The National Trust recently came under fire for references to the Creationist view of the formation of the Giant's Causeway in their new visitors' centre in County Antrim.
As long-time fans of the National Trust, both my wife and I were disappointed with their decision to affiliate with a religious organisation and wrote to them to complain. The reply I received this morning (copied below) answers a lot of questions, and it's reassuring that the National Trust have moved quickly to clear things up and distance themselves from the Caleb Foundation, but in getting them involved in the first place I fear that the damage is already done. Here's a statement from the Caleb Foundation's website:
Caleb congratulates the National Trust on the opening of its brand new state-of-the-art Visitor Centre at the Giant's Causeway.
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.
In trying to be inclusive the National Trust have undermined their commitment to science by giving legitimacy, however unintentionally, to an anti-scientific view and giving the appearance of a debate where there really isn't one. As Paul Sims wrote on the New Humanist blog right after the story came to light: "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."
Thank you for your e-mail dated 08th July.
Set out below is our position statement, and frequently asked questions/answers, in regard to the Giant's Causway.
The Giant’s Causeway visitor centre provides a state-of-the-art exhibition area which showcases the science and the stories of the Giant’s Causeway.
All of the information presented to visitors in relation to how the Giant’s Causeway was formed, and how old it is, clearly reflects mainstream scientific understanding that the Causeway stones were formed 60 million years ago.
For centuries the Giant’s Causeway has prompted debate about how it was formed and how old it is.
One of the exhibits in the Giant’s Causeway visitor centre tells the story of the part the Giant’s Causeway played in the historic debate about how the earth’s rocks were formed and about the age of the earth.
In this exhibit we also state that for some people this debate continues today.
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.
“The National Trust fully supports the scientific explanation for the creation of the stones 60 million years ago.
“We would encourage people to come along, view the interpretation and judge for themselves.”
Q. Is there a debate about the age of the earth - why is NT suggesting science is up for debate?
A. No, there is no debate on the age of the earth. The National Trust fully supports and promotes the science in relation to the formation of the Giant’s Causeway and the age of the earth.
All of the information presented to visitors in relation to how the Giant’s Causeway was formed, and how old it is, clearly reflects science and that the Causeway stones are 60 million years old.
Q. What does the controversial interpretation refer to ?
A. In summary, one of the exhibits in the Giant’s Causeway visitor centre interpretation tells the story of the part the Giant’s Causeway played in the historical debate which took place about how the earth’s rocks were formed and about the age of the earth.
The detail of the exhibit which sparked the discussion 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 forth clip mentions a theory published in the 1800s that the Causeway was fossilised bamboo. Then the final clip states that Young Earth Creationists wish to continue the debate today, as they believe the earth is only 6000 years old. The National Trust does not support this view.
Q. What is in the visitor centre ?
A. We have an amazing visitor centre with fantastic facilities, walking trails, and the interpretation includes many themes and topics. These include science, geology, wildlife, history and myths and legends and stories of local characters, past and present. Please see the attachment of the Welcome Leaflet on the email body.
Q. Will we be changing the exhibition?
A. The entire interpretation in the Visitor Centre has just been installed. We have no plans to change this exhibit at present.
Q. What is the National Trust’s relationship with the Caleb Foundation
A. Caleb is an organisation which expressed interest in our plans for the Visitor Centre interpretation. As part of the consultation process on the development of the Interpretation we met with a wide range of groups – international visitors, community, funders, scientific community and Caleb was only one of those groups. We met with Caleb and discussed our plans for visitor centre interpretation as we did with many groups.
Q. Did the National Trust receive any funding from Caleb?
Q. Did the National Trust take any wording from Caleb ?
A. None of the language in the interpretation came from the Caleb Foundation
Q. Why did you only consult with Caleb groups as your religious group ?
A. We did not only consult with Caleb in the process. The consultation process was with a wide range of stakeholders, including radio and press adverts to stimulate awareness. Caleb responded in the consultation process. We simply reference in a small part of the interpretation that they hold a different view from science but the National Trust does not support or endorse this view.
Q. This interpretation makes the Visitor Centre unsuitable for children/education visits
A. All of the information on how the Giant’s Causeway was formed and how old it is reflects science: i.e. that it is around 60 million years old. The interpretation in the Visitor Centre is very child friendly and suitable for education visits. The National Trust fully supports and promotes the science in relation to the formation of the Giant’s Causeway.
Q. Does the National Trust have any plans to change interpretation at other sites to reflect the Creationist perspective?
A. No. The exhibit at the Giant’s Causeway is specific to that site and tells the story of the part the Causeway played in the historical debate which took place about how the earth’s rocks were formed and about the age of the earth.
Q. Was the National Trust under pressure from political parties to include Creationist perspective in the centre ?
A. This is not a creationist exhibition. We undertook an extensive consultation process with a range of stakeholders, including the local community, international and domestic visitors, the scientific community and political stakeholders. These consultations informed the National Trust’s decisions on the interpretive content of the entire exhibition. We the National Trust took the decision to include the exhibit in question in the interpretation.
Q. Was funding for the Creationist perspective funded by government money ?
A. It is not a creationist representation within the Giant’s Causeway visitor centre – we simply reference that Creationists have a different perspective – we do not explain, support or justify those views. The £18.5 million project for the new facilities, interpretation and trails was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (£3million), £9.25million from the Northern Ireland Tourist Board with support from the European Union Regional Development fund and £6.25 million from the National Trust. Our interpretation was supported within this overall package.
Q. Why is the Creationist perspective used in the centre ?
A. It is not a creationist representation within the Giant’s Causeway visitor centre – we simply reference that Creationist have a different perspective – we do not explain support or justify those views One of the exhibits in the Giant’s Causeway visitor centre interpretation tells the story of the part the Giant’s Causeway played in the historical debate which took place about how the earth’s rocks were formed and about the age of the earth. This is an interactive, audio exhibit in which visitors can hear a flavour of some of the different debates from historical characters. In this exhibit we also acknowledge that for some people this debate continues today, and we simply reference the fact that Creationists have a different perspective from that of science. We do not support or endorse their views.
Q. Were the funders aware of this inclusion ?
A. We kept all the funders abreast of the full interpretative approach and content during its development.
Q. Can I still access the stones for free ?
A. Anyone entering the site on foot has free access to the stones and linked path network.
If you require any furtger information please contact our Northern Ireland regional office:- firstname.lastname@example.org
Thank you for your continued support.