12 May 2006


Ann Atkins at it again

Below is an email our member Frank Friedmann sent to the BBC, concerning Ann Atkins' latest "Thought for the Day", and their response.


-- To BBC --

Dear Sir,

Ann Atkins used the programme on 9 May 2006 today to launch an attack on Rationalists.

That she can do so shows up the lack of natural justice in the policy of denying atheists access to the programme - they can be collectively slandered and misrepresented but have no right of reply.

I notice that speakers on the programme do not use it as a platform from which to condemn the adherents of other religions - I don’t know if this is out of respect or because they are constrained by editorial rules, but it does emphasise the injustice in the censorship of atheism.

Were you to change the policy, might I put forward my wife, Eleanor Davidson, as a candidate? She has just become the country’s first Humanist member of a hospital chaplaincy team (See First Person article in Leicester Mercury 29 April 2006). [See also the 2nd of April message on this blog.]

Returning to Ann Atkins’s argument. According to her, the fact that strong men gave up their lives to save weak women on the Titanic violates a ‘rationalist’ principle that the strong are genetically constrained to outdo the weak in the struggle for survival.

I believe she meant this as an argument against Darwin’s concept of Survival of the Fittest or its refinement put forward by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene, but she misrepresents the theory -- a common tactic in such attacks. I have never come across a rationalist who would argue that humans are automata rigidly controlled in this way by their genes, but even so it is quite clear that the altruistic behaviour of the men on the Titanic is consistent with these theories. In the millions of years over which almost all of our biological evolution took place, most of the members of a group of people in one place confronted by a disaster would have been closely related members of a family or tribal group in which the paternity of children might have been uncertain. In these circumstances, saving children and women who might be pregnant could well be the best strategy to ensure the survival of ones own genes into the future.

The BBC cannot deserve a reputation as a reliable source until the censorship of atheism is ended.

Yours sincerely,
Frank Friedmann

-- Reply from BBC --

Thank you for your e-mail addressed to 'Thought For The Day'.

I understand you feel there is evidence of censorship of atheism on 'Thought For The Day' and the BBC in general.

I can assure you that the BBC is prevented by the terms of its licence from expressing an opinion of its own on any matter of public policy (other than broadcasting), and it is committed to approaching controversial matters impartially. That does not mean, however that we should merely provide a platform for others to express their views without those views being tested on behalf of our audiences. We seek rather to ensure that, over a period, all sides of any public debate are explored and explained, so that our viewers and listeners may be the better informed in coming to their own judgement of events.

It is a principle of BBC journalism that, whatever personal views you may hold - and everybody is entitled to have personal views in their private lives - you leave them at the door when you come to work. There are well-tried checks in the system.

We do find that viewers' opinions are an invaluable source of feedback. Please be assured that I have fully registered your comments on our daily audience log. This internal document will be made available to the 'Thought For The Day' production team and Senior BBC Management.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact the BBC.


Gary Sullivan
BBC Information

Frank Friedmann

The text of her "thought" is here:


It's far worse than Frank makes out. Talk about rewriting history!
Try again to get the

I'm copying this to you and any other secularist organisation I can find. It's an email I'm sending to BBC Radio Four's Feedback programme.


I am listening to the first programme in the new series of "Beyond Belief" and so far what I am hearing is, well, completely beyond belief. Your three guests are so far up their own smug religiosities that they appear to be completely blind to the realities of life for a modern child.

To claim that a "moral breakdown" in modern childhood is the product of a breakdown in religious observance is to completely ignore the real issue, which surely relates to the example perceived by youth of the obvious breakdown of social integrity in terms of religion-based political hypocrisy.

I cite the Blair and Bush warmongering as an obvious supreme example of the decrepitude of religion-based morality. Both men proclaimed, on the one hand, an adherence to the highest christian principles (both are said to have been personally guided by their religious faith); while with the other hand they proceeded jointly to unleash a hell of killing, maiming and torture upon the largely innocent population of Iraq. So much for love thy enemy and turn the other cheek!

If any moral breakdown in modern childhood has anything to do with religion at all, it is not caused by a breakdown in relious observance but in the increasingly clear perception, by the youth, that religiosity itself is so much the cause not of morality in any form, but of hypocrisy, hatred and aggression. If Blair, Bush and Binladen can so openly proclaim religious guidance for the terrible things they have all done, why anyone should be expected to have any faith whatsoever in religion as a force for good is entirely beyond my comprehension.

By not including an atheist on the panel to discuss this important subject the programme was rendered completely pointless, circular, and sickening in its smugness.


Nick Godwin
Dear Secularists: You would do well not to judge all those liberal tolerant Christians such as myself based on what Anne Atkins says. I loathe her comments too. I also loathe intolerance (anti gay, anti women, anti religion, anti secularist) be that coming from secular or religious sources. At the end of the day no secularist can answer what creation actually is or how life got going and neither can any religious person.
Thank you, Anonymous, I'm sure there are many within the religions who think the same way as you.

As secularists we should always, in the case of Christianity in particular, remember that it is possible to separate the 'philosophy' from the theology. That is, to look at the 'love thy neighbour' type principles separately from the claims that they were uttered by the son of a mythical god who, in fact, was really god himself in human guise, etc., etc.

As regards the origin of the Universe and life ... science and cosmology has made enormous strides in the last couple of centuries and even though the ultimate riddle has not yet been solved (how did it start from nothing?) we already know more than enough to be able to ditch the numerous Bronze Age mythologies that purport to hold the truth. Anyone who denies that the solution, if it can be found at all, will be found through science is no different to those in the Church who denied for centuries after the proof was found, that the Earth orbits the Sun, not the other way round.

The puzzle of the origin of life is perhaps more likely to be solved in the next couple of decades. Scientists have already come close to creating very simple self-replicating life forms in the laboratory. It is within scientific reach: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20249628/

As to whether it started uniquely on Earth, there are increasing signs that there are other planets likely to be similar to Earth in other solar systems in our galaxy. There is also an increasing amount of educated guesswork that the "seeds" of life may have arrived from outer space on meteorites. If that is true then the likelihood of life existing elsewhere is hugely increased. Discovering the truth of these various theories and unpicking the complexities is within reach so your final assertion, I feel, is not well-founded. The answer of how life got going is very close indeed.
We may one day synthesise life - and if we do, we'll have gained important insights no doubt. But we will not have proved that this was how life on earth actually began. After all, we contend that there is no evidence for an 'intelligent designer' starting things off. Also, if we are ever able to show that the first life arrived here from another planet/galaxy/whatever, we'll be no nearer to knowing how it arose out there.
Dawkins and others have pointed out that, if we accept the theory of evolution, life's precursor (in the form of a complex self-replicating molecule) had to arise just once, probably over a billion years ago. The probability of this having left a trace in the fossil record is close to zero, as is the probability that we'll ever find it. So we may have to resign ourselves to NEVER knowing for sure how life began. None of this adds any weight to the 'Bronze Age' fictions.

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