(Photo: Reuters/Eloy Alonso)
David Attenborough - British broadcaster, naturalist and evolution theorist - said on a BBC broadcast on Sunday that he is now agnostic and believes that faith in God does not preclude belief in evolution.
Attenborough, who is considered one of the most well-traveled men in the world, spoke on the 70th anniversary of BBC radio's "Desert Island Discs." Host Kirsty Young asked the 85-year-old whether all his traveling has led to a belief in God or brought him "closer to the Lord."
"I don't think an understanding and an acceptance of the four billion-year-long history of life, I don't think that is any way inconsistent with a belief in a supreme being," Attenborough said. "I'm not so confident as to say that I am an atheist, I would prefer to say I'm an agnostic."
Attenborough's agnostic proclamation does not damage the atheist community according to David Silverman, President of American Atheists.
"I don't think he said there might be God," Silverman told The Christian Post. "I think what he's saying is that people who believe in God can also believe in the scientific fact of evolution. We've heard the same thing from the Catholic Church."
"He does not mean to say that there is no God," Silverman said, "nor does saying that imply he believes there is a God."
Attenborough, who has narrated dozens of nature films including the acclaimed BBC series "Life," has said that belief in God and belief in evolution are not mutually exclusive.
"People write to me that evolution is only a theory. Well, it is not a theory. Evolution is as solid a historical fact as you could conceive," Attenborough told the BBC in 2009.
"What is a theory is whether natural selection is the mechanism and the only mechanism. That is a theory. But the historical reality that dinosaurs led to birds and mammals produced whales, that's not theory," he added.
Silverman said many theists believe in evolutionary theory and that it is not – or, should not be seen as - contradictory to religious beliefs.
"You absolutely can believe in God and evolution," Silverman said. "You can also believe in math and believe in God. Evolution is a scientific provable fact; it's not a matter of opinion. People who don't believe in evolution are deluding themselves."
Silverman said Attenborough's comments highlight a common misconception about agnosticism and atheism: that agnosticism is a "stepping stone" to atheism. Silverman thinks the two schools of thought are linked but ultimately do not inform each other.
Fellow pillar of atheism Richard Dawkins expressed similar views to Attenborough regarding the nature of things, saying it is wise to refrain from commenting until the full scope of evidence is attained. But according to Dawkins' book, "The God Delusion," the question of whether God exists is not one of those issues.
God either "exists or he doesn't. It's a scientific question," according to Dawkins who goes on to lambaste agnostics for their shallowness of thought.
"God's existence or non-existence is a scientific fact about the universe, discoverable in principle if not in practice," Dawkins wrote. "If he existed and chose to reveal it, God himself could clinch the argument noisily and unequivocally in his favor."
Though Silverman acknowledged Attenborough's beliefs, he said the comment cannot - and will not – influence his atheistic belief and agrees with Dawkins that physical evidence of God is the necessary catalyst.
"Now if God shows himself to me, just as if Santa Claus shows himself to me, I won't be an atheist," Silverman said.