Thursday, 5 July 2012

The National Trust and Creationism

There has been a lot of fuss on the web for the last couple of days about the new National Trust Visitors centre for the Giant's Causeway.

Most of this fuss has resulted from press reports stating that the creationist viewpoint is included and most of the criticism has deplored the National Trust for suggesting that the creationist viewpoint had any scientific merit.

We asked the National Trust to publish the full details of what is actually said at the centre before commenting.

They have now published the transcript and this is the relevant quote, which follows some comments on the local myths about feuding giants and a brief history of geological thinking;

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.
On balance we have no issues with this, although it might be more accurate to have said that "Young Earth Creationists continue to debate questions about the age of the earth amongst themselves."

This issue does illustrate a couple of points about Creationists though;

  • They will not pass up an opportunity to promote their nonsense as if it was actually science.
  • They tell lies.
Here is the Caleb Foundation web page write up about the above National Trust wording (our emphasis);
As an umbrellaorganisation which represents the interests of mainstream evangelical Christians in Northern Ireland,we have worked closely with the National Trust over many months with a view to ensuring that the new Causeway Visitor Centre includes an acknowledgement both of the legitimacy of the creationist position on the origins of the unique Causeway stones and of the ongoing debate around this. We are pleased that the National Trust worked positively with us and that this has now been included at the new Visitor Centre.
And they now seem to be looking for their next target;
This is, as far as we are aware, a first for the National Trust anywhere in theUK, and it sets a precedent for others to follow.
So the Caleb Foundation are bragging about a triumph that does not exist, whilst the National Trust give an excellent account of the geology, and actually give Finn M’Cool more visibility than the creationists.

We have previously published several wiki articles on the Caleb foundation, you can see them listed here.  We have also done several blog postings on Creationism in Northern Ireland and you can read them here.

As a breath of fresh air read this extract from a statement by the Geological Society;
The young-Earth creationists’ view of Earth history, based upon their literal interpretation of the Bible, is quite simply wrong. It is a manifest untruth. It is as wrong as saying that the Sun orbits around the Earth, or that the Moon is made of green cheese, or that the Giant’s Causeway was constructed by Finn MacCool, the giant of Irish legend. Nor are we dealing with "alternative views" of the universe. We are dealing with the difference between reason and unreason. For it is unreasonable, indeed fantastical, in any impartial examination of the evidence (evidence that was sufficient even in Victorian times, and now that has been corroborated a thousandfold), to state that the Earth is only a few thousand years old.
This is not a case of censorship. We do not question the right of creationists to hold or expound their views, to write pamphlets and books, hold meetings, or set up websites; nor would we for our part demand to distribute articles on the scientific evidence of the age of the Earth in church halls. But 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.
The significance of this point goes far beyond questions of a philosophical interpretation of humanity’s place in the universe. Humanity is now struggling to maintain itself on an overcrowded planet, on an Earth in which the life-support systems of air and water and food and land are being imperilled by human action. To deal with the many crises facing us, we need to deal with the Earth as it is - not with the utterly unreal Earth that the young-Earth creationists have convinced themselves of, by over-literal interpretation of scriptural texts.
This is not at all to say that the world’s religions have no part to play in, say, the growing threat of global warming. On the contrary: the moral standpoints they provide may perhaps prove crucial in influencing individual or collective action that might counter this threat. But human reason as applied to the reality of the world around us – which is in essence what science is – must lie at the heart of any civilised society. The Giant’s Causeway, and its 60-million year history, must be used to help promote that reason, and to better understand the real Earth on which we live.


  1. its the lack of "amongst themselves" an the NT talking about "mainstream science", and "debate" that people are giving out about

  2. I think people are reacting to the creationist claims about having their views recognised.

    In reality they are recognised in a small way in the shadow of two mythical giants, which seems quite appropriate.

    If you are happy for the mythical giants to be mentioned then why not mention other bits of nonsense?

    People are reacting to lies by creationists reported without fact checking by sloppy journo's.

    In the meantime creationists are teaching their crap as fact to kids in private schools here in the UK and applying for free school status to get public money to do the same thing. Where is the press coverage and twitter outrage about that?

    Join BCSE and fight on the front lines in the really important battle.

