Rupert Myers’ response to creationists misunderstands both Young Earth Creationism & the “literal” hermeneutic

In a recent and troubling piece in The Telegraph about Dan Walker’s appointment as presenter of BBC Breakfast, Rupert Myers registered some concern because Dan has self-identified as a creationist. As I commented here, echoing the views of a number of others, Myers assumes Walker is a Young Earth Creationist (YEC) when he has made no such statement to that effect. Creationism is the belief that God created the world – in and of itself making no claim to the mechanics of how he did so. Every Christian that believes God was the direct cause of the creation of the world is therefore a creationist. More to the point, even if Walker turns out to be a YEC, the point was made repeatedly that there is no reason to presume he will be any less able to present the news accurately (on palaeontology, geology or biology) than presenters with particular political views can fairly present on politics. Interestingly, this very point was made by Benjamin Jones of the National Secular Society.

In response to the comments from many Christians – which he notes were more often than not both reasonable and polite – Myers has followed up with a piece titled Creationists hate me because I challenged Dan Walker’s appointment to BBC Breakfast. Specifically, Myers states that he has received a steady stream of comments from people “trying as hard as they can to miss the point.” He goes on to claim that he has been widely misrepresented and that such misrepresentation has primarily come from YECs. The point, which Myers was apparently trying to make but which he believes YECs seem unable to grasp, is that “viewers, aware of an anchor’s belief in creationism, would be forgiven for not trusting them to interview a paleontologist objectively, to present the latest findings on the age of perceptible space, or to discuss education or science policy with ministers.”

I would refer Myers back to my original response here. It is worth pointing out that I made no remark on where I stood on the creationist spectrum, as per my earlier definition, anywhere in my post. Perhaps Myers is simply presuming I am a YEC just as that presumption appears to have been laid upon Dan Walker. As yet, I am still unaware of any mention Walker has made about the age of the earth or the mechanics God employed in creating the world. Likewise, I made no inference about my position on these issues. Yet Myers insists that it is primarily YECs mouthing off and persists in presuming “creationists” are all YECs. Similarly, he continues to presume Dan Walker is himself a YEC when that has in no way been made clear.

Moreover, I would like to point out that the majority of my piece was dedicated to addressing the very point Myers claims he was trying to make. I spend considerable time articulating why Dan’s creationism, irrespective of the type or form to which he subscribes, should not cause any problem for viewers of BBC Breakfast. I specifically address Myers’ parallel regarding a political correspondent asked how he votes. Not only does everybody know the political allegiances of both Nick Robinson and Andrew Marr, making a nonsense of the claim that political correspondents asked how they vote would refuse to answer (they may not answer but we often still know their disposition), but I also explain why nobody really minds and trusts their presentation of the news nonetheless.

However, in his later piece, Myers demonstrates his lack of theological understanding by arguing “a literal belief in the earth’s construction timetable as set out in The Book of Genesis is controversial even within Christianity.” Actually, that is not true at all and demonstrates a total misunderstanding of the literal hermeneutic. A literal reading of the Bible, including the early chapters of Genesis, is a basic tenet of evangelical theology. Nevertheless, this has never stopped evangelicals like John Piper and Meredith Kline holding the framework view of Genesis 1&2 whilst still maintaining that they hold to a literal reading of the Bible. Similarly, John Walton – one time professor at Moody Bible Institute, a renowned evangelical college – does not take a material view of the origins of the universe. Nor does the evangelical theologian and philosopher William Lane Craig – philosophy professor at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University – take a six-day young earth view of creation. It is a fundamental error and a lack of theological nuance to presume that those who hold to a literal hermeneutic must be YECs.

All creationists of every hue hold to “a literal belief in the earth’s construction timetable as set out in The Book of Genesis.” The question is not whether they take a literal view but what is the literal truth being taught. As erstwhile professor of Greek at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Bill Mounce, explains in relation to Bible translations, literal does not mean word-for-word. He states:

When are we going to stop thinking “literal” means word for word? Webster defines “literal” as “involving the ordinary or usual meaning of a word; giving the meaning of each individual word; completely true and accurate, not exaggerated.” “Literal” all has to do with meaning, not form.

To give a non-controversial example of how this plays out for those who take a literal hermeneutic, consider 2 Chronicles 16:9a. Nobody takes the view (to my knowledge) that God has a physical pair of eyes, with legs attached to them, that run around the earth. Even those committed to a literal hermeneutic do not hold this view. Why not? Because it is apparent that the author intends to make a literal point about the omniscience of God by using figurative language. The literal hermeneutic takes account of things like style of literature, context, structure and authorial intention before taking the ordinary or usual meaning of a word.

To return to the issue at hand, it is therefore no less a literal reading of scripture to take any manner of views on the mechanics of creation or the age of the earth. Meredith Kline can legitimately hold that the usual meaning of the word yom in Hebrew is a 24-hour period, and can rightly note that meaning still holds in Genesis 1&2, whilst still coming to the literal conclusion that the author intended to write an analogical literary framework. It also means that one can maintain that the Bible, in its entirety, is the literal word of God whilst coming to any number of views on the creation of the world.

