"Creationist presenter Dan Walker to host BBC Breakfast".
This was the way one of Britain's leading serious newspapers, The Times, announced (£) the new presenter of one of Britain's leading breakfast TV shows – BBC Breakfast. The article appeared to cast doubt on whether Walker is fit to present cosy news/chat shows on the basis of a small part of his religious beliefs. Which is odd...
Andrew Neil has a plethora of business interests. Yet the Times doesn't seem sceptical about any conflict of interest in him hosting two of the BBC's main political programmes.
Today Programme anchor Nick Robinson was the chairman of the Young Conservatives, while Channel Four News' Economics Editor Paul Mason had various links to left wing causes, yet both of these men manage to hold their own in the impartial world of British broadcast news, despite their apparent political biases.
Mainstream presenters have come back to primetime TV and radio after various indiscretions without having their ability to do their job called into question. Richard Bacon admitted taking cocaine and yet is now a mainstay of BBC radio, Chris Evans admitted 'acting like a spoiled child' on the Radio One Breakfast show, yet now presents the Radio Two version (as well as the ratings juggernaut Top Gear). Wildlife presenter Chris Packham has made a number of campaigning statements, yet remains a fixture of the BBC's coverage.
So why would expressing a faith position be a uniquely divisive thing? Why would all these presenters be deemed 'neutral' enough to have major programmes on national TV and radio, yet The Times see fit to stick the boot into Walker?
This becomes even more baffling when you consider other mainstream presenters such as John Humphreys and Brian Cox have been open about their agnosticism (Humphreys even made a programme about it). Meanwhile, the list of well-known atheists on mainstream TV is long – just some of the big names include David Starkey, Dara O'Briain, Clive James, Stephen Fry, Derren Brown, Charlie Brooker and Nigella Lawson.
This is fine. My life or faith isn't imperiled by the fact that my screen and airwaves are stuffed with people who don't believe in God. In a mature, pluralist, democratic society, I can cope! I understand that someone on the screen doesn't share my beliefs yet, might still be worth watching and might have some thing to teach me.
The real nub of the Times report is that Walker is a 'creationist' and therefore can't be trusted to be impartial on matters of science. It says his 'spokeswoman' confirmed that he is a creationist. This is the basis for the gossipy piece in which an 'insider' describes Walker's views as a "bit nutty" and "pretty loopsville," before adding, "It could create difficulties on some stories – say they have a story about an exciting new dinosaur fossil. How is he going to square a fossil that is 75,000 years old with his belief that the Earth is less than 10,000 years old?"
A legitimate question, maybe. Until you scratch slightly below the surface. A fact box (sic) included in the article makes the following statement, "Creationism is a term to describe a range of beliefs asserting that the universe, the Earth and all creatures were specifically created by God or gods. It is generally set against the scientific consensus that all living creatures reached their current form through a gradual process of evolution over hundreds of millions of years."
This is simply wrong. Creationism simply describes the belief that there can be no purely naturalistic or materialist explanation for the existence of the universe. It does not necessarily entail any opposition to the theory of evolution. Many, many Christians and other religious believers, back as far as St Augustine and beyond, have realised that it is possible to be a creationist in a metaphysical sense, yet committed to evolution rather than a literal six day creation.
Some Christians cleave to the idea of creation in six 24-hour periods 6,000 years ago – but this is a specific type of creationism. It doesn't appear that Walker's spokeswomen was asked to clarify whether he believes in six day creation – making the rest of the supposition in the piece merely idle speculation.
If this was the basis on which the reporters decided to canvass opinion about Walker's "nutty" views, then it is clear that for some reason, faith is seen as uniquely divisive. 'Creationist' here is being used as a cipher for "crazy religious person."
Yet this is a parody of what creationism actually means. Taken literally, all Christians are committed to being creationists in some sense. None of us believes there is a sufficient materialist answer for why the universe exists.
If Walker is a literal six day creationist, then I happen to think he's wrong. Adherence to this type of creationism is peculiarly modern test of orthodoxy, and it isn't the best interpretation of the Book of Genesis – it's a 'category mistake' as Rowan Williams described it.
However, I am equally sceptical as to how an atheist materialist can explain where our contingent universe comes from. As far as I can see, there is no definitive naturalistic, materialist theory of why there is something rather than nothing. If someone is an atheist, then they have to be committed to a materialistic explanation for the existence of the universe (unless they're going to make a bizarre solipsistic argument that we don't really exist). I just don't believe it.
However – and here is the crucial thing – I'm not opposed to people who do follow metaphysical naturalism being on my TV screens talking about science, or indeed any other news of the day.
It really is about time that we grew up. Christians (and those of other religious faiths) need to have their views interrogated. Yet shouldn't we be afforded the same level of scepticism about our beliefs as atheists and materialists? Why has faith become seen as uniquely problematic, uniquely divisive and uniquely stupid?
Dan Walker has some faith commitments that he admits are just that – faith commitments, rather than falsifiable scientific evidence.
@filbloor just not true Phil. I'm happy to admit my beliefs require a leap of faith. I just think that yours does too. Have a good one.— Dan Walker (@mrdanwalker) November 14, 2015
It would be nice to hear some of his anonymous critics be as honest about their own leaps of faith. Dan Walker is a brilliant broadcaster. On that basis, I'm looking forward to seeing him on breakfast TV along with people of all faiths and none.