Why does this programme annoy me so much? The ubiquity of Brian Cox and Robin Ince? The self-satisfied self-congratulatory smugness of the programme? The overwhelmingly male panel? The lazy platitudinous characterisation of religion and faith as easy options, usually for faith as ‘belief without evidence’ as opposed to science which is ‘belief based on evidence’?

In the programme on Radio 4 the other day I heard essentially this argument: “Science is great because ‘I don’t know’ is the commonest phrase used by scientists, whilst religion is crap because its adherents have all the answers and therefore abandon all curiosity and interest in life”. Again and again there is a real sense that these people haven’t bothered to find out what faith might actually be to believers, and to have some sense of what belief is about. Many of the greatest theologians have been essentially agnostic about God. All believers are not going round in complete certainty. And those who have reasoned about God’s existence have very rarely argued that he is another superfluous ‘thing’ added on to the set of things called the universe. So clearly evidence is not going to work in the same way for beliefs about God.

The airy dismissal of philosophy in a programme that was aiming to find out whether there are things we can’t know, what the unknowns are, and how we know what we know was another rather sad aspect. I know it’s only a half hour radio show with more of an interest in entertainment than education, but I was expecting there to be at least some of the more entry-level epistemology. Instead we get classic quotes from Brian Cox :”Philosophy is to science as pornography is to sex: it is cheaper, easier and some people prefer it.” and “all the scientists I know don’t do philosophy” – well maybe they should Brian, they might become better scientists.

It seems to me that these new high priests of science are busily drawing for themselves a circle into which only things which science has deemed appropriate may go.

Someone posted a link to the song ‘Storm’ by Tim Minchin in which he rips into a hippy girl who has all kinds of silly unfounded beliefs. It’s quite vicious but you’re meant to think well good on you Tim, for finally coming down on the side of rationality, we’ve had enough of these bloody hippy types believing all sorts of crap and trying to make us believe it too. He says at one point – “alternative medicine – that is medicine that has been proved not to work” – So Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese medicine have been proved not to work? Go tell the Indians or Chinese who use the traditional medicines alongside new in their hospitals.

What is annoying is the lack of self-awareness. What are the assumptions of the view Tim Minchin, Brian Cox and his little comedian friend Robin Ince espouse? Well they would tell you they assume nothing, they have no prior beliefs about the world, that’s what makes them so superior to religious types. You hear this a lot “I don’t feel the need to talk to an invisible man in the sky” and so on. A little bit of entry level philosophy would sort that lot out. A bit of epistemology to wash the common-sense realism naïveté out of their eyes. But Cox wouldn’t stand for that , he’s suspicious of philosophy.