Sunday, April 05, 2009

BBC documentary: Did Darwin Kill God?

There you go. Here is a BBC documentary directly tackling the evolution-atheism connection. Did Darwin Kill God? is written and presented by Connor Cunningham, from the Center of Theology & Philosophy at University of Nottingham. The documentary presents both creationists (young-Earth creationists, the ID folks, etc) and ultra-Darwinists (such as Dawkins, Dennett, etc) as opposite and yet equally wrong in their claims. Here are some quick comments:

I think the first 40 minutes are quite good. Overall it provides a good background of the history of the reception of evolution in religious circles and then the 20th century opposition from American fundamentalist Christians. He goes to Dayton, TN and also visits the Creation museum in Kentucky. He is very clear in calling Intelligent Design nonsense. The only strange thing is the repeated use of conflict narrative - when one of the main purposes of the documentary is to diffuse the whole science & religion warfare thesis.

The last 20 minutes of the show are downright bizarre. Here it takes on the ultra-Darwinists. But all of the attention is focused on the Selfish Gene and the idea of memes. In fact, the presentation makes it appear that the entire modern atheism rests on the success or failure of the theory of memes. And, of course, you may be surprised to find out that Connor Cunningham vanquishes the ideas of memes at the end - leaving religion triumphant in the face of this atheistic challenge.

This is a very strange move. The documentary would have been far more effective if it had taken the position that evolution does not necessarily lead to atheism. He could have still have an excellent discussion with Dan Dennett, Michael Ruse, and Francis Collins, without getting obsessed with memes. One of the biggest problems here is that he has presented the issue of the origins of morality and of religion only through memes - with God as the only other causal alternative. But there are other alternatives to both the origins of morality and also to the origins of religion (check out this David Sloan Wilson lecture on Evolution and Religion). Many of these do not necessarily present any threat to religions - and may have even produced an interesting discussion in the documentary. Instead, we pretty much get a view that all of modern atheism (and its related explanations of morality and religion) is dependent on the success of this theory of memes. In fact, Connor should go back and listen to the first 10 minutes of his own show. One can always argue that God works through the process of memes - and that's all there is to say to satisfy a religious belief. By the way, at the end we are also treated with a strange discussion with Simon Conway Morris - about some music being out there - and we may only be detecting it. Phew! I also had the pleasure of hearing him speak at a Science & Religion conference two years ago. Most of his talk was fine (about convergent evolution - and one may agree or disagree with him), but the last 10 minutes were utterly strange when he started talking about our brains (and other animals' brains) acting as antennas to detect this music etc.

Any way, do see the documentary. The first 40 minutes are good and the last 20 are utterly amusing. (The embedded video appears to be cutting-off a bit on the sides. It appears fine for me in the "preview" mode. It should be ok if you watch it in "Full Screen" mode. If you are still having trouble, you can watch it in six parts: one, two, three, four, five and six).


bobxxxx said...

Did Darwin kill God?

All scientists, no matter what branch of science they specialize in, kill god with every scientific discovery they make. All of science, not just evolutionary biology, has made the god invention obsolete.

I say good riddance. God is just another word for magic. It's a childish idiotic idea.

Jeff Grace said...

It definitely killed classical theism... but unless you are wedded for some reason to classical theism, to say that science killed god is about as silly as it gets. said...

Science is not the sum of human experience. Therefore belief in things beyond the immediate reach of science is human nature. However, as narrow minded fundamentalism portrays God as an impossible oxymoron, it is reasonable for human beings to reject this portrayal of God. I should also point out that Darwin's theory of Evolution was what converted a contemporary Atheist named Leo Lesquereau to belief in God. Therefore, it is not scientists and certainly not Darwin that kill belief in God but fundamentalists and religious extremists who kill belief in God.

Anonymous said...

We human being really audacious! If there is no GOD, what about Hitler, Stalin's oppression? Hilter killed millions of lives and then took his own life. So, he is relief from justice. Is it rational or scientific to say?? This is the ideology of evolutionists/atheists. As a consequence, we can see father killing their children, frustrated guys killing people randomly after losing jobs, just believing that nothing is left after death.

We do know nothing considering the unfathomable knowledge around us. Still, we feel so arrogant!

Geoff Coupe said...

"And, of course, you may be surprised to find out that Connor Cunningham vanquishes the ideas of memes at the end - leaving religion triumphant in the face of this atheistic challenge."

Erm, did you accidentally miss out the word "not" between "may and "be" in that sentence?

Considering that Conor Cunningham is a Christian philosopher, his conclusion came as no surprise whatsoever to me. Although, rather than finding his argument amusing, I caught myself shouting "nonsense" and "category error" at the TV screen rather frequently during this programme.

Another in the series of BBC
programmes to celebrate the Darwin bicentenary covered the history of the impact of Darwin's idea on society much better and more accurately. This was a three-parter: Darwin's Dangerous Idea, presented by Andrew Marr. Far superior to Cunningham's tripe.

Salman Hameed said...

"And, of course, you may be surprised to find out that Connor Cunningham vanquishes the ideas of memes at the end - leaving religion triumphant in the face of this atheistic challenge."

Erm, did you accidentally miss out the word "not" between "may and "be" in that sentence? That was an unsuccessful attempt at irony... :)

But yes, I also found his conclusions amusing - and almost entertaining.

Tatarize said...

This program was total crap. Anybody not yelling at their TV set out of sheer frustration at how pathetically stupid all of his arguments were and how poor his understanding of the subjects, needs to do considerably more research.

He didn't just butcher the science he butchered the religion too. His argument is effectively that nobody ever believed Genesis so when science comes around that explains how life could have formed without God, that's fine real Christians have *always* known that the Bible was hogwash. He was overly dismissive of Paley's influence, misrepresenting the opinions of scientists, and utterly fallacious with argument after argument.

It was pathetic from start to finish.

Andrew said...

I thoroughly enjoyed this documentary. He doesn't get religion wrong, by the way; he simply indicates that literalist readings of Genesis have not been the dominant interpretation in Church history. Mainstream Judeo-Christian understanding of Genesis has been that it is poetry, not science.

Anonymous said...

The one thing that perplexes me is that BBC let them show this documentary on TV. BBC seems to be pro-science, from what I see. So, why would they let some Christian philosopher, who's trying to knock down atheism by misrepresenting opinions and viewpoints, to be broadcasted? I mean, the Christian fundie part wasn't bad, but then when it got down to the 'memes' I've never seen Dawkins or any ultra-Darwinist talk about memes so much as he does.

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