Episode 5: The Humanist Blockbuster and the Evolutionary Epic with Dr Alexander Hall

In this episode, we welcome Dr Alexander Hall, who discusses his research into the popular media representation of science and religion in the 20th century.

Dr Hall is a historian of science and environmental historian. He is a member of the Science and Belief in Society management team, and you can read his Researcher Profile here.

Alex introduces us to ways of presenting science which became common on television and radio over the second half of the 20th century, the ‘evolutionary epic’ and the ‘humanist blockbuster’: grand, sweeping stories about nature and evolution, that take us from the earliest moments of creation to now, and which in many ways echo religious creation myths. Alex helps us trace the history and development of these ways of presenting science, through influential figures such as Sir David Attenborough, Sir Julian Huxley, and the archetypal work of Jacob Bronowski, to help us understand where this kind of storytelling style comes from, and why it’s so common in science broadcasting.

Alex also discusses why it’s so important to investigate media presentations of Science and Religion if we want to understand the relationship between science and belief in society – and as a bonus he also recommends his favourite science and religion TV and radio programmes!

Listen to the podcast here:

This podcast is 51 minutes and 57 seconds long

The key words associated with this podcast are:

  • Evolutionary Epic
  • Humanist Blockbuster
  • Media Representation of Science and Religion
  • Media History
  • Jacob Bronowski

To learn more about these issues, we recommend that you read:

  • Hall, Alexander. “A Humanist Blockbuster: Jacob Bronowski and The Ascent of Man.” In Rethinking History, Science, and Religion: An Exploration of Conflict and the Complexity Principle, edited by Lightman, Bernard, 145-59. Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2019. doi:10.2307/j.ctvqc6h4s.12.
  • Hall, Alexander. “Evolution on the Small Screen: Reflections on Media, Science, and Religion in Twentieth-Century Britain”. In Identity in a Secular Age: Science, Religion, and Public Perceptions, edited by Elsdon-Baker, Fern and Lightman, Bernard, 67-86. Pittsburgh, Pa.: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2020. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctv1595n98

You can view Jacob Bronowski’s Ascent of Man on Youtube: