The 94-year-old has become Britain’s most beloved icon, a throwback to the golden years of television, and someone who has continued to fight for environmental rights all his life. The natural historian has managed to constantly reinvent himself, and most recently appeared in the BBC’s Planet Earth: A Celebration. For a man who shows how the world has developed through evolution, he has admitted that he is “not so confident as to say that I am an atheist”, and has not ruled out there being a God.
Sir David’s life works centre around the evolutionary history and the teachings of naturalist Charles Darwin.
Darwin argued that “all species of life have descended over time from common ancestors”, a view that was initially questioned, but is now universally accepted as a foundational concept in science.
The view for some is controversial, as worshippers argue God created the Earth and its inhabitants, which was detailed in the Book of Genesis in the Bible.
When challenged about why he won’t accept the beauty of religion, the former BBC 2 controller said he had a number of quarrels with some believers, especially ones who take books such as the Bible so literally.
During an interview with sociologist Laurie Taylor, Sir David was asked: “Some people say why can’t you just say, ‘This is all so wonderful and so beautiful therefore there must have been a design, therefore there must be a God’.
“Because you do exhibit, or you know, the type of emotion perhaps someone might display when entering a very grand Florentine Cathedral for example, but it isn’t that it’s not religious, how do you know it isn’t religious?
But Sir David quickly replied: “Isn’t it? I shrink from the word but I wouldn’t say that meant necessarily that you demonstrate that God doesn’t exist, on the contrary.
“I have no quarrel with basic fundamental religious attitudes, if I have a quarrel – well I do have a quarrel, it’s about the literal interpretation of texts – fundamentalism.
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“I have a quarrel about people who think that the Book of Genesis is literally true and my argument dealing with that is if you go back 150 years ago, people living in Britain might think that was there in the account of creation.”
He added in 2008: “But we now know that societies all around the world each have their own account, each has felt the necessity to explain why human beings are here now – all these accounts differ.”
Sir David’s religion is a point that is regularly discussed when the broadcaster is interviewed, and he explains he is agnostic, someone who believes nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God.
For example, when Sir David was on the BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, he argued that believing in evolution doesn’t mean you can’t believe in God.
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He told the show’s host Kirsty Young eight years ago: “I don’t think an understanding and an acceptance of the four billion-year-long history of life is any way inconsistent with a belief in a supreme being.
“And I am not so confident as to say that I am an atheist.”
Throughout his life, Sir David has battled with his own beliefs on religion, and confessed he wished he did believe in a spirit in 2008 when he sadly lost a daughter and granddaughter.
But he told the Radio Times: “I can see that if you believed you would see people in the afterlife, people who you love, it would be a great consolation.
“But again, I can’t see any evidence of that.”
He added: “When you are in your 20s and 30s, life is swashbuckling stuff.
“It’s all, ‘I’ll get there on a log. I can paddle, and when I get there, I’ll deal with it’. But I tell you, when you get to 82, your views are very different. You are less certain of everything.”
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