HE IS considered one of the finest broadcasters of the last 50 years, responsible perhaps more than any other television presenter for revealing the wonders of the natural world to the British public.
But yesterday, Sir David Attenborough revealed that his efforts to open people's eyes to the beauty and fragility of our planet had prompted hate mail from Christian viewers for not crediting God in his nature programmes.
"They tell me to burn in Hell and good riddance", Sir David said during an interview to promote his latest documentary on Charles Darwin and natural selection.
This year marks two centuries since Darwin's birth and 150 years since the groundbreaking On the Origin of Species was published.
Speaking in the Radio Times, Sir David said that he was also asked why he did not give "credit" to the Lord, Sir David continued: "They always mean beautiful things like hummingbirds.
"I always reply by saying that I think of a little child in East Africa with a worm burrowing through his eyeball.
"The worm cannot live in any other way, except by burrowing through eyeballs. I find that hard to reconcile with the notion of a divine and benevolent creator."
Sir David, who attended the Wyggeston Grammar School for Boys in Leicester from the 1930s, said that as a boy he had not felt any pressure to embrace Christianity.
He said: "It never really occurred to me to believe in God – and I had nothing to rebel against, my parents told me nothing whatsoever.
"But I do remember looking at my headmaster delivering a sermon, a classicist, extremely clever … and thinking, he can't really believe all that, can he? How incredible."
Sir David also said it was "terrible, terrible" when creationism – the belief broadly held by evangelical Christians that the world was created by an omnipotent being – and evolution were taught in schools as equivalent, alternative perspectives.
"It's like saying that two and two equals four, but if you wish to believe it, it could also be five ... Evolution is not a theory; it is a fact, every bit as much as the historical fact that William the Conqueror landed in 1066."
Reacting to the Sir David's comments, Fred Drummond, national director of Evangelical Alliance Scotland said those who sent hate mail to the broadcaster did not represent the movement as a whole.
He said: "David Attenborough is a brilliant broadcaster who has arguably done more than anyone alive to illustrate the wonders of the natural world. We owe him thanks, not harm, as the Bible says that nature signposts God's power and divinity. We, like Sir David, are seeking truth, and whilst we may disagree on some of our conclusions, our faith is one where we are called on to 'bless and not curse'. Those writing these letters are not representative of Evangelical Christians in the UK."
SIR DAVID Attenborough joined the BBC in 1952. He launched the natural history programme Zoo Quest in 1954, which ran for a decade. Other broadcasts ranged from politics to gardening.
In 1965 he became controller of BBC2, overseeing the introduction of colour television, and became BBC director of programmes in 1969. In 1973, he returned to natural history programmes, with the landmark series Life on Earth, watched by 500 million people worldwide.
Its sequel, The Living Planet, followed in 1984 and in 1990 the final part of the trilogy, The Trials of Life. Sir David was knighted in 1985 and spent his 80th birthday in 2006 filming similarly aged giant tortoises on the Galapagos Islands