The producers of BBC’s primetime programme “The One Show” were good enough to plug my book last night on the broadcast last night. They had only intended to caption me as “University of Bristol” but I complained that I had trailed all the way down to London at the last minute to record a couple of minutes with Germaine Greer, who was not in the best of moods.
I arrived at 3.30 and met Germaine Greer and the crew having a late lunch in a Greek restaurant near Paddington. Then it was off to Little Venice to shoot a segment by the river. I had suggested that we film in Highgate Cemetery but apparently the budget didn’t stretch that far. Anyway I got into a very large chauffer-driven Mercedes and headed off with Germaine in the front and me in the back. Germaine told me all about her Australian rainforest and the problems with botanists – “They’re so bloody egotistical they name everything after themselves!”
At some point we lost the rest of the crew and the driver left us to try and find them. I suggested to Germaine that we could always run off with the car if he failed to come back. “It’s my bloody lease car” was her steely reply. The rest of the crew finally turned up and Germaine was given the questions that she was to ask me. It was quite clear that they wanted me to say that there is a gene to believe in god.
We started filming and every time I opened my mouth to speak there was some distraction off camera nearby – the old woman on the park bench who huffed when I spoke, the little boy rattling the railings with a stick, the numerous people walking into shot and staring at us and best of all, a bloke probably emptying the latrine of his canal boat.
Anyway, most of what I said was cut and here is what was left in with convenient cuts at critical points.
Germaine: We come into this world preprogrammed to breathe, to look around us, to feed, but the idea that we might also be preprogrammed to believe in God – well that rather beggars belief.
Bruce: I would say that our brains are programmed to try and understand what causes things to happen in the world and coming up with a supreme being seems to be the most sensible and easy solution [cut]…. that many people make and it is one of the reasons religions have been so successful. [cut]
At times of crisis we seek answers and of course, religion provides many of those answers and people find and take a lot of comfort in that.
Germaine: Does religion have a social function?
Bruce: Well its been around for a very long time, as far back as we can trace there is evidence of religion so something about it seems to be very persistent. [cut] I think it is because religion builds upon these natural ways of interpreting the world that supernatural belief is so prevalent.
The next section was completely cut
Germaine: Is there a God gene?
Bruce: That question doesn’t make any sense. Religions are culturally constructed and transmit by story-telling. Genes do build brains and I think that our brains are predisposed to believing in the supernatural but that’s like saying there is a gene for Shakespeare because there are genes for acquiring language.
The rest of the piece had others responding to the proposition that we are programmed to believe in God including philosopher AC Grayling and Michael Reiss, the former Director of Education for the Royal Society who was forced to resign. I am not going to comment on their remarks as I guess they were also heavily edited but I know that AC Grayling and I do not disagree about where the content of religious beliefs come from – that must be from what others tell us. But as I have been at pains to point out in the book – all religions are supernatural beliefs but not all supernatural beliefs are religious. And some supernatural beliefs are entirely personal such as superstitious rituals.
So it was cut here, cut there and generally cut to make a simple nature versus nurture argument that every science student is taught is a completely nonsensical way to understand biological development. Is it the case that people cannot understand the complexity of the issues or is it more the case that they are less newsworthy?
Anyway, the cuts I take most exception to are those imposed on the BBC. They made me travel 2nd class off-peak so I had a good two-hour wait at Paddington before I could board a train home with a valid ticket. They wouldn’t do that to Jonathan Ross.