The election of Edwin Poots to the DUP leadership has caused a slight ripple in the media, with journalists focusing not so much on his policies or plans for getting rid of the Northern Ireland Protocol, but wondering from which Dickens novel he might have emanated, and scoffing at the fact that he is a ‘young earth’ creationist: that is, he believes the planet to be about 6,000 years old. This was the starting point of the BBC’s Newsnight on Friday 14th May, which didn’t go down very well with Ian Paisley MP:
You may disagree fervently with the social conservatism of the DUP; indeed, you may think them to be a load of sectarian bigots whose Protestantism belongs to a bygone age. And you may think Edwin Poots’ belief in ‘young earth’ creationism to be quite absurd, if not showing him to be utterly foolish. But Ian Paisley is absolutely right to rebuke Faisal Islam here, because this was their starting point of coverage of Edwin Poots’ election (along with the fact that he opposed gay men donating blood). Ian Paisley simply and quite reasonably makes the point that Newsnight (or the entire BBC) would never subject an elected Muslim politician to such disdainful coverage (or, indeed, a politician of any other faith).
If the BBC is going to lampoon one politician’s religious beliefs, there needs to be parity of scrutiny and equality of scorn. Of course Edwin Poots’ belief that the earth is 6,000 years old is patent nonsense when all the science suggests it is 4.54 billion years old (plus or minus 50 million years). But it is equally absurd to believe that Mohammed flew through space on a winged horse:
Miracles are miracles: if one believes in them, then anything is possible. It is not the role or purpose of the BBC to subject Christians to a Dawkins-esque scientistic inquisition. It is not the function of the BBC to assert secular modernity in the political realm, or to inculcate that all meaning and morality may only be found on the horizon of the Enlightenment. Faisal Islam may be a Muslim or an atheist: it isn’t clear, mainly because he treats it as a private matter. But he lost his father a few months ago, and he spoke a little of his upbringing and his faith, and one doubts very much that he would be happy if anyone’s starting point of inquiry into this heritage began with any examination of the scientifically absurd beliefs to be found in Islam, such as Mohammed flying to heaven on a winged horse, splitting the moon in two, or, being illiterate, writing the Qur’an.
Or believing in Adam and Eve.
Would BBC Newsnight ever think of beginning a report on a Jewish or Muslim politician with a statement that they believed in Adam and Eve – the literal creation of a man from clay, and a woman from his rib – and using that to undermine their entire political credibility? Would they dare probe whether a politician believed in a literal six-day creation? Before broadcasting this piece on Edwin Poots, did they not pause to reflect on the implications of their formulation that if ‘young earth’ is bonkers (and it may be), then so, too, is the creation of Adam and Eve on the sixth day, for if, the day after their creation, being just one day young, they might appear to be 33 years old, why may the Creator not also have determined to make a 6,000-year-young earth appear to be 4.54 billion years old (plus or minus 50 million years)?
This is not a defence of Edwin Poots’ belief in ‘young earth’ creationism, or an argument for it: speaking about creation theology at all in an age of scientific infallibility is like placing Rembrandt’s self-portrait in the Tate Modern and surrounding it with animal carcasses suspended in formaldehyde. The divinity of Rembrandt’s artistry and his spirit of humility are incongruous with human arrogance and dissected self-sufficiency. The idols of universal rationality, political progress and scientific knowledge have neither tolerance nor time for those who seek to understand their creaturely identity before God. If Newsnight cannot reduce Edwin Poots’ religious beliefs to a neat mathematico-scientific formulation, then he must be a fool, and so he must be portrayed – because he is a Christian.