by Doctor Science
The Giant's Causeway is a rock formation on the northern coast of Northern Ireland: interlocking basalt columns that look much more like a construct than like the products of volcanic eruption millions of years ago. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is by far the top tourist attraction in Northern Ireland.
The biggest fight the Giant's Causeway has seen since Fionn mac Cumhaill (aka Finn MacCool) went after Benandonner is now shaping up, because one of the exhibits at the visitor's center credits Young Earth Creationism and its "debate" with "current mainstream science".
The National Trust, which owns and manages the site, opened a new visitor's center last Tuesday (July 3, 2012). One of the new exhibits is an audio discussion, showing the importance of the Causeway in 17th- and 18th- century debates over the age and formation of the Earth. The exhibit concludes:
Like many natural phenomena around the world, the Giant’s Causeway has raised questions and prompted debate about how it was formed.People in the UK are *very* surprised and irate, and the National Trust has been flailing and making excuses, saying that of course they know the Causeway is millions of years old! really! they're just trying to show all sides!
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 side of the Young Earth Creationists (YAC), in this case, means The Caleb Foundation, a organization of evangelical "mainstream" (=fundamentalist, apparently) Northern Irish Christians. Caleb rejoices:
We fully accept the Trust's commitment to its position on how the Causeway was formed, but this new centre both respects and acknowledges an alternative viewpoint and the continuing debate, and that means it will be a welcoming and enriching experience for all who visit.As Nelson Jones explains at the New Statesman, this is about politics:
This is, as far as we are aware, a first for the National Trust anywhere in the UK, and it sets a precedent for others to follow. We feel that it is important that the centre, which has been largely funded out of the public purse, should be inclusive and representative of the whole community, and we have therefore been engaged in detailed and constructive discussions with the Trust in order to secure the outcome we have today.
The Caleb Foundation's claim to being representative of mainstream evangelical opinion may be open to debate, but it certainly has considerable political influence. Its vice-chairman is Mervyn Storey MLA, a senior member of the DUP and the Orange Order, and several other prominent DUP politicians also have close links to Caleb.The National Trust press office says:
According to Stanyard [of the British Centre for Science Education], "a core of, maybe, around half a dozen very senior politicians within the DUP" have been involved in promoting Young Earth creationism in the province and that "the evidence over the last few years suggests that there are very strong pressures within the party to get creationism into schools." They include Edwin Poots, who in a radio interview in 2007, as culture minister, proclaimed without embarrassment his own belief that the world was created in 4000BC and accused scientists like Richard Dawkins of wanting to "indoctrinate everyone with evolution". It may not be a coincidence that creationism has grown in importance in Ulster politics as the peace process has advanced. The politics of creationism may partly be a replacement for the more overt sectarianism of the past.
Teaching creationism alongside evolution in school science lessons is the ultimate ambition of these campaigners and politicians.
We’re working hard on answering your questions and are aiming to post something very soon.I'll be ... interested ... to see what they post, because they're caught in a cleft stick.
As in the US, Northern Irish YAC is mostly IMHO a "tribal marker" rather than something that people necessarily believe-believe. Fred Clark points out that creationism logically requires a global conspiracy of lying scientists and/or a lying God:
Either way, someone is lying to us. And either way, there’s a massive conspiracy aimed at deceiving us.Fred finds it profoundly dismaying that apparently 46% of Americans (and FSM knows how many Northern Irish) believe this.
Theory No. 1 involves the global conspiracy of scientists [Katha] Pollitt describes. This usually involves the claim that the carbon dating used on this rock art is unreliable. The theory — and I’m not joking here — is that scientists relying on carbon dating refuse to account for the way Noah’s flood accelerated the radioactive decay of carbon-14.
The conspiracy won’t admit this, because it would threaten their conspiratorial plot to profit from the lucrative teaching that the universe is more than 10,000 years old. All those archaeologists, paleontologists, geologists, biologists, chemists and physics Pollitt mentions must know this, but they refuse to admit it or to allow others to expose their secret.
So that’s the first theory: The scientists are lying. All of them.
Theory No. 2 doesn’t blame the scientists. It blames God. This conspiracy theory says that God is lying.
This involves some variation of the Omphalos hypothesis, meaning the belief that the apparent age of the world is not its actual age. The idea here is that God simply created the world to appear far older than it is.
I think, though, that Ross, in the comments to Fred's post, is correct:
I suspect this isn't actually true. I suspect that those Americans, if they sat down and thought of it, would realize that both options are ridiculous. They would deny that they believe that nonsense.So Nelson Jones may also be on to something, when he says:
So they never allow themselves to sit down and think about the implications of what they profess to believe. Because, for most of those 46%, creationism isn't about holding a consistent worldview or even a reasonable one. It's about "us vs. them". That's *all* it's about. Logically, creationists should -- MUST -- reject the principle of antibiotic resistance, but they don't. Logically, they should -- MUST -- conclude a massive conspiracy of scientists colluding to hide all evidence of creationism, but they don't. What matters isn't what creationism IS or what it MEANS, it's that the alternative is siding with them.
It may not be a coincidence that creationism has grown in importance in Ulster politics as the peace process has advanced. The politics of creationism may partly be a replacement for the more overt sectarianism of the past.And certainly, if there are any people who know about making ostensibly religious beliefs into tribal markers, it's the Northern Irish.
I can't believe it's coincidental that the parts of the US where creationism is most popular are those with many Scots-Irish descendents of Ulster Protestants. It might be a cultural similarity by descent, or it may be that Northern Irish Protestants are being more directly influenced (and possibly funded?) by their American cousins.
footnotes for USans and other confused individuals:
 MLA = Member of the Legislative Assembly, somewhere between a US Representative and a state Senator in importance.
 DUP = Democratic Unionist Party, the largest party in Northern Ireland. Protestant, of course.
 Orange Order = Protestant fraternal order. I'm not sure if they're out-and-out Protestant supremacists any more, but they sure used to be.
 FSM = Flying Spaghetti Monster.