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‘The Story of God’—a review of part one of the new BBC–TV series on the evolution of religion
I suppose we should expect no more, but, watched as a whole, the BBC documentary The Story of God made for some predictable and depressing viewing. More than anything, though, it was galling to see the BBC (financed by a “TV licence”-a poll-tax levied on all UK citizens who own a television set, whether they choose to watch the BBC’s output or not) attack biblical Christianity. It is truly a form of “taxation without representation”, meaning that all AiG-UK staff have had to pay for Lord Robert Winston’s globe-trotting exploits, and who along the way presents his own personal, forcibly presented views on the work of our US colleagues and their future Creation Museum.
The first of the three episodes has already been reviewed. The second episode continued the theme of the evolution of religious belief, starting at the supposed tomb of Abraham. Winston’s thesis was that monotheism is the highest form of this evolution. He suggests that the concept of God is seen to develop in the Bible, requiring a “critical attitude to God” when the issue of suffering is approached. On this latter subject, Winston presents the book of Job as having no answer to the problem of suffering, and therefore lays the groundwork for his assertion, made in episode three, that ultimately God is unknowable. Winston himself presents a lot of unanswered questions, such as “All monotheistic religions have their dark side … . Is one God one God too many?” he asks, rhetorically, though he admits “I am not ready to give up on the idea of one true God.”
Episode three, which is extremely slow moving, is Winston’s attempt to portray science and Christianity as being in opposition. In this episode, Winston becomes perhaps more personal than in the previous two episodes, allowing us to catch a glimpse into his own religious beliefs-in fact, Lord Winston is a theologically liberal Jew. There is nothing necessarily wrong with hearing his views, except that it causes the programme to become biased and allows for some of the usual misrepresentations of conservative Christianity.
Galileo’s argument was not with the Bible, but with the Aristotelian compromises that had infected the church at that time.For example, early in episode three, we are treated to the usual inaccurate account of the events of Galileo’s life. Winston says: “The observations that Galileo made with his telescope not only challenged human intuition, they also challenged the Bible’s authority” [emphasis added]. Three times he stated that Galileo had disproved the Bible. This is simply not correct. Galileo’s argument was not with the Bible, but with the Aristotelian compromises that had infected the church at that time (see The Galileo affair: history or heroic hagiography?).
The misrepresentation of the story of Galileo is very important to people like Lord Winston, because it allows them to create a straw man, and then make the claim that conservative Christianity is anti-scientific. For example, in a later section, commenting on the Creation Museum, he opines: “Galileo must be spinning in his grave” at such a project. Such a comment is deliberately designed to lead the viewers to suppose that Answers in Genesis deliberately opposes scientists, such as Galileo, when the articles mentioned above will show that nothing could be further from the truth. Winston’s “Galileo spinning” comment was probably the worst of a number of examples of unmitigated bias against creationists.
However, before he fully criticized conservative Christianity, Winston produced a very interesting piece of maneuvering by interviewing leading evolutionist Dr. Richard Dawkins. Of Dawkins, Winston says: “For him, natural selection dispenses with the need for God altogether”. We then hear Dawkins challenge Winston on the rationality of his Jewish faith. Winston makes it clear that he disagrees with Dawkins, but he does so by defending the “two books” approach-that there is the book of faith and the book of nature, each explaining truths differently. By differing so publicly with one of the best-known evolutionary atheists, Winston positions himself as a voice of reasonable moderation, in contrast to the “hard-line creationism” of Answers in Genesis.
Winston then moved to the Grand Canyon in Northern Arizona, USA, for an all-too-brief interview with Tom Vail, Canyon raft guide and author of the controversial The Grand Canyon: A different view, a book that evolutionists have desperately tried to ban at Canyon bookstores (see Geologists in an uproar). During part of Vail’s response, his words were set against one of the worst depictions of the Ark of Noah one could wish to see. A childishly small and incorrectly shaped Ark is pictured with a queue of animals, showing a pair of cheetahs as well as a pair of lions, and a pair of horses as well as a pair of zebras. Yet the Ark, according to the Bible, only housed two of every kind. The speciation of the cat and horse kinds must have occurred after the Flood. This picture, clearly added after the interview was recorded, is in contradiction to the stated position of AiG that God had given us a very clear blueprint of the dimensions of the Ark.
