Posted by: paulgarner | July 6, 2012

The Giant’s Causeway controversy: some free advice

Yesterday I posted the news that the National Trust had included creationism in its new visitor exhibition at the Giant’s Causeway in County Antrim. I predicted that this would set the cat among the pigeons and I wasn’t wrong. The National Trust has been besieged by critics – egged on by the likes of P Z Myers and Jerry Coyne.

But what does the exhibit in question actually say? Allow me to quote the National Trust’s own press release:

The Giant’s Causeway visitor centre provides a state-of-the-art exhibition area which showcases the science and the stories of the Giant’s Causeway.

All of the information presented to visitors in relation to how the Giant’s Causeway was formed, and how old it is, clearly reflects mainstream scientific understanding that the Causeway stones were formed 60 million years ago.

For centuries the Giant’s Causeway has prompted debate about how it was formed and how old it is.

One of the exhibits in the Giant’s Causeway 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 about the age of the earth.

In this exhibit we also state that for some people this debate continues today.

And here is the actual part of the exhibit that refers to creationism:

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.

Now you might be forgiven for thinking this is fairly modest stuff. It doesn’t affirm the creationist position or offer a creationist interpretation of the site. It simply acknowledges that not everyone accepts the mainstream view of the age of the earth. It could even be seen as a worthy attempt by the National Trust to strike an inclusive note in a province that has historically been beset by religious division and prejudice.

But not so according to the internet critics. No, this National Trust exhibit is, in fact, nothing less than a national disgrace, an attack on the very foundations of free thought, a dangerous concession to the faith-heads and myth-mongers, and can only lead inexorably to the downfall of western civilisation.

Some of you may feel this is a trifle hot headed and I would find it hard to disagree. We live in a nation in which our economy is flatlining, our media, politicians and bankers are caught up in scandals and our young people face an uncertain future – but what seems to raise the ire of these modern Chicken Littles is the acknowledgement by a public body that creationists exist.

Really?

So here’s my advice to the wilder critics racing around cyberspace declaring that the sky is falling. Take some time out from your laptop, lie down for a while in a cool room and try to regain a sense of perspective. It will do you and everyone else the power of good.

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