Norn Iron ecologists find thriving population of Jocko Homo

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?

Stormount culture heid-yin channels the late Archbishop Ussher

Stormont culture, arts and leisure minister Nelson McCausland (DUP, North Belfast) is a funny cove. There’s the matter of his extraordinary political trajectory from UUUP (remember them?) to Independent to UUP to DUP, but that isn’t the half of it. Nelson seems determined to encapsulate within his own person as many loyalist tropes as possible. He’s an Ulster-Scots enthusiast, and will recite chunks of Burns from memory if you ask him. He has an unnerving tendency to whip out his accordion to provide the masses with musical entertainment. He was for many years the heid-yin of the Lord’s Day Observance Society, a small group of earnest people who liked to go about chaining up swings on the Sabbath. He also used to be a British Israelite, and for all I know may still be. The great man even has his own blog, where you can read his whimsical thoughts.

So this story surprised me not one bit:

The culture minister has asked museums to give more prominence to Ulster-Scots, the Orange Order and alternative views on the origin of the universe.

Nelson McCausland wrote to the trustees of National Museums Northern Ireland (NMNI) saying he wants the issues given consideration in the short term.

The Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) said it was part of its commitment to a shared future strategy.

It is understood National Museums NI has not yet responded to the letter.

Speaking on Wednesday, Mr McCausland said: “There are a range of perspectives and I want simply to have in there consideration given to reflecting the diversity of views in Northern Ireland.

“It’s also in fact a human rights issue and an equality issue because culture rights, the rights of people in Northern Ireland, should be implemented.”

In the letter, Mr McCausland said he believes his department and the trustees “share a common desire to ensure that museums are reflective of the views, beliefs and cultural traditions that make up society in Northern Ireland.”

He says National Museums’ contribution to the shared future agenda can best be achieved by “practical measures”.

Among these measures are consideration of how best to recognise the role of the Grand Lodge of Ireland and other fraternal organisations.


He specifically mentions the “Plantation to Power Sharing” exhibition which is currently on at the Ulster Museum and suggests that the trustees should consider changes to the exhibition before the summer months.

In terms of Ulster-Scots, Mr McCausland wrote that the local history exhibition should recognise the contribution of the Hamilton Montgomery Settlement, considered to be the most important event in Ulster-Scots history.

The issue of the origin of the universe and the different theories explaining it was previously raised by Mr McCausland’s DUP assembly colleague Mervyn Storey.

He said that he wanted the views of creationists – the concept of God creating the universe in contrast to the scientific theory of evolution – to be represented in the exhibitions.

Without specifically mentioning creationism, Mr McCausland’s letter includes a request for the trustees to consider how alternative views of the origin of the universe can be recognised and accomodated.

In a statement, DCAL said it welcomed the discussions on the NMNI’s potential contribution to the shared future agenda and was awaiting a response.

Meanwhile, SDLP culture spokesman Thomas Burns said it was “a mark of a liberal society that its cultural institutions should be free of party-political interference”.

“Any attempt to politicise public spaces or dictate to cultural institutions is a serious threat to our hopes of a shared society and should be resolutely resisted,” he said.

Sinn Fein’s Barry McElduff criticised Mr McCausland’s letter as “wholly unacceptable”.

Well, now. Museum exhibitions on Orangeism, or the north’s links with Scotland, are one thing; these are part of our history, like it or no. It’s the weird science of the Young Earth creationists, who are legion in the DUP, that raises eyebrows in the metropolis. Indeed, the Stephen Nolan show this morning had none other than Professor Dawkins, taking a break from the Lord George Gordon Re-Enactment Society to indulge in a bit of bashing of the straw minister.

This is the sort of thing that makes respectable unionists in places like North Down think twice about supporting the DUP; after all, could you really introduce these guys to David Cameron? It’s all a matter of how it reflects on Norn Iron in the all-important British view. As for me, I think Nelson should be a museum exhibit himself, as exemplifying the wondrous phenomenology of the unionist mind.

More on this from Mark.

Weird science at Stormont


Hullo Brian, hullo Sue. You know, in a very real sense, I’m slightly irritated by this campaign in the Grauniad to get secularists and atheists onto Thought for the Day. It may not be so bad, I suppose, if they were putting on serious thinkers with something to say who just happened to be atheists. But, all things being equal, opening the God slot to atheists means Radio 4 turning to whoever volunteers, which means evangelical atheists. And I would be not inconsiderably annoyed if those bozos at the National Secular Society managed to muscle in, since their whole purpose is to say “Religion! Boo!” They’re entitled to do that of course, as long as they do it on their own time. Trying to claim a quota of an already small amount of religious programming seems a bit off to me.

