Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Giant Controversy

Finn McCool and Benandonner fight it out on the Giants Causeway (Image: National Trust)
The new Giant's Causeway Visitor Centre will make reference to creationism as an alternative viewpoint on how the geological feature was formed.

The centre, which cost £18.5 million to build, opened on July 3rd after a rebuild necessitated after a fire destroyed the old centre. However, the National Trust has had to issue a statement [pdf] regarding the information presented at the centre and to confirm that the trust is "entirely unequivocal in its acceptance of scientific consensus".

The National Trust issued their statement after criticism of the new educational tours and a statement from a Northern Ireland creationist organisation welcoming the National Trust's acknowledgement "both of the legitimacy of the creationist position on the origins of the unique Causeway stones and the ongoing debate around this".

The Caleb Foundation said that it had engaged with the National Trust "over many months" on the issue. However, the National Trust statement was clear: "All of the information presented to visitors in relation to how the Giant’s Causeway was formed, and how old it is, clearly reflects scientific consensus that the Causeway stones were formed 60 million years ago".

A National Trust spokesperson said: "We reflect, in a small part of the exhibition, that the Causeway played a role in the historic debate about the formation of the earth, and that some people hold views today which are different from scientific consensus. However, the National Trust is entirely unequivocal in its acceptance of scientific consensus".

The Caleb Foundation would seem to have form for this sort of thing. According to their website, they led a campaign in 2010 to get the then NI Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure, Nelson McCausland to change the Ulster Museum's 'Nature Zone' to reflect creationist ideas and to remove what it called "wholly misleading propaganda" regarding evolution. In a letter to the Minister, the group noted: "the very clear assertion is made across the entire "Nature Zone", that evolution is a fact. This gross and arrogant falsehood is further compounded by the complete absence of even the merest mention of any other theory of origins such as the Biblical account of creation."

A Press Association report says that the interactive exhibition in question at the Causeway includes an audio package in which historic figures debate the origin of the basalt columns. The end of the package includes:

"This debate continues today for some people, who have an understanding of the formation of the earth which is different from that of current mainstream science.
"Young earth creationists believe that the earth was created some 6,000 years ago. This is based on a specific interpretation of the Bible and in particular the account of creation in the book of Genesis.
"Some people around the world, and specifically here in Northern Ireland, share this perspective.
"Young earth creationists continue to debate questions about the age of the earth. As we have seen from the past, and understand today, perhaps the Giant's Causeway will continue to prompt awe and wonder, and arouse debate and challenging questions for as long as visitors come to see it."
The National Trust has attempted to further explain their position on their press office blog.

This is all a very interesting debate. The Caleb Foundation seems to be using Northern Ireland's disturbed past to argue for equality for all points of view. Regarding its Ulster Museum campaign, the group said: "If Northern Ireland is to move towards a shared future on a genuine basis of equality and inclusivity, then it is only right that a publicly funded institution such as the Ulster Museum is fully and sensitively reflective of the various views of society as a whole - including those of evangelical Christians."

The new Giants Causeway Visitor Centre (Image: National Trust)
In reality though, all viewpoints on all topics are not equal and should not require representation, particularly in a scientific and educational setting. Even TV presenter Brian Cox has waded into the argument, tweeting: "to suggest there is any debate that Earth is 4.54 billion years old is pure shit".

The fact is, the arguments of the Caleb Foundation and other 'Young Earth' Creationist advocates have been disproved for years. For example, scientifically informed and enlightened Christians have accepted evolution as fact for a long time. Even the Vatican and the current Pope has accepted evolution as scientific fact and argued that evolution did not exclude a faith in God.

For the NI government and the National Trust to pander to these notions espoused by creationists is disappointing. The Trust seems to argue that mentioning the supposed ongoing debate will do no harm given their commitment to the scientific explanation of how the causeway was formed. Perhaps not - the Irish myth that the 40,000 basalt columns were constructed by legendary hero Finn MacCool also finds a place in the visitor centre. However, nobody is arguing for Finn MacCool to find a place on the science curriculum.

UPDATE 18/07/2012: A spokesperson for the National Trust has said that "having listened to our members' comments and concerns, we feel that clarity is needed...To ensure that no further misunderstanding or misrepresentation of this exhibit can occur, we have decided to review the interpretive materials in this section.”


John Davison July 17, 2012 at 10:34 PM  

The National Trust have arranged information in the display to deliberately allow a conflation between fact and fiction to satisfy pressure from the Caleb foundation. There is a facebook group of nearly 4k people trying lobby the NT to separate fact from fiction. For more info http://www.facebook.com/groups/263351503764526/

Geoff July 18, 2012 at 7:22 AM  

I see a bunch of Druids are now trying to get equal time with the Creationists for their myths: http://geoffsshorts.blogspot.ie/2012/07/giants-causeway-ii-druids-strike-back.html

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