Today I ran across this quote from David Attenborough, maker of some of the greatest television series of the twentieth century, but also a man with sufficient all-round skills that he could have been Director-General of the BBC (he quit management in his late 40s and went back to programme-making, saying he’d never even seen the Galapagos).
He had been accused of leaving too open a space in his natural history programmes for both evolutionary and creationist accounts of the variety of life on earth, and this was his response:
"When Creationists talk about God creating every individual species as a separate act, they always instance hummingbirds, or orchids, sunflowers and beautiful things. But I tend to think instead of a parasitic worm that is boring through the eye of a boy sitting on the bank of a river in West Africa, that’s going to make him blind. And are you telling me that the God you believe in, who you also say is an all-merciful God, who cares for each one of us individually, are you saying that God created this worm that can live in no other way than in an innocent child’s eyeball? Because that doesn’t seem to me to coincide with a God who’s full of mercy."
What would the world be like if it was run by people who thought with such clarity, simplicity, compassion and awareness of what’s really important, instead of the bigots, obfuscators and liars of the nuclear religious right (meaning wrong) that keep the coffers, from Blair to Benedict, Bush to bin Laden?
In my youth, Attenborough’s informed open-mindedness seemed not especially special; whatever else was wrong back then, those were the halcyon days of the BBC, the public service ethos, and its emphasis on free education for all (or at least anyone who could get near a TV). There was optimism then that the world could be changed for the better. I guess I was lucky to grow up with that; a lot of that public spirit has been lost in the name of economics, or replaced by a vacuous cult of celebrity.