Along with several other readers, I received the form response from the National Trust when I protested the inclusion of creationist views at the Visitor’s Centre exhibit at the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. Note that, As reported by The Independent, the creationist views were represented as follows:
The interactive exhibition in question includes an audio package re-enacting debates between historic figures, who argued over the origins of the Causeway, as well as their contrasting biblical and scientific beliefs on the origins of the planet.
The exchanges end with a further clip stating: “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.”
Here is their representative’s response to my outraged email (I’ve put the references to the creationist stuff in bold). It seems disingenuous and, indeed, weaselly:
Dear Mr Coyne
Thank you for getting in touch with your concerns regarding the Giant’s Causeway exhibition. I thought I would include some background information about the exhibit as well as, more specifically, references to the age and origins of the Causeway.
The basalt stone columns of the Giant’s Causeway are visited by over 650,000 people every year. The recently opened Giant’s Causeway Visitor Centre provides an exhibition area to complement this iconic landmark. This stunning state of the art interpretation centre has over 50 exhibits and interactive displays along with two hours of audio trails.
All of this primarily showcases the science of such a special place and also includes the stories of the Giant’s Causeway along with its associated local characters.
For centuries the Giant’s Causeway has prompted debate about how it was formed and how old it is. However, all of the information presented to visitors in relation to its formation and age reflects the science that the Causeway stones were formed 60 million years ago.
One of the exhibits in the Visitor Centre tells the story of the part the Giant’s Causeway played in the historic debate about how the earth’s rocks were formed and the age of the earth. It also reflects that some people today hold views which are at odds with the scientific evidence. However, the National Trust is entirely unequivocal in its acceptance of the evidence of the earth’s age and this is reflected in all the interpretation in the Visitor Centre, the audio trails which visitors use to explore the Causeway stones and in all the literature provided both before and during their visit.
Some people have raised concerns that the exhibit suggests there are still legitimate doubts about whether the Causeway was formed millions, rather than thousands, of years ago. However, given the context (the exhibit shows information on historic theories of the Causeway’s formation and the rest of the visitors centre exclusively shows the current scientific understanding) and what the installation actually says, “young earth creationists continue to debate…” we think it is clear that this is not the case.
We have been receiving great feedback from visitors since the centre opened on 3 July.
We are sorry that you are unhappy about this exhibit and, if you haven’t already had the opportunity to do so, would encourage you to come along to view the interpretation for yourself.
Member Services Assistant
National Trust (Heelis)
Well, there are more stories than just the Christian ones about how the Causeway formed. An old one is that Fin McCool built it to cross over to Scotland to fight his nemesis. Why aren’t these tales, just as scientifically valid as the YEC stories, also represented as “subject to debate”? I’m sure that at least one Irish person believes in McCool. Make no mistake about it, this is a sop to creationists, lobbied for by creationists, and has nothing to do with giving an informative view of the Causeway.
At the Belfast Telegraph , Fionola Meredith takes out after the creationist aspects of the exhibit in a hard-hitting editorial, “Trust’s Creationist exhibit is a fundamental mistake.”
We are talking about an ultra-conservative movement, driven by religious absolutists. And their demands are increasingly being accommodated — just as the National Trust did at the Causeway — in terms of ‘respect’ and ‘equality’. That’s why it won’t stop with the Causeway visitor centre. Next up on the wish-list? The inclusion of creationist accounts of the earth’s origins on school curricula, as a counterpoint to scientific evidence?
All in the name of ‘ongoing debate’ and the ‘legitimacy of the creationist position’, of course.
Where does this ‘respect’ and ‘equality’ for minority alternative viewpoints end? Take the Holocaust museum at Auschwitz: could you ever imagine a situation where they allowed a display devoted to Holocaust-deniers to be exhibited there?
It’s an extreme example, but the point holds: simply because a certain number of people believe something to be true, in the face of overwhelming scientific or historic evidence to the contrary, does not entitle that viewpoint to be held up as potential fact.
But, sadly, she has to get in an obligatory lick at the atheists, as if she somehow has to establish her credentials as being not on some scientific extreme:
(Honestly, if there’s one man that could make me feel sorry for a creationist, it’s Dawkins. His brand of militant scientific fundamentalism seems to offer all the zealotry and narrow-mindedness of the religious variety, only without the heavenly reward.)
“Militant scientific fundamentalism”? What does that mean, except for a rigorous respect for evidence?