Thursday, 5 July 2012

Update: National Trust statement on Giant's Causeway creationism controversy

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As I blogged this morning, the National Trust has come under fire today for including a reference to creationism in educational material at the new visitors' centre at the Giant's Causeway in County Antrim.

In response to the criticism they have been receiving, the National Trust have released a transcript of the section of an audio guide that references creationism:
"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."
The National Trust have also provided the National Secular Society with a statement explaining their reasoning for including creationism:
"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.

The National Trust fully supports the scientific explanation for the creation of the stones 60 million years ago."
While it is clear from the transcript and the statement that the National Trust is not endorsing creationism in the Giant's Causeway exhibition, this clarification still does not help to explain why the Trust consulted with the evangelical Caleb Foundation, which recommended the inclusion of creationism, in the first place. While the exhibition simply references creationism as a view that some have taken, both historically and in the present, towards the origins of the Causeway, the fact that they were consulted at all has enabled the Caleb Foundation to hail the new visitors' centre as a vindication of their creationist perspective. This is clear from the statement released by the Foundation, which welcomes the National Trust's "acknowledgement both of the legitimacy of the creationist position on the origins of the unique Causeway stones and of the ongoing debate around this". And more worryingly, the statement goes on to suggest that the inclusion of creationism in the Causeway exhibition should be used as a guide for exhibitions at other sites of scientific interest:
"This is, as far as we are aware, a first for the National Trust anywhere in the UK, and it sets a precedent for others to follow. We feel that it is important that the centre, which has been largely funded out of the public purse, should be inclusive and representative of the whole community, and we have therefore been engaged in detailed and constructive discussions with the Trust in order to secure the outcome we have today."
As I wrote in my post this morning, while the National Trust may have acted with good intentions, by consulting with the Caleb Foundation and including creationism in the exhibition, they have handed a PR victory to creationist campaigners. In creating educational exhibitions, it would surely be better if such groups were not consulted at all.
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