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Attenborough and Hawking should stop their ill-conceived pontificating about other people’s lives

As soon as you start using the ominous phrase “population control”, as Sir David does, you are in the world of Orwell’s 1984, however benignly you might dress it up

By on Friday, 20 September 2013

David Attenborough at a science campaign launch in January 2009

David Attenborough at a science campaign launch in January 2009

Earlier this week I said to my sister: “Life’s too short to iron handkerchiefs” (actually I don’t iron at all but that’s another story). In the same way, I had decided that life was too short to blog yet again about Sir David Attenborough’s very negative views on the human race – until I read his latest piece of wisdom in the Telegraph. This came straight after the widely publicised thoughts of Professor Stephen Hawking in a BBC interview, reported by Dr Peter Saunders on his Christian Medical Comment blog. I felt that two such anti-life comments by two eminent men at the pinnacle of the intellectual establishment in this country should not go unchallenged.

I don’t use the word “eminent” sarcastically: Attenborough is a highly knowledgeable zoologist and also a brilliant communicator in his field; aged 87 and still writing, travelling and making nature programmes, he is an inspiration to millions of elderly people who might otherwise think it is time to doze in their armchairs in their bedroom slippers. Hawking, now aged 71, has not let a crippling variation of motor neurone disease, with which he was diagnosed aged 21, and which has now almost totally paralysed him, prevent his extraordinary achievements in the field of cosmology. But just because they are famous in their areas of expertise does not mean we should listen to them when they stray outside them to make general statements about human beings that might adversely affect the lives of millions of people.

In the Telegraph interview with Sir David, interviewer Neil Midgley writes, “Attenborough is also strident about the need for human population control, saying: “we are heading for disaster unless we do something.” Sir David is quoted as saying: “To start with, it is the individual’s great privilege to have children. And who am I to say you shan’t have children? That’s one thing. The next thing is a religious one, in the sense that the Catholic Church doesn’t accept this – that you should control the population. And the most tricky of all, when you talk about world population, is the fact that the areas we are talking about are Africa and Asia. To have a European telling Africans they should have children is not the way to go about things.” He adds: “What are all those famines in Ethiopia, what are they about? They’re about too many people for too little land…”

To be fair to Sir David, he is (at last?) aware that poor Asian people often love their children and that a rich white European preaching to Africans might not go down too well. But I note that in talking of famine in Third World countries, he doesn’t mention the civil wars, corrupt governments and sheer inefficiency that have often caused or exacerbated these natural disasters. And he simply doesn’t understand the nature of the Catholic Church – which he sees as a bogeyman, forcing poor people to have children they can’t feed. He needs to be reminded that the Church always starts from the position of individual human dignity: made in the image of God, human beings and their fertility do not need to be “controlled” as if they were animals to be spayed or culled, especially by patronising westerners who have no understanding of local cultures, traditions or beliefs.

The Church, to use the lovely word used by Pope Francis, especially when he is talking about those people he has known well in the slums of Buenos Aires, with all their very human problems, seeks to “accompany” people; that is, to live and work alongside them, to listen to their needs, hopes and fears, and to give practical aid as well as to educate them to regulate their family size in accordance with their marital dignity. As soon as you start using the ominous phrase “population control”, as Sir David does, you are in the world of Orwell’s 1984, however benignly you might dress it up.

Professor Hawking, looking at the end of life, advocates euthanasia for “those who have a terminal illness or are in great pain. [They] should have the right to end their lives and those who help them should be free from prosecution.” He adds, as advocates of euthanasia routinely do, that “there must be safeguards that the person concerned genuinely wants to end their life and they are not being pressured into it or have it done without their knowledge or consent…”

As Peter Saunders comments: “Ironically, he is living proof of the fact that doctors can be very wrong about prognoses and that one can live a worthwhile life, full of meaning and purpose, despite having a serious, progressive life-limiting disease.” Saunders also makes the critical point that “Subtle forms of coercion within families are extremely difficult to detect, even by skilled health professions.” The word “safeguards”, so seemingly reassuring here, is no more than a pious piece of blarney.

Attenborough and Hawking, great men of notable scientific achievements, should stop their ill-conceived pontificating about other people’s lives.

  • la Catholic state

    What exactly is the Americanisation of the UK?! LOL

  • la Catholic state

    Western atheists want to sit back and relax. They don’t want change. They’ve got to the top….thanks to Christian achievement and ingenuity. Now they want to make sure change stops. So no more population growth they say.
    Luckily as I said even Chinese atheists are still ambitious….and want to go forth and if not multiply yet….then conquer space. And they are fast Christianising too. I don’t think they will be taking orders from Western atheists.

