‘There could be a God,’ admits David Attenborough: Veteran broadcaster says belief in evolution is not incompatible with religion
By Ben Todd
Last updated at 10:27 PM on 29th January 2012
His award-winning programmes on the natural world follow evolutionary history and the teachings of Darwin.
Now, however, Sir David Attenborough has speculated that there may be a God – and insisted it would not be ‘inconsistent’ with the theory of evolution.
Speaking on Desert Island Discs, the 85-year-old naturalist told how recognising the possibility that God could exist meant he was an agnostic rather than an atheist.
Sir David was a guest on yesterday’s edition of the Radio 4 programme to mark its 70th anniversary. It was his fourth appearance on the show, having previously been a guest in 1957, 1979 and 1998.
He told presenter Kirsty Young: ‘I don’t think that an understanding and an acceptance of the 4billion-year-long history of life is in any way inconsistent with a belief of a supreme being. I am not so confident as to say that I am an atheist. I would prefer to say I am an agnostic.’
Three years ago, in an interview with the Daily Mail, Sir David appeared less convinced of the existence of God. Again describing himself as agnostic rather than atheist, he said he was a ‘little miffed’ he couldn’t come down more strongly on one side or the other.
He said he had no religious background in his own life, adding: ‘I almost wish I had one, so I could say I rejected my parents’ faith, but, as far as I know, they had no religious beliefs.’
The following year he told the Radio Times: ‘It never really occurred to me to believe in God.’
His brother, the celebrated actor and film director Lord Attenborough, shares his agnostic views.
However in 2008 Lord Attenborough said he almost wished he did believe in God, because it would have given him comfort – or at least someone to blame – after losing a daughter and granddaughter in the Asian tsunami.
Sir David, who himself endured loss when his wife Jane died in 1997, has said previously that a belief in God could make it easier to cope with bereavement. ‘I can see that if you believed you would see people in the afterlife, people who you love, it would be a great consolation,’ he said. ‘But again, I can’t see any evidence of that.’
He said that as people got older their human journey became less complex, adding: ‘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.’
In his interview with Miss Young, Sir David also spoke of the controversy surrounding the use of polar bear footage shot in a zoo rather than the wild in the BBC’s Frozen Planet. He said documentary makers needed to present a full picture of the animal’s life cycle.
Up close: Sir David’s encounter with mountain gorillas in Rwanda was voted one of the best moments in television history