Northern Ireland – National Trust caves in to creationists

A new visitor centre has opened at the Giant’s Causeway, after an earlier centre burnt down a few years ago. The Giant’s Causeway is an impressive site: thousands of basalt columns formed millions of years ago. Wikipedia has a succinct overview of the geological origins of the causeway:

Some 50 to 60 million years ago, during the Paleogene period, Antrim was subject to intense volcanic activity, when highly fluid molten basalt intruded through chalk beds to form an extensive lava plateau. As the lava cooled rapidly,contraction occurred. Horizontal contraction fractured in a similar way to drying mud, with the cracks propagating down as the mass cooled, leaving pillarlike structures, which are also fractured horizontally into “biscuits”. In many cases the horizontal fracture has resulted in a bottom face that is convex while the upper face of the lower segment is concave, producing what are called “ball and socket” joints. The size of the columns is primarily determined by the speed at which lava from a volcanic eruption cools. The extensive fracture network produced the distinctive columns seen today. The basalts were originally part of a great volcanic plateau called the Thulean Plateau which formed during the Paleogene period.

Giant’s Causeway (Wikipedia)

Unfortunately, news from Northern Ireland seems to be suggesting that the local evangelicals have got their teeth into the National Trust and have their ludicrous creationist misinformation incorporated in an audiovisual display. There’s little information as yet on how prominent this is, but it has the potential to be rather a shameful embarrassment for the National Trust. The Caleb Foundation (“Promoting the Fundamentals of the Historic Evangelical Protestant Faith”) are proudly proclaiming their success in inserting their dodgy version:

As an umbrella organisation which represents the interests of mainstream evangelical Christians in Northern Ireland,we have worked closely with the National Trust over many months with a view to ensuring that the new Causeway Visitor Centre includes an acknowledgement both of the legitimacy of the creationist position on the origins of the unique Causeway stones and of the ongoing debate around this. We are pleased that the National Trust worked positively with us and that this has now been included at the new Visitor Centre.

I’ve blogged previously about the Caleb Foundation –The Caleb FoundationMore creationism in Northern IrelandCreationist Claims in Northern Ireland (UTV News)Creationist claims in Northern Ireland (The Guardian), and the BCSE has a couple of articles about the Caleb Foundation – Part 1 and Part 2.

At this stage, it’s not clear quite how the evangelical and creationist viewpoint is projected, but it has received some media attention. Ulster TV reports Causeway centre gives creationist view. The National Trust come across as rather naive in that 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.”

It appears that the Caleb Foundation “worked with” the National Trust to ensure that misinformation was presented at the Visitor Centre. This is potentially an astonishing and appalling lapse on the part of the National Trust.

Creationist claims in Northern Ireland (The Guardian)

Sophie Deboick has a rather good comment article in the Guardian today concerning recent pro-creationist manoeuvring by politicians and religious lobbyists in Northern Ireland (Creationist claims in Northern Ireland | Sophia Deboick | Comment is free |  I’ve spent the last few blog articles commenting on this situation.  Debroick’s article homes in on the observation that these biblical literalists are basing their spurious claims for inclusion in the Ulster Museum of their lame-brained theories on a “human rights” claim.  She’s right in her criticism – scientific progress is not based on a popularity contest.  Just because the Caleb Foundation and Nelson McCausland make the (unsubstantiated) claim that a third of the Northern Irish population believes in creationism does not make it a worthy alternative to science.  Debroick closes her article with this nicely worded passage:

We shouldn’t be complacent about attacks on humankind’s scientific
achievements and the integrity of our cultural institutions, and the
situation is all the more alarming when those who criticise secular
values do so in its own language of hard fought-for rights. Despite the
rhetoric, the Caleb Foundation and its proponents seem to have little
investment in the public understanding of history and science. This is
nothing more than an attempt to abuse the language of rights to go
beyond the religious respect they are already accorded and secure
religious privilege. It should be recognised as such.

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The Caleb Foundation

My interest in the Caleb Foundation was fuelled by recent news stories about the Northern Ireland Culture Minister Nelson McCausland’s communication to the Ulster Museum concerning his desire that the museum offer space to creationist claptrap, apparently on the grounds that many people believe in divine creation (see Creationism in Northern Ireland).  This was followed by news that The Caleb Foundation want to see creationist tosh presented at a visitor centre to be built at the Giant’s Causeway (see More creationism in Northern Ireland).  It’s not clear whether Mr McCausland is a member of the Caleb Foundation or not, but it would seem that the Caleb Foundation supports his desire to pollute the Ulster Museum with creationism (see the newsletter pieces dated 26th and 27th May at the Caleb Foundation website).

Who are the Caleb Foundation?
You can see the leading lights of the Caleb Foundation at their website.  These individuals are the Caleb Council, comprising “representatives from a number of mainline Evangelical Denominations”.  And indeed they are, with a considerable number of Free Presbyterians in their midst.  Being an atheist, the fine details of their individual cults are more than a little murky, but there is a heavy evangelical slant to them.  You can also see their Statement of Faith.  Top of the list is:

That the Bible is the inspired, infallible and inerrant word of God. It is final in its authority. None may add thereto or take away therefrom except at their own peril.

OK, so these guys believe in the literal truth of the Bible. This is presumably what restricts their critical capacity, which as we’ll see when considering their coverage of science (particularly relating to what they see as the evolution-creationism “controversy” is poor.  Interestingly, and for the notice of some of the posters in the Caleb Foundation Forum (most or all of whom appear to be atheists), they are quite clear which bible they refer to:

In the interests of uniformity all spokesmen, public statements, publications and meetings of The Caleb Foundation shall use and quote from the Authorised Version of the Holy Scriptures.

The main protagonist in the Ulster Museum story is Nelson McCausland, DUP member of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure in the Assembly.  He’s had a bit of a roasting for suggesting that there should be consideration of creationism in the Ulster Museum, apparently on the grounds that a large proportion of the population believe in a creation myth (presumably his christian creation myth).  McCausland has a blog, “Nelson’s View“, and this is quite informative on his dealings with the Ulster Museum.  His ministerial position clearly requires him to have a duty to the museum sector, and a quick overview of blog indicates that the creationism kerfuffle is merely one issue of about ten that he has with the content of the museum (the others are to do with displays relating to cultural aspects of life and history in Northern Ireland).  He makes no mention on his blog of his religious affiliation and there are no links to the Caleb Foundation (though he does record meetings with representatives).  The Caleb Foundation clearly approves of his creationist stance.

What do the Caleb Foundation want?

We see a number of links within the front page of their website – two significant items are “The Lord’s Day” and “Creation“, with the latter supported by  a link to “ULSTER MUSEUM DATA“, of which more later.  From perusing the Caleb Foundation website, and looking around the internet, it’s clear that these guys work quite hard to influence events relating to their main objectives of enforcing literalist bible interpretation and imposing evangelical (but probably minority) christian views on the rest of Northern Ireland.  Politically, it would seem they are pretty much aligned with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).  Northern Irish politics operates slightly differently to mainland UK politics, with most (all?) Northern Irish MPs being members of local parties, often with sectarian roots.

The Lord’s Day

I blogged a while ago on the subject of Sunday observance (Ferries on The Sabbath), in the context of changes to business in the Outer Hebrides, particularly Lewis and Harris where the predominant form of christianity is The Free Church of Scotland (aka “the Wee Frees”, I guess pejoratively).  I have sympathy for the cultural situation regarding the observance of Sunday as a day of rest in that case.  However for a modern, diverse society (particularly one that has experienced deep sectarian divides) to continually resist normal day to day activity because of scripture strikes me as wrong.

There are two links related to the Ulster Museum fracas. The first, “Creationism”, merely links to an audio about dinosaurs, which frankly I cannot bother listening to after the plug for text for use in church messages and newsletters. The second link “ULSTER MUSEUM DATA” leads one to a list of exhibits compiled during someone’s visit to the museum. I guess the errors are due to hasty scribblings. This is rather a peculiar page – after listing a series of statements associated with dates, we reach

It’s claimed that fossil rocks are 300 -800 million years old. Yet a modern coelacanth is displayed and we are told they are still found.

Now this statement is classic “failure to understand”. More “failure to understand” is to come:

“In evolution, however, organisms are limited by what they inherit from their ancestors and by the properties of the biological materials of which they are made”. [A legitimate question for us might be ‘how then can one species become another?’]

Perhaps the anonymous visitor to the museum could have read a bit more widely than the bible – perhaps dipping into any responsible biology text book. And look, more:

Under a heading, “The Importance of Fossils”, we are told, “only a tiny fraction of living things become fossils”. [We could therefore argue that a massive amount of evidence is simply ignored!]

So the undiscovered fossils (and the specimens that never became fossilised) are somehow “ignored evidence”. Does the anonymous writer really not understand concepts of sampling? Ultimately, this page on the website doesn’t really achieve much – I suspect the reader is supposed to disbelieve the statements of age, and accept the silly comments from the author.

Other views of the Caleb Foundation on the internet…

The British Centre for Science Education (BCSE) hosts an excellent series of pages relating to creationism and its perpetrators, including this page on the Caleb Foundation.  While some of the links appear to have changed (e.g. links which are given to creationism in schools and an attach on a Radio Ulster person now link to the Ulster Museum Notes and a contact form respectively), there’s information on the political and religious affiliation of the Caleb Foundation.  BCSE reckons (and they are right) that the Caleb Foundation is riddled with creationists and creationism.  It’s also clear that Caleb Foundation members regularly lobby of inclusion of creationism on school classes and on other platforms.  The BCSE also suggest that the DUP is committed to the teaching of creationism (despite the absence from their 2007 manifesto), and relates this to the party’s protestant background, and implicates the Caleb Foundation either in the root of this policy or as a means of lobbying on its behalf.  It’s an article worth reading – for example on the subject of the religious/creationist axis in the DUP (bear in mind the article appears to date from 2007 and won’t reflect events in the recent UK General Election):

The DUP is the largest Northern Irish political party in terms of the number of seats it has both in the Northern Ireland Assembly and in Westminster. It holds 36 out of 55 Protestant seats in the 108 seat in the Assembly and 9 of the 18 Northern Ireland seats in Westminster. It is believed that around half or more of DUP MLAs (Members of the Legislative Assembly) are members of the tiny Free Presbyterian Church although the latter’s membership is less that 1% of the population of the province.(2)

As is the case in the USA, getting creationism into Northern Irish schools appears to involve a considerable degree of sneakiness as well as extreme language and paranoid claims by its proponents. The martyrdom complex is openly displayed as well. However, the DUP’s position undoubtedly reflects the rampant belief in creationism amongst evangelicals in the province so the DUP is not working in a social vacuum. As there is no official, public, DUP position on the matter it is not clear how widespread the support for creationism is in the party. The evidence so far suggests that a core of, maybe, around half a dozen very senior politicians within the DUP, are actively promoting it.

The silly Biologos Foundation website reports on the Giant’s Causeway news story.  Neither supports nor decries the Caleb Foundation’s position, and refers readers to the BBC News website.

The Wikipedia page on the late George Dawson MLA reinforces the tight integration of the Caleb Foundation with the DUP, and thereby the Northern Ireland political scene.  Here is a Caleb Foundation submission regarding the proposed Bill of Rights in Northern Ireland (pdf) – he document makes it abundantly clear the literalist approach to the bible these people take.

There are further examples of Caleb Foundation’s political lobbying for adoption of literalist and fundamentalist principles.  For example the European Institute for Protestant Studies reprinted a press release on the Caleb Foundation’s response to an EU Gender Directive:

The Caleb Foundation has welcomed news that the First Minister of Northern Ireland, the Rt Hon Dr Ian Paisley MP, MLA, has blocked the implementation of EU legislation to include homosexual, lesbian and transgender people.

In a press release the Caleb Foundation said: “This EU Directive carries with it the threat to criminalise honest, sincere and devout people who happen to believe that certain practices are morally objectionable. There are many tens of thousands of people in Northern Ireland who hold these kinds of lifestyles to be sinful and offensive. That they should be coerced in law to facilitate such practices is itself morally wrong.”

At this point, I felt that I’d sufficiently explored the Caleb Foundation.  Indeed having encountered the BCSE’s pages on the subject, I’d happily refer the reader to those pages, which offer a detailed overview of the Caleb Foundation’s membership, motives and activities.

More creationism in Northern Ireland

According to the BBC (BBC News – Call for creationism exhibit at Giant’s Causeway) the chairman of Northern Ireland’s odd-sounding Caleb Foundation, Wallace Thompson, is calling for creationist information boards to be placed in an information centre at the Giant’s Causeway.  Sounds as though the idea may be getting short shrift:

SDLP MLA Alban Maginnis said he was opposed to a creationist representation at the new facility.”You are talking about a visitors’ centre which will attract people from all over the world,” he said.”It will be dealing with the natural sciences in relation to the Giant’s Causeway.”I do not think it would be appropriate in these circumstances to have a very narrow religious view expressed.”

Of course, as I blogged recently (Creationism in Northern Ireland) there has been a recent attempt to get creationism into Ulster Museum.  The call for creationist nonsense at the Giant’s Causeway is based on similar claims.  As Thompson puts it:

“All we are asking for is that the views that we hold, which
are based on the Word of God, are at least respected and taken on

But bronze-age myths are not something that should be used in this way, no matter how many deluded individuals may believe them.

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