The National Trust excises creationism at the Giant’s Causeway exhibit

A few months ago there was a mini-kerfuffle over the wording of the exhibit at the Visitor’s Centre at the Giant’s Causeway lava formation in Northern Ireland, an exhibit run by the National Trust (see here, here, here, and here for my reports).  Geologists date the formation as 50-60 million years old, but the exhibit at the Visitor’s Centre caved in to creationist pressure, saying this:

Creationists believe the stones, which emerged from the sea-bed following intense volcanic and geological activity 60 million years ago, were in fact formed around 4,500 years ago as a result of Noah’s Flood.

Many UK residents, and many of my readers, objected to this nod to creationism, though the creationist Caleb Foundation, which promoted that language, was pleased.  Tons of people wrote in to the National Trust, which promised last July to review of the creationist language. I and many of us were among these writers, and I think the strength of the opposition surprised the National Trust. They had to do something or they were going to look as if they were making concessions to opponents of science.

According to the BBC News, the National Trust’s decision has now come down, and it’s not going to make creationists happy:

A new piece of audio, approximately 20 seconds long, now replaces the previous recording.

. . . Previously the audio which accompanied the exhibit said that questions had been raised about the formation of the rocks.

“Young Earth Creationists believe that the earth was created some 6000 years ago,” it said. “This is based on a specific interpretation of the bible and, in particular, the account of creation in the book of Genesis,” it said.

“Some people around the world, and specifically here in Northern Ireland, share this perspective.”

The new audio now says there is a “clear understanding among scientists that the heat of the earth was the driving force behind the formation of the Giant’s Causeway”.

It adds that the earth is “far older than had previously been thought”.

“All the scientific evidence points to a volcanic origin for the columns of the Giant’s Causeway, around 60m years ago.

But they still couldn’t resist a tiny sop to creationists, for this language remains:

“However, not everyone agrees with the scientific view. There are some people who believe – often for religious reasons – that the earth was formed more recently: thousands of years ago rather than billions.”

Well, I suppose 99/100 of a cake is better than half a cake.  The “often for religious reasons” is, of course, a weasel phrase. Nobody believes in a young earth except for religious reasons!

The religious Caleb Foundation, who pretty much lost, nevertheless pronounces itself “broadly content with the Causeway review”:

“When the new Visitor Centre at the Giant’s Causeway was opened in July 2012, Caleb congratulated the National Trust on the inclusion of an audio exhibit which acknowledged both the legitimacy of the creationist position on the origins of the unique Causeway stones and the ongoing debate around this.

We were disappointed when the Trust decided to review the previously agreed wording in that exhibit as a result of pressure. We are also disappointed that the outcome of the review has led to a revision of the wording, but we are very pleased that the exhibit has not been removed, as demanded by some. Although we do not accept that all the scientific evidence points to a 60 million year time span, we note that the revised exhibit still retains an acknowledgement of the existence of an alternative viewpoint. The National Trust has therefore set a precedent for others to follow”.

Yes, but the precedent is the other way round: it says that science wins, and that opposition to a 5000-year-old Causeway is based purely on religion.

One can actually make a case that leaving in mention of the “alternative” view is not too bad, for that view is characterized as based not on science but on faith.  After all, one of the reasons I wrote WEIT was to dispel the creationist “alternative” view of life, and to do so I had to acknowledge its existence.

h/t: Adrian, Kieran, and Chris

34 Comments

  1. Posted October 3, 2012 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    I’ll take it. A bit more snark in the hat-tip to the Cretinists would have been perfect.

    Probably best is to excise all mentions of anything non-scientific entirely, and then move them to a separate “myths and storytelling” section. Put Genesis right where it belongs.

    Cheers,

    b&

  2. gbjames
    Posted October 3, 2012 at 9:43 am | Permalink

    I can’t see this as a great victory. It took the National Trust far too long to respond and the fact that that they still include a sop big enough for Caleb to declare satisfaction shows this process and decision for what it is: an cowardly and poorly reasoned political balancing act. Ugg.

  3. Jim Jones
    Posted October 3, 2012 at 9:45 am | Permalink

    Religion has hundreds of apologists who have plied their ‘trade’ for thousands of years. Where are the apologists for science? Why (or why not)?

    Isn’t that all you need to know?

    • darrelle
      Posted October 3, 2012 at 11:54 am | Permalink

      I agree. Science has no need for apologists because it has evidence to support it. But, I would guess that from the point of view of many believers any scientist that says something that doesn’t jive with their beliefs is an apologist for science. And even any non scientists that mention something about some bit of science, in a positive way, that is contrary to their beliefs.

