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Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Irish may be famed for building roads: but not this one

An interesting exchange over on the National Trust's Facebook page. This is the National Trust (which covers England and Wales), not its sister organisation the National Trust For Scotland (which doesn't).

I posted this:

I have just learned that the new visitor centre at the Giant's Causeway in Co. Antrim includes material promoting "Young Earth Creationism", or as they called it when I was at school, "ignorance". If you're going to allow explanations of geology in terms of religious myth to stand alongside those of science, where will you draw the line? There are plenty of folk out there (I know, I've read some of their books) who believe that Stonehenge was created by extra-terrestrial visitors: should we expect a display there explaining how "the debate continues"?

(The NT administers the Stonehenge site along with English Heritage.)

This elicited the following reply from the National Trust:

Hi Rob, thanks for your questions. The exhibit at the Giant’s Causeway is specific to that site and tells the story of the part the Causeway played in the historical debate which took place about how the earth’s rocks were formed and about the age of the earth. Creationism was included in a small section of the exhibition as one of five themes featured in the historical debate; because along with the arguments between Sir Thomas Molyneux and George Ashe, the debate between Vulcanists and Neptunists, James Hutton’s work and an 1800s fossilised bamboo theory, it represents one of the historical debates there have been over the Causeway’s formation. As part of this exhibit we refer to the young earth creationist viewpoint, not because we support it, but because it is the only theme within historical discussions about the formation of the causeway that a small minority people still believe in today. If there was an existing modern movement backing the fossilised bamboo theory, we would have referenced this in the same way. The phrase ‘the debate continues’ refers to a part of the final clip within the exhibit in question, where we outline that Young Earth Creationists wish to continue a historical debate today. We do not support this view. In fact, exactly the opposite - our interpretation at the Giant’s Causeway sets out the science about the age of the Causeway and the age of the earth across all of the exhibition and outdoor audio guides, i.e. that the Causeway is around 60 million years old. We’re keen to respond to any other concerns you may have on this in as comprehensive a manner as possible, and to ensure that you feel you’ve got the answers to your important questions. To help do this, we’ve created a dedicated address for people to write to: Giant's Causeway Interpretation Issues, The National Trust, Northern Ireland Regional Office, Rowallane House, Saintfield, Co. Down, BT24 7LH, and we will do our best to answer your enquires there.

Which I thought was well said, but not quite well enough - as I pointed out:

I don't object to having YEC discussed in the context of other outdated theories, and if the folk of Northern Ireland don't mind the suggestion in your audio that they are especially prone to cling to such things then that's their affair. I am, though, concerned by your description of the YEC viewpoint as being "different from that of current mainstream science". That wording implies that there is some other kind of current "science" with which it concurs, and that is not the case: it is a religious viewpoint pure and simple. The whole point about science is that it doesn't deal with unchanging and unchallengeable truths. Any scientific fact may be overtaken by better experimental data: that is precisely how science advances. Young Earth Creationism, based as it is on religious texts rather than experimental observation, is subject to no such revision and allows no challenge on the basis of incompatibility with experiment. To describe this situation as a continuing "debate" rather than what it is - a refusal to engage in debate - is tacitly to lend support to YEC, especially when science is downgraded to "mainstream science". If you were to replace "current mainstream science" with "current science", and to change "Young Earth Creationists continue to debate questions about the age of the earth" to "Young Earth Creationists continue to deny scientific evidence about the age of the earth" then I would be much more comfortable with the Trust's display.

If I get any further responses I'll update this post. Meanwhile, here are some T-shirt designs which seem apposite. I am a proud owner of the third one ("Turtle").

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