Page last updated at 12:58 GMT, Tuesday, 27 January 2009

Attenborough 'received hate mail'

Sir David Attenborough
Sir David has responded to those looking for God in his programmes

Veteran broadcaster Sir David Attenborough says he has received hate mail from viewers for not crediting God in his nature programmes.

"They tell me to burn in hell and good riddance," he said in an interview with the Radio Times.

Sir David has been making documentaries on the natural world and conservation for over half a century.

He also criticised the teaching of creationism alongside evolutionary science in schools.

In the interview, Sir David said that people asked why his documentaries did not give "credit" to God for the creation of life.

"They always mean beautiful things like hummingbirds."

"I always reply by saying that I think of a little child in East Africa with a worm burrowing through his eyeball."

"The worm cannot live in any other way, except by burrowing through eyeballs."

"I find that hard to reconcile with the notion of a divine and benevolent creator."

Early disbelief

Talking about his own beliefs, Sir David said he was astonished at manifestations of Christian faith.

He said: "It never really occurred to me to believe in God - and I had nothing to rebel against, my parents told me nothing whatsoever.

"But I do remember looking at my headmaster delivering a sermon, a classicist, extremely clever... and thinking, he can't really believe all that, can he? How incredible!"

Learning from nature

His latest documentary looks how Charles Darwin came up with the theory of evolution and why it remains important. It is one of many programmes celebrating the bicentenary of Darwin's birth and the 150th anniversary of his book On the Origin of Species.

Sir David said it was "terrible" when creationism and evolution were taught in schools as equivalent, alternative perspectives.

The discussion of creationism in science lessons, under the heading of "intelligent design", has been a rallying point for scientists, particularly in the US.

"It's like saying that two and two equals four, but if you wish to believe it, it could also be five."

"Evolution is not a theory; it is a fact, every bit as much as the historical fact that William the Conqueror landed in 1066."

In Life on Earth, his natural history series first shown in 1979, he looked at plants and animals from across the world to illustrate the process of evolution through natural selection.

Speaking about the relationship between people and the rest of nature, Sir David said: "The basic notion that the world is our oyster, that we have domination over all things, that they are here for us..."

Asked where that view comes from, Sir David replied: "The Bible, of course. Genesis, chapter one."

  • Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life can be seen on BBC One on Sunday 1 February at 2100 GMT

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