Northern Ireland culture does not include Creationism

The BBC: The culture minister has asked museums to give more prominence to Ulster-Scots, the Orange Order and alternative views on the origin of the universe. … He said that he wanted the views of creationists – the concept of God creating the universe in contrast to the scientific theory of evolution – to be … Continue reading “Northern Ireland culture does not include Creationism”

The BBC:

The culture minister has asked museums to give more prominence to Ulster-Scots, the Orange Order and alternative views on the origin of the universe.

He said that he wanted the views of creationists – the concept of God creating the universe in contrast to the scientific theory of evolution – to be represented in the exhibitions.
Without specifically mentioning creationism, Mr McCausland’s letter includes a request for the trustees to consider how alternative views of the origin of the universe can be recognised and accomodated.

I am 100% behind Culture Minister’s proposals to recognise the contribution of the Ulster-Scots to Northern Ireland’s modern society. Northern Ireland is composed of many cultures and therefore it’s only proper that we do not exclude any society

I am 100% opposed to any introduction of creationist fairy tales into our museums and would be 100% in favour of striking off from the teaching register any educator who taught creationism as anything more than a fable.

I had the misfortune of meeting some Militant Christian Biology and Zoology undergraduates in my degree class who were active Creationists and sat sniggering through the Evolutionary Biology lectures and declared that they were going to get a PGCE and teach their beliefs as Science Teachers.

0 thoughts on “Northern Ireland culture does not include Creationism”

  1. Hi,

    A number of things strike me about the above.

    Firstly, it’s hardly fair to classify creationism as a fairy tale. After all, Stephen Hawking says that his studies of the universe lead him to the belief that is has an intelligence behind it. In this regard he echoes Albert Einstein, who stated the goal of his work as ‘to think God’s thoughts after him’. Neither of these great scientists could be described as Christians (as far as I am aware), but both felt that the universe must have an intelligent creator. You’re at perfect liberty to disagree with them, but to describe their views as ‘fairy tales’ can hardly be appropriate.

    Secondly, it’s surely the case that views of other people ought to be respected and listened to, particularly where these views are widespread.

    Thirdly, I’m yet to come across a single credible response to the question of acausual inception of the universe.

    Kind regards,

    Andrew Conway

  2. Andrew:

    1. Do we really have to do this again?

    “It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly.”

    – Albert Einstein, letter to an atheist (1954), quoted in Albert Einstein: The Human Side, edited by Helen Dukas & Banesh Hoffman

    2. Views are not facts. The entire of the world may have believed that the Sun orbited the earth, it doesn’t mean that view should be respected or listened to when all evidence indicates how wrong the view is.

    3. The argument of “I, personally, can’t think of a way the universe came into existence, therefore god” is ludicrous. There is exactly as much evidence for the creation of the universe by an intelligent god as there is that it was farted out the backside of an interstellar pink unicorn. *EXACTLY AS MUCH*. Just because it is a superstition held by several billion people does not change the reality of this.

  3. Andrew, your point is nonsense. Both Hawking and Einstein were using a reference to God in a metaphorical sense. Einstein neatly summarised his view on God in the following quote: “The word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weakness, the Bible a collection of honorable, but still purely primitive, legends which are nevertheless pretty childish.”

    It’s pretty typical for a Christian to focus on the trivialities when both men are noted for pushing the boundaries of quantum physics. Why don’t you read the more challenging aspects of both men’s works rather than focus on the utterly non-challenging. Try understanding the Adiabatic principle and action-angle variables…

  4. I heartily endorse including alternate explanations in museums. Some like the Flying Spaghetti Monster and the Great Green Arkleseizure are great examples of careful scientific reasoning.

    I don’t think that including a bunch of writing by some superstitious fishermen 2000 years ago is a great idea, any more than I think that in 2000 years time we should have religions based on Jeffrey Archer’s writings…

    And we should totally teach the controversy. The insistence of a vocal subgroup of the population that their particular delusion/imaginary friend should be allowed to corrupt rational thought, to set laws and to intrude on history and science is totally controvesial and should be taught in schools as an example of why church and state SHOULD be separated.

