Giants’ Causeway Interpretive Centre: “The National Trust fully supports the scientific explanation for the creation of the stones 60 million years ago”

Which is fine, but misses the point.  The National Trust continues to try to defend its decision to give in to the lobbying of the Caleb Foundation and include young-Earth creationist beliefs in the Giants’ Causeway Interpretive Centre[Are they after the crank pound? – Ed]  Maybe… and maybe not.

Yesterday’s NT press office blog carried this quote

A National Trust spokesperson said: “The interpretation in the visitor centre showcases the science of how the stones were formed, the history of this special place and the stories of local characters.

“We reflect, in a small part of the exhibition, that the Causeway played a role in the historic debate about the formation of the earth, and that for some people this debate continues today. [added emphasis]

“The National Trust fully supports the scientific explanation for the creation of the stones 60 million years ago.”

And the BBC report included comments by the Causeway project director, Graham Thompson.

Speaking on BBC Radio Ulster Graham Thompson, Causeway project director said: “Over the past five or six years we have had a thorough appraisal at what should be contained in the Causeway visitors centre, we have a huge range of exhibits, audio tours, films and how the Causeway itself links into history.

“Central to everything is how the Causeway was formed and the National Trust position is that we believe and accept the mainstream scientific idea that the Causeway was formed by volcanic eruption 60 million years ago.

“In the scientific and formation elements we base everything on fact.

“It’s a fact today that there is still a series of debate surrounding the formation of the Causeway but the exhibit is about that debate of as opposed to how the Causeway was formed. [corrected quote – see Graham Thompson’s comment here]

We have a respectful position which allows people to have debate.” [added emphasis]

That line has been modified in an update today on the NT press office blog.

Lastly there is the ‘debating characters’ exhibit, which sparked the discussion. This exhibit consists of five different audio samples triggered by buttons. It is designed to give a flavour of the historical debates there have been over the Causeway’s formation – starting with arguments between Sir Thomas Molyneux and a mystery correspondent (probably George Ashe) over whether the columns were fossil or mineral. The next clip sets out a flavour of the argument between Vulcanists and Neptunists. The next clip details how James Hutton’s work opened the way for definitive proof of an ancient earth. The fourth clip mentions a theory published in the 1800s that the Causeway was fossilised bamboo. Then the final clip states that Young Earth Creationists exist who wish to continue the debate today, as they believe the earth is only 6000 years old. [added emphasis]

That gets closer to identifying the problem here for the National Trust.  As I pointed out yesterday, in response to this quote from a National Trust spokesperson in the original UTV report

The trust said that the exhibit gives recognition to the fact that, for creationists, the debate about the age of the Earth is still ongoing.

A statement read: “The Giants’ Causeway has always prompted debate about how it was formed and how old it is.

“One of the exhibits in the Giants’ Causeway Visitors’ Centre interpretation tells the story of the part the Giants’ Causeway played in the debate about how the Earth’s rocks were formed and the age of the Earth.

“This is an interactive audio exhibition in which visitors can hear some of the different debates from historical characters.

In this exhibition we also acknowledge that for some people, this debate continues today and we reflect and respect the fact that creationists today have a different perspective on the age of the Earth from that of mainstream science.” [added emphasis]

“The problem with this is that the only “debate” taking place [over the age of the Earth] is inside the heads of young-Earth creationists.”

And, despite the new NT press office line, the offending section of the exhibition [scroll down] is titled, “The Debate continues today”

The Debate continues today

Like many natural phenomena around the world, the Giant’s Causeway has raised questions and prompted debate about how it was formed.

This debate has ebbed and flowed since the discovery of the Causeway to science and, historically, the Causeway became part of a global debate about how the earth’s rocks were formed.

This debate continues today for some people, who have an understanding of the formation of the earth which is different from that of current mainstream science.

Young Earth Creationists believe that the earth was created some 6000 years ago.  This is based on a specific interpretation of the Bible and in particular the account of creation in the book of Genesis.

Some people around the world, and specifically here in Northern Ireland, share this perspective. 

Young Earth Creationists continue to debate questions about the age of the earth. As we have seen from the past, and understand today, perhaps the Giant’s Causeway will continue to prompt awe and wonder, and arouse debate and challenging questions for as long as visitors come to see it.

To repeat myself,

Young-Earth creationists are not part of any scientific debate, mainstream or otherwise, about “how the earth’s rocks were formed”.

And it’s not the Giants’ Causeway prompting “awe and wonder” that’s behind the young-Earth creationists lobbying campaign and interest in the Interpretive Centre.

It was the opportunity to promote their supernaturalist nonsense.  And the National Trust have just handed them a free platform on which to do so.

Martha Gill at the New Statesman blog identified the tactic in play

The strategy employed by the Caleb Foundation here appears to be one pioneered by the Discovery Institute in the US, [called] “teaching the controversy“. By insisting that the views of an incredibly small minority (of both the general population, and indeed Christians) are included in discussions of the subject, the ploy aims to create the impression that an issue is not settled. [added emphasis]

In the meantime, the geologists are getting organised.

And Dr Andrew Kerr, Reader in Petrology and Director of Admissions, School of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Cardiff University, who had pointed out the Geoscientist article in 2008, emailed Slugger yesterday.

Needless to say I am appalled by the news that this minority of a minority have succeeded in getting their claptrap even cursorily mentioned in the new Causeway visitor centre.

I have found out that the British Geological Survey HQ were asked to make representations to the NT against the inclusion of this nonsense, most probably by the Geol Survey of NI. But obviously they were ignored.

Who paid for the new visitor centre? was it entirely the NT or was there public money involved as well?

[Added: From the NT press office blog. “The Giant’s Causeway visitor experience cost £18.5million. Of this funding package, the National Trust provided £6.25m, the Department of Enterprise Trade & Investment, through the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, awarded £9.25 million of which £6.125 million has been provided by the European Regional Development Fund under the European Sustainable Competitiveness Programme for Northern Ireland with the Heritage Lottery Fund allocating £3million.”]

The most concerning thing is that it is an organisation like the National Trust have given into pressure from the lunatic fringe, and their scientifically illiterate political supporters.

I have alerted the Stratigraphy Commission of the Geol Soc of London to this as well as the Mineralogical Society of GB and Ireland (of which I am the PRO) suggesting that both send a strongly worded letter concern to the NT.

The president of the Mineralogical Society is also on the Committee of Heads of University Geosciences Departments
and I have suggested to him that they might also like to express their concern.

Words really do fail me at this point.

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