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May 28 2010

A Letter to Nelson McCausland

Texas SBOE have found a friend in Northern Ireland:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/may/26/northern-ireland-ulster-museum-creationism

If you haven’t been following, Culture Minister Nelson McCausland is pushing for museums in his country to promote creationism along side displays illustrating scientific theories of origins. One of his constituents shared a letter to McCausland with me, and also granted permission to use it at the AE blog. So, without further introduction, here is a reprint of that correspondence:

Mr McCausland

I am writing this letter out of concern, not out of religious intolerance or to force my own agenda. The concern is due to your letter to the National Museum trustees about the possibility of inclusion of alternative views of creation. I hope that you will take the time to read this to understand exactly why this is a mistake and hopefully to shed a little light on a few things you seem to be mistaken about.

Firstly I would like to highlight the fundamental flaws of creationism and the so called ‘scientific proof’ of it. I am not sure if you are aware of the Kitzmiller/Dover Trial in America 2005 when concerned parents took out a lawsuit against a public school district that required the presentation of intelligent design/creationism as an alternative to evolution as an explanation of the origin of life. Creationist ‘scientists’ were invited to the trial to show their evidence and prove that it was scientific, and they faced off against accepted science and scientists. It is worth mentioning that the scientist charged with defeating the creationist/intelligent design camp was a devout Christian (Kenneth Miller) and that the judge was also a devout Christian (Judge John E. Jones III) and a right hand man of George Bush.

It is not mere hyperbole to state that this was the most important moment in the defense of science. It was to much relief and satisfaction that the court ruled emphatically against the creationist/intelligent design position. In his 139-page decision Judge Jones took the creationist case to task and I find this point most relevant:

“ID’s backers have sought to avoid the scientific scrutiny which we have now determined that it cannot withstand by advocating that the controversy, but not ID itself, should be taught in science class. This tactic is at best disingenuous, and at worst a canard. The goal of the IDM is not to encourage critical thought, but to foment a revolution which would supplant evolutionary theory with ID.” (Page 89)

It is clear that when asked to come forward and put their case and all their evidence on the table they didn’t just fall short, they had nothing. It would be hoped that this would have put this situation to rest but it is still thriving in the United States and apparently in our home country. I recently visited a creationist seminar in a local church, and it disturbed me at what was being taught to the congregation as ‘fact’, I feel that people in the position of talking and administering to the congregation/public have a responsibility of being honest with what is fact and not bending evidence to fit the worldview they have.

To say that the world is 4,000-10,000 years old is nothing short of irresponsible, you have in a single statement infused doubt in people’s mind of the accuracy of geology, paleontology, chemistry, physics, biology, morphology, genetics, molecular biology, cosmology, biogeography and so on, all of which help each other positively in the proof of age of the earth. There is no mere speculation here, we can put the evidence on the table and show you how these things work and how they prove what accepted science is. I would hope that you have at least researched behind the claims of creationist science before publicly claiming them as a viable alternative but I feel you haven’t as you would have quickly seen that the so called proofs are nothing short of pseudo-scientific speculation.

Christianity is not negated by accepting the big bang or evolution; the scientific evidence can be seen as the method and not the reason. In fact there is a wide acceptance of these matters throughout the Christian community and I would urge you to read some of the American Scientific Affiliation’s work who are a fellowship of Christians in science. Science is not out to disprove god, and I would dare say it can’t, so there is really no need to want to put a faith-based position alongside science in a museum.

We have a responsibility in this world to operate within what we know, what we can observe in our shared reality. What we cannot do is subvert overwhelming evidence for the sake of a faith position, which is a dangerous path to put a society on. If we do this where would we stop? Would we also delve into pagan creation stories? If you want to open a display talking about religious creation mythology which covers the scope of all religions in our community I would be absolutely behind it but only if it was all inclusive and not running alongside scientific displays.

You made the point that the majority of this country is Christian and that this is somehow a justification for including creationist myth and I just want to say that it is a completely logical fallacy to assume that ‘might makes right.’ Science is in no way a democracy; it’s constantly scrutinized, re-evaluated and goes where the data takes us not where we want to take it. It is worrying to hear an elected minister talk in such a way and I’d hoped that our country would be able to be more religiously progressive given the past we have had, but this is in fact a severe step back whether you can see it or not.

If you feel strongly about this, as I am sure you do, then perhaps you could push for a public forum where we can get creationist science and accepted science to debate their cases. I assure you that it is not intellectual elitism or over-confidence when I say that it would become apparent very, very quickly that there is no case or evidence for creationist science and it would leave a lot believers confused as to why the people in power have been misleading them.

If religion is to survive in any meaningful context in this society it is necessary that it accepts reality, this in no way takes away people’s beliefs but will hopefully enrich their view of the world around them.

I look forward to your reply,

—Gareth

5 comments

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  1. 1
    Leon

    good stuff :) me like.

  2. 2
    Guillaume

    Boy, as North Ireland is part of the UK, I am very worried. If creationism spreads there, and let's face it it's the worst place in the country to spread, well it can reach the rest and then we are in deep trouble. I don't have a good feeling about it. But the open letter is a great, intelligent reply. But I have little hope McCausland will understand reason.

  3. 3
    Mothvenom

    I don't think he will listen to anything you have to say. I live in NI, most christians here are like stone , nothing gets in and nothing gets out.

  4. 4
    magx01

    Wow, what a fantastic letter. The writer adopted the perfect, in my mind, balance of clarity/honesty and respect, without delving into either placation or insults. Unfortunately, however, I must say I have a sneaking suspicion that this will go nowehere. I've seen, in my 28 years here on this planet, far, far too many examples of reason and truth being subverted by biased and ignorant people, however well intentioned they may (or may not) be, to expect a positive outcome here. If there does end up being a response letter, I reall,y really hope it gets published again, and posted here for us to read. And if miracles do happen (hehe) and this person's attempt to reason with this fellow is successful, well, it'd be a win for Ireland, reason, and my fragile view of the world, because too many negative outcomes have conspired to make me a jaded and pessimistic (at times) 28 year old.

  5. 5
    Hairy Chris

    Good letter.As a UKer myself, Guillaume, we already have this: http://www.genesisexpo.co.uk/ (which irritates me greatly as it's just up the road from my home town). Plus the Vardy academy stuff in the North East (http://newhumanist.org.uk/1477/schools-for-scoundrels).Admittedly #2 above is far worse then #1 as the government's been complicit… which is why idiots that have been voted in to govt should leave museums AND schools alone.Hey ho. Stupid rolls on.

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