    But what do I know? I’m just an atheist…

  5. Andrew,

    I think the key here is whether you accept one of the literal versions of the creation as told by the various religions. Given the overwhelming scientific evidence against them, it is clear that these “6 days” style creation stories fully deserve the label “fairy tales”. Therefore they should most definitely not be told in a museum, which is, after all, a place for facts. Opinions have their place, but that place is somewhere else.

    The other possibility is that you accept that the Universe is not 6000, but many millions of years old, and that it began with some kind of rapid expansion, formation of atoms in stars, followed by the formation of molecules, rocks, planets etc, and that all life on Earth evolved through a process of natural selection. As this is what we know (an amazing achievement for our species) this should be in the museum.

    Then the only thing you and the non-theists disagree about is how it started. Scientists make no claim for what happened at time T=0, so it is open to interpretation, you will find nothing in a museum about this moment. My feeling is that at some stage we may find out, and if we do, my guess is that it will have a natural explanation. Until then, it is merely speculation, with no facts to support or refute it. Therefore it is not science, and should not find itself anywhere except in philosophical discussions. You, Hawking and Einstein (if he were here) could chat all day about what you think started the Universe, but it wouldn’t get you very far, and it certainly wouldn’t contribute anything to human knowledge.

    As for your sentence that the views of people ought to be respected and listened to, I fully agree. But we know the Christian viewpoint, we’ve been hearing it for 2000 years. I seriously doubt that a group of people who base all their views on an ancient text are going to provide any stunning new insights into cosmology or evolutionary biology. Religious views belong in theology class, not science.

    Lauren Rutherford

  6. To attribute Stephen Hawking statement as an admission that God exists is truly wordsmithing at it’s best, and really, just lying.

    Creationism and it’s deception ‘Intelligent Design’ are religious mythology. And as just for a thought, how about the world being carried on the back of a large turtle as an astronomy view?


  7. Argument from authority is typical of many creationists and proponents of intelligent design. Hence the frequent use of out of context quotes of prominent scientists. Argument from authority means nothing in the context of the evidence. I’ll get to that later. On the point about the the Hawking and Einstein quotes: Both said on record that they did not believe in a creator god as depicted by the 3 religions that grew out of the the near eastern iron age. It’s easy to find these quotes if you are interested.

    All the evidence, and it’s from many independent disciplines, shows it as a fact that the Earth, and indeed the Universe, is not approximately 6000 years old. So that form of creationism has been falsified and it therefore irrelevant for the discourse of science, and by extension, museums that are interested in providing information backed by facts.

    The Intelligent Design idea that the Universe is as old as the current evidence suggests (13.7 billion years) but that some external agency must have done something to guide its development, is not supported by any evidence. Indeed all of the biological things that IDers have posited as evidence of design have been shown to be the result of evolution from previous structures present in organisms. From the bacterial flagellum to the eye. ID is a restatement of the ‘God of the gaps’ argument. It was wrong when first suggested. Now we know why it’s wrong.

    Also there is a difference between respecting someones belief and including it in evidence based exhibits. Would the creationists be happy to have creationism included so that it could be shown why it’s wrong? I doubt it. Believe what you want. Accept that it will be called out as wrong when the evidence clearly shows that.

    Re. the origin of the Universe. I don’t know how it was created, ‘where’ it is or indeed if there is a why it is here. I DO know that the reasons given in the Judeo-Christian creation myths and subsequent writings are incorrect. The fact that some people still believe them is sad. But it’s not a reason to teach them to others.

    Admitting that we don’t know something (yet) is a major strength of the scientific and Enlightenment outlook on the Universe. Shrugging one’s shoulders saying ‘God (or deity of choice) did it’ explains nothing, and makes the person saying that seem daft IMHO.