  • Andrew Wilson

    You’re not really pro-humanity at all are you? You seem to only care about Britons and a very “golden age” type idea of Britain that never really existed.

  • la Catholic state

    I care about all humanity actually….including Britons. You seem to be indifferent to them. Or is it to all humanity you are indifferent?!

    Don’t be discriminatory please.

  • Andrew Wilson

    I care about all of humanity.

    What I don’t care about is the labels people attach to themselves like “Briton”.

  • la Catholic state

    Why not. I hope you are not expecting any praise for your abnormal stance. Do you also object to those who label themselves Chinese? Or Indonesian perhaps?

  • Tosh

    No one, absolutely no one, believer or not has the right to tell other people how many children they should have. That is Gods decision alone. He will provide for all of us. Like it or not but, that is the way God created the world. Do not give in to the flesh and it’s desires. Be spiritual and seek the Spirit of God in all things. His Will be done. Amen

  • Andrew Wilson

    I didn’t object to them, they are just labels people attach to themselves because of an accident of Lat. and Long. of birth.

  • Sara_TMS_again

    I clearly don’t spend enough time online. Now there’s a thing…

  • $20596475

    Not for the first time I am profoundly grateful that you only have one vote and cannot hope to effect what we actually do.

    I did not express any personal preference on “chastity and abstinence”. All I pointed out was that neither of us has the right to impose such things on others.

    I won’t dignify your other insults with a response.

  • $20596475

    Making contraception available, and affordable, to all who want to use it has the noble ambition of seeking a better life for people. A life in countries where there are sufficient resources for all and everyone, including all the children are free of hunger.

    It has nothing at all to do with “fun”. That it is such a demeaning way of describing the means to provide people with the opportunity to control their own lives.

    Let us speak in your terms.

    Over population is a problem and to deny it is sinful. To deny people the chance to do something about is also sinful.

  • Andrew Wilson

    Increased reliance on capitalism. Commercialization of almost everything and complete deference to US foreign policy.

  • Andrew Wilson

    Sorry but that really is utter nonsense. The christian church burned people at the stake for daring to say scientific evidence demonstrated the bible was wrong on certain aspects.

    The church may well have wanted to explore “god’s world” but they try to stop almost any kind of scientific achievement or progress if it goes against their doctrine (contraception being one).

  • la Catholic state

    Sorry….but science only developed in Christendom. And only always will. Atheists are the luddites. And probably always were.

    Contraception brings its users to a dead end. We believers want to go forth and multiply and subdue the earth instead.

  • TreenonPoet

    Yours is the dangerous complacency instilled by the Church. I would guess that, when the food runs out, people like you will be saying things like “it’s God’s punishment” (even though believers will be punished too). Since God has not always provided for all in the past, why should He suddenly do so?

  • Andrew Wilson

    Nonsense. Science was in muslim countries long before it was in Europe. Why do you think most of the stars are named after arabic names and we use arabic numbers,

    Most scientists are atheists because they follow the evidence and there is no evidence of any kind of god(s).

    Also why do you want to subdue the earth. We’ve done more than enough of that. You are being completely selfish and not thinking of future generations. Typical of a radical religious person.

  • la Catholic state

    Nobody could further science…..until Christianity settled. Then science advanced in Christendom only. Today atheists are scientists….but not very good ones. There are no major breakthroughs….and they are completely lost in that Haldron Collider…the most expensive experiment in the history of science. More money than inspiration methinks. We need the monk scientists again.
    If you don’t want to subdue the earth….that’s fine. We do….and space too.

  • Andrew Wilson

    Sorry, but now you are either totally ill informed or lying.

    If you think the results we are getting from the Hadron collider don’t count as major breakthroughs then you are deluded into the bargain.

    I thought I might be speaking with someone with a modicum of understanding of reasonableness and understanding of current science but my bad, as I should have read your username properly.

  • la Catholic state

    I don’t. I think the scientists are still completely confused by what they ‘discovered’. Of course they are going to discover something….there’s lots to be discovered. But do they understand what it is or what it means?! Why have they gone so quiet?!

    I remain completely sceptical. Maybe they should employ more inspired monk scientists.

  • Andrew Wilson

    “Why have they gone so quiet?!”

    They haven’t. Your just not hearing the results in the press these days.

  • la Catholic state

    They’ve gone exceedingly quiet. If they had something to crow about…..they would be crowing!

  • Andrew Wilson

    Nonsense, that’s not how science works.