“the difference between reason and unreason..”

I haven’t heard whether there has been any progress with the reported application to appeal the Environment minister’s eventual ‘notice of opinion to refuse’ Seymour Sweeney’s plans for a privately funded Visitors’ Centre at the Giants Causeway, but the pressure from young-Earth creationists, including the DUP MLAs noted here, hasn’t gone un-noticed among scientific circles. Nor, I’d suggest, has this ministerial answer. Andrew Kerr of Cardiff University’s School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, and a member of the Geological Society’s Stratigraphy Commission, emailed a link to the Commission’s response to the prospect of “a possible eruption of Young Earth Creationism” at the World Heritage Site as published in the latest issue of Geoscientist.

The young-Earth creationists’ view of Earth history, based upon their literal interpretation of the Bible, is quite simply wrong. It is a manifest untruth. It is as wrong as saying that the Sun orbits around the Earth, or that the Moon is made of green cheese, or that the Giant’s Causeway was constructed by Finn MacCool, the giant of Irish legend. Nor are we dealing with “alternative views” of the universe. We are dealing with the difference between reason and unreason. For it is unreasonable, indeed fantastical, in any impartial examination of the evidence (evidence that was sufficient even in Victorian times, and now that has been corroborated a thousandfold), to state that the Earth is only a few thousand years old.

This is not a case of censorship. We do not question the right of creationists to hold or expound their views, to write pamphlets and books, hold meetings, or set up websites; nor would we for our part demand to distribute articles on the scientific evidence of the age of the Earth in church halls. But we profoundly disagree with any suggestion that creationist views should be given space in publicly-funded museums or visitor centres that explain natural history, or in school science lessons or science textbooks.

The significance of this point goes far beyond questions of a philosophical interpretation of humanity’s place in the universe. Humanity is now struggling to maintain itself on an overcrowded planet, on an Earth in which the life-support systems of air and water and food and land are being imperilled by human action. To deal with the many crises facing us, we need to deal with the Earth as it is – not with the utterly unreal Earth that the young-Earth creationists have convinced themselves of, by over-literal interpretation of scriptural texts.

This is not at all to say that the world’s religions have no part to play in, say, the growing threat of global warming. On the contrary: the moral standpoints they provide may perhaps prove crucial in influencing individual or collective action that might counter this threat. But human reason as applied to the reality of the world around us – which is in essence what science is – must lie at the heart of any civilised society. The Giant’s Causeway, and its 60-million year history, must be used to help promote that reason, and to better understand the real Earth on which we live.

That does, of course, require the application of rational thinking in the modern age.