I’M not sure what to make of the Culture Minister’s latest blog entry on the Ulster Museum controversy. After waiting patiently for Nelson McCausland to address the merits of Creationism’s place in the museum, it now appears he doesn’t want to talk about the only genuine controversy in his letter to the trustees after all.
This is disappointing, because the Minister freely offered his personal defence of why Ulster-Scots, the Orange Order and other fraternal organisations like the AoH, the Plantation and other matters ought to have their place there.
And – despite his detractors – Nelson has a point. He makes valid arguments, and it’s great to see a politician do this online. For good or for ill, all those things listed above are part of our history and society, and are worthy of some form of public exhibition. Perhaps by witnessing our divided past it can, somehow, contribute to a shared future. Properly contextualised, of course, but not omitted or glossed over. (I might even go further and suggest boosting the Ulster Museum’s feeble ‘Troubles’ section by sticking a Saracen where the dinosaur is, pinning a decommissioned Armalite to the wall and instead of knights in shining armour you could have an RUC riot mannequin.)
However, in 11 entries on the controversy, there hasn’t been a single word blogged by the minister himself in favour of promoting alternative ways of explaining the beginnings of the universe. In the course of the debate, he has merely quoted others and in his final post he concludes:
It is clear that some people want me to enter into a public debate on evolution, creationism and intelligent design and that is something I have no intention of doing. There are well-known scientists who advocate each of these viewpoints and I leave it to them to debate the matter.
That wasn’t exactly worth the wait. Why so coy now? There was certainly a willingness to debate every other aspect of the letter. To now decline to engage on the final matter – the only one worth debating in depth – could be interpreted as a little intellectually dishonest. Or perhaps once the Creationism touchpaper had been lit, the only political option left was to run a mile away from it.
I feel let down with such an unsatisfying conclusion, even if it does make life easier for the Ulster Museum. After all, if the proposer of an argument is not prepared to stand by it, then it can be rejected more easily. (Or, if compromise is to be found, it could be placed in an exhibition in its proper context – alongside other religions or – less charitably – in the myths and legends section.)
The fear that people like myself have, Minister McCausland, is that Creationists – and their fundie Young Earth-believing country cousins – will seek to have faith validated through science by having competing narratives seen as equal. Or in layman’s terms, that we could end up hearing – in our showcase museum – how jurassic dinosaurs walked the earth with humans, or how only a week passed from the Big Bang until a couple ate some dodgy fruit.
Equating faith and science is like comparing apples and oranges. I wouldn’t deny that religious belief is very real to many people, but one exists because of reason and evidence, the other despite them. They have their places, but probably not beside each other in the Ulster Museum.