The Giant's Causeway. Credit: ArtWard Photography

Creationism controversy at Giant's Causeway

Rebecca Atkinson, 10.07.2012
Petition calls on National Trust to remove references to creationism in new visitors' centre
The National Trust’s inclusion of creationism in the new visitors’ centre at the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland has been called a "grave error of judgement".

The centre opened last week and quickly attracted attention for the inclusion of references to creationist theory in its interpretation. At the heart of the controversy is an audio-based interactive re-enacting early debates between Victorian geologists about the origins of the 40,000 basaltic columns.

The exhibit says that "creationists today have an understanding of the formation of the earth which is different from that of current mainstream science".

It continues: “Young earth creationists believe that the earth was created some 6,000 years ago. This is based on a specific interpretation of the Bible and in particular the account of creation in the book of Genesis… Young earth creationists continue to debate questions about the age of the earth.”

A full transcript of the exhibit can be found on the National Trust’s press office blog.

Rebecca Williams, an academic from Leicester University’s department of geology, called the inclusion “a grave error of judgement” in a blog post about the issue.

“The approach of the National Trust here is unfortunate. For the Young Earth Creationists’ belief that the Earth was created less than 6,000 years ago is simply wrong – as wrong as to say that the Earth is flat, or that the Moon is made out of green cheese,” she wrote. “It does not form part of any rational debate – and for many, it is not even a theological debate.”

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Richard Dawkins said it was regrettable that the trust had “paid lip service to the ignorant bigotry”.

And TV science personality Brian Cox tweeted: “I don't mind creation stories presented as mythology, but to suggest there is any debate that earth is 4.54 billion years old is pure sh*t.”

At the time of writing more than 3,000 people had signed a petition urging the National Trust to remove the creationist exhibit from the Giant’s Causeway visitors’ centre.

But the National Trust has defended the exhibit.

It said in a statement: “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.”

The £18.5m visitors’ centre has been designed as a gateway to the site for the 600,000 people who visit each year. Funded by the European Regional Development Fund, the Northern Ireland Tourist Board, the Heritage Lottery Fund and the National Trust, it is hoped the centre will increase capacity by about 30%.


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MA Member
17.07.2012, 11:58
This is an absolute abomination. The National Trust should be a reputable academic source and should not have bent to the squeaky wheel of the DUP. Utter rubbish and an embarrassment to the UK, Northern Ireland and Museum professionals everywhere.
David Craven
MA Member
Collections Development Officer: Natural Sciences, Renaissance North West
13.07.2012, 10:42
The issue is that the way the section is written creates, unintentionally, an implication that there is a scientific debate over the age of the Earth, and of the causeway. It's an error born of naivety and good intentions, and one easily rectified.

There's no issue mentioning Creationism, and no issue stating that this is something people still believe. In fact, in essence, the National Trust have made a relatively small error with a clumsily written piece of interpretation. Removing the sentence "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." would largely solve the problem (although I'd personally remove the 'debate continues...' paragraph at the end too).

A lot of the really negative reaction, such as that of Prof Cox, was made before the actual interpretation was seen. It was a response to the statements of the creationist group, and to the ham-fisted statement of the NT PR department.

To anyone who hasn't had to deal with creationists, the reaction of the scientific community may well seem over-the-top. The problem is, as we can already see, Creationist groups will spin this as a big win. That they will dishonestly represent what the NT have actually done is par for the course, and smaller institutions in NI can now expect comments that include the strong precedent set by the Trust by including creationism. It'll be a lie, but creationists see this form of dishonesty as being acceptable to acheive their aims. Not all those organisations will feel confident standing up to this. Hence, the American Discovery Institute's "Wedge Strategy" comes into play. Tiny concessions, that can be used to open doors.

I don't agree that there's anything cynical employed by the NT here. Their intention is clear, and honest, and well-meaning. It's just a badly written piece of interpretation, and I hope they fix it. I'm sure they'd have plenty of volunteers willing to help them!
MA Member
12.07.2012, 23:20
In Australia we tread carefully and respectfully around the beliefs of Indigenous people about how the world was created. They are also at odds with scientific knowledge, but don't seem to inspire this kind of vitriol.
12.07.2012, 22:45
What about the earth being flat and the sun revolving round the earth? I hope these theories are being given representation in museums, along with Creationism.
12.07.2012, 19:34
Never mind the promotion of Creationism to the stupid and ignorant. The Heritage Service I worked for began making the various historic sites it was responsible available for ghost hunts, and was even featured on one of the TV shows about such nonsense.

With hardly a peep out of anyone about ghostly presences before this began (apart from the odd weirdo - pun intended - saying "I feel a presence.") the museums are now abounding with hauntings as a result of this practice. Funny that.

I also wonder how allowing seances to take place on council property squares with Equal Opportunity policies.
MA Member
12.07.2012, 10:48
“For some people this debate continues today”; this is disgusting.
Creationists are History deniers, they're on par with Holocaust deniers and the inclusion of their delusions is a disgrace.

