I feel a little bit sorry for the National Trust this morning. There are a number of stories deriding them for spending public money on an exhibit which says Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland was made by God. Instantly atheists, skeptics and scientists everywhere are up in arms.
“The National Trust has defended its decision to include references to creationist theory at a new state-of-the-art visitors’ centre at the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.”
TV presenter Professor Brian Cox tweeted: “I don’t mind creation stories presented as mythology, but to suggest there is any debate that Earth is 4.54 billion years old is nonsense.”
An online campaign has begun to remove an exhibition at the new Giant’s Causeway visitors centre.
In an open letter by scientists at Leicester Uni they say:
“I understand the intentions of this were to cater for an alternative viewpoint, but this viewpoint is one embraced by no scientist, and therefore it is a mistake to include it here”
“I find the implication that creationism deserves equal credence to mainstream science incredibly offensive”
“Please could I have your assurance that all references to creationism at the Giants Causeway Information centre be removed?”
And a statement by the Geological Society was in a similar vein:
“we profoundly disagree with any suggestion that creationist views should be given space in publicly-funded museums or visitor centres that explain natural history, or in school science lessons or science textbooks”
But is this is the whole story?
We’ll frankly no. The national trust are being grossly misrepresented here. The reference to “creationism” is slightly off anyway as this is nothing to do with evolution. The offending material appears in a series of interactive audio clips in the visitors centre, entitled “Debating Characters” in which there are two voices. The debates/theories are: The stones are giant fossils of huge sea creatures, volcanic vs sedimentary rocks, John Hutton vs a clergyman discussing biblical creation vs geology & also giant fossilised bamboo. In other parts of the exhibition the myth of it being formed by the giant Finn McCool is presented. This section concludes with:
“Like many natural phenomena around the world, the Giant’s Causeway has raised questions and prompted debate about how it was formed. This debate has ebbed and flowed since the discovery of the Causeway to science and, historically, the Causeway became part of a global debate about how the earth’s rocks were formed. 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 6000 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 main website clearly presents the science and I have no reason to suspect the bulk of the exhibition is the same.
Like it or not a lot of people from this region DO believe the biblical interpretation, the same as if you visit monuments in many parts of the world folk tales are presented to explain geological phenomena. If we want this reference removed we have to apply the same to all similar sites globally. Therefore the cobra-hood cave in Sigiriya, Sri Lanka should have all references removed to Buddhist beliefs it is a fossilised giant cobra which sheltered a king beneath the shade of its hood. All aboriginal beliefs should be removed from Ayres Rock, as should references to “Split apple rock” in Abel Tasman national park, new Zealand being split by the sword of a Zeus.
I feel this issue has been massively blown out of all proportion in the pursuit of sensationalist stories and the scientists who ask for this single interactive audio clip to be binned risk being seen as just as dogmatic and reactionary as the bodies they profess to fight against. People are entitled to hold whatever barmy ideas they like and if these are held by a culture which has associations with a geological feature these views are entirely at home in a visitor centre presented as beliefs. Science needs to pick its fights better.
UPDATE: The NT have now published a response on their website, which clearly demonstrates the context of the “controversial” biblical ideas about the causeway