The National Trust, curators of Northern Ireland’s only UNESCO heritage site, have decided that their shiny new visitor’s centre (funded by the taxpayer by the by) should, as well as charging an extortionate entry fee, also give credence to the Young Earth Creationists.
I am not entirely sure I can convey how this got me so incredibly angry. I mean, our Minister for Culture was until very recently Nelson McCausland, a man who thinks the Free Presbyterians aren’t miserable and cheerless enough and got in a fight with the Ulster Museum because they wouldn’t put anti-evolution viewpoints into their (excellent) science displays. His replacement’s only redeeming feature is that she at least knows science exists.
Maybe it’s that when my little cousins, my fabulous, smart, baby cousins with their incredible intelligence and their desire to know everything, ever, are taken there, as I was, they will be presented with the assertion that science as they have been taught it, as it exists, is a matter of debate.
I’ve been going to National Trust properties since before I could walk. So have they. Those big boards with their acorn motif are as much a part of my mental landscape as blue Ulsterbuses and ‘Deer Crossing’ signs. I’ve learned from those signs. I’ve read those signs out loud to them and explained the big words. And been pedantically corrected about the proper name of the Brontosaurus.
There is a rich and gloriously demented mythology that goes with the Causeway. It is embedded in the name. Finn McCool is woven into my landscape, everywhere I was as child. I’ve never known a time when I didn’t know these stories. I remember learning the shape of the giant sleeping on the Cooley Mountains on the way to Warrenpoint when I was still in a car seat. I can see his outline on Slieve Foy from my childhood window. He pulled up the land where Lough Neagh now lies to throw at the Scottish Giants and made the Isle of Man when the throw fell short. He threw stones at the Ice Giant from Cooley and the Big Stone lies on Mourne where it hit him at Cloughmore. He built a causeway to go fight the piece out with Bennandonner.
He was big on throwing bits of scenery about, Finn was.
I know when I found the science. I remember the first time I saw the animations of how the rocks were formed. I was fascinated. I drank it up like water. That exhibit, the first National Trust exhibit, was wonkily projected and horribly drawn and probably ran on a dodgy Commedore 64, but it was intellectually satisfying. I drove my parents crazy, soaking up everything about geology I could get and then having nightmares about volcanoes.
Vulcanology is a bad hobby for a nervy child who lives where three sets of (long dormant) volcanic mountains meet.
Now, they have a much bigger, fancier exhibition. And they have a long piece on the theories of the Causeway’s creation. That’s fine. Geology really didn’t figure out what was going on with the plate tectonics until about 40 years ago, what I was taught, is nothing like what my mum was taught, is nothing like what my grandmother was taught. Fossilised bamboo makes a reasonable guess, in 18-something.
But at the end, they bring in the Young Earth Creationist view. A deeply, painfully, wrong idea that last had scientific credence around 12th century BC. A view imported from the scariest of scary anti-intellectual right-wing American fundamentalist Christians and latched on to gleefully by the most anti-intellectual right-wing fundamentalist Northern Irish evangelicals.
And they present it as a valid part of the ongoing scientific debate. It isn’t. It just isn’t.
What is is, though, is a manifestation of the influence of sectarianism in my society. Creationism isn’t neutral. It goes hand in hand with a lot of other beliefs, many of them horribly bigoted. So letting that voice in, treating it as a valid scientific view, is allowing a voice to people who would shun my baby cousins for having been born, because they’re brought up Catholic, because their families are mixed, because they came along before the wedding, because they are little girls with blazing scientific curiosity and a thing about penguins.
It is a betrayal of trust.