According to the Times, Dan Walker, the new BBC Breakfast presenter, is ‘a creationist’. A ‘senior BBC figure’ is quoted as saying that this ‘nutty’ belief would make life difficult for Walker if, say, he had to present a story about a 75,000-year-old fossil. How could he if he thinks the earth is less than 10,000 years old? Rupert Myers goes further in the Telegraph: ‘Creationists cannot be trusted to report objectively,’ Myers claims, ‘or to interact reasonably with their interviewees and with the public’.
Before jumping to conclusions, it’s worth saying that Dan Walker’s beliefs aren’t publicly known. Anyone who thinks God made the world is a ‘creationist’ in some sense. If Walker thinks the earth is less than 10,000 years old, that is more noteworthy: but then we only have the word of that ‘senior BBC figure’ to go on.
I badgered his spokeswoman, but she would only say that ‘Dan is a Christian who believes that God is behind creation’. If that is all he believes, then the Times story doesn’t amount to much.
He may believe in the Bible, but that doesn’t mean he rejects the evidence about the age of the earth. St Augustine, one of the greatest of biblical interpreters, said 1500 years ago that if something in the Bible obviously doesn’t align with the known facts, then it can’t be meant as a bald factual statement. He also warned Christians not to imagine that the Bible was a scientific treatise – if they did, he said, people would laugh at them.
When Darwin’s Origin of Species came out, some Christians panicked that it might disprove the Bible. John Henry Newman, Britain’s best-known Catholic priest, disagreed: he said that he had no idea whether Darwin was right, but if he was, it would just go to show that ‘the Creator, millions of years ago, gave laws to matter… Mr Darwin's theory need not then to be atheistical, be it true or not; it may simply be suggesting a larger idea of Divine Prescience and Skill’.
You can believe God made the world and still accept scientific findings. This is commonly forgotten, as in the BBC’s 2006 Horizon survey, which asked people whether they believed either that ‘human kind’ had evolved over millions of years and ‘God had no part in the process’, or that ‘God created human kind pretty much in his / her present form at one time within the last 10,000 years’. The possibility that God’s plan of creation might include evolution was off the table.
Dan Walker could have done us all a favour here. He is open about his faith – ‘Everything I have comes from God’, he said in a piece for a Christian website – and it plays a big part in his life: he once missed the Wimbledon men’s final because he thinks his Sunday should be given to God. But without asking him to become a one-man apologetics service, couldn’t he tell us whether he thinks the earth is under 10,000 years old, or whether he thinks it’s probably a lot older, or whether, to be honest, he hasn’t thought about it that much? If Christians were a bit more frank about these things, they could do more to show that Christianity is comfortable with science.
As for the principle that irrationality should disqualify you from the breakfast TV sofa, this wouldn’t just apply to Christians. There are people who believe there is no such thing as free will but still beat themselves up about their mistakes; who think you shouldn’t believe anything that isn’t scientifically proved, but constantly (and admirably) act based on unprovable ethical principles; who think human beings are just sacks of chemicals, but still devote their lives to helping them.
Then there are all the irrational things which people of all faiths and none, and practically everyone at times, believe about our own lives: that hard work will make us happy, or that we can solve our problems by rationalising them, or that we don’t have any weaknesses and all our difficulties are the fault of other people. All very strange ideas.
But the mere fact that someone holds irrational beliefs doesn't make them a bad presenter. Dan Walker is eminently qualified to be a breakfast TV host, whatever kind of creationist he turns out to be.