  8. Andrew,

    as far as I can tell Professor Hawking doesn’t deny the possibility of a deity, but neither does he ever say that one is necessary to create the universe we observe today. Do you have the reference where he states his “belief that [the universe] has an intelligence behind it.” ? I’d like to see that.

  9. Firstly, it’s entirely appropriate to label creationism as a fairy tale. There is zero evidence for creationism, no-one witnessed it and the proponents have yet to offer a single shred of evidence that contradicts the current view of science (physics, cosmology, chemistry, biology). Hawking has used the term ‘God’ as a metaphor many times and as a scientist he is not willing to acknowledge or dismiss the existence of God until he actually holds proof in either direction. Einstein similarly used ‘God’ as a metaphor to describe currently unknown forces which shape the universe – including but not limited to invisible black holes, vast quantities of undetected dark matter. Neither believe in a God which takes any interest in the actions of human beings and neither infer any sort of intelligence at all to what you would describe as a ‘compassionate and merciful God’. They both describe ‘God’ in the terms of metaphor – does this not tell you something?

    Secondly, I utterly respect your right to believe what you will. I, on the other hand, do not believe this extends to any rights beyond your own personal belief. It doesn’t mean I really want to hear it nor do I think it should be on the educational curriculum (outside of anthropological and behavioural studies) and it certainly does not belong in our museums (excepting of course how the different iterations of the Bible have had a socio-anthropological effect on the development of society). Lots of people believe in ‘a’ god of one form or another but this doesn’t believe they are right in the same way that lots of people buy lottery tickets even though the chance of winning is infinitesimal.

    Thirdly, it is evident you have never asked anyone outside of your local Fellowship group on the reasons and evidence for ‘acausal inception’. There is plenty of evidence to suggest an origin for the universe that does not start with “The Word”. There is no evidence at all, zero, to suggest the world is but 6000 years old.

    I would welcome reasoned discussion on this but have yet to find many Christians who can provide any such discourse. In my experience, individuals who follow the Christian faith tend not to listen to evidence on this subject when presented as it constructs a world view where they don’t occupy a position of importance in the universe. This was certainly the case when I was in university and I do not believe that the Christian faith has produced any significant research in the last twenty years to change that position.

    When we start to recognise religion as a sociological process for a civilisation and perhaps even a ‘kindergarten’ to hold uncertainty at bay, then we will be well on our way to developing as a intelligent race.

    If you want to hold public debate on this subject, I’m happy to help book a venue, arrange nibbles and even find a reasonable moderator.

  10. Andrew,

    there are things which can be known objectively, and there are things which can only be intuited subjectively. On the objective side, even if DNA doesn’t change 100% randomly (before the fittest are selected), that would just mean that there may be yet another mechanism in nature that we eventually discover, objectively. But science would have to gather the objective data for that, and once discovered, it would just be another flat objective meaningless fact.

    Subjectively, we can ask, what does this mean? How does it make me feel to live in such a complex and beautiful universe? Subjectively you can write poetry about it, you can express your sense of awe. But awe is a personal feeling, and it has nothing to do with science. And that’s fine. People might feel awe, and then spend the rest of their lives in a lab, doing the gruntwork. As humans we are capable of both, subjective awe and objective gruntwork, but these are two different categories of activity. Awe isn’t data.

    Introducing creationism into a science museum is if anything, just a confusion. It is like displaying poetry in the science museum. Or science in a literature class. It just creates huge confusion.

    The confusion goes even deeper because, subjectively, people are very different. Some people feel awe, some people don’t. See the huge problem? I can’t have a teacher coming into the classroom telling me I should feel awe (and why don’t I just bow down and pray whilst I’m at it). Subjectively people’s intuitions are very different. Culturally we have many sub cultures so even if one group agrees on their intuitions, another group may disagree, again, subjectively.