  4. Kieran
    Posted October 3, 2012 at 9:50 am | Permalink

    There are number of issues still
    How did the caleb foundation agree the wording with the national trust?
    “We were disappointed when the Trust decided to review the previously agreed wording in that exhibit as a result of pressure.”

    Was funding tied to having this agreed wording inserted?

    What other groups were consulted?

    It’s the best we can hope for at the moment, that means that NT members should voice their concerns at this years AGM and that it should be tabled as a motion in 2013.

    Caleb and the keep creationist campaign have lost quite a bit but kept just enough to stop them having a hissy fit at the NT

    • Kieran
      Posted October 3, 2012 at 9:52 am | Permalink

      Here is the original screen grab from the caleb site note the 60 billion rather than 60 million https://fbcdn-sphotos-d-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-ash4/384551_4735356820694_695520056_n.jpg

      • neil344
        Posted October 3, 2012 at 5:31 pm | Permalink

        Those are probably metaphoric billions.

    • Posted October 3, 2012 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

      According to the National Trust at the time, the Caleb Foundation have massively exaggerated their involvement. Whilst the original wording was obviously agreed by someone – whoever was in charge of content – I very much doubt that it was agreed between the NT and the Caleb Foundation, even if the latter had some general input during the consultancy phase (along with many other local groups, I think).

  5. HaggisForBrains
    Posted October 3, 2012 at 10:02 am | Permalink

    “However, not everyone agrees with the scientific view. There are some people who believe – often for religious reasons – that the earth was formed more recently: thousands of years ago rather than billions.”

    Not bad, but I would remove “often”.

    I suspect that the Caleb Foundation are smarting, and trying to put a brave face on this. As for the “precedent” for others to follow, I hope that any other interpretative centre takes note of the fact that they cannot just print religious twaddle without generating loads of bad publicity. I’ve just realised as I write this – perhaps that was the point all along. “There is no such thing as bad publicity”

    • Posted October 4, 2012 at 4:22 am | Permalink

      To be fair, I don’t think that the only two reasons to have a belief are religion or science. Some people believe stuff just because that’s what they’ve been told, or their gut feeling leads them to believe, and have looked at neither science nor religion to (in)validate that belief. Never underestimate the power of general ignorance!

  6. Scott near Berkeley
    Posted October 3, 2012 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    “often for religious reasons” << that's acceptable for "regular atheism"

    "only for religious reasons, and not scientific reasons" << preferred by present-day atheists. That kind of phrase is what people label as "New Atheism"….boy oh boy, is -that- ever "strident"!!!

  7. Posted October 3, 2012 at 10:11 am | Permalink

    So why not a mention of the pagan and other magical beliefs about this place?

    It’s worth examining why only extreme, fundamental evangelical Christin magical beliefs are credited.

    It suggests some intimidation.

    • Graham Martin-Royle
      Posted October 3, 2012 at 10:15 am | Permalink

      Indeed, why not mention that Finn Mccool (sp?) the giant is also thought to have created it, hence “The Giants Causeway”.

      • Kieran
        Posted October 3, 2012 at 10:27 am | Permalink

        The legend is well represented, it was one small section covering the historic debates on the age and formation of the causeway that there was a problem with.
        The original section was

        “The Debate continues today

        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.”

        It has now been changed to

        A Special Place
        Today there is a clear understanding among scientists that the heat of the earth was
        the driving force behind the formation of the Giant’s Causeway – and that the earth is
        far older than had previously been thought. James Hutton suggested this back in
        1785; modern geologists agree with him.
        All the scientific evidence points to a volcanic origin for the columns of the Giant’s
        Causeway, around 60 million years ago.
        However, not everyone agrees with the scientific view. There are some people who
        believe – often for religious reasons – that the earth was formed more recently:
        thousands of years ago rather than billions.
        The National Trust supports the scientific view of the formation of the Giant’s
        Causeway. We are proud to be the guardians of such a special place – one that has
        played an important role in our understanding of the world around us.
        For further information on this exhibit, please speak to a Ranger.

  8. Posted October 3, 2012 at 10:34 am | Permalink

    This is completely unacceptable. So the Bible-ists believe in so and so. I’m sure the paranormalists and the Druids believe something else yet. Why not shove that language in there too?

    I would put in the same level of protest until they got it right.

  9. Curt Cameron
    Posted October 3, 2012 at 11:14 am | Permalink

    I would be content if they changed this:

    “However, not everyone agrees with the scientific view. There are some people who believe – often for religious reasons – that the earth was formed more recently: thousands of years ago rather than billions.”

    to this:

    “However, not everyone accepts the scientific view. There are actually some people who believe – often for religious reasons – that the earth was thousands of years ago rather than billions!

