[He] transmitted a steady stream of papers to the Royal Irish Academy that were published between 1802 and 1812. He claimed authority, as a resident, to make his views known, but asserted not to subscribe to any theory or belong to any faction. Undoubtedly he was a Neptunist and argued against the volcanic origin of basalt on a number of groundsIt is thus reasonable educational fiction to include an imagined discussion between the two - although James Hutton had died before Richardson wrote his first paper on the subject. However the words attributed to Rev Richardson in the exhibit are interesting:
We know from the Bible that the Earth is 6,000 years old! One has merely to count the generations between Adam and the birth of Our Lord. And for all his eminence as a geologist, and his standing with the Royal Society in Edinburgh, that makes Mr. Hutton’s theory nonsense!Why these words are interesting is that the ES2K account says Richardson "asserted not to subscribe to any theory or belong to any faction" and lists eight reasons Richardson gave for rejecting a volcanic origin - none of which had anything to do directly with the age of the earth! So there were plenty of good evidence for his views which could have been used in the commentary. I haven't got access to the original papers - so I would be interested to see if, in any of his published papers on the Giants Causeway, Rev Richardson explicitly argued that Hutton was wrong because the world was 6000 years old, or whether the National Trust has used inaccurate historical information. If the Trust was supplied with misleading information they should re-examine all other information that came from that source..
The exhibit's commentary ends with the words (which are the ones which generate the most anger among the objectors):
This debate 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 6000 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.
This is, in effect, a blatent sales plug for one particular Christian group, which refuses to accept any findings of modern science which they cannot find support for in the Bible. Their beliefs have no special connection with the Giant's Causeway, as they could apply to exhibits at many, if not most National Trust properties. Comments online from the National Trust Press Office suggest that words were included because one particular religious organisation has involved itself in the consultation and, it would appear, provided information which was included in the dialogue. It is far for clear whether the National Trust made any attempt to get balancing views from other Christian organisations, or any non-christian organisation.
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.
And of course they are now celebrating the fact that a much respected organisation has given their views credence by "displaying" them on a World Heritage Site. For instance see Ken Ham's blog "Refreshing News for Northern Ireland: Would Secularists in the U.S.A. be so tolerant?" . The National Trust Press Office has been trying to say its does not endorse the views of the Young Earth Creationists - but if the exhibition designer had not had his head buried in the sand he would have known that this group, and its associates are well known for systematic misquotations and attempting to get well known individuals and institutions to include something which can be misquoted to gain support.
To start with the Bible - which Young Earth Creationists use to claim that man and dinosaurs lived at the same time - when it says no such thing. In addition the Bible does not mention the Giant's Causeway, or the White Cliffs of Dover, or any of the National Trust Sites with a geological relevance. Of course, anyone with a creative imagination and unlimited imagination can twist almost any text, even the Bible, and aided by carefully selective quotations, to appear to support almost any fantasy you want, and such contortions of the written word are the basis of "Creation Science". There are many cases where well known names, from Darwin down, have been quoted as supporting their views by, for example quoting the first sentence in a paragraph and omitting the rest of the paragraph which debunks the idea in the opening sentence. Once one person has distorted the facts in this way the corrupt interpretation is spread by followers who have never seen the original text.
In addition the recent unsuccessful attempt of the Young Earth Creationists to get their views displayed in the Ulster Museum got a lot of publicity at the time - and there is no excuse for the National Trust not being aware that Young Earth organisation try to "product place" their ideas in prestigious organisations, especially if they had seen the relevant Wikipedia page.
To be fair I am sure that the National Trust Board would not have been aware of the proposed exhibits in such detail, and it may be that the actual wording was generated by an inexperienced and ill-informed junior. In the circumstances I feel the National Trust, with the Board's authority, should take the following actions.
- Issue a clear statement about the Trusts present policy about "product placement" activities by pressure groups and commercial organisations. If the current guideline have been broken it should say so, and if what has happened in within the National Trust rules it should make it clear that action will be taken to correct the matter in future.
- Announce an inquiry and during the inquiry switch off the dialog text, until it has been decided what action to take. From what has been said by the National Trust, removing this facility will in no way interfere with the working of the Visitor Centre. If product placement is not allowed the paragraphs mentioning the Young Earth Creationists should be removed if the audio is ever reinstated.
- If the audio is reworked the National Trust should ensure that the Rev. Richardson's original papers are properly examined to see which of his objections to Hutton's views are the most appropriate to the display. If Richardson never mentioned 6000 years this period should not be included in the text. If all he did was to object to Hutton's ideas about "deep time" that is the most it should say. It would clearly be inappropriate for an organisation to misquote or exaggerate the Rev. Richardson views.
- It would also be appropriate for the National Trust to make a clear statement that, because of the sensitivity of religious issues in Northern Ireland, it has a clear policy that all science displays will be 100% secular, and that historical displays will only mention religion where it is specifically relevant to the property concerned.