Crass stupidity from the National Trust

National Trust for Places of Historic Interest...

National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dr Johnson famously said of the Giant’s Causeway that it was “worth seeing, but not worth going to see”. Having been a few times I would have to concur with that judgement.

But now it seems it might again attract some visitors, if only as a monument to folly.

On a day that the scientific method, through the experimental discovery of what is surely the Higgs Boson, has scored a triumph that matches Le Verrier’s prediction of Neptune, another story about science is also in the limelight with the National Trust, who own the Causeway, giving the impression that the metaphysical speculation of fools and idiots has a scientific basis.

In the newly opened visitors’ centre for the Causeway, the Trust state:

“This debate [over creationism] continues today for some people, who have an understanding of the formation of the earth which is different from that of current mainstream science.

“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.

“Some people around the world, and specifically here in Northern Ireland, share this perspective.

“Young Earth Creationists continue to debate questions about the age of the earth. As we have seen from the past, and understand today, perhaps the Giant’s Causeway will continue to prompt awe and wonder, and arouse debate and challenging questions for as long as visitors come to see it.”

Let’s be crystal clear here. There is no scientific “debate” over “Young Earth Creationism”, any more than there is over whether the Moon has oceans or the Earth is flat. In fact there is no real “debate” of any kind, because how can you debate rationally with people who are plainly idiots driven by a faith they say is beyond scientific testing to make statements about the nature of the physical world? The suggestion that this is a “scientific interpretation” of anything is beyond comedy, it’s an insult to the intelligence of every reader.

What is most reprehensible here is that the Trust have plainly done this because they hoped it would give them a quiet life politically as – as they rightly state – in so many many ways Northern Ireland has yet to join the nineteenth, never mind the twenty-first century and there are people (not many, but some) who believe in the literal truth of the first chapter of the Bible.

The National Trust are now seeking to defend themselves by saying they accept the science. Well then, why did they not stick to that and leave the fairy tales elsewhere?

4 thoughts on “Crass stupidity from the National Trust

  1. As a disclaimer, let me start by saying that I do _not_ believe in creationism. In (mild) defense of the bureaucrats, though, I did not see anything in the quotes that suggested they were treating creationism as a scientific theory or suggesting that its adherents were engaged in a _scientific_ debate. My reaction was that (a) it was odd that they felt the need to give creationists free advertising and (b) what about alterantive mythologies (Terry Pratchett may have one involving a very large tortoise).

    Also, all science (and mathematics) ultimately relies on axioms – which we accept as articles of faith. Some of them even prove false every so often (there can be only one line parallel to a given line and passing through a given point off the original line; atoms are indivisible; light travels at a constant speed; politicians are truthful; …). Scientific sorts may tie their axioms more closely to the world they observe, and may worry more about internal logical consistency of their theories, but ultimately we’re all taking certain bits on faith.

  2. They say that YEC is based on a “scientific interpretation” of the Book of Genesis – it’s not.
    On axioms, I understand the point you are making, but these are all testable, are they not – e.g. Euclidian geometry was shown to be false (or incomplete if you prefer)?
    People’s religious views are a matter for themselves, but when one makes a statement about the physical world and say that it is “scientific” one must expect it to be testable and tested – the sort of “faith” which makes statements about testable propositions and then denies the the outcomes of those tests is what is at issue here – I don’t think scientific axioms fall into that trap.

    (The NT’s excuse is that they discussed alternative theories for the formation of the causeway – e.g. the Irish mythology that it was created by giants. If YEC was put in that context then I would not have an issue with it – but here it is described as part of a scientific process. It’s not.)

    • Philosophy (including philosophy of science) was never my strong suit, to put it mildly, but I’ll have another go at this. I don’t think all scientific assumptions are testable. Certainly not all are testable at the time they are accepted. It was the ancient Greeks that came up with the indivisible atom, right? They couldn’t see one, let alone try to smash it.

      Taking it a step further, you are implicitly relying on a logical system with a two-valued truth function — things are either true or they are false. In a philosophy class, during one of the rare moments when I was paying attention, we discussed three-valued logic systems. (For lack of a definitive example, I thought of this as true-false-shrug.) So the very act of trying to test any theory compels you to fall back on an untestable axiom/hypothesis/conjecture, that truth is binary.

      Lastly, and you may want to put on hip-waders for this, there’s a line of thought/argument/something in philosophy that essentially says that we cannot conclusively prove that we are not programmed characters in a very detailed simulation. If, in fact, we are, who’s to say how logically the simulated world was programmed, or what rules apply?

      I have no problem with people choosing to take things on faith, even things I personally find not very credible, so long as (a) they accept that their beliefs are indeed beliefs, and not proven facts, and (b) so long as they don’t make problems for me because I fail to share those beliefs. That applies to scientists as well as religious adherents. (Time flows at different rates in different places??? “Rate” is “per unit time”; “time per unit time” is bleeping well unity.)

  3. Yes, I read a very good book which mentioned the world-as-simulation thesis earlier this year – see

    Though as I discuss there that is actually testable.

    And of course Peter Higgs’s (et al) proposals on a mass-givibg energy field were untestable at the time of proposal (like Euclid’s axioms were for a very long time). But these things were all testable in the sense an experiment could be designed to test them even if that experiment was not yet build able. (Brian Greene’s book makes the point that some theories of multiple universes may be well grounded in our understanding of science but fundamentally untestable – perhaps that equates to the shrug in the three valued logic)

    I guess I have not explained my view too well. YEC are welcome to their views. They are more than allowed to have faith in the literal truth of the opening pages of the Bible. But they cannot present that as science – it *is* faith and inherently untestable. More than that, unlike, say, Greene’s speculations on multiple universes, it is not an untestable theory built on scientific observation. It is just pure faith.

    I agree with your view about faith/belief – though I would say that I think that the NT have crossed the line on (a) in giving YEC a veneer of science.

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