    • JonLynnHarvey
      Posted October 3, 2012 at 11:48 am | Permalink

      Or alternately, “generally for religious reasons which are often masked as allegedly scientific ones”.

      I mean why not call out the deception and self-deception.

  10. Stonyground
    Posted October 3, 2012 at 11:53 am | Permalink

    On balance I would say that this was a good outcome. Yes it should read ‘always for religious reasons’ in order to be strictly true, but I think that the overall message that comes across is that there is the truth, and then there is the stuff that religious people believe.

  11. Coral Benham
    Posted October 3, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Permalink

    If the Nation Trust can acknowledge that some Christians believe that The Giant’s Causeway is only 6,000 yrs old made during the FLood (see Genesis), then they can acknowledge that us Pagans believe this:

    Giant’s Causeway
    The story tells that the Giant’s Causeway was built by Finn McCool as a walk way to fight the Scottish giant Benandonner.

    Finn fell asleep before going across to Scotland and he woke up to find the Scottish giant appearing on the horizon. Finn realised Benandonner was much bigger than himself and ran to his wife Oonagh wondering what he should do. Oonagh disguised Finn as a baby and made him curl up in an enormous cradle. Benandonner saw the huge ‘child’ in the cradle and began to wonder what size his father would be. Benandonner returned to Scotland and destroyed the Causeway as he returned home.

    Not fair to leave us out!

    • truthspeaker
      Posted October 3, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

      I believe they already include that.

  12. Ludo
    Posted October 3, 2012 at 1:42 pm | Permalink

    - “Yes, but the precedent is the other way round: it says that science wins, and that opposition to a 5000-year-old Causeway is based purely on religion.” –
    I an not that fluent in English, so correct me if I am wrong: should it not be “adherence” (or something like that), instead of “opposition” ?

    • RFW
      Posted October 3, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Permalink

      You have it right.

    • Notagod
      Posted October 3, 2012 at 4:38 pm | Permalink

      I think your English fluency is coming along nicely! The replacement word “adherence” is a very good choice to correct the meaning of the sentence.

  13. corio37
    Posted October 3, 2012 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    But where are the references to other traditional tribal beliefs? I’m sure the Native Americans and Ibo tribespeople and Australian Aboriginals could come up with a supernatural explanation for the Giant’s Causeway if they were permitted to do so. Why are they excluded from this game?

  14. RFW
    Posted October 3, 2012 at 4:26 pm | Permalink

    > It adds that the earth is “far older than
    > had previously been thought”.

    “Previously” is weasel wordery. It implies that the change in belief is something recent. It isn’t, not at all. Scientists have known that the age of the earth can be measured in billions of years since the early 1920, vide http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Age_of_the_earth#Arthur_Holmes_establishes_radiometric_dating

    • Posted October 4, 2012 at 4:28 am | Permalink

      I disagree. I think it is important to point out that the Creationists are holding an old view that has been disbunked and superseded. They are not some radical fringe scientific group who have new insights that the rest of us have not caught up with. I also don’t think that “previously” implies “recently”. (And even if it does for some people, in terms of the history of thinking about the age of the Earth, it is quite recent.)

      • Posted October 4, 2012 at 4:29 am | Permalink

        (Or even debunked. Not sure what disbunking would be..!)

  15. Marella
    Posted October 4, 2012 at 3:53 am | Permalink

    I can see no good reason why the lunacy of creationists is entitled to any acknowledgment in discussing the Causeway. It adds nothing. The local legend, at the very least explains the name, it is also entertaining. Creationism is just boring.

  16. Posted October 4, 2012 at 3:57 am | Permalink

    And not one damned reference to the leprechauns who did all the heavy lifting?

    Disgraceful!

  17. cromdubh
    Posted October 4, 2012 at 5:54 am | Permalink

    That particular part of the North of Ireland is pretty close to their “bible belt” an area that can shovel up all the fire and brimstone you need on demand.
    A fundamentalist view from there should not come as a surprise.

  18. DV
    Posted October 4, 2012 at 6:51 am | Permalink

    They should have written:

    However not everyone agrees with this scientific view. There are always people who are delusional and kooks and ignoramuses who don’t know any better.

  19. David Evans
    Posted October 5, 2012 at 3:13 am | Permalink

    Open-mindedness is a good thing. Let’s have “not everyone agrees” stickers on every prehistoric exhibit in the Science Museum, for a start.

    And then on every Bible.

    Not the Qur’an, of course. I don’t have a death wish.


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