The hardy perennials are always good of course, and it’s been pleasing to see the resurfacing of a story covered here way back in 2007. Yep, those creationist boys are at it again, and once again the controversy centres around the north’s sole World Heritage Site, the famous Giant’s Causeway. Even those of you who have never been to the Giant’s Causeway will instantly recognise those hexagonal basalt columns from the cover of Led Zep’s classic album Houses of the Holy. Quite the landmark, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Now, there are two theories in currency about the origins of the Causeway. Most if not all geologists reckon it was formed around sixty million years ago as a result of volcanic activity. On the other hand, many DUP members reckon it was formed around four thousand years ago as a result of Noah’s Flood. The two theories are obviously incompatible.
This ties in with the recent controversy over the intervention of the Stormont culture minister Nelson McCausland (DUP, North Belfast) in the content of museums here. Nelson, you’ll recall, was keen to see museums give more prominence to the Orange Order, Ulster Scots and “alternative theories of the origins of the universe”. Of course, Nelson’s love of alternative history – he’s not only a young-earth creationist but also a British Israelite – is remarkably strong even for a DUP man. One might have assumed that this was just Nelson going on one of his occasional solo runs. But, as Pete points out in an excellent bit of detective work, there seems to be more to it than that.
In the first instance, we have a little-known fundie outfit called the Caleb Foundation, which appears to have a particular bee in its bonnet about displays of fossils and such, not to mention that rather impressive coelacanth, in the Ulster Museum. The CF is claiming credit for its lobbying having set Nelson on the path of righteousness:
When the Caleb Foundation met with the Minister we discussed concerns that we had regarding the imbalance that is all too evident at the Ulster Museum. Imbalance and philosophical prejudice is on public display at the Museum.
The fact is that when we consider the origin of the universe and the origin and development of life on earth, science is not settled. There is data. There are artefacts. There are scientific laws. There is a majority scientific opinion that explains these things in terms of an ancient universe and gradual step by step evolution from primitive and simpler life to more complex and advanced life.
But there is also a minority scientific opinion – to be found in working scientists, college science lecturers etc who come to different conclusions, pointing instead to a much younger earth.
And it gets even better. You see, the CF is claiming that young-earth creationism should be protected under the equality provisions of the Good Friday Agreement:
If Northern Ireland is to move towards a shared future on a genuine basis of equality and inclusivity, then it is only right that a publicly funded institution such as the Ulster Museum is fully and sensitively reflective of the various views of society as a whole – including those of evangelical Christians.
And further, in their letter to Nelson:
As tax payers and Christians, we are very concerned about this fundamental lack of balance and impartiality. We would therefore be interested to know to what extent, if any, the activities of National Museums Northern Ireland, and, in particular, the Ulster Museum, have been assessed against the statutory requirements of section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998.
This would seem to suggest that scientific opinion, at least if expressed in Norn Iron, should be subject to an equality audit. Perhaps they can find a judge who’s daft enough to agree to such a proposition. Perhaps the skeptical hobby community over in the imperial metropolis should be made aware of this.
So who are the Caleb Foundation? It’s worth taking a look at their Council of Reference. This includes a number of prominent fundamentalist clerics, including the Rev Ron Johnstone, Dr Paisley’s successor as Free Presbyterian moderator, as well as members of smaller fundie sects; Wallace Thompson of the Evangelical Protestant Society, who is currently promoting a campaign against the papal visit almost indistinguishable from that of Peter Tatchell and Terry Sanderson, and who acts as Council chairman; and an actual Stormont MLA, in the unmistakeable form of Mervyn Storey (DUP, North Antrim). Mervyn, as regular readers will know, has previous on this issue. The CF seems from its website to have particular preoccupations with Sabbatarianism (something that will resonate with Nelson McCausland, a former heid-yin of the Lord’s Day Observance Society) and creationism.
This brings us back to the Causeway, and, flush from their success with the culture minister, the CF claim to have lobbied tourism minister Arlene Foster (DUP, Dreary Steeples) with a view to getting the creationist viewpoint included in the forthcoming Causeway Interpretive Centre. Back in 2007, Arlene had responded to a cheeky question from Trevor Lunn (Alliance, Lagan Valley) about the age of the Causeway with the following official written answer:
Mrs A Foster: Geologists generally agree that the Giant’s Causeway is some 60 million years old. As you will be aware, however, there are alternative views in relation to the age of the Giant’s Causeway.
You may detect a lodging of tongue in cheek there, and I don’t think you’d be wrong. Arlene, of course, is not a fundamentalist but a member of the Church of Ireland – a body Dr Paisley used to revile as a Vatican-controlled apostate church – and could be forgiven for occasionally rolling her eyes at the utterances of her Biblical literalist comrades.
However, if Caleb don’t get anywhere with Arlene, they could always try environment minister Edwin Poots (DUP, Lagan Valley) who has the advantage of being a Wee Free, and who doesn’t believe in evolution either.
As ever, Professor Billy has the definitive take on what such an exhibition at the Interpretive Centre should involve. (I especially like the account of the Laird snacking on veda and cheese. And we really must get Billy hooked up with Sophia.) As it happens, I also read that the Georgia-based Gallery of Creation is auctioning off its entire collection of curiosities; perhaps Nelson could acquire them for the Ulster Museum?