    Some people’s minds actually see the world in terms of beliefs and fairy tales. That’s pretty much how the world worked before about 1500. People submitted to the belief and myth of divine Kings and divine authority. That was just the structure of society (an improvement on what came before that, which was life prior to city states and agriculture). It is a huge gulf to go from that to the modern world. And we don’t want to go back.

    So you’ve got a huge problem allowing not just subjectivity into the science museum, but also pre-modern subjectivity. It is just a terrible clash of domains and worldview. It makes for lousy exhibits.

    There are plenty of places where you can go to be with people who intuit what they would call a modern or even post-post-modern sense of the deep creative intelligence of life as a living conscious process, but again, that would also be a horrible clash with a science museum.

    Plus the last people you’d see turn up to one of those is exactly the pre-modern mythic believers. The mythic believers were usually the first to have the “universal creative intelligence” types burnt at the stake.

    Keep the science museum for the flat objective data. If you want poetry about spirituality, or poetry about vengeful demons, go somewhere else.

  11. I used to be a Christian, up until the age of 17.

    The Bible does have historical truth in it, as in there was a man called Jesus and there was a King called David etc. I do not think, however, that the ideals behind the Bible – the thought of an intelligent creator – should even be considered in a museum built solely upon facts. It’s the function of a museum to display historical data and facts, not to show opinions and thought schools as such.

  12. If this is a discussion about whether Creationism and the various religious beliefs should be included in a museum, I’d encourage their representation in exhibitions.

    I’m a fully fledged, card-carrying atheist but I believe its important to tell as complete a story as possible, including what was clearly incorrect and I think that means we have to represent the impact of the various religions on science and the arts.

    Beliefs, no matter how misguided and unfounded are and the cornerstone of human cultural development. It is, for instance, where the pyramids came from and what inspired the majority of our art and literature.

    However, if this is an Evolution vs Creationism discussion (as it seems to have become) then I’ll check out here…

  13. If creationism is to be included in the museum because a proportion of the NI population believe it, then all opinions about how the world came into existence should be included in the museum.

  14. Just as a passing thought, this blog needs to be forwarded to the culture minister of Northern Ireland, as he/she needs to be made aware of how inappropriate their suggestions are.

    It just sounds like just the choir here.

  15. Thank you all for your responses.

    To clarify – the reference to Hawking is a paraphrase of a quotation aapearing in the work of Boslough (1985) at page 121.

    I am by no means a Scientist. My interest in this is more in a philosophical manner asking questions such as 1. To what extent do our empirical observations correspond to reality? 2. If we successfully observe the laws of nature in the present, can we be sure that they have always been constant, and if so why? 3. Are scientific theories verifiable or only fasifiable? 4. Is scientific certainty possible? etc

    I appreciate that most people view philosophy as abstract nonsense, but surely a robust philosophy of science is needed before we can place any confidence in our scientific knowledge. I would suggest too that this is all the more relevant when the subject matter is historical science, rather than operational science.

    It is interesting to note the responses given to the issue of acausal inception – most seemed to acknowledge that the question is open, which I welcome. I would like to make it clear, however, that the issue of acausual inception is the issue of the beginning of nature i.e. the questions is ‘how did nature come into being?’. In this regard Paley’s watch is surely relevant.

    I appreciate the offer of a debate, but I’m not the right person for a detailed discussion of this matter. If any are interested in pursuing the matter further I think Professor Livingstone would be the right person to contact – he’s the head of geography at Queens’ and also an expert on intellectual history, as far as I am aware. I should make it clear that I don’t know him personally.

    Kind regards,


  16. Hi Andrew,

    Two minor things.

    Just because most scientists openly admit they don’t know what caused the ‘origin event’ (which is a term I think I prefer to ‘acausal inception’), it doesn’t mean that the Creationist agenda is therefore fulfilled. i.e. just because we’re not sure what it was and you are certain it was the man in the sky, it doesn’t mean it actually was the man in the sky.

    Professor Livingstone as a Professor of Geography and an ‘expert’ on Intellectual History is no more qualified to comment on the origin of the universe than any of us. His background indicates to me that he is well versed perhaps on the theology versus science debate in the social context. But not the cosmological.

  17. this is simple

    Creationism, especially in this context, is a part of the Judeo-Christian religious construct.

    Religion is NOT science.

    Religious beliefs do not have a home in a science museum. Period.

    No one is denying either side, but if you want to put Creationism in a science museum, let me come teach Evolution (NOT as evil, but as truth) in your church. And I will be happy to.

  18. Sounds like Mister Conway hasnt a clue what hes talking about. Im sure this professor will love to fight your battles for you.

    Keep religious nutters off the internet i say

  19. Dear Mr Conway,

    I appreciate your diffidence in this debate. I’m afraid it sets you apart if you are indeed a creationist.

    A small response of my own, having read all of this unusually good-mannered thread, is to your saying “surely a robust philosophy of science is needed before we can place any confidence in our scientific knowledge”.

    There is a huge corpus of knowledge on the history and philosophy of science, including very many excellent popular works.

    I can recommend Daniel Dennett’s books, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea and Breaking the Spell. The first is a rigorous and thoroughgoing overview of Darwinism and its philosophical implications. The latter treats religion specifically, which got Dennett included with Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris as a “new atheist”, but to be honest he is the most measured of the three.

    The Faber Book of Science is edited by an English professor, John Carey, who selected original science writing not only for its scientific importance but for its accessibility to the layman and value as literature. It is a wonderful book.

    Likewise Galileo’s Commandment, a similar project but edited by the scientist Edmund Blair Bolles.

    For a good history of science, John Gribbin’s Science: A History is outstanding.

    And for a study of the impact that scientific advance had on Victorian society – a crucial period – particularly with regard to literature, art, philosophy and culture, I found God’s Funeral by A.N. Wilson very absorbing. (The title is provocative but it is taken from the Thomas Hardy poem of the same name which is considered in the book and makes a central theme.)

    I got all of the above in Belfast’s Waterstones which has very good science and religion sections.

    Aside of them there are libraries full of the history and philosophy of science which are more technical and academic.

    I hope you’ll allow yourself the pleasure of seeking out some that I’ve mentioned.


  20. Thanks again to all who responded to my second comment, particularly to Lew.

    I am a Christian, and a Creationist, but I haven’t studied science of any form since school. It’s not the case that I want others to ‘fight my battles for me’, it’s simply that if you want a debate I feel it’s only right to go to someone who is most likely to provide a good debate. Another person whose work is worth viewing in this regard is Alistair McGrath, although arranging a debate with him in person probably wouldn’t be possible (again I don’t know him personally).

    Finally it may be the case that I owe all of you an apology – I came across this blog when an e-mail with a link to the Nelson petition was forwarded to me. I went to school with a Matt Johnson who was a computer expert and a fairly outspoken atheist. I became a Christian at 17, and Matt an I had many a friendly debate during upper sixth. I thought you may be the same Matt, but evidently you aren’t. If I’ve been presumptous in commenting on your blog then I apologise.

    Kind regards,


  21. Hi Andrew,
    No, definitely not me. I was a diehard biologist during those years (computers were barely invented)

    Note that none of this is hostility towards you – it’s all debate and, when all is said and done, friendly debate which would end up with drinks in the pub* 🙂

    I think you’re doing yourself a disservice. The people on a debate panel such as this should believe their statements. Only a Christian Creationist could debate for including creationism in a museum without being disingenuous.

    *from what I hear, no-one’s been burning heretics in Ireland in ages…

  22. Thanks Matt!

    I’m certainly willing to state my own beliefs, and to debate (in a context of mutual respect).

    One of the interesting (or bewildering, depending on which way you look at it) aspects of the debate is the variety of ‘Christian’ views. Sadly there are a few who seem to come fairly close to denouncing science altogether, while on the other hand some would have no scientific debate with Richard Dawkins (but would, of course, oppose his metaphysical assertions). There are a myriad of ‘in between’ positions too.

    For someone like myself the first challenge is to work out which of these views are authentically Christian. (To that end I’ve been studying the opening chapters of Genesis in Hebrew this week – so I’ll probably need to go to the pub soon!!)

    In terms of the museum I was struck by the example of Emmanuel school in Northern England (which Dawkins criticises in ‘The God delusion’). The school is openly Christian and has 9 science teachers. 3 are young earth creationists, 3 hold to theistic evolution and 3 are non-christian evolutionists. The policy of the school is to teach the arguments for and against each position, to allow each teacher to present their own position and reasoning, and to invite each pupil to consider all the views and come to their own conclusion.

    My own view would be that this is close to the essence of education – presenting basic facts, allowing reasoned views to be stated and inviting scrutiny. Ultimately education is surely about more than the conveyance of facts and prevalent theories – it is about encouraging hard and serious thought. It was for this reason that the ancient greeks held such a high view of education, and presumably this is why we value education today.

    If then the musuem is about public education it seems sensible to me to follow a similar approach – to give the various views and to invite people to a careful critique of each view. If one view is clearly superior to the other(s) surely we can be confident that people who think for themselves will have no difficulty in identifying it.

    In terms of debating what should be displayed in the museum, that would be my view. As for a detailed scientific debate, I’d rather allow a Christian who works or has worked in a scientific field to be your opponent.

    Thanks again for your time,


  23. Hi Andrew,
    Thanks for returning.

    I guess the question for the Museum is how you can show ‘evidence’ of Creationism. We have plenty of supporting evidence for the ‘other’ theory.

    Museums are a show, not tell experience for the most part. Without just having someone show a movie of Genesis, it’s going to be hard to ‘show’ anything. And if the only evidence you have is a story for which there is no supporting evidence, then you’re on very shaky ground indeed.

    What’s most interesting is that the idea of Genesis as a ‘fable’ for simple, non-technical folk was first explained to me by a nun who taught in my Grammar School. She said that shepherds and fishermen wouldn’t be able to understand stars and space and aliens and DNA – so everything had to be explained in simple terms. In effect – these stories are for children. I do not believe it’s proper for adults to continue these childish beliefs any more than I think it would be appropriate for adults to believe in Santa Claus. Yes – teach children about Santa in order to teach them about giving and the ‘spirit’ of goodwill to all men, but at some point they have to grow up. The same should be said for Christianity. An entertaining parable which will teach children about compassion, sacrifice, love (in terms of agape) but unsuitable for adults.

  24. Andrew, perhaps the first mistake is that Evolution, (and Science in its entirety) AND Atheism ARE NOT RELIGIONS!!! Don’t qualify them in the same context as a religion. They are based upon rational verifiable facts and empirical observation and are subject to nature of scientific methods.

  25. Thanks again.

    Apologies if I gave the impression that I view evolution as a religion. I simply do not. Having said that, it is surely important to note than evolution and atheism are not synonymous, and that atheism as a worldview (like all worldviews) invariably involves metaphysics and speculation at some point.

    As regards lack of evidence for creationism, I’m sure that some non-atheist scientists (such as those at Emmanual) would wish to disagree.

    I’ve quite a busy week ahead, so this will be the last you hear from me (I’m sure you’ll live with the disappointment!!). As a final remark let me say thanks again for all comments and for your willingness to let me enter your dialogue.

    Kind regards,


  26. If you want a creationist museum then go to Cincinnati, Ohio, USA where they have one and also they teach creationist rubbish at school in places like Dover, Pennsylvania. Generally, most creationists are from the USA and this is why the USA lags behind the world in biological and genetic research as the government is highly religious and won’t give money to or allow research in this area.

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