Egyptian TV: Darwin, Nietzsche, and a Certain God
By: Mohammed Kheir
Published Wednesday, August 1, 2012
A new show on Egyptian television hosted by young preacher Moez Masoud takes a more sophisticated stab at atheism, hoping to draw doubters back to their faith.
At first glance, The Journey to Certainty (Rehlat al-Yaqeen), a show presented by the Islamic preacher Moez Masoud, comes across as a sequel to Science and Faith (al-Ilm wal Iman), the famous show that was presented in the past by physician and writer Mustafa Mahmoud on Egyptian television.
Back in the eighties, Science and Faith was one of most viewed television shows in Egypt. The premise of this famous television program was the reconciliation of science and religion, or more precisely, using science to reinforce “religious certainty.”
Similarly, this premise serves as the basis for the young preacher’s new show.
Even the show’s title sequence resembles that of Science and Faith, with scenes from nature and of living creatures moving in succession over serene and suggestive background music.
Nonetheless, the new program has added more “scientific” shots, including some of planes taking off, different kinds of medical pills and tablets, and people crossing streets in modern-looking cities.
Yet The Journey to Certainty soon diverges from the common ground with Science and Faith, breaking away from the old show in the first few episodes. Masoud’s program does not address science in general, or the various kinds of experiments conducted by scientists.
The young preacher is more interested in the issue of “religious certainty,” or the existence of God, and debates the ideas of what he dubs “the prominent atheists,” such as the German philosopher Nietzsche, Charles Darwin and Richard Dawkins.
Of course, The Journey to Certainty debates their ideas in order to rebut them. This approach is in fact no different than the one found in the practice of responding to suspicions about Islam, which is popular on religious websites.
One difference, however, is that the program offers its rebuttals in a modern context, wherein scientific and philosophical ideas are somewhat respected. The same goes for the human inclination toward skepticism, as the need to discuss faith-related concerns is acknowledged.
No doubt, this age-old existential issue (the existence of God) cannot be truly debated in the known or scientific sense, as science and religion share no common ground in both essence and methodology. This is evident from the title of the program – The Journey to Certainty.
In other words, the viewer is not given a discussion of certainty, as much as he or she is taken on the young preacher’s journey towards it. In addition, that journey only takes about 15 minutes in each episode, which is insufficient to tackle an issue that is as old as human civilization.
Hence, the episodes focus on addressing some of the arguments advanced by atheists, which the program then rebuts.
This task is handled either by Masoud himself, or by guests who are handpicked to appeal to the young target audience of the show. Such guests include the young and popular media personality Ahmad al-Esseily; Yosri Fouda, one of the biggest supporters of the revolution in the press corps; and the young Islamist-leaning academic Moataz-Bellah Abdul-Fattah.
And to add the final touches on its “trendy” image, the program has also hosted Abdul-Hakim Winter, a British Muslim lecturer of Islamic studies at Cambridge University.
The majority of these guests come to talk about their spiritual experiences and their relationship with the Quran. When it comes to “responding to atheism,” Masoud himself volunteers for the task.
Masoud purports that “the crisis of [religious] certainty” is due to the existence of individuals who, in the name of religion, have come to abuse it.
Masoud breaks down the “weakness of certainty” into three phases: heedlessness (i.e. insecure belief in God); certainty in faith coupled with doubts regarding the applicability of religion; and finally, doubting holy scriptures, or questioning the premise that they were divinely revealed.
Based on the above, the young preacher tackles the ideas of atheism as presented by some of its most important symbols, as he says.
However, Masoud tends to confuse scientists and philosophers, such as Darwin and Nietzsche, to whom atheism was not the main cause per se, with public figures who openly advocated atheism throughout their lives – such as Richard Dawkins, author of The God Delusion, and Sir Anthony Flew.
This mix-up between the two positions has led the show to often explain atheism as either the result of psychological problems, such as “when Darwin lost his young daughter,” or as causing psychological problems itself, such as Nietzsche’s “mental breakdown in his later life.”
The psychological interpretation of these thinkers’ positions on the question of God has in truth overshadowed the scientific aspect of the issue.
For example, Darwin had laid the groundwork for his theory of evolution (by natural selection) when he was 27, i.e. in 1838, prior to his marriage and subsequently, before his daughter Anne died. Darwin in fact had ten children with his wife Emma.
According to Annie's Box, a book by British author Randal Keynes, the interest generated by Darwin’s The Origin of Species (1859) had actually greatly alleviated his grief over his daughter’s death.
All this of course has nothing to do with the theory of evolution itself, which has only been validated by modern science, ultimately prompting the Vatican to reconcile itself with the theory, based on the principle that “the Lord had created the first cell.”
But the positive trait that sets Masoud’s television program apart is that it has not repeated common mistakes such as claiming that the theory of evolution holds that “humans are descended from monkeys.”
The preacher did not claim, either, to have the scientific background that allows him to debate evolution, and was honest with his viewers when he spoke about the fact that Darwin did not directly clash with the fundamental beliefs of the Christian faith, attributing Darwin’s position to social pressure as opposed to misgivings about his own ideas.
Such a rare “logical” explanation in the world of religious television programs is probably the most distinguishing feature of The Journey to Certainty, as well as the fact that it also allows for counter-arguments rather than ignoring them as was the case in the past.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.