If they want to believe it, fine! We can’t stop them, but you do not include this in any public forum, its inclusion gives credence to their baseless argument and with the Heritage profession swamped by overqualified and eager individuals I suggest that the NT fire the individual who wrote this dreck and hire a more intelligent individual instead.

If inclusion of all sides of the debate is, God forbid they be so naive and foolish, their actual standpoint then they’ll find themselves with one less member; I’ll certainly never support an organisation which is willing to side with these sorts of people. The Trust should have apologised and removed it immediately.

It’s sad; I can honestly say I thought more of the National Trust than this.
MA Member
12.07.2012, 10:51
Amendment: "If inclusion of all sides of THIS debate is..."
Rebecca Atkinson
MA Member
Online Publications Editor, Museums Association
12.07.2012, 10:20
Manchester Museum prepared a statement ahead of its Darwin exhibition in 2009/10:

"While the Manchester Museum has taken a definite position on the science of evolution, we support the right of freedom of belief for all and acknowledge that there is a range of perspectives on this subject.

"During the course of this programme we will be encouraging dialogue, with opportunities to explore ideas related to Darwin and evolution, presenting scientific evidence for evolution and explaining how science works."

Here's the link to the full statement:,150894,en.pdf
MA Member
11.07.2012, 22:00
I do like the euphemism 'specific interpretation'. Surely the authors mean 'literal interpretation' including all those folks in the Old Testament who lived to an incredibly ripe old age!!

Then the authors write of 'Young Earth Creationism' (formerly known as Creationism): "Some people around the world, and specifically here in Northern Ireland, share this perspective." You don't need to read between the lines to get the impression that they really meant "Some people around the world believe this nonsense and unfortunately rather more than a few of these nutters live here in Northern Ireland.'

As for Young Earth Creationists, they generally aren't into debate, because debates are about arguments based on real evidence rather than opinion and being ready to change your mind if you come across new evidence. They are into preaching and laying down what should and should not be believed.

Overall the characters in the NT transcript do their job of presenting different viewpoints, but nul points for whoever wrote the conclusion.
11.07.2012, 21:48
What is all this nonsense about Geology and Creationism? The whole point about the site is that Finn McCool built the causeway because he had to go to Scotland to fight a giant. And he had a hot and wily wife.
11.07.2012, 19:07
All the points about why creationist thinking shouldn't be shown in a museum as part of a 'debate' (it's not) are obvious and discussed elsewhere. The term 'mainstream science' in particular is a term used by creationists and other people who do not belive in the scientific method, as an attempt to claim an alternative scientific outlook, rather than a faith-based one.

Had the panels and audio toud focussed on the historic debate (which I'm reliably informed by a local historian were practically non-existent in regard to the Giants' Causway) then that would be perfectly acceptable, but to present Young Earth Creationists' views as if the age of a rock can be a matter of opinion is plainly wrong.

What makes this particuarly problematic in Northern Ireland is that here creationist beliefs are associated with sectarian issues, in particular being offensive to Catholics (as well as anyone else who is not a YEC) and used by several Protestant groups as a way of politicising content in museums and education across the province.

The National Trust/Giants Causeway at the time was subject to funding from an openly and vocally creationist minister, and there have been questions whether this, as well as a 'small number' of visitors complaining, have effected this interpretation descision.

To say, as some commenters here have, that all views should be included ignores the fact that museums are there to educate. By all means talk about the minimal 19th century debate, but to place beliefs which are contrary to the facts as comparable to them is a mistake. This is irrelivant to the Giant's Causway. If any group's views should be taken into account for every display, then every geology display should have the same interpretation. This is manifestly ridiculous.

The marvelous Ulster Museum came up against the same pressures as the National Trust say they have, but they said in effect "we are a museum, we do facts" and stuck to the science. Museums have a responsibility to educate, but not to perpetuate nonsense. In a display about religions, this may have been appropriate. In a display about geology it is not.
Damian Gaster
MA Member
11.07.2012, 18:01
Science is about discovering the nature of the universe, not denying a voice to religious people. To suggest that the elements, with their susceptibility to evolutionary forces, exist without reference to time would be a hypothesis far more odd than that geological records cannot provide a chronology of the earth.
11.07.2012, 17:52
The error was not in alluding to the views of Creationists but in failing to point out their absurdity. Doing so might have have served an educational purpose. Treating the views with respect does not.
Mark Nicholson
MA Member
Consultant, Low Altitude Images
11.07.2012, 17:30
It seems to be an accurate summation of the debate caused by the stones. If the visitor centre's aim is to educate; ignoring a viewpoint, whatever we may think about it, surely fails in this goal. Society is made up of all sorts of people and to ignore strongly held views, especially views related to the exhibit, is a failure to educate.
MA Member
11.07.2012, 15:47
Sounds like a meretricious publicity stunt to me: think of the most controversial thing you can, something to challenge both the most obsessively belligerent (Dawkins) and the most trendy (Cox), make sure everyone knows about it, then watch the coverage flood in.