This led the way for Winston’s visit to the AiG-USA’s future Creation Museum. There were some good moments in this section-notably, Ken Ham, AiG-USA president, was allowed to say in full: “The Bible is not just a book of religion, not just a book of spiritual things, not just a book of morality-it is a book of history.” This comment stood in opposition to the flow of Winston’s argument.
It was not long before the BBC allowed Winston’s anti-Bible bias to be displayed, as he reported. “I was dismayed by what I saw at Ken Ham’s museum. It was alarming to see so much time, money [$25 million US] and effort making a mockery of hard-won scientific knowledge.” This shocking, highly biased comment, to which there was no challenge, ignores the far vaster sums of money, time and effort spent producing displays of dubious or fraudulent intent, such as “proofs” of the evolution of the horse. Rarely do I visit a secular science museum without feeling a sense of frustration (sometimes anger) at the money spent on pure, unscientific propaganda for evolution. If anyone should feel “alarmed at a mockery of science”, it should be those of us who repeatedly have to confront evolutionists with the many examples of error used in science teaching today-Haeckel’s embryos or Kettlewell’s peppered moths, to name but two examples of many. In contrast, the genuine scientific work done by scientists at Answers in Genesis and other creationist institutions and organizations is self-evident.
“The argument in favour of evolution is overwhelming …” said Winston, without offering any argument to the contrary. It would have shown less bias on Winston’s part had he been prepared to let us demonstrate how overwhelmingly the evidence fails to support evolution, and how consistent the available evidence is with a biblical worldview. One notable example of this would be the recently published work of the RATE group.
This issue of evidence was picked up in the segment featuring a radio debate that Winston held with Ken Ham at the studios of WLW in Cincinnati, Ohio, USA. The one-hour debate (with ads and news breaks) was severely edited for the purposes of the documentary. Nevertheless, the following telling exchange fell through the net:
Ham [H]: “All I’ve heard you do is denigrate the Bible and my position and so on. I haven’t heard any evidence. What would you give as ‘this is so obvious you have to believe in evolution’?”
Winston [W]: “There are so many evidences … the existence of the fossil record on the whole supports this.”
[H]: “What specifically?”
[W]: “The development of the hominid brain, for example.”
The termination of the excerpt at this point prevents the viewer from knowing that Winston has presented an exceptionally weak argument.1 The viewer may suppose that Winston had just dealt Ken a killer blow. In fact, there is no such evidence of the development of hominid brains. The very language Winston uses betrays his bias, as well as his failure to provide any sort of scientific evidence. Without the right of a creationist reply, however, his bias is left unchallenged and his point seems to stand.
At the close of the programme, Winston is once again allowed to use his language of bias: “There is a substantial minority [in the USA] who feel obliged to prove their faith by embracing anti-scientific points of view.” Yet, as a scientist myself, I know that my views are not anti-scientific-on the contrary, I find that my presupposition in favour of the Bible being true is a more rational approach to the evidence. Winston, however, does not accept that his views are presuppositional, nor that his presuppositions can be challenged by other scientists who find belief in the God of the Bible to be a more intellectually satisfying position. Nevertheless, he feels free to denigrate people who hold views different to himself. The programme’s depiction of a radio preacher as something of a “backwoods Kentucky pastor” is insulting both to the people of Kentucky, and to Christians in general.
“Isn’t our God-given intelligence given to us so that we can try to understand more rather than less?” asks Winston. Indeed it is. It is a shame, however, that Winston does not use his God-given intelligence to examine the presuppositional nature of his beliefs. Nor does he grant his viewers the opportunity to examine the argument from both sides. Once again, we have Winston, presented as the slightly amused, more-evolved intellect, instructing his viewers on what to believe. He seems to be certain of only one thing-that he believes we can never be certain whether God exists. True science, however, should still lead us to a personal knowledge of God, he suggests. And we would agree on that point: “
For since the creation of the world, His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened” (Romans 1:20, 21).