Barbara Walters Heaven Special Includes Token Atheist Response

screencap of Ellen Johnson and Barbara Walters
Ellen Johnson and Barbara Walters

The July 6th special 20/20 episode all about “Heaven” gave about 2 minutes and 30 seconds for the atheist view. Even though it was a token amount, it was more time than I thought they would give to non-believers.

When I saw the title of the special edition of the ABC news magazine 20/20, I assumed it would be religious cheerleading the whole time even if journalist Barbara Walters was presenting the story. I almost decided not to watch it at all but then I wanted to prove how bigoted the show would be so I put it on DVR and scanned though it over the weekend.

The bone thrown to the non-belief crowd happens in the last half of the two hours. We got a whole two and half minutes of straight atheist viewpoint and about five minutes of a geneticist talking about a “God gene” that didn’t prove anything about Heaven or religious belief.

Even though it was just a token 2.5 minutes, it was 2.5 minutes more than I thought we would get.

The segment starts with some scenes from Camp Quest and Walters telling us that the camp is the atheist answer to Bible camp. The video looks like it was old footage used when Primetime Live did a story on camp founder Edwin Kagin several years ago.

Then Walters talks to former American Atheist president Ellen Johnson.

I thought Johnson did a decent job getting out the atheist viewpoint. She answered Walters’ questions directly and briefly and it looked like the editing was favorable.

Right after Johnson’s “segment” was a bit about the poorly named “God gene” which is the work of geneticist Dean Hamer. The God gene hypothesis proposes that a specific gene (VMAT2) predisposes humans towards spiritual or mystic experiences. Of course finding such a gene doesn’t prove God or a Heaven exists only that some people have certain reactions when they pray hard or focus on religious behavior – much like people feel good after listening to an excellent piece of music or viewing a great piece of art. It was good that Dr. Hamer said that people with this gene didn’t all believe in God. That’s why it’s poor name for a gene.

Finally, in the tag before the commercial it introduces the topic of near death experiences but the voice over mentions a Doctor who says such experiences were nothing more than hallucinations.

My initial idea was this special was a total waste of time but found out it actually had more information from the non-belief side than I thought.

Token atheist on 20/20 Heaven special 07/06/2012

This clip of the show is the whole non-belief segment, the part about the “God gene”, and the tag about the near death people.

One Reply to “Barbara Walters Heaven Special Includes Token Atheist Response”

  1. I don't think we were watching the same program. Out of two hours of show time, atheism/skepticism only got about 7 minutes at most. It was definitely tilted toward theism's view point. The small number of minutes given to a different view point was only done to appear balanced – but that is if you believe there are two equal sides to the argument. 

    Also basing your "science" on feelings misses the point about what science is about. Check out the Wikipedia article about science… 

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