sea of Faith adherents who gave him the answers he wanted (i.e. “is there a God?” “probably not”).

So to a certain extent, it was odd to see Cunningham – theologian/philosopher but also an outspoken Christian – to get to man the commands of this one hour program. From the outset he tells us that he is an ardent believer in evolution but obviously also a man of faith. He then goes about explaining how these two beliefs some would have you believe are in complete contradiction survive very well within his mind.
He does remarkably well in that small space of time to dispel the main myths of what he calls the “ultra-darwinist” dogma, namely that Darwin has dismissed the possibility of anyone believing in God and does an excellent job reviewing the changes and shifts in Christian thought over the last 100 years. I was actually quite ignorant of the fact that even at the times of the Scopes trial, the main defendant of the anti-evolution camp was quite ready to accept an old-earth creation (or quite probably evolution itself) – the main issue was a political one – but not in the way I would have thought. Bryan may have been from right wing of the spectrum in the area of faith but he was quite the opposite in politics – it was his fear of a world ruled by social darwinism that horrified him. Eugenics probably loomed in the distance and he felt that the teaching of darwinism would lead to an uncaring, selfish world.

Some other interesting points were made about orthodoxy regarding the literalism of the Bible, which did rehash Francis Collins argumentation in The Language of God but given that most BBC viewers probably haven’t read it, it was necessary to make those relatively basic facts known.  More frustrating is his very rapid discussion with Simon Conway Morris of evolutionary convergence – it’s a fascinating aspect that should have either been given more time or been left out completely. As things stand, I think the viewers will maybe fail so see the importance of what Morris is explaining is such a small space of time. Still at least he has thrown that concept into the mix and the more assiduous viewers can do some digging online to find out about Morris’ views on the area.

Dawkins’ The Genius of Richard Dawkins Charles Darwin was to me undoubtedly the most shrill and silly assault of the ultra-darwinistic perspective but made for amusing television as Dawkins blinked savagely, feigned personal offence at anyone not agreeing with him 100% and then ripped into intereviewees as if they were audtioning to be Alan Sugar’s next apprentice. As a result, I was quite surprised at the Beeb programming this but must applaud them for taking that risk – if we’re lucky Dawkins may have been so offended he will boycott the BBC with his luminary presence.