Giant row over age-old stones

The controversial exhibit in the Causeway centre...Picture Steven McAuley/Kevin McAuley Photography Multimedia
The controversial exhibit in the Causeway centre...Picture Steven McAuley/Kevin McAuley Photography Multimedia

THE National Trust has defended its decision to put an exhibit which acknowledges that creationists dispute the age of the Giant’s Causeway in its new visitor centre.

The charity, who unveiled the cutting edge centre on Monday, made the statement after an evangelical Christian lobby group in Northern Ireland welcomed the decision, which it has been calling for over several years.

Christopher Murphy at the controversial exhibit in the Causeway centre...Picture Steven McAuley/Kevin McAuley Photography Multimedia

Christopher Murphy at the controversial exhibit in the Causeway centre...Picture Steven McAuley/Kevin McAuley Photography Multimedia

The Caleb Foundation – which has close links to the DUP – said that the decision to state in the centre that some Christians believe that the earth is 6,000 years old was “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”.

However, attempts to introduce creationist viewpoints both at the Causeway and at the Ulster Museum in the past have led to fierce criticism from scientists and others.

When contacted by the News Letter on Wednesday, the National Trust said in a statement: “The Giant’s Causeway has always prompted debate about how it was formed and how old it is.

“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 debate about how the earth’s rocks were formed and about the age of the earth.

“In this exhibit we also acknowledge that for some people this debate continues today and we reflect and respect the fact that creationists today have a different perspective on the age of the earth from that of mainstream science.”

Yesterday, the Trust released a second, more lengthy statement which made clear that it accepted without reservation that the rocks are very old.

However, the Trust said that it also wanted to inform visitors that there was debate about the issue, particularly in Northern Ireland.

It said that “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”.

A National Trust spokeswoman 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 some people hold views today which are different from mainstream science.”

Wallace Thompson, the chairman of the Caleb Foundation and a former ministerial adviser to Nigel Dodds when he was a DUP minister in Stormont, said that he hoped the decision to include a creationist viewpoint in the centre would set a precedent for other such exhibitions.

In 2007, the then DUP Environment Minister Arlene Foster was asked in the Assembly by Alliance’s Trevor Lunn for her “assessment of the age of the Giant’s Causeway”.

Mrs Foster did not give her own view but responded: “Geologists generally agree that the Giant’s Causeway is some 60 million years old.

“As you will be aware, however, there are alternative views in relation to the age of the Giant’s Causeway.”