David Attenborough, humanist: “That’s what being alive is about”

I love all of David Attenborough’s work that I’ve seen — from the documentary series Life on Earth that I watched as a child, through to his narration on the gorgeously produced Planet Earth and its follow-ups. Here he makes an eloquent case not only for a naturalistic view of the cosmos but for a humanist morality as well:

I love, too, the sense of sheer wonder and joy that he finds in the natural world — a joy that doesn’t need to be connected to the illusion of a grander purpose, but that he revels in for its own sake. (It’s a sentiment he shares with many other poetic atheists.) This is from an excellent profile in the New Statesman:

His boundless curiosity is instinctive. “That’s what being alive is about,” Attenborough says. “I mean, it’s the fun of it all, making sense of it, understanding it. There’s a great pleasure in knowing why trees shed their leaves in winter. Everybody knows they do, but why? If you lose that, then you’ve lost pleasure.”

He seems uncharacteristically sombre for a moment. Then he says: “I feel regret that there are some people who’ve never even savoured it. It never occurs to people to wonder why a hummingbird and a hummingbird hawkmoth do the same things. It’s a delight. So I suppose there are some people who don’t do these things and are very happy and have perfectly happy lives. Who’s to patronise them? But all I can say is that the pleasure of it all is not virtue, or high morality. It’s just fun.”

Attenborough has apparently made his last TV series. I hope not; but if that’s the case, what he’s shared with us over the course of decades is certainly more than enough to be grateful for.

Update: Others analyze Attenborough’s video interview here.


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