We’ve also got the Darwin anniversary at the moment. I really enjoyed Attenborough’s defence of Darwin the other week, but we can expect to see plenty of Professor Dawkins, who sort of encapsulates a lot of the problem I have with evangelical atheists. One thing that winds me up is his reliance on easy targets. I’ve never yet seen him debate a serious theologian, but he is extremely fond of heading over to Kentucky to wind up some inarticulate hillbillies. He also has this touching belief that the way to make the world a better place is to hector religious people and try to browbeat them into becoming atheists. Yeah, that really worked in the Soviet Union.

There’s also the evidential question, as in the vulgar materialist assumption that science has disproved religion. No it hasn’t. It may have made religion intellectually unnecessary, but as Attenborough understands and Dawkins doesn’t, science can’t prove or disprove a metaphysical assertion. No, where science does come into play, and where Dawkins is very good, is when religious fundamentalists make daft assertions about the physical world. This is trespassing on science’s territory, and science is perfectly within its rights to give the trespasser both barrels.

Which brings me to Stormont, where the occasional sighting of Jocko Homo should be of interest to evolutionary theorists. From today’s Tele:

A DUP Assemblyman has urged one of Northern Ireland’s biggest museums to ‘balance out’ a forthcoming exhibition on evolution with a display about creationism.

The Ulster Museum is to run a series later this year on evolution and fossils, which is expected to incorporate the work of naturalist Charles Darwin, whose birthday 200 years ago is currently being celebrated.

Darwin’s views on the theory of evolution and natural selection shocked the worlds of science and religion when first published.

However, North Antrim MLA Mervyn Storey has called for a creationist exhibition to be run alongside which explains the origin of life according to a literal reading of the Genesis account in the Bible.

“All I’m saying is that there should be a balance because there are other views out there,” Mr Storey said.

“There are people who have a different view to Darwin on creation.”

Mr Storey, himself a proponent of creationism, said that he was entitled to express his views on the subject.

“I believe in creationism and intelligent design, I don’t believe in the theory of evolution”, he said.

Mr Storey also said that a failure by the museum to reflect the views of “other people” could raise the possibility that a legal challenge may be launched under equality legislation.

The museum, which is due to reopen later this year following a major refurbishment programme, responded last night with a statement which read: “The Ulster Museum… will house galleries and exhibitions of international significance interpreted in line with excellent scholarship and research.

“Within the permanent science galleries we will explain the conventional scientific theories internationally accepted by scholars and scientists to describe life on earth from the earliest evidence of fossils.

“This is consistent with approaches taken by museums of renown across the world.”

Mervyn is chairman of the Assembly education committee.

In related news, the environment committee has passed a vote of no confidence in Sammy the Streaker, but the rules of the peace process mean the minister stays in situ until Robbo decides otherwise. But I’m very taken, not for the first time, with the comments boxes which are placed at the bottom of Telegraph articles and allow the Ulster populace to speak they’re brane. Here are a few genuine comments:

One day history will show us that ‘climate change’ and the whole CO2 bunkum is a farce. Bona fide science knows this already. Mr.Wilson is to be applauded for his views on the matter and for not following the morons who have fallen for the baised and skewed reporting of the true facts about the fallacy that is man-made climate changed which we have rammed down our throats by government.

At last a minister with a BRAIN, we should give him a medal as big as a frying pan.

Regardless of whether MMGW or AGW are fact (which I dont believe they are) Mr Wilson is to be commended. Why – well, for having the intellectual rigour and conviction to make a stand, for one. To me, the harsh reality is that these ‘climate’ issues are a stage for wanna-be communists, champange socialists and ultra-left liberals, who would like nothing more than to put severe restrictions on the daily lives of everyone, believers (of MMGW/AGW) and non-believers alike.

If we dont collectively waken up we may find ourselves under the cosh of a regime of our own making.

You disagree? Think about it, we’re already in a surveillance driven state, CCTV everywhere, fines for not having rubbish sorted, massive databases of personal information, an overbearing government, etc, etc, etc. Put the pieces together, what could be more perfect than the impending threat of climate carnage as a vehicle for society wide control, huh?

Think, think, think, people, or should that be sheople ?

On second thoughts, maybe we should bring Dawkins over here. Isn’t public understanding of science his job description?