It is therefore entirely false to argue, as Myers does, that Dan Walker “now has a stated opinion, he is no longer a dispassionate and objective journalist.” This is manifestly untrue. His stated opinion is that God created the world, no more no less. This is a view shared by plethora of mainline scientists working in relevant scientific areas of study such as Physics and Biology. Furthermore, I would return to the point made in my original response. A stated view or otherwise does not mean he cannot carry out his role dispassionately – unless, of course, Paxman and Humphries’ Atheism/Agnoticism or Mehdi Hasan’s Islam or Krishnan Guru-Murthy’s Hinduism stop them from being legitimate journalists with stated views. Similarly, it rules out all those political journalists who have stated opinions on politics. Indeed, as I pointed out in my first piece, it means nobody can report on anything because everybody has views and opinions on all sorts of things and thus nobody can report objectively on anything. Unless Myers wants to render all journalistic endeavour impossible, his stated concerns over Dan Walker are not really credible.

Myers closes his piece by shining a spotlight on the BBC. He asks “what have the BBC done to reassure people that they have taken steps to ensure that this anchor’s public and highly controversial views will not affect their news coverage?” For what it’s worth, and in the BBC’s defence, they have employed Walker on North West Tonight, Match of the Day and Football Focus as a sports presenter and on Radio 5 Live’s Afternoon Edition as a current affair presenter as well as giving him occasional spots on other factual BBC programmes. To my knowledge, never once have his views on creation impacted upon any report he has delivered. Presumably this satisfies Myers test – the BBC have employed Walker for over a decade without his views on creation impacting the quality of his work. This suggests he ought to handle the BBC Breakfast role in a similar professional way.

However, what is unfortunate about Myers’ question of Walker is that it could (and should, if he is to be consistent) be asked of any and every journalist in the employ of the BBC. But, of course, this would lead to a never-ending stream of lengthy explanations from the BBC over each and every presenter whom they appoint to a new role. Unless, of course, Myers is simply special pleading in the case of a creationist? Are those who believe in creation as defined earlier – in-line with plenty of academics working within relevant scientific fields – the only journalists unable to report the news fairly or accurately?

If this is the case he wishes to make, a much stronger argument than a presumption Dan Walker is a YEC (which Walker has not stated) and a further presumption that this would somehow make it impossible for him to legitimately present on current affairs (which Myers has failed to explain at all) or that Walker would find it unconscionable to utter the words “scientists have found X which they believe to be Y million years old” is required. Similarly, this case would require Myers to ask a similar number of questions of every presenter who has a stated, or even inferred, view on anything. Anyone who ever had a political affiliation, anyone with a religious or non-religious standpoint, anyone with views on anything must be shown able to be impartial when faced with interviews that impinge on areas in which they have shown themselves to hold a considered view if he is to be consistent.

That would lead to Humphries’ removal until he can prove he would be impartial on issues related to faith. It would lead to the removal of all members of the Match of the Day team until they can prove they can report the sports news in light of their various team allegiances. It would mean the removal of all historians from historical programming until their own philosophical approach to history can be shown to not affect how they assess the work of other historians with whom they must interact. It means even those on Gardener’s Question Time must be assessed as able to put aside their particular inclination towards rose beds over and above leylandii. Moreover, a case would have to be made as to the intended end of this exercise? Are we aiming to make sure that all reporters and journalists share a set of basic beliefs and views which, whether they impact upon their ability to impart the news or not, will make us all feel better that we all think the same things about everything?

Let me suggest a better way, a way with which I suspect most people would be happy. Anybody, with whatever views they will, can present anything they want. The BBC would have no need to check that presenters do not share the views of David Icke or subscribe to the Communist Party or think eugenics might be a good idea. All that would matter is whether that presenter can present information without letting those views impact upon their presentation. If they can fairly and impartially read the auto-cue without slipping in various references to intergalactic reptoids, they will have done their job. The test, insofar as the BBC need to have one at all, is whether they read the news impartially. So long as they can do that, why on earth should we care what beliefs they hold in private?

So, to address Myers’ points directly:

  1. Dan Walker has never stated nor claimed to be a YEC. He is simply a creationist who believes God created the world. This is in line with plenty of mainline scientists working in the fields of Physics, Biology and Zoology.
  2. A literal hermeneutic regarding the Bible does not demand a six day, 24-hour view of creation.
  3. It doesn’t matter even if Walker holds such a view, so long as it doesn’t impact upon his role.
  4. In the decade or so since Walker began working with the BBC, his creationist view (whatever it may be) has not impacted his impartiality nor his ability to present news and sports programming factually. This seems to be a fairly solid test by the BBC for this role.
  5. Political editors and programmers have made their allegiances manifest and few doubt their credibility in reporting the political news. Dan Walker’s views on creation, which are far less pertinent to his role, should represent no more of a problem.
  6. Unless Myers now wants to insist on across the board tests and checks for everyone with a view on anything to prove they can be impartial, he ought now to simply let Dan Walker take up his role without this undue scrutiny afforded to no other presenter.