  3. I broadly agree, quite strongly, with the Geological Society's position. However, about this bit "strongly disagree with any suggestion that Creationist views should be given any space in publicly funded museums or visitor centres that explain natural history" I think they need to explain what they mean by 'any space'. It is impossible, and I think undesirable, to explain evidenced truths without describing the broader cultural context or history of those truths. Publicly funded museums have a duty to explore the diversity of cultural views and histories. I don't think the NT has given the Creationists 'space' to expound as if it were truth, from what I can tell. Their inclusion in the story is culturally valid, given that creationism is held by a significant proportion of the NI population and the majority party in power. I think the Visitor Centre experience is likely to have a beneficial effect overall in opening those people's eyes to the natural world.

  4. Hi Bridget,

    No one seems to be complaining about the Mythical Giants either.

  5. The issue that people have with the National Trust is as follows:

    For some reason a decision was made to provide a platform for a single extremely marginal religious opinion. Whether this was the outcome of undue political pressure remains to be seen but the result is clear, the National Trust have offered the
    Caleb Foundation a veneer of legitimacy in their attempts to generate the impression that some kind of debate exists around the issue of the age and formation of the Giants Causeway. The exhibit even baldly states 'the debate continues' - this is simply a lie and would be on a par with an Armagh Planetarium exhibition on the Apollo 11 Moon landings suggesting that there is some sort of serious question over
    whether or not Neil Armstrong landed on the Moon.

    There is no debate. There is no 'mainstream' science vs. some other kind of science. There is reality, and there is pandering to fundamentalist religious belief. The Caleb Foundation obviously sees this as a wedge issue, and the National Trust has chosen to facilitate them in disseminating their narrow religious viewpoint.

    People are not overacting or 'making a lot of fuss about nothing' in objecting strongly to the actions of the National Trust in this matter and I expect complaints to continue until the creationist spin is removed from the exhibit.

  6. This is the full quote from the section about the history of the ideas about the causeway, following on from the various myths and erroneous geological theories.

    "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 far as I can see this is all factually accurate, but let me know if any of it isn't true. It actually points out that it is narrow religious viewpoint. Elsewhere they do a lovely job with the actual geology.

    Did you want them to stop the history at a point say 50 years ago so as to miss the creationist nutters out?

    The creationists are very keen for their viewpoint to be viewed as based on the science not the bible - this NT say simply and plainly that their viewpoint is based just on one specific view of the bible.

    The creationists re trying to claim that the NT does more - these are simply lies.

    1. Like the National Trust, you're simply ignoring the question.

      Why include an extremely marginal religious viewpoint at all?

      Is this the only place it should be included or does it have to be applied to every National Trust site going forward? For example, in terms of the age of the White Cliffs of Dover, any exhibition should clearly state "the debate continues"?

      If you're not arguing for the introduction of narrow religious fundamentalist views at every opportunity, then I'm not sure why you think it should be allowed at the Giant's Causeway.

  7. the national trust says the 'debate continues to today', even adding among themselves bit, its wrong because the YECs aren't debating it, they just taking literally it from the bible, there's no debate about the age of the earth being 6000 yrs.

  8. Hi Colin,

    Just pointing out they included the fact that soe thought the causeway was fossilised bamboo, the dispute between plutonists and vulcanists and other fringe/plain wrong opinions down the centuries.

    The creationists are about number six in a list of wrong ideas.

    More details here:

    I think the NT have been naive, it looks like they did not expect the creationists to tell the fibs they have.

    Hi Steve,

    Yes you are quite right.

    They should take the opportunity to address this.

    1. I've read the press releases. I understand what happened. They've presented the extremely minority religous views of the Caleb Foundation framed by the words "the debate continues today".

      There is no debate. The National Trust statement is simply a lie which provides a veneer of credibility to a young earth creationist group intent on infiltrating their views into museums and exhibitions. They already tried it with the Ulster Museum and were told to get lost.

      Do you believe that narrow minority religious views should be referenced at every opportunity in the context of 'ongoing debate' or do you think that should only happen in this particular case?

  9. It's been an absolute masterstroke. NT has naively and foolishly, like a puppet on a string, danced to the tune of Christian extremists with a political agenda aimed at restricting the human rights and civil liberties of many of our fellow citizens. NT has managed, in just one move, to jump right into the middle of Northern Ireland's religious and political divisions. Without stopping for breath they have further managed to incur the ire of scientific institutes and world famous scientists such as Prof. Brian Cox, Prof. Richard Dawkins and Prof. Jerry Coyne. Science blogs and websites the world over are castigating the NT. National newspapers have also commented on the fiasco and not positively. NT has shown that they have absolutely NO idea of the negative implications for society in Northern Ireland and for science in the United Kingdom by their actions. Their response? I'll paraphrase; "We haven't done anything wrong." I'd hate to see the mess NT leaves behind them when they do do something wrong!