Brian Cox’s “Wonders of life – what is life?” .. a review

Yesterday evening I watched the first in a new Brian Cox series on the wonders of life.  I was left with an uncomfortable feeling about the way the content was presented. In essence, the program shows very little science but a lot of metaphysical opinion. In essence it it propaganda.  As best as I can, I’ve transcribed phrases from the program in blue (thanks to iPlayer), to show what I mean.

“no matter how unscientific it sounds this, this idea that there is some kind of soul or spirit or animating force that makes us what we are that exists after our death is common.…. it ‘feels right’, it is hard to accept that you are … just something that emerges from an inanimate bag of stuff”.  This is filmed against the backdrop of smoky fires and gravestones where people are gathering to ‘connect with their dead relatives’. 

This section clearly communicates that spirituality is a magical force that is outside of science and is necessary to explain life – ‘spirit of the gaps’ – but that such an idea is wrong.  Although we might not like it we are just a bag of stuff (no explanation, but trust me, I’m a professor celebrity).

So this has set up the straw-man god that is not part of the natural world, but is outside of it, tinkering occasionally to start life through magical means.  No mention of a God who created and sustains the laws of physics themselves.

Feelings, and indeed we are ‘just something that emerges’ i.e. they have no meaning or purpose.  This is a metaphysical view that is essential if the idea of a purposeful God who set the universe in motion is abhorrent – yet the filming and presentation are designed to manipulate those same feelings.  This is not science, it is carefully crafted propaganda.

“if we are to say that science can explain everything about us then it is incumbent on science to answer the question what is it that animates living things what is it the difference between a piece of rock carved into a gravestone and me? …. For millennia, some form of spirituality has been evoked to explain what it means to be alive and how life began.  It is only recently that science has begun to answer these deepest of questions”  ,

Although the words don’t strictly say it, the message is clearly that science can explain life; no other explanation is necessary.  Again, the alternative is some magical force outside nature. The false dichotomy presented again (science OR spirituality) allows no space for a god who is consistent with scientific discovery, where scientific discovery allows us to learn more about God.  So science is getting busy and is providing the answers, which are:

  • Energy transforms from one form to another, and that caused and explains life – that is the reason we are here.  All life continues to be powered by the same process of transforming energy from one form to another.
  • We all have DNA, which is the “blueprint for life” and continues the organisation of the chemical processes from generation to generation, and shows that we have common ancestry with every other living things

“life is … a collection of chemical processes that harness flow of energy to create local islands of order…. Far from being some chance event ignited by some mystical spark the emergence of life on earth might have been the inevitable consequence of the laws of physics …. A living cosmos might be the only way our cosmos can be”

Mystical spark or science – the false dichotomy perpetuated.

The program focuses on a god of mysticism and magic, and appears not to know of the Christian God.

The God of Christianity is believed to be the creator of the universe, the cause of the Big Bang, the author of the laws of physics, the inventor and sustainer of a cosmos that has the inevitable consequence of producing life.  A God who cannot be seen – yet can be seen everywhere.  A God whose power has gifted us with the ability to feel and understand, and who gives meaning to each of us.  A God who is love; the love we feel is part of God rather than ‘just some emerging thing’.

It is frustrating when scientific programmes such as these don’t present a balanced view of the metaphysics.

Other posts which might be of interest:



About Minimalist Christian

Phil Hemsley is a graduate of the University of Cambridge, and a Fellow of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in the UK. He works for a multinational company in the power industry, has presented technical papers at international conferences and holds many patents. He has published two books, the most recent is "The Big Picture, an Honest Examination of God Science and Purpose". He has lived on both sides of the faith fence. He is married, with two daughters.
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5 Responses to Brian Cox’s “Wonders of life – what is life?” .. a review

  1. Anonymous says:

    Couldn’t agree more. This is the cult of nothing butery. When will there be a balanced answer to this rubbish. Which tv channel will have the guts to commission such a programme


  2. mygoatybeard says:

    I’m not sure its propaganda. Probably just a bit buddhist though.


  3. Christine Reid says:

    I think he made it clear from the beginning of the program that he was going to explain life from a physics point of view. Which he did.


  4. Deryck High says:

    Personally, I think Brian is “spot-on”.
    As for a TV programme to present an alternative view…. I think we have had all that already for many decades. As for “propaganda”… surely there can be no stronger propaganda than Religion?


  5. Thanks for your viewpoint Deryck. I think it helps us all to identify specific examples of misleading communication, and certainly many religions do this too. I’ve tried to present evidence rather than assertion in my book The Big Picture – I wonder if I succeeded?


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