Jocko Homo sighted in North Antrim

You may have noticed that good old Prof Dawkins is popping up again on the TV, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Darwin’s Origin of Species. And a fine populariser of science he is too, although I feel he does tend to go for the straw men rather a lot when he strays into the realms of theology.

But then again, over here in Norn Iron, where I’m amazed we haven’t yet had a monkey trial, we do rather give him plenty of ammunition. The newly appointed chair of the Stormont education committee, Mervyn Storey (DUP, North Antrim) popped up in today’s News Letter, demanding the teaching of creationism in science classes:

Creationism is not for the RE class because I believe that it can stand scientific scrutiny and that is a debate which I am quite happy to encourage and be part of.

The issue for the current Education Minister [Caitriona Ruane] is that she tells us she’s all for equality – surely if that is the case, you can’t have one set of interpretations being taught at the expense of others.

So, if there are those from the scientific community [who believe in creationism] who can give a view about how the world came into existence then it can’t be set aside. You can’t have one very narrow theory.

This is not about removing anything from the classroom – although that would probably be the ideal for me – but this is about us having equality of access to other views as to how the world came into existence and that I think is a very, very important issue for many parents in Northern Ireland.

And I am delighted that Prof Dawkins bothered to come back and reply:

I have no objection to all kinds of daft ideas being taught in comparative religion classes but in science what we should teach is what there is evidence for and children should be encouraged to examine evidence…

If this politician [Mr Storey] wants to import creationism into science classes, I’m wondering which kind of creationism – Hindu creationism, Jewish creationism, Babylonian creationism, Aztec creationism?

My guess is that it is probably Genesis creationism and there’s absolutely no reason for it.

And the good professor goes on:

We live in a democracy and anyone can get elected…

I think it’s sad that people with ridiculous views do get elected because it suggests that the electorate is not sufficiently well-educated to see through them.

I would hope that a flat-earther would not be elected and would not be serving as an important official in educational circles – exactly the same would be true of at least a young earth creationist.

Not, perhaps, a line that would go down well with the God-fearing folk of North Antrim, but at least Norn Iron’s small community of scientific rationalists will have a nice warm feeling today.

Hat tip: Slugger.

Rud eile: the gay debate rumbles on, with a new row over Rev McIlveen and his congregation placing an anti-gay ad in the News Letter. Some things never change, do they?

Creationism at the Causeway


I should, I suppose, write today about our outstanding natural wonder, the Giant’s Causeway. This isn’t prompted, or at least only indirectly, by the ongoing row about the planned visitors’ centre, although I notice I haven’t covered this and it’s worth briefly recapping.

In a nutshell, environment minister Arlene Foster (DUP) announced that she was “minded” to award the £20m contract for a new visitors’ centre to developer Seymour Sweeney. Arlene said she had no knowledge of Mr Sweeney, but it subsequently emerged that he was a member of the DUP and well acquainted with both Papa Doc and Baby Doc. This could well be entirely innocent, but it doesn’t look very good. It has also gone down badly with local DUP councillors, who have been agitating for a publicly funded visitors’ centre.

Anyway, what piqued my interest was an item on yesterday’s Talk Back. This was connected not to the contract for the visitors’ centre, but to its potential content. Dunseith had on some punter purporting to represent the Causeway Creation Committee. It emerged that the punter was demanding that the visitors’ centre, in addition to the geological explanation for the Causeway (the basalt columns resulting from an ancient volcanic eruption) and the Fionn mac Cumhaill mythological explanation, should also give prominence to the creationist explanation. I wasn’t entirely clear what the creationist explanation for the Causeway was.

This could be tied in to the recent action of Lisburn ‘City’ Council in supporting a DUP motion calling for Intelligent Design to be taught in local schools. Perhaps fortunately, the council has no powers over the curriculum. Meanwhile, we may ponder the theory posited by Oscar Kiss Maerth in the 1970s, that the human species had devolved from a race of brain-eating apes. Is it possible that some devolved further and found their way onto Lisburn council?

Rud eile: While on the subject of property developers, I am informed that the Andytown barracks site was reclaimed by the community at the weekend. This amounted to sixty dispirited children, thirty dispirited adults and a bouncy castle.

Update 17.10.07: I notice this letter in the Belfast Telegraph from the Causeway Creation Committee, arguing that the famous basalt columns are in fact a direct result of Noah’s Flood, and demanding that the visitors’ centre includes the biblical perspective.