A Critical Look At...

Timothy Walker's Disjointed and Anti-Theist World of Botany


BBC's 'Science' Output Continues to Worship at the Shrine of Darwin...

(A Review of BBC Television's Three-part 'Botany: A Blooming History,' screened on BBC4 in the UK on June 7th, June 14th and June 21st, 2011).

B BC Television must have a golden rule, though it is generally unrevealed to the greater public: only give science series to people who are card-carrying atheists and who will worship at the shrine of Charles Darwin, no matter what. The kind of more recent honest assessment of Darwin, admitting his failures (not a few) is barred from 'BBC science' ('scientism' is a better word). It could even be stated that the BBC is resolutely modernist, refusing all the more recent insights of postmodernism.

Timothy Walker, Director of Oxford Botanic Garden, UK, has, during the summer of 2011, presented three new television programmes on BBC4. called, 'Botany: A Blooming History.' The series commenced on Tuesday 7th June, 2011 at 9.00PM, with subsequent programmes coming up every Tuesday until June 21st.
Let us look at these programmes, starting with the first:
Regarding the first programme (June 7), according to a BBC advertising blurb,

"Timothy reveals how the work of Carl Linnaeus, Phillip Miller and John Ray unlocked the mysteries of the plant kingdom and created the science of botany."

Botany and horticulture are wonderful and endlessly fascinating areas for study and your reviewer was keen to watch this series. But I was in for a shock. Perhaps series presenter Mr Walker counts arch-atheist Richard Dawkins among his friends, I really don't know, but he had clearly decided to adopt the Dawkinsian attitude towards Theism even though philosophy and religion would appear to stand well outside his botanical remit and parameter.

BBC 'Science': Necessarily Atheistic and Totally Unwilling to Challenge Darwin

There is a typical BBC science-type programme; such a programme has a formula, obviously one agreed by BBC TV bosses, perhaps under the long-term influence of major BBC scientific-type figure, the atheist David Attenborough. Over many years the formula has not substantially changed although, in recent years, it has become even more hostile to any concept of God.

This 'BBC science' formula insists that atheism is assumed and that Darwin is deified. Many challenges to Darwin have now appeared among scientists, but the BBC insists that none of these are given any serious consideration. The result is a formulized and predictable approach. In this approach, religion and science are seen as eternal and irreconcilable enemies. This neglects to consider the fact that some of the major scientists of the past were firmly Theistic.

None of the great scientific discoveries of these men were ever seen as challenging Theism nor Christianity - on the contrary, they were seen as only supporting belief in a divine Creator. Only in the 19th century, with the rise of the uniformitarians and with Charles Darwin did this start to change. Yet it remains the case that many scientists believe in God, yet the BBC formula would teach that such a thing is impossible. In this, the BBC approach is frankly very dishonest, preferring to teach the more gullible and less well-informed viewer that science is necessarily an atheistic enterprise. Well don't tell the BBC but, of course, it is not, indeed, modern science originally emerged from Protestant Christianity.

Examples of a strangely antagonistic Dawkinsian attitude toward religion and Theism emerged quickly. Early on in the first programme, Mr Walker is to be found scoffing at those who, in earlier centuries, believed that "plants were made by God," he contrasts this with the early pioneering botanists and their scientific thirst. This approach conveniently neglects to take note of the fact that - almost to a man and woman - these people were stalwart Protestant Theists! Of course they believed in God, but this only increased their thirst for greater knowledge of the plant world - and why should it not? In the first programme, Walker quickly paints the usual - but now hackneyed and passe - idea that pioneering scientists rejected Theism and religious "superstition," being determined to press on ahead with their research no matter who might be offended. This rather pathetic old chestnut is continually churned out by the BBC science department even when it does not fit the facts. This is to impose ones favoured ideas upon the evidence, rather than to allow the evidence to speak for itself.

As in almost every BBC TV science' programme, Darwin himself is soon held up as the great saviour of mankind. Apparently, in this case, we have to thank Darwin for the explanation of why plant hybrids are usually sterile. Hmmm! Really? In fact, I was quite sure that this was explainable well before Darwin, so I rang a botanist friend who confirmed that my view was correct. Never mind, this being 'BBC science' no single programme could be allowed to pass without a suitable homage being paid to the famed English Naturalist. It figures.
In fact , the likelihood of the sterility of random hybridisation attempts can even be found in the Book of Genesis, in the Old Testament! Things - whether plants or animals - would only reproduce 'after their kind.' Yet - according to Mr Walker - we have Darwin to thank for this knowledge. Hmmm. Oh well, this is, after all, 'BBC science' and it must always worship at the shrine of Darwin, never admitting his numerous failures.

For sure, the first programme showed a surprising - and totally uncalled for - willingness to 'mix it' with religionists, this is, of course, the Dawkinsian attitude to religion, something which the presenter obviously strongly identifies with; strange indeed that some are apparently unable to see that this - in itself - is a religious approach, simply that the religion has switched from Theistic Christianity to atheistic and Darwinistic 'scientism.'

Now on to the second programme (June 14th):

Some good and interesting discussion of photosynthesis marked out the second programme and - for quite a while into this second programme - I thought that the very strange and confused attack on religion and "superstition" which had marked out programme one (all conveniently lumped together, of course, thereby saving the presenter from having to do any serious philosophical consideration or thought), was now well and truly past. Alas, I was to be proven incorrect! This time Mr Walker slams into the Spanish Inquisition giving a distinct (but unhistorical) picture of inquisitionists wandering around looking for pioneering botanists to persecute. Apparently Walker truly believes that priests were roaming Europe looking for any research botanist who might be attempting to usurp 'divine law,' yet such a strange idea is based only on rare and unusual examples, not on the common reality. But this is just plainly prejudicial and less than honest. As an intelligent man, Walker is inexcusable in so misrepresenting the history.

The regular old chestnut and well-worn dichotomy is held up that 'evidence' and 'faith' were seen as necessarily opposites and as enemies in earlier times, but this really is an 'old hat' and biased view, neglecting to consider the fact that countless observers of plant behaviour over hundeds of years have frequently been men and women of faith. Obviously the programme presenter is an atheist, that is his choice, but to use a series on botany to attack Christianity is most odd and peculiar and, no matter how much Mr Walker may bend the facts to suit his arguments, it comes across as strangely biased and certainly totally out of place in such a series. Eventually one starts to notice things of botanical interest which are getting omitted, so a feeling of disjointedness emerges. Why? Probably because there is a confused focus. One should treat ones audience with more respect, not offering prejudicial comments, not attempting to slant things in a particular manner.

"Back then people believed that leaves only grow by God's will," states this aggressive and belligerent botanist, when referring to the 16-17th centuries. Well, many of us still believe exactly that, but that does not mean that we reject the proven and demonstrable laws of science and physics. Of course Creationist Christianity believes that the Creator set the true laws of science in motion right at the beginning. Is this man seriously suggesting that consistent Theists must reject, for example, the law of gravity because it is "scientific" and not of "faith"?? Such is a very strange idea indeed and, speaking as a Christian theologian, it is held by no Theist that I know of. So this concept is an alien one, and one which finds no room in any Theist's intellectual armoury. The naive reasoning which Walker accuses the Theist of holding to, is a complete fabrication coming from a closed, atheistic mind with no knowledge of philosophy nor Theology. But - wait! - this was supposed to be a series on botany, pure and simple; who decided that the presenter should stray into areas which are obviously alien to him?

This second programme did pick up somewhat towards the end with some interesting points, mainly centred on the potential of a better understanding of photosynthesis; moreover, the offered glimpses of 'dancing chloroplasts' were quite amazing. So the second programme did finish stronger than it had started.

Now on to the final programme (June 21st):

For myself, and I suspect for many, only in this final programme did this series really come to life. I found much of fascinating interest and Walker confines himself to just one jibe against Theists. In this jibe, the presenter makes the point that a greater understanding of genetics means that nobody now needs to look for 'supernatural explanations' for the beauty and behaviour of plants. Oh really? But where did the wonderful scientific laws of genetics and botany come from in the first place? Where did the information come from? These are questions which evolutionary theory cannot answer.

The comment is made that science has now, "laid the foundation of plant gentics." But that is surely to claim too much for science. Wouldn't it be more accurate to state that science has finally understood much more of how genetics works among plants?? We are not, after all, talking here about the genius of scientific endeavour - clever and resourceful though much of it has been - rather, it is the incredible natural world and how it operates: that is where the genius is, surely. Typically for an atheist, Walker claims too much for science and too little for what - as a believer - I would call divine Creation.

But excellent that the pioneering genius of genetics, Gregor Mendel (who was a Christian) is acknowledged by the presenter. For sure, his understanding of plant genetics was profound and later picked up and further enhanced by Bateson. Soon the programme offers much discussion of 'information,' and, as an atheist once admitted to me, the presence of information in the universe is possibly the atheist's weakest area. How did information and law get into our universe? Though an atheist, he privately admitted to me that a Creator God was the best explanation (though one which he told me he would never be able to use).

Borlock's 'green revolution' is well described by Walker, leading to a final discussion of genetically modified crops, something that Timothy Walker obviously firmly advocates. But here an assumption is soon made without any real scientific evidence. For Walker, "millions" will starve on this planet without GM crops, something not every scientist would agree with. Almost as a final comment, this figure is later upgraded to "thousands of millions." Hmm! While nobody denies the great work of plant selection and breeding leading to the 'green revolution,' the presenter's insistence that the next green revolution will be to go over to GM crops is highly controversial. There are many highly-skilled scientists out there who believe that the genetic modification of food crops is to go too far. Viewers are soon shown a plant genetics researcher who has a mission, that is, to make the rice plant grow and behave much more like maize. As always in such programmes, such research is presented as something like, 'essential, in order to ensure human survival' (though these exact words are not used), but might not this be described as the arrogance of some - if not all - "scientific research"? Are maize and rice really the property of research scientists to tamper with? They seem to assume so, but surely this is to illustrate a glaring example of the oft-found arrogance of 'scientism.'

At least the final programme was genuinely informative as presenter Walker largely abandoned his earlier approach of knocking Theism and religious belief wherever he could, painting the ludicrous and absurd picture of research botanists being hunted down by Christian believers in earlier centuries. The truth, of course, is that without Christianity-inspired scientific endeavour, the understanding of botany and genetics would not be where it is today. Sadly, atheism will never acknowledge such a thing.
Robin A. Brace. June